Friday, May 27, 2016

Sweets To The Sweet

Monday, May 23, 2016
Decades ago, my doctor diagnosed a condition that was aggravated by sugar and asked me to curb my intake.   Fortunately, I outgrew that horrible affliction, but I have continued to read labels on food products with care since then.  I was surprised how many things contained added sugar, often where you would least expect.  The most outrageous example that I recall was salt, specifically Lawry's Seasoned Salt, described currently as a "unique blend of salt, spices and herbs [that] tastes great on prime ribs, steaks, chicken and casseroles."  Sugar is identified as the second largest ingredient on its label.  Go know.

The Food and Drug Administration has just modified its requirements for identifying sugar in food products, since plain English provided cracks and crevices to hide the sweet stuff.   Another retreat from greatness.

A few weeks ago, Sam Sifton, New York Times food critic, printed a recipe to emulate his "most favorite sandwich . . . fried eggplant, mozzarella and roast beef on an Italian hero, with hot peppers and a slash of mayonnaise. . . . It is a beautiful torpedo of food, crunchy, silken, sweet and spicy all at once." He found the original at Delfonte's Sandwich Shop, 379 Columbia Street, Brooklyn.  So, Stony Brook Steve and Little Ken joined me on a road trip today.

While Columbia Street runs right through scenic Brooklyn Heights, Delfonte's is much further south in Red Hook, a neighborhood of old clapboard homes, light industry, auto mechanics and small businesses.  We pondered how soon the march of multi-million dollar condos, designed by starchitects, will arrive.  In fact, next to the long-entrenched sandwich shop is a parking lot with 5 picnic tables for those who choose to eat "in".  

I ordered Sam's sandwich ($10.50 for a small, which was large enough), although I forgot to add the hot peppers for another $1.50.  The other guys ate fried eggplant with mozzarella ($9.95).  Should I return, I'll try the meatball parmesan with fried eggplant ($10.50).  Again, these are all size small.  Maybe right after Yom Kippur, I'll go for the large.

Delfonte's is definitely worth a visit, but be advised that getting there easily may require being born in the neighborhood.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority recommends taking a subway to downtown Brooklyn, catch a bus and then walk 5 more minutes.  If that's too complicated, you can stay on subways and walk 14 minutes from the closest stop.  Car is a quicker alternative if you are willing to pay $8 toll each way, $5.54 if you have E-Z Pass.  Using the kind of no-toll route that I favor adds a lot of time to the trip from Manhattan.  Maybe you have a great aunt who lives nearby.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Happy Birthday to the Oakland Heartthrob.  And, remarkably, today is Bob Dylan's 75th birthday.  While no longer viewed as the radical innovator that he once was, he remains vital and productive after so many years in the biz.  I don't claim to have caught him in a Greenwich Village basement in 1961, but I vividly recall attending his concert at Cornell University in 1965.  Then, almost exactly a quarter century later, I heard him at the Concert Gebouw in the Hague, Netherlands.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
It is our wedding anniversary today.  Thirteen years ago, America's Favorite Epidemiologist became my personal favorite.  I thereby assumed a supporting role in the world of infectious diseases.  To celebrate appropriately, I met the Boyz Club in Chinatown to have lunch at Wok Wok Southeast Asian Cuisine, 11 Mott Street.  The happy couple were honored by the consumption of roti* wrap with beef, roti wrap with chicken, K.L. Hokkian Char Mee (thick noodles in a dark sauce), tangerine beef, and eggplant stir-fried with‏ dried shrimp, fresh chili, cilantro, garlic.  As always, we tipped generously, spending $15 each in total.

*Roti, a/k/a chapati, is a thin pancake widely used in South Asian cuisine.  Population movement entrenched it in the Caribbean as well, cf., Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop, 1267 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.

Going to Chinatown allowed me to inquire of the fate of Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, now closed.  It had been my original destination for today's fête, before I learned of its demise.  I found that the space is not now vacant; New Style Handpulled Noodles is the new operation at 23 Pell Street.  I'll get there soon and see if they have built on the strengths of Shanghai Gourmet (excellent soup buns and scallion pancakes, among other things).  

