New Yorker to know: Wine Sommelier Morgan Harris

For more: Twitter/Insta: @morganwharris

Back in early April, and thanks to a very generous employer, I found myself at a 7-course wine pairing dinner in a private dining room at Charlie Palmer's Aureole in Midtown. Talk about being a GD diva, right? Sometimes I'm not sure how I get this lucky, either.

As you may have inferred by now, I'm really into food, and even more into wine; and I must say, I am naturally spectacular at consuming both. However, my food & wine escapades generally don't point me in the fine-dining direction - in fact, most often they point me in the direction of Riverside Park with a brown-bagged bottle of St. Nicholas alongside a hunk of cheese and a french baguette.

But I digress. My point is: Aureole was fantastic. And alongside the mouth-watering foie gras, poached lobster, black cod and wagyu beef, I had the chance to meet wine sommelier, or rather, taste-artist, Morgan Harris. Amidst a loud and bustling room, Morgan careened about the table and thoughtfully presented the evening's various wine and food pairings. I was enthralled by the detailed description he provided for each wine and the ease in which he answered any and all of the table's questions.  Afterward, he was kind enough to do a little Q&A with me, which you can now all use as back-pocket knowledge for your next cocktail party ;-). 

So, for beginners, what are the pillars of wine pairing? I always thought steak = red and chicken/fish = white. True?

Pairing is funny, people want it to work like arithmetic, e.g. "this plus this equals that," but it's really more of a "guiding principles" situation. In pairing any dish, there's no real "capital A" answer, and since our sense of taste is at least partially acculturated, everyone's going to have a slightly difference bias towards flavor combinations. 

That being said, there are some general principles to look at: 

A. Join or Contrast: Most pairing function on the dynamic of contrasting elements of the dish or harmonizing with them. 

If you have a salad with a tart acidic dressing, you need to have a wine equally as acidic to keep up with or the wine won't taste like much. The acid in the dressing will overwhelm the wine. 

Likewise, if you're dealing with fois gras or a rich, fatty pork belly, contrasting their salty-fatty-unctuous quality with something sweet-and-sour like harmoniously sweet german riesling can be really pleasant. 

B. Ignore the protein (outside of it's fat content), focus on the saucing and sides: 

I tend to think of proteins in terms of "volume" and attempt to correspond that to the intensity of whatever wine I'm pairing, but I don't really think of their flavor, unless it's really particular (mackerel, lamb, game meat). 32-day dry-aged porter house? That's kind of a 9. Salmon filet. A 6 or so, but following that, the most important part is the sauce and it's flavors. Do they seem white or red? 

If the steak is in a cream "au poive" sauce with cheddar pomme dauphine, I might consider a really fat, rich white like Chateauneuf Blanc or a well-made California Viognier. Likewise, if the salmon has beet purée, hen of the woods mushrooms, and roasted fennel, I'm definitely thinking red Burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir.

C. When in doubt, richer fuller whites without oak, or lighter, fresher reds, well-made rosé or bubbles. 

If you don't know what everyone's eating, go with wines that play well with others. You might like the rich oak-and-black fruit power of Argentine Malbec, but it's a little inflexible at the table. None of the above wines are going to win a superlative, but they're most of what's in my personal cellar for every-day drinking

I kind of genuinely think there's a white and a red pairing for every dish, and don't forget about other beverages like bubbles, sherry, beer, and saké. But really in the end, just drink what you like and eat what you like, there aren't any "answers" and the only way to make a personal discovery is to take a risk. 

How long can you really keep wine after it's been opened and what are the rules?

To best preserve wine, put everything in the fridge, red or white. Basically, oxygen is what's spoiling your wine when it's open for too long, kind of like browning an apple on the counter. All chemical reactions happen slower at lower temperatures. If you buy one of those vacuum hand-pumps, you can probably get about a week out of a bottle in your fridge. That being said, it's also depending bottling-to-bottling. The 1975 Margaux is going to spoil a lot quicker than the current-vintage New Zealand sauvignon blanc, just due to the delicate, mature nature of the former, and the robust youthful quality of the later. 

But, to be honest, the four glasses in a bottle never last long enough between me and my sommelier roommate to keep anything around for long...

As for the industry, can you give us a quick synopsis of your background and how you came to a career as a sommelier? For many, it sounds like a dream job!

My undergraduate degree is from Emerson College in Theatre and Marketing; I studied the business side of things because I always knew I would need a way support myself while pursuing art. I've also always taken pride in whatever work I was doing, so even through restaurants weren't what I initially "wanted" to do, I wasn't going to suck at something I spent 30-40 hours a week on. 

That lead to learning more about wine and starting to self-educate, which is great in New York because you have over 400 distributors who are all very interested in making sure you understand their product, not to mention the dozens of country advocacy organizations. The dynamic community at the Guild of Sommeliers ( is a great resource for anyone looking to move into the beverage world. It's the best $100 you could spend on wine and beverage education. Almost all of my knowledge comes from self-educating within this framework, as well as the community around the exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

In 2011, I decided to move into wine full-time and managed a wine bar called Corkbuzz in Union Square for two years, and switched to fine dining in early 2014, where I currently work as Senior Sommelier at Aureole restaurant in midtown Manhattan. 

Sounds like you really took advantage of your resources and studied hard to get where you are. But it's not all fun and games, is it?

I do believe the wine business is one of the most dynamic, fun industries on the planet, however, it's not all puppies and roses (or rosés?). Restaurant work is very demanding physically, to say nothing of the hours. Your typical New York sommelier works about 50 hours a week standard, with restaurant fine dining sommeliers regularly pushing over 65 hours a week . 