Thursday, May 26, 2016
At first, I chuckled when I read a review of a new Broadway show this morning.  The critic wrote that the show "achieves the singular feat of being simultaneously frenetic and tedious."  Then, I thought how apt a description that is of so much that surrounds us today, beginning, of course, with the American political scene.  

"Prisoners of War," the Israeli original that bred "Homeland," by contrast, is intense and compelling.  We just completed the first season on discs borrowed from the library and I have requested the second season.  A third seems to be in the works.  Note that the violence is vivid and frightening, but I hope that does not deter you.  The ethical and psychological issues that are presented will stay with you a long time.

Friday, May 27, 2016
I explained the Cuban Chinese phenomenon recently (May 2, 2016) when I went to La Dinastia, 145 West 72nd Street.  Today, I went to La Caridad 78 Restaurant, 2199 Broadway, a long established joint that is a model of its type.  It offers a wide variety of Chinese and Latin dishes at a corner location mostly enclosed in glass.  I took a middle ground, or maybe an off-the-road path, by ordering a fried chicken lunch special ($9), more Norte Americano than Chino or Latino.

They called their fried chicken "crackling," as La Dinastia did.  The lunch plate had four chunks of white meat in a crispy coating, needing more spice both inside and outside.  A hefty serving of rice, white or yellow, and beans, red or black, came with it.  I chose yellow and black.  The meal was filling and satisfying, but not special.  Next time, I'll try to make a more distinctively ethnic choice.

The movie industry is focused on a battle of battles right now.  Warner Bros. released "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" on March 25th.  Disney followed six weeks later with "Captain America: Civil War."  It seems that Captain America has proved to be a greater favorite worldwide, grossing over $1 billion in less time than Bat/Supe has taken in $871 million.  While I will not seek either venture for entertainment, I have some mixed feelings about this confrontation of confrontations.  

Captain America is, pardon the expression, foreign to me.  While he originated in March 1941, according to Wikipedia, "the Captain America comic book was discontinued in 1950, with a short-lived revival in 1953," and revived again in 1964.  I was at the peak of my comic book collecting period in the early 1950s, when the Captain was mostly retired.

On the other hand, along with Donald Duck, Superman and Batman were the object of my affections for at least half a decade.  I spent dime after dime acquiring each comic book issue as it hit the shelves of Joe's candy store, one store in from the southeast corner of Pitkin Avenue and Crescent Street.  I not only joyfully read and reread these works, but they became sort of the contemporary version of Bitcoins, used in trades and as ante for poker games among us prepubescents.  

With my history of early devotion to Superman and Batman, I am distressed by the thought of them battling on the screen.  Clark, Bruce, step back, chill.  Can't you find a way to get along?

Speaking of getting along, I am intrigued by this situation in Switzerland, where schoolchildren customarily shake hands with their teachers each day, "considered an important sign of politeness and respect."

Two teenage brothers, Muslim Syrian immigrants, have refused to shake female teachers' hands on religious grounds, subjecting their parents to fines.  This behavior is not entirely unfamiliar to me, because some orthodox Jews also bar any physical contact between the sexes outside the family.  Alan Dershowitz, for once making someone else the center of attention, tells of a friend who, as a devoted Mets fan and an observant Jew, would purchase the seats around him at Shea Stadium to avoid unwanted contact with strange females.  

I remember meeting a friendly neighbor in the lobby of my former residence who beamingly introduced me to his fiancée, a nice Jewish girl newly arrived from Belgium.  I stuck out my hand to greet her, with the enthusiasm of a politician on the campaign trail, causing her to hurl herself against the wall of mailboxes behind her, risking whiplash.  As my neighbor started to explain, I indicated that I understood.  He was a much shorter guy, so he probably was unable to see how high my eyebrows rose.

In the Swiss instance, the case for moral relativism was substantially weakened, in my eyes, by the comments of one of the young men that, as paraphrased in the newspaper, "the brothers were trying to protect the dignity of women with their refusal to shake a woman’s hand."

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cookie Monster

Monday, May 16, 2016
While I have frequently announced my devotion to chocolate chip cookies, with the masterworks of Jacques Torres (9 locations currently in Manhattan) at the top of the list, I leave room for other cookies, such as, the chocolate-covered graham cracker and the chocolate-covered wafer.  This latter cookie seems particularly popular in Central and Eastern Europe, see, for instance, 
The leading American version of the chocolate-covered wafer is the Kit Kat bar, a Hershey's product.  It turns out, though, that the Japanese have become devoted to Kit Kat to an unmatched degree.  They supposedly have almost 300 varieties of the Kit Kat bar, including such favorites as wasabi and miso, flavors we normally encounter in a sushi restaurant.

I prefer the slightly-exotic dark chocolate Kit Kat bar, not as common as the standard milk chocolate version.  As with almost any chocolate concoction that comes my way, I have it sit in the freezer before eating.  A better alternative is this Austrian product with a hazelnut filling that Fairway sells for $6.79, the 14 oz. package.  

According to an article in the New York Times, Monday may be the gloomiest day of the week.

An examination of Google searches containing the word "jokes" reveals that Monday is the slowest day.  As the week progresses, we apparently are more tickled or tickling, until Sunday, when we may be hiding copies of Mad magazine in our hymnals.  But, I see another possible explanation: We supply our own mirth when we return to work (present company excluded) until we remember where we are and we seek some external amusement.

One serious observation emerges from this study.  In contradiction to conventional wisdom about humor, it does not seem to be a rapid response to trauma.  It usually takes time for people to start looking for jokes dealing with a recent tragedy. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
In case you have been waiting to spend money on a fancy meal, here is a link to the James Beard Foundation's best list of 2016.

The list covers the entire country and only a few local joints rise to the top.  Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, a new seafood restaurant in Brooklyn, is labeled the Best Bar Program, although what caught my attention is its claim to serve over 30 varieties of oysters, none of which ever made it onto Mother Ruth Gotthelf's Friday night dinner menu.   Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue, is cited for Outstanding Service, which seems to be an absolute necessity in managing its 12-15 course tasting menu.  

Sad to say, but I've never visited any of the winners whether here in the Holy Land, or anywhere else.  Of course, the awarders never seem to have been near Wo Hop.

Speaking of Chinatown, today I went to visit Taiwan Bear House, 11 Pell Street, a new joint that allegedly does a good job with fried chicken.  However, a special event kept the doors closed to the general public.  So, I went around the corner to AA Japanese Noodle, 45 Bayard Street, which was called AA Noodle the last time I was there, on December 15, 2015.   Little seems to have changed otherwise, except the two people in the window were stuffing dumplings rather than pulling noodles.  

I ordered Handmade Noodle w. Meat Sauce ($6.99), a tasty bowl of lo mein-like noodles, shredded carrots, bean sprouts and cucumber slivers with a very dark meat sauce that looked and tasted more like fermented black beans.  I hope to tackle the Bear sometime soon, proverbially that is.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Even though I couldn't get into Taiwan Bear yesterday, the New York Times managed to spend enough time there to write a favorable review today.

Thursday, May 19, 2016
Michael Ratner and I headed to CitiField last night to see the Mets play their hottest current rival, the Washington Nationals.  We came away disappointed by the 7-1 loss, in spite of the enthusiasm that we brought to the contest.  That enthusiasm was fueled by having dinner first at Ben's Best Kosher Delicatessen, 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, which we both believe to indeed be the best in New York and thereby the Western Hemisphere.  Michael, ever the gentleman, did not hesitate going back to Ben's, even though his name has been removed from the #4 combination, corned beef, turkey, chopped liver.  I ordered the "Daily News Sports Final Special", corned beef, pastrami, rolled beef, sweet pepper and cole slaw ($20.25, and worth it to a serious eater).

Friday, May 20, 2016
The Mets put in another miserable performance last night, but, at least, I was home and able to quickly turn to recorded episodes of "The Last Panthers," a joint French-British crime series, that jumps from Marseille to London to Belgrade to Budapest and points in between.  It's pretty hard to follow, since the #1 Serbian bad guy and the #1 French cop, of North African lineage, look a lot alike, and each scene takes place hundreds of miles from the last.  But, I find it great fun anyway.