I have friends who work in 3-star Michelin properties who have tables sit down for a 4+ hour meal at 10:00 PM, and their days start at 10:30 AM sometimes. This obviously has a big impact on your personal life. Try dating anyone in the 9-5/10-6 world when a short day for you is 3PM-1:30AM, and you always work weekends. 

Starting sommeliers only make between $40,000 and $60,000 for at least the first 3-5 years, and if you stay in restaurants, very few jobs pay over $120K or so. Add to this zero paid vacation, spotty employer insurance, and a nearly complete lack of retirement benefits. 

That being said, if you want to taste some of the greatest wine on the planet, meet incredible winemakers, travel lots, and have a strong understanding of the world's most magical agricultural product, then the wine business might be for you!

Okay more on wine... I have this $26 single glass aerator from Williams Sonoma that I'm obsessed with. Should I really be using it on every red? Also, how come I never see somm's aerate/decant wine at the table?

Aeration is one of those mystical wine tropes that you can't draw any hard-and-fast rules for. Almost no youthful wine will be harmed by decanting, but not all of them need it. You can certainly request your sommelier to decant anything (red or white) if you feel you like it. That's part of our service. Besides powerful reds, I'll often offer to decant rich, full whites to raise the temperature a little. 

If I feel a wine is a little ungiving and mute, that's most often when I'll decant. For older, thick-skinned reds (Bordeaux, California Cabernet) decanting is a must since they'll always throw sediment, but delicate, perfumed fully-mature Burgundy from the 1970s or 80s will be "pop and pour" because I'd be kind of worried to lose the wine in the decanter before it's in anyone's glass. Delicate reds from that age bracket often smell amazing for about 15-30 minutes and then fall off a cliff. 

I will always ask a guest before I decant something, since it's more of a gentle suggestion rather than a requirement, but I'll generally only offer for wines that I think are a) going to throw sediment, b) were really tight when I sounded the wine, c) need a temperature adjustment. 

What's the rule about pairing cheese and wine?

You can't call anything in wine a hard-and-fast rule, but cheeses are definitely better (generally) with fruit-driven wines. Think about how jam or honey is often offered side-by-side with cheese. For me, great cheese whites are: dry or slightly off-dry German Riesling, anything from Alsace, Loire Chenin Blanc, lush-and-full styles of domestic Sauvignon Blanc (especially with goat cheese). In reds, definitely avoid anything too oaky or black: Beaujolais, Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, Cotes du Rhone, Montepulciano, and domestic Zinfandel are kind of all quintessential cheese reds for me. Another cheese "hack" is to look at where the cheese comes from and see if they make any wine there. "Grows together goes together" is one of the great hidden rules of pairing. 

And now, for some rapid-fire pairing, selfishly based off my rotating diet.

  • Traditional mac n' cheese: Fatty Cotes du Rhone Blanc
  • Mozzarella & broccoli rabe on a baguette: Austrian Grüner Veltliner
  • Guacamole: Modelo Especial, but well-made California Sauvignon Blanc if we have to do wine
  • Lox & CC on a bagel: Blanc des Noirs Champagne
  • Pepperoni pizza: Chianti
  • Seared scallops and lemon risotto: Any fancy white Burgundy, but Puligny-Montrachet has my heart. 
  • Truffle fries: Blanc des Blancs Champagne (Fried stuff and Champagne, yo)
  • Spicy mapotofu: Harmoniously sweet german riesling (You've got to put that fire out!)
  • Coconut shrimp: Oaked White Rioja 
  • Traditional cannoli: Moscato d'Asti (there's a reason it's one of the most-sold wines in America; it's just yummy!) 

The Nation's Ari Berman on Voting Rights & Why You Should Care

This interview originally appeared on The New School for Writing's website

Kirsten ChenGive Us the Ballot was tremendously rich in history and detailed facts. How did you manage the volume of research needed to complete this?

Ari Berman: Considering the history of voting rights, I had a sprawling amount of time to cover. So, I tried to focus the narrative prior to starting the research. This meant figuring out major themes and “connective tissue”—e.g. characters that could be pulled through the entire narrative, or characters that fully embodied the story we wanted to tell.

And really, I was telling two intertwining narratives: the narrative of revolution and all the good things that have happened since the VRA, and the resulting counterrevolution to that progress. So I focused on finding the through-points that propelled both sides.

I always outline—that’s how I work. As I did the research, the outline would adjust, but I always knew where I was headed.

KC: Did you conduct many interviews? Who was the most interesting to learn more about?

AB: I did conduct a lot of interviews, partly because I’m a journalist so that’s just how I’m used to reporting, but also because there were a lot of things that took place before I was born or before there were good records. While there may have been a newspaper article or some old archives for something that had happened, say, in the sixties in Mississippi, there wasn’t likely to be much TV footage. So, I relied on people’s memory to make me feel like I was there and help bring the story to life. I would look into a case and ask myself: where is the human story behind this? Then I’d talk with whomever I could find: the lawyers involved, the plaintiffs, or family members of them if the plaintiff was deceased.

One of the highlights for me was just being able to spend time with Congressman John Lewis. He’s such a well-known historical figure, but usually everyone asks him the same questions—about Selma, the Bloody Sunday march in ‘65. And I talked about that with him, too, but then I talked with him about everything that happened after. I felt like he really opened up with me then. I was also with him on civil rights pilgrimages in 2013 and 2015 so I had an up-close look traveling with him, too. It was a surreal experience; he’s a legitimate American icon. There were a lot of interesting interviews, but he was kind of the one that had the most moral force.

KC: In Give Us the Ballot, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is positioned as not only a foundational element to the Civil Rights movement, but the absolute key to enforcing the Civil Rights Act. This was also portrayed in the film Selma and more recently on John Oliver, which is when you know something is starting to gain attention. As a political writer and commentator whose finger is on the metaphorical pulse of American society, how much do you feel this “connection” is wholly understood by most citizens and lawmakers?

AB: I don’t think most people know this history. I think they know there was a VRA, but I don’t think they know what it did or what came after its passage. One thing that struck me about the movie Selma was how many people I knew that weren’t aware of the history of Bloody Sunday. That’s really why I wanted to write this book. I pitched the book right after the Supreme Court had heard the Shelby County case challenging the VRA but hadn’t yet come to a decision. But I kind of saw what was coming and knew voting rights would be a big topic. Ultimately, I felt like people didn’t truly know or understand this history, and not only Selma but the 50 years since. So it was really, really important to show that the fight didn’t end in 1965.

KC: The book delves into the many forms of voter oppression – most recently: the myth of voter fraud and the subsequently-produced voter ID laws.  Are these measurements any less blatantly discriminatory now than they were 60 years ago during Jim Crow?

AB: They’re more subtle, but Voter ID laws are just another iteration of poll taxes and literacy tests because they’re an attempt to determine who can and cannot participate in the political process. Technically a voter ID card needs to be made free, but the underlying documents that you need to get the card are not free and not required to be free (e.g. birth certificate). Not only that, but there are people who were born at home in the segregated south who don’t have a birth certificate—and obtaining one can be an expensive and time-consuming process. One woman in the book even had to obtain a lawyer to track down her birth certificate in Louisiana.

KC: Related, you discuss how legislators “fail to protect voting rights by invoking state’s rights.” How much do you think well-crafted vernacular and ideology like “states’ rights” and “voter fraud” plays a part in baiting otherwise-innocent citizens to the wrong side of history?

AB: If you say “voter fraud” enough times, people will just start to believe it. That’s what has happened recently. People see the headline but not the fine print and so the facts (that voter fraud is very rare) are lost. Similarly, in the 1960s “states’ rights” became a big buzzword because who wouldn’t want to be for the right of their states? People started wisening up and realizing they couldn’t use blatantly racist rhetoric anymore, so they started using codewords and it’s been very effective. Plus, when the code words are exposed, they just come up with new code words.

Click here to read the entire interview.

Let's talk about microaggressions

So, what’s a microaggression anyway?

In the event you’ve been living under a rock, have no fear, it happens to the best of us and it’s always better to learn late than never at all. According to Psychology Today, microaggressions are the everyday verbal and nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or derogatory comments to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (i.e. ethnicity, religion, sex).

Can we get some examples?

A familiar example to point out is when people ask the question “What are you?” in relation to one’s heritage rather than their actual birth place. For instance, I have repeatedly been asked, “Where are you from?” to which I’m all Jersey baby, fuck yeah. But then, after my amorous show of affection for the great state of NJ, I am often rebutted with “No, where are you really from¸ though?” as if I’m lying and actually arrived via shipping container from somewhere in southeast China. Pretty much anyone who isn’t obviously white has been asked this question before.

Other examples of microaggressions include but are not limited to: asking a lesbian if she’s ever had “real sex,” assuming a black man is dangerous, telling a black or hispanic person that they’re “like, unusually articulate and well-spoken,” calling a Jewish person “cheap,” etc. And microaggressions aren’t just verbal, either. My best friend sent me this awesome article that discusses how Asians are often confused with one another by fellow coworkers. This has happened to me at literally every job I have ever had and it is absolutely a type of microaggression.

Do only white people commit microaggressions?

In a word: NO. I have a point of contention with some of the current discussion around this topic because it seems that many articles are primarily (or solely) calling attention to white people.

While white men take the metaphorical cake in greeting me with “Konnichiwa” or assuming I can’t speak English, they’re far from being the only race guilty of doing so. I’m just saying, if we are going to have this talk, let’s be real about it. “Microagressors” are pervasive and everyone should become more aware of how they treat others.

How do people feel about microaggressions?

First off, microaggressions are real. They hurt and suppress people in ways that words have always hurt and suppressed people. That said, the prefix “micro” is in there for a reason. The same people who question where I’m “really” from are rarely the same people who call me a chink or go about committing violent hate crimes. Racism, as with all forms of prejudice, has a spectrum. For me, microaggressions fall on the less-serious end of that spectrum.

How do we deal with microaggressions?

Personally, my response to microaggressors varies: sometimes I’ll gently (or not-so-gently) call people out. Other times, I let it go if I don’t have the energy for it. Either way, I don’t feel bad regardless of which route I take. Of course, other people feel and react differently, and who am I to judge? If someone is devastated by a continuous stream of microaggressions (as many are), they have a right to those feelings and to speaking out about it. Regardless of your stance, though, I would encourage you to keep the following points in mind:

1.     People who commit microaggressions are intellectually inferior. It’s the truth. I grew up with the mentality that people who asked me questions like “can you see a full picture with such small eyes?” were either 1. innocent children or two, 2. stupid.

2.     I believe that a good deal of microaggressors are not malicious. Does it mean they get a free pass? Of course not. Let’s not confuse this with sympathizing with aggressors and blaming victims. I simply mention this because some aggressions and aggressors may warrant different responses than others, and that’s perfectly okay. The point is to be open to teaching and open to learning.

What now? You tell me. Leave your comments or questions below.

Here's to making progress, together!