My persistence paid off today.  I went back to Taiwan Bear House, 11 Pell Street, and found them open and busy.  The smallish space is airy and bright, with a storefront entirely of clear glass.  The ceiling and part of one wall is knotty pine; 5 small tables have blond wood tops and sit opposite a long padded bench on the left side of the room.  There is also a narrow ledge on the right side with 3 high stools.

The menu is simple, focused on Bento boxes, 6" circular containers made of thin poplar wood.  Each box holds white rice, wilted cabbage, a piece of tofu, half a hardboiled egg and two spoons of minced pork plus a topping of chicken or pork (except the vegetable version skips the minced pork) ($9.99).  I had the "night market crispy chicken," 5 big chunks of boneless fried chicken cooked with spicy salt and pepper.  Unlike the traditional compartmentalized Japanese Bento box, this version is built vertically, not horizontally, allowing the flavors to mix quite successfully.  To drink, I had "Taiwan root beer," actually Hey Song brand sarsaparilla, and when was the last time that you used that word in a sentence.  

By the way, the name Taiwan Bear House does not refer to any delicacy on the menu.  Ursus thibetanus formosanus is a white-throated bear endemic to Taiwan (Formosa).  It has been adopted as their national symbol, akin to our bald eagle.  
I stopped in Fairway on the way home and found a cookie surprise there.  Their bakery counter now offers that wonderful handmade, slivered almond adorned version of the Milano ($9.99 a pound), which I encountered at a grocery store at the corner of Third Avenue and 39th Street (see February 14, 2014).  

As the week ends, I see that I have avoided political commentary, snarky or otherwise.  I might remain stumm, since the presidential campaign shows no sign of stopping its decline at the level of junior high school rhetoric.  "Wall" - "guns" - "huge" - "great"  May we expect a return to polysyllables?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Music To My Ears

Monday, May 9, 2016
A jury of our peers?

Do you suffer from "word aversion"?  That doesn't mean being repelled by hearing the name of a certain presidential candidate, rather, a negative reaction basically to the phonics, the actual sound of a word.  According to research, "moist" although "not a taboo word, it’s not profanity, but it [typically] elicits this very visceral disgust reaction.”

The effort here is to distinguish the sound of a word from its meaning, the more conventional source of antagonism. See

I'll try to develop a "do not speak in my presence" list, but I don't think that I can easily separate sound and fury.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
We have another example of American bravery in the face of adversity.  A flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse, two American cities with very foreign names, was delayed while an Italian economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania was questioned about possible links to terrorism.  His seat mate, a vigilant patriot, observed this dark-complected man with an accent scribbling strange notes and summoned help from the airline crew.  Read it for yourself.
Wednesday, May 11, 2106
A funny thing happened on the way to Jamestown.  George Carlin's daughter is donating a large trove of the late comedian's memorabilia to the not-yet-open National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York.  This site,   several hundred miles northwest of New York City, is looking to follow in the footsteps of Cooperstown in establishing a destination where little existed before.  

Jamestown does not, however, start entirely from scratch.  It was Lucille Ball's birthplace and now is home to the Lucy Desi Museum & Center for Comedy.  An annual comedy festival is scheduled for the first week of August, including Lewis Black who is worth traveling serveral Thruway exits to see.

I went to midtown today for my Spring shearing and, even though I lived in the neighborhood for 23 years, I was still surprised by the crowded streets at lunchtime.  There are more high-rise office buildings and apartment houses in the area than ever before, but that growth has fostered a raft of of fast(ish) food joints.  There are countless pizza, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, hamburger, salad, Japanese, Indian and Irish (pub) places packed into a few square blocks.    

I went into Food of Vietnam, 708 Third Avenue, a ten-foot wide space serving a large volume of takeout orders at a fast clip.  I ordered a smoked duck banh mi (the Vietnamese baguette sandwich), dressed with mayo, cucumber, cilantro and daikon radish ($9 including tax).  The bread was fresh, about 10" long; the duck was somewhat overcome by the other strong flavors, especially one very hot pepper.  Other choices were chicken meatballs, BBQ pork, grilled beef.  Rice bowls, salad bowls and noodle bowls had many of the same ingredients as the sandwiches at the same price.  I stood by a small ledge, the only person to remain on the premises with his food as dozens of office workers marched in and out. 