Photo credit:


New Year on Tangent Pursuit! 5 things I've been loving lately

It's been a while since I posted. Far too long, in fact. As it happens, I had a whirlwind of a fall with my first semester at The New School and my first busy season at work, so some hobbies were temporarily placed on the back burner, including Tangent Pursuit. And you know how it goes sometimes... a week goes by, two weeks, a month, and then it's "Oh, why even bother now?" Having originally posted 2-3 times a week for a year, it felt daunting to get back into the swing of things after such a hiatus, but in the spirit of a New Year and resolutions, I've decided to commit to posting interesting content... at least once a month. Yes, once a month. Not twelve times, just once.

Back in November, I read an anecdote on Ramit Sethi's blog (which covers an array of topics, including self-improvement) about a woman who wrote in to discuss a goal of hers: she wanted to run 3 times a week, every week, and she just could not seem to stick to it. Ramit responded to her, "why not just aim for once a week?" to which she replied "well once a week just doesn't seem worth it." It's a ridiculous and silly notion, really, to think and live our lives in such a way, and yet with our human egos and anxieties and our busy lives, we are all liable to fall for it. So, here's to blogging once a month this year - you can hold me to it! 

I wanted to kick off the new year with a few backlogged NYC gems I've been dying to share. Here they are:

1. Barley and grain

For good whiskey. I went to UMD, worked at a dive bar and am half Irish. Ipso facto, I enjoy whiskey, specifically bourbon. So it was quite a treat to step into Barley and Grain this fall for the first time. It's a small, rustic whiskey joint located on 81st and Amsterdam with some of the best craft-cocktails around. And with $5 happy hour specials running from 5-7:30 Mon-Sat, I've already made myself a regular. Shoot me a text and I will join you for happy hour any day.

2. Say Yes! Artist Collective

For beautiful performance art. Besides showcasing some of the most talented and entertaining poets, musicians, dancers and comedians NYC has to offer Say Yes! is also simply an intriguing, down-to-earth group of people to share an evening with. They've held events on Brooklyn rooftops, around backyard fire-pits, and most recently, at the Bowery Poetry Club. Follow them on Facebook here for upcoming events and news.

3. Saigon Shack

For the best Vietnamese in Manhattan. Hands down, this place is the tits. Not only is the pho rich and the banh-mi both crisp and succulent, but the price is on point (~$10 for a pho or bahn-mi) AND it's on Macdougal street. Come on. Doesn't get better than that. The ambiance is perfect for a first date, tenth date, or friend date. Just bring cash and be prepared to wait a little. Considering it's location, you shouldn't have trouble grabbing a drink in the meantime.

4. Bloomingdales' Outlet on West 72nd

For the best new deals. I know, we're all broke from Christmas so why would I promote such a thing, right? I'm also supposed to be following a self-imposed spending-freeze on unnecessary shit until, like, March. But once I start buying fairly useless materialistic garments again, you better believe it'll be here. The deals are real, with a tad bit of hunting required. Sign up for the emails and you'll be notified of even bigger in-store sale days. Or, simply ask me since I'm a subscription whore and get 50 emails a day from every website ever invented, including, as they say, bLoOMies!

5. Psychedelic Education

For one of the cooler social experiences you'll have. Coming off the heels of recommending frivolous shopping at Bloomingdales, I may not seem like the most... spiritual person, but just follow me, here.  In early December, I had the chance to attend a Psychedelic Education program at The New School. While I did not trip balls (and nor did anyone else - it's an educational experience, not a rave. (not that there's anything wrong with raves. at all.)) I found the pure conversation and information sharing to be extremely intellectually stimulating. It's a safe space for people to discuss their experiences (or lack thereof), ask questions, and learn from some of the greatest researchers and humans our generation has produced. If you're feeling intrigued, I promise you won't be let down. Check it out here

#TBT: A chat with NYPD's Hostage Negotiator and Instructor James Shanahan

NOTE: This was written in the fall of 2012 when I first moved to the city (It originally appeared here). I met Jim at the Jersey Shore where he frequents the same beach club that my parents and I do. He has since become a friend, mentor and sort of "Uncle" to my brother and I. I wanted to post this today around the holiday season as a reminder to us all on how important it is to keep a truly open mind and a truly progressive perspective as we move into 2016 and collectively fight for a better future.

Written by: Kirsten Chen | Edited by: Michael Goodwin

I spot James Shanahan from afar, which is not a particularly trying task, as he’s a smiling 6’ 3” Irish man with a distinct New York accent and presence. I am already acquainted with Jim, and upon seeing me, he simultaneously salutes and waves my direction, and we soon sit down to chat. There is an effervescent quality about him; he is both approachable and playful, generally not the first two characteristics one might attribute to someone in the police force. Nonetheless, it would come as no surprise to anyone that he is, in fact, a long-standing (30+ years), reputable member of the NYPD. Maybe it’s the Irish thing.

Born in Brooklyn and having lived in Manhattan, Jim grew up traversing the general area, and proclaims himself a true “5-borough guy”. It is clear that his upbringing and city surroundings have had a profound impact on his path in life. Many of the men in his family were policemen, and from a young age, his family instilled in him a respect for the job. He even tells me that one of his first memories in life involves the police. In the very brief moments before he divulges why, my mind conjures up an elaborate series of dramatic possibilities. Could it be a valiant story involving some profound historical event? Or perhaps, an unfortunate, personal tragedy? But, alas, Jim goes on to reminisce a simple memory, which, so often, is the most insightful kind, about being a little kid and watching the single, flashing police light on the top of a squad car come down the street, and then seeing an officer step out, clad in blue uniform with the old-school brass buttons on either side. As Jim recalls this story, he says he remembers feeling safe. Clearly, Jim revered the police force and was set in the direction of the law early on. So, it would seem natural for the rest of this conversation to tumble only into the heroic, traditional and goodside of the job. After all, Jim is certainly a “good cop”, if we’re going to play that game. But he is also, as his work further explores and charges, a very in-touch human being.

“In my family, I was taught that ‘Whenever you ever need help, you go to a cop,’“ says Jim. “But, see, I also grew up in New York City and I grew up during the counter-culture, too.  So, I was never blind to the inherent love/hate relationship people have for cops. I understood they were capable of good and bad.” At this, I bring up Jim’s compassion, mentioning that due to the nature of the job, it must be difficult at times to observe the world in a shade other than black or white – to see people and their actions as multifaceted, and in turn, have those people see you, a police officer, as multifaceted. Jim nods and discusses both the necessity and confinement of such strict ways of thinking and acting. He is talking about straddling the line between his identity as a police officer and his identity as an emotionally and mentally complex human. He puts it perfectly when he says, “No matter your job, when you lose your empathy, you lose your humanity. And I firmly believe in keeping a foot in both hemispheres, otherwise, what do you become?”

And so the story continues. In 1978, CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice opened its doors to an eager and prepared JimShanahan. Then, four years later, after a successful college career, Jim was accepted into the NY Housing Authority.

He spent most of the ‘80s  both “walking the beat” and patrolling in squad cars through some of the most “vulnerable, depressed conditions imaginable.” During this time, a lot of things came to light for Jim, including the aforementioned difficulties of dealing with the limited ways citizens saw the police and the limited ways police saw citizens. There was a lack of understanding on both sides –  there were sides to begin with. And in a tale as old as time, the most important fundamental component missing between citizens and the police, who Jim has noted are “the most conspicuous and accessible form of government,” was communication.

 “During that time a few things happened. [Personally] I tread through some very dark moments and dealt with some difficult internal issues,“ Jim says, grazing upon the taxing nature of the job. "Then, [Interacting with the housing population] I was made crucially aware of how important community initiatives and progressive forms of the police system are. Take the Eleanor Bumpurs tragedy. That was a big eye-opener.” Jim is talking about the 1984 Bronx case where Eleanor Bumpurs, a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed woman, was ordered to be evicted from her apartment by the Housing Authority. In an unfortunate turn of events, an NYPD officer ended up shooting Eleanor dead with two bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Jim had been an active member on the executive board of the former Housing Police Benevolent Association. However, this incident, amongst other environmental and personal factors, motivated him to further impact the community.  Jim says, “Everything that was happening to me or around me during those early years was grist for the mill. I didn’t want to become complacent. I was ready for something more.” I insinuate, to his progressive nature, that Jim wanted to effect change, to which he responds, “Yes, but I also wanted to be affected by change.”

By now, I am so impressed by Jim’s eloquent delivery and his rare ability to story-tell that I’m seriously contemplating whether I should have just recorded this conversation and posted it in its entirety, rather than tried to capture it in highlights. The whole conversation is a highlight! Regardless, it is clear after our exchange of his upbringing and early years in the force that a spark for change was lit up inside Jim at this time. 

And, now for a brief interjection, it might be a good time to introduce Jim’s other hobby/talent/whatever you want to call it - acting. Yes, Jim Shanahan, 30-plus years in the police force is also an … actor? It may seem disconnected with the needs of law enforcement, but Jim’s theatre background has actually been an essential element in his career growth, and in turn, every officer in NYPD’s growth. Logically, this makes perfect sense. Acting is chock-full of that disparity between the police and the people that we’ve already mentioned: communication. 

So, after a few more years of character-building time on the streets, Jim altered his scenery in the early 90s to allow himself a more objective type of learning. He took some time to gain perspective, think creatively and decide on his next move. While on the desk, he also studied ways in which the police force could be improved.  True to his progressive nature, Jim examined prisoners and the ways in which they were developing and growing, rather than just looking at police training. He visited correctional facilities and state penitentiaries and delved deeper into the behaviors and motives that drive people. His forward-thinking research combined with the current events of the time proved to Jim that “there needed to be an alternative to the criminalization of the mentally ill and the demonization of the police in the process.”

Shortly thereafter, being “In the right place at the right time with the right skills,” Jim tells me how a door soon opened for him as a Senior Instructor for Police Academy Special Projects in NYPD’s training academy. Jim went on to teach Tactical Communications (or, Verbal Judo) in collaboration with Verbal Judo creator, Dr. George Thomas, and, really, the rest is all history.

Tactical Communications is based on conflict resolution in human relations, hostage negotiation and critical incident and disaster management. Since its inception in 1996, Jim has taught the course to over 80,000 new and current officers. In 1999, Jim also took a position at his former alma mater for “Adjunct lecturer-Senior Police Instructer” in the program for “Police Handling of Emotionally Disturbed Persons.” With both his communication-based classes and his combination of martial arts training, experience on the job, and acting background, Jim helped transform the way police are trained to communicate and act tremendously. He admits to having made mistakes in the early years, which are, as we know, par for the course, and notes that the classes morphed and matured over time. The main purpose, however, has stuck.

“We wanted to put a face on policemen for the public, but also show these officers how to obtain compliance from citizens in a less stressful or physical manner – it goes both ways,” Jim says. And it certainly has. For such a large organization that is continually in the spotlight and under scrutiny, the NYPD works arduously and openly toward maintaining mutual respect in its city. I feel it pertinent to note that the courtesy and respect shown by and to the NYPD must undoubtedly be culled directly from this program.