Friday, May 13, 2016
Even if one were superstitious, today must be considered a very lucky day.  It is Stanley Feingold's 90th birthday.   Feingold, as the admiring but irreverent crowd I belong to identifies him, graduated CCNY in 1946 and then taught American government there for several decades.  I for one took five undergraduate courses with him, constituting the bulk of my major.  However, unlike many who sat at the feet of a Leo Strauss or a Herbert Marcuse, I came away with a greater appreciation of the questions, not the answers.  That legacy unites a large cohort mostly of academics and lawyers (commerce was rarely the goal of my generation) who periodically gather to loudly wrestle with the same issues of public policy that agitated us half a century ago.  Oy, Feingold, you did so much for us.  Today, at least, don't be humble.  Take a deep bow.

Allow me to mention some others on my honor roll today: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Errol Garner, Thelonious Monk, Red Garland, Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, John Lewis, Nina Simone, Fats Domino, Andre Watts, Scott Joplin.  I cite them in response to the head of the National Association for Music Education, who resigned this week after he said that his organization was not ethnically diverse partly because “blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field.”

I have to make this stupid point in 2016.  What is wrong with us?

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Gotthelf Paradox

Monday, May 2, 2016
As I have written before, I expect William Franklin Harrison to be the 48th president of the United States, or soon thereafter (June 15, 2014, August 27, 2014, May 1, 2015, August 31, 2015).  Therefore, I was pleased to be in the company of the prospective First Family at the Mets game yesterday.  Since William is 15, childless and unmarried, his entourage consisted solely of his mother and father.  

Keeping with this humble spirit, we traveled to and from the ballpark on the #7 train, with our fellow Americans, and sat in modest seats exposed to the afternoon's chill and off-and-on drizzle.  While the Mets lost, ending their eight-game winning streak, I felt that I helped lay another brick in the wall of American history.  Additionally, the First Family treated me to two Nathan’s hot dogs and the Mets gave me a present.

Oh, joy!  The New York Times today has a feature article on fat, relieving me of any residual guilt about my weight.  Rex Stout's fictional detective Nero Wolfe was described as carrying one-seventh of a ton.  My load has been steadily one-eighth of a ton for a decade or more, and that's really natural according to the newspaper.

A study of contestants on "The Biggest Loser," a reality television show that rewards major weight loss, demonstrates that most participants regained some or all of their weight, because their metabolisms did not adjust to their new weight.  Metabolisms became even slower, and the pounds kept piling back on. "It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight."  So, don't blame me and give me a cookie.  

La Dinastia, 145 West 72nd Street, is one of the few remaining examples of a culinary trend that emerged from international politics.  In 1960, when Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, foreign tourism, an example of bourgeois exploitation, was effectively eliminated.  The grand hotels that appealed to rich Yanquis were mostly converted to public housing and the staff dispersed.  It seems that many of the leading chefs were Chinese and they headed for New York and Miami, opening Cuban-Chinese restaurants ("Comida China y Criolla" as La Caridad 78 Restaurant, 2199 Broadway, promotes).  

La Dinastia's full menu is divided into a Latin food section and a Chinese food section.  The "Chef's Suggestions" posits Serrucho Ajillo alongside General Tso's Chicken.  At lunch, 18 specials are offered including rice (white or yellow) and beans (black or red), ranging from $8.50 to $10.  I had "Fried Chicken Crackling" ($8.50), their highly-reputed fried chicken on the bone.  It was a generous portion of chicken, with an even more generous portion of rice and beans.  The chicken was good, not great, as some over-eager on-line reviewers proclaimed.  It needed some spicing up, although hot sauce was on every table.  

Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, a national chain, serves my favorite fried chicken, whether regular or spicy, even if there is often more of that crunchy outside than meat inside.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
It has been 50 years since I systematically studied the formal literature of political science.  However, I have remained interested in American politics and political behavior.  Somewhere along the way I formulated the Gotthelf Paradox.  It may well have been addressed under another name in doctoral dissertations or monographs, but, as I remain blissfully ignorant of competitive voices, I will offer it here.