Jim continues to explain the need for this training, saying, “How you talk to people has a great impact. The difference between ‘Hey, you need to calm down,’ and ‘It’s going to be alright, help is on the way,’ is enormous.” Reflecting back on my own emotionally outstanding moments, I fully agree that the difference in those two statements is evident. One, I might be slightly soothed into complying and taking deep breaths. The other, I might lunge at someone’s throat and consequently get arrested. So, fine, maybe emotional stability isn’t my greatest strength, but is it most people’s greatest strength when dealing with the law? If a person is dealing with the police, chances are they are at a more fragile state to begin with.

“Police meet people at their absolute worst: the scene of an accident, the victim of an assault, broken at rock bottom.” Then, noting a most recent tragedy, Jim adds, “Walking in front of the Empire State building.”

By now, it is clear that people skills aren’t in higher need in any other profession. It is also clear that Jim believes in what he preaches and that he is very good at it, indeed. Jim has passion. He has passion for progress and unity, both internally and environmentally. He has “the gift of desperation” – the need to soak in all the information he can, make sense of it, and pass it on to as many people as possible, all for the betterment of society. It is altruistic people like Jim, who have the gift of desperation and the skill to pass it forward, that make the world a magnificent and hopeful place.

As we wrap up our discussion, I summarize his work as best as I can and remark that he has helped the NYPD make exceptional strides during his career. Though he certainly has earned bragging rights, Jim remains humble and states, “We just work toward change and hope. That in the future, police will be talking more and doing less.“ Thanks to Jim, it certainly seems that way.

The Weekend Getaway: Newport, RI & Portland, ME

Every now and then, I feel as if life decides to throw me a little surprise party for no reason at all. And that's exactly how I felt this past weekend.

See, it's been a while since I've done a *weekend getaway* and this latest one couldn't have come at a better time. After seven straight weeks of grinding out school and work in the hectic grid that is NYC, I was ready for a mini-escape that felt special but also didn't totally drain my bank account. 

After all, I started these mini, 3-5 day adventures a few years ago in response to the busy, tight-walleted nature of being in ones' twenties. Back in college, I had the luxury of studying abroad in Thailand and Vietnam, spending a summer in China and indulging in the quintessential European tour after graduating. I had lucked out with a mix of scholarships and just plain ol' cheap destinations or deals. Of course, I also had all the time in the world to globe trot. 

Once I graduated, though, it became a bit more difficult to find the time and money to get away. So, instead of planning costly, grand adventures, I decided to make more of an effort to see the good ol' U.S of A. In the past three years since, I've visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Niagara Falls in the summer,  Vegas, Montauk, The Catskills, Saratoga Springs, Cambridge & Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. Now, I can add Newport, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine to that list, too!

We spent a total of $338 on lodging and $400 on food over the course of 3 days/nights. Keep in mind, though, we're huge foodies, so you could easily halve this cost. Furthermore, the food budget spanned ELEVEN different restaurants (listed at the bottom) and ALL of our cocktails. So, IMHO, we still made out like bandits!

First stop: Newport, RI

One of our friends, Mike, lives in Newport, Rhode Island, so we decided to break up the drive north with an overnight at his place, and boy, was that the right choice! I never knew how downright beautiful Newport was.

Upon arriving, we hit up Castle Hill Inn, a gorgeous property on the cape. While we could have spent around $500 a night to stay at the Inn, we instead simply indulged in our first bowl of clam chowder and enjoyed a cocktail on the front lawn. It served as a nice dollop of luxury without the terrifying price tag.

We then meandered about the stunning cliff walk before meeting up with Mike. We had a delicious tapas-style dinner at Midtown and got to bed. The next morning, we hit up corner café for a hearty breakfast before getting on the road.

Next stops: Portland, ME with trips to Freeport and Cape Elizabeth

This should go without saying, but the drive up was half the fun. I just don’t think fall foliage ever gets old. Each time the season turns and the leaves begin to change, I wonder how anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world other than the Northeast. 

We arrived at our Airbnb and were thrilled with the space. If you’re a music or lit junkie or simply like going off the beaten path, I strongly encourage staying at Mac’s. We had full run of this 3rd floor studio in a walk-up brownstone. Instead of paying the exorbitant prices to stay at a chain in downtown Portland in a cramped hotel room (a 2-night stay can run you around $650 at the least in peak season, depending on where you stay), we spent a grand total of $338, taxes and fees included, to basically have our own “suite” at Mac’s.  We felt we had a more authentic experience AND we had a little leftover cash to hit up the Freeport Outlets one afternoon. 

We then spent the following 48 hours eating. The over/under on clam chowder and lobster rolls was three. We exceeded the former, downing four chowders total and had exactly three lobster rolls. On Saturday night, we first enjoyed a tapas-style dinner at Local 188 and then literally had a SECOND dinner at Old Port Tavern where we each ate a full lobster dinner. The best part about nonstop eating in Portland? 1. It’s actually affordable (twin lobster dinner was $26!) and 2. It’s actually fairly healthy! Lobster is like 150 calories a pound or something silly, and, when in Maine, you barely even need the butter that you generally dunk it in because it’s so freakin’ fresh.  Win-win. 

Restaurant list

Castle Hill Inn – Newport, RI – claim chowder, cocktails on the lawn

Midtown Oyster Bar – Newport, RI – tapas & beers - pork belly cracklings and old bay steamed shrimp)

Corner Café – Newport, RI – breakfast! Awesome rosemary-crusted potatoes

Central Provisions – Portland, ME – farm egg bread and butter, roasted bone marrow, cocktails (we LOVED this place so much we went twice!)

LFK – Portland, ME – cocktails (ask for Jasper!) and awesome ambiance to start your night

Yosaku – Portland, ME – anything, but especially the miso soup, lobster and king crab rolls and sake

Isabella’s Sticky buns – Freeport, ME – obviously the sticky buns, but the breakfast sammies are just what you need before a little shopping!

Linda Beans  - Freeport, Me – lobster roll with tarragon

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights – Cape Elizabeth, ME – lobster roll and fried clams

Local 188 – Portland, ME - Tapas & craft cocktails that will rock your world  especially the foie gras and deviled eggs

Old Port Tavern – Portland, ME – Twin lobster dinner ($26!)

How to balance a busy life

I'm currently on my fifth week of working full time while also going to grad school full time. I also generally volunteer monthly, exercise daily, and enjoy having a social life on weekends. I may sound like an obnoxious overachiever and maybe it's because I am (screw you, whatever), but personally, I've just always felt eager to experience as much as possible.

Nevertheless, it gets exhausting. This past month has been a huge adjustment, even for me, but I think I'm finally beginning to learn how to balance it all without angrily texting my boyfriend every time something goes wrong (sorryloveyouthanks!). Anyway, here are my five tips to staying sane while busy.

Wake up earlier

And if you're not a morning person, all the better. I have never enjoyed being spoken to within the first hour of waking. I need coffee, breakfast, and most importantly, some me time, before any interaction. When I'm really under a time crunch, these routines hold even more importance. So, while I could take the train to work and sleep in until 30 minutes before I need to be at my desk, I instead choose to wake up around 75-90 minutes ahead of time (clothes and bag laid out the night prior) and walk the two miles to work. By the time I arrive, I feel energized rather than frantic, which is better for both me and anyone who needs to engage with me on a regular basis.

Prioritize correctly

Do you sit down at your desk and immediately start checking email? It's a hard habit to break and seems like the intuitive way to get your day started, but it can also immediately set you in a reactive mindset. Instead, keep a running to-do list with items listed in order of importance (I use the computer-generated sticky notes so I never lose them!). Upon sitting down, check your list, your calendar, and organize your day. 

Take strategic breaks

Speaking of being reactive, it can be difficult to remain cool and collected when you're under a lot of pressure and have tons going on. And let's be real, unless you work in an ER or a place of equal importance, there's no reason to get super worked up over deadlines and workload. When the emails are piling in, phone is ringing off the hook and you're ready to snap, just take a 10-15 minute break to walk around the block, grab a snack or call your mom and say hi - you'll be better off for it!

Be healthy

You don't need to spend a fortune on probiotic quinoa kale mash or whatever, but do try to make smart food choices - it's literally the fuel we run on. You also don't have to dedicate hours and hours to spin class - in fact, physically exhausting yourself is not a good thing. I learned this last week after I threw my neck out CHANGING MY SHIRT a few days after taking a really hardcore bootcamp class. Looking back, such a high-intensity workout was extremely counterproductive and definitely triggered an injury. I needed to be rejuvenated, not beat the fuck up and out of commission for a week.Lesson learned.

Make time for friends

I'm a yes person. Sometimes my boyfriend will ask me outrageous questions (hey we have two hours to kill - want to go kayaking in the Hudson and train to Flushing Chinatown for lunch?) just to get a kick out of me saying "sure!" sans any hesitation. This trait has scored me some really fun times in life, but it gets exhausting and works against me sometimes. I'm learning (slowly) to choose plans thoughtfully without feeling guilty and plan ahead to make sure I get quality time with friends I love to see.

End your day on a positive note. On all days, but especially busy ones, it's important to turn off the lights and ease into bed, rather than crash into it. For even just TEN minutes before going to sleep, turn all electronics off, light a candle, and read a little something, listen to something inspiring, or nom on some chocolate. Whatever it is, enjoy it!


3 key notes about finding your passion (or widely-applicable life lessons from my father)

If one year ago you told me that today I would be a) getting ready to begin my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at The New School, b) a member of Norwood Club and c) working in Thought Leadership at PwC, I would be over the motherf-cking moon.  Today, all three of those things are true. 

Needless to say, passion, happiness and gratitude have been front-of-mind lately. If I'm really being honest, though, they always have been. Ultimately, it's what the Tangent Pursuit is all about: finding pockets of free time to explore and enjoy your world in a positive way, thereby inching that much closer to an ideal existence. 

Growing up, my dad spoke frequently and candidly about life and the pursuit of passion. As an immigrant who genuinely came from nothing, he was always keenly aware of the opportunities that surrounded him and he made a constant point of it to my brother and I. So, in an attempt to dish out the knowledge I've acquired on finding and pursuing one's passion(s) while remaining happy and grateful along the way, it only felt right to pay some sort of homage to my pops at the same time. Dad, this one's for you. 

3 key notes about finding your passion (or widely-applicable life lessons from my father.)

1. To learn what you DO like, you have to first understand what you DON'T like
At various points in my life when I was frustrated with something I was experiencing, my father would remind me that in order to get closer to the things that make you happy, you have to distance yourself from the things that don't - but first you have to be able to discern between the two! 

As a self-admitted "jack of all trades/master of none,"  I have spent a large portion of my life siphoning through one short-lived hobby to the next - of course taking away pros and cons from each experience, but nevertheless finding myself, at times, frustrated by my easy enamorability (not a word, I know. Whatever). I started a farmer's market, ran a marathon, taught English abroad, etc. The list truly goes on. I mean, does anyone remember when I opened an Etsy shop for handmade feather headdresses? ...hopefully not. But really, I was obsessed. I became totally immersed with this idea of feather headdresses and spent a solid amount of time and a little bit of money pursuing it, only to learn that it felt like I had confined myself to my own personal sweatshop and it wasn't really my thing. But that's okay! From that experience, I was able to take away a set of conditions I knew I didn't like about being a small business owner while also becoming semi-fluent in SEO and website building which would later prove handy. Plus, now I can say I made someone's alternative wedding veil (true story!). 

The point, a la Ze Frank's Brain Crack, is that I gave each idea a legitimate shot and saw it to full fruition prior to abandoning it. Then, when I realized it wasn't for me, I was able to move on without all the internal shoulda/coulda/woulda that comes along with emotionally giving up something you've never actually tried.

To know what you DO like, you have to figure out what you DON'T like. Sometimes, that means trying out a whole bunch of random shit.

2. Know your options 
No joke, these three words are actually inscribed on the back of my dad's business card (he's an independent financial advisor). I like piggybacking this piece of advice on top of the first tip above. Because once you start getting a feel for what you do like or what your passion might be, the focus turns to knowing what your options are in regards to pursuing it. 

To put this in context, I'll give you another personal example. Around 4 years ago, I started writing. I always loved literature and oscillated in and out of stages where I kept a journal or jotted down random snippets of creative thought, but I had never exercised my passion for it regularly. When I finally started working writing into my weekly routine and churning out somewhat readable content, I began submitting essay upon essay to the ever-admirable site, Thought Catalog. Eventually, I ended up getting published. For my 22 year-old self, that silly little nod was the best thing that had ever happened to me, period. It gave me a huge confidence boost. It made me realize that just because I majored in business in college didn't mean I was confined to that world. Ultimately, it led to me becoming more involved in a creative lifestyle. Over the next  three years, I would have articles accepted by Elite Daily and poetry published by the Artist Catalogue. Eventually, I would build my own blog (thanks to some help from that Etsy experience!) and even start a small, successful artist collective. One small pat on the back became impetus for all this imaginative energy. 

However, after 4 years, I finally wondered how I could merge my passion for writing with my every day life. My first thought was an obvious one: change careers and go into journalism. I looked into graduate programs for journalism, searched jobs, etc. It just didn't feel quite right. Was that truly what I wanted? After a lot more research and plenty of time spent thinking about how to satiate this creative urge, I took a gander at Creative Writing MFA programs. Now this, I thought to myself, looks like a way in which I can spend my time. See, it took a significant amount of time and trial and error before I was able to understand what all my options were and then move forth intelligently.   

Same goes for Norwood Club. Over a year ago, my dad (again, go faja!) brought up Soho house to me and suggested I apply. That one suggestion opened my eyes to an entire subculture of compelling social clubs throughout New York. After doing plenty of homework and speaking to a few clubs, I found myself cozily at home at Norwood - and mostly thanks to that small artist collective + writing! 

3. Regardless of what's happening, you gotta live your life 
At the end of the day, my dad has always reminded me that regardless of what's going on, "you gotta live your life." There will, no doubt, be difficult obstacles to work through during this journey.  "Finding your passion" does not happen overnight; working it into your life in a meaningful manner takes even longer. When you experience setbacks or hurdles, it's certainly important to persevere. However, sometimes you have to step aside before you can step forward. Basically, don't forget to take in life's small pleasures and remain grateful. Take a moment to enjoy the sunset, share a glass of wine or laugh at a comedy club. Don't neglect exercise, vacation or any of the essential delights, solely in the name of your passion. And think about this: the last time I went on vacation, I got tapped on the shoulder by a PwCer out of the clear blue sky. It's when I was at my most relaxed that I was introduced to the job I now have. 


Have your steak and eat it, too.

Call me old school, but I genuinely believe that it is every young, hardworking New Yorker's divine right to occasionally enjoy a fine-dining steakhouse experience. If nothing else, this city is one intricate culinary expedition. When it comes to steakhouses, there are the tried-and-true antique gems entwined with booming new-comers and, well - simply put, it would be a crying shame to not go out for a fancy dinner every now and then. 

For a family visit, The Palm is an undeniable staple. For romance, there's Quality Meats. Pre-theatre, there's Commerce. Post-work, there's Capital Grille. But rarely is there a place that fits naturally and spectacularly into all four categories. Until now, of course.

Last night I had the pristine pleasure of dining at Charlie Palmer Steak on 54th between 5th and Madison. Located steps from Central Park South, 5 minutes from Grand Central, and a stone's throw from the theatre district, CP Steak seems to have found the perfect home. Better yet, it's found the perfect rhythm. Situated on a side street as opposed to an Avenue (amen, to anyone who gets how much of a difference that makes), the restaurant boasts outdoor seating and 3 unique, flowing spaces inside. It feels undeniably special while still feeling... welcoming. It's hard to explain, but it's a mix of the warm decor and subtle ambience, the ease in which the staff glides about, and the modern twist on the music that makes the experience so versatile while still so full of character.

Besides the space, of course, there's the food. CP Steak delivered above and beyond expectations. First off, ingredients are bar none. We had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Ryan Lory just after he finished a conversation with their fish purveyor. He explained the diligence that goes into the selection process and clued us in to their weekly locavore tasting menus, offered on Fridays and Saturdays. I mean, you can truly, actually, honestly taste the freshness and quality of each ingredient. Then there's the execution. The light sauce beneath the tuna tartare is perfect. The quail egg atop the thick-cut bacon is to die for. The truffles? Shaved just right.  And just thinking about the char on the porterhouse is making my mouth water right now. 

I could go on, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking from here. Plus, I've still got some of that 40 oz porterhouse to work on ;-).