The Gotthelf Paradox simply holds that generally voter participation is inversely proportional to the political distance between the voter and the elective office.  In other words, voter turnout declines as you move from presidential elections to statewide contests to local races.  An excellent example was reported in a Citizen's Union report on New York State voting, published in 2015.  "Among the NYC voters who turned out for the 2008 presidential election, less that 17% turned out in each borough for the 2011 municipal elections."    
Particular New York characteristics may exaggerate the Gotthelf Paradox, such as, difficult registration requirements and odd-numbered year voting, but the pattern is found throughout the land.  The 2014 California general election, including the governor, all other top state officers, all members of the State Assembly, half the members of the State Senate and the entire House of Representatives delegation, had a turnout 30% lower than the 2012 presidential election.
Alabama had a 72.4 % turnout in the 2012 presidential election and a 41% turnout in 2014, with the governor up for reelection.  Kansas saw a decline of almost 16% between the 2012 presidential election and the 2014 general election, including races for governor, senator and state and congressional legislators. 
If I had the time and energy to dredge up statistics on more races, I am certain that the strength of the Gotthelf Paradox would be solidly demonstrated, and I venture a guess that it is not a recent phenomenon.  However, serious grant money will be needed for me to finish this work.  After all, I am retired.
But, why do I label it Paradox, not Theorem, Postulate, or Conjecture?  Simply, Americans in and out of office blather about the virtues of small or limited government.  Yet, they ignore the mathematics that puts the paradox in the Gotthelf Paradox.  A vote in a small constituency, such as, for a seat on the city council or a local school board, should be far more potent than in a statewide or national election.  And, the machinations of local government are more likely to have an immediate effect on a citizen's safety, comfort and welfare.  
So, while Tip O'Neill, former Speaker of the House, famously declared that all politics is local, our voters are more attracted to the glamour of the grand stage even as they pretend to be devoted to community theater.
I shop at Fairway Market, 2131 Broadway, the original location, six sometimes seven days a week, so the news today of its bankruptcy was upsetting.   However, it seems that "my" store will remain open as the financial mess is sorted out.  The story here, similar to the 2008 economic crisis, is the product of the new breed of wiseguys, the MBAs who ultimately can't add 2 + 2.  In the past, the term wiseguy applied to nogoodniks who used muscle to exploit honest people and enterprises.   Now, we are victimized by soulless creatures wielding spreadsheets.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
I went to the Mets game again today.  It seems that I can’t get enough of sitting outside in chilly, wet weather.  While the Mets did not give me any wearing apparel, they rewarded me with a victory and an unsolicited upgrade of the high in the sky seats that Amy C. and I held to excellent field level seats.  We moved from section 514 to section 124, skipping over the 400s, the 300s and the 200s.  Then, when the temperature dropped further, we went into an empty private suite behind home plate on our own initiative.  As the great philosopher Sophie Tucker said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.  Rich is better.”

Thursday, May 5, 2106
I had the pleasure of walking around Greenwich Village with Robina Rafferty, a dear friend of a dear friend, formerly head of a major London charity devoted to providing affordable housing.  We met in 2014 in London and I was delighted to learn that she was visiting New York for a few days.  We started in Sheridan Square, opposite the original location of the Village Voice and the Stonewall Inn, the incubator of the Gay Liberation Movement.  We covered much of the surrounding area, with houses going back to the early 1800s and others that sheltered an assortment of the great and near-great and me, in the past.  

We had lunch at John’s of Bleecker Street (“No Slices”), 278 Bleecker Street, serving quintessential New York pizza since 1929.  In spite of her dignified demeanor, Robina showed her true mettle and suggested that we top our pizza with black olives, anchovies and pepperoni.  She also tasted for the first time and enjoyed root beer, which I found hard to define when asked.

As we parted, she gave me two tins of chocolate cookies from Fortnum & Mason, the Zabar’s of Piccadilly.  What a woman!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Let My People Eat Again

Monday, April 25, 2016
I wasn't surprised, but I still was delighted by the seder meals that Aunt Judi served us Friday night (17 people) and Saturday night (27 people).  As always, I ignored the hard-boiled egg soup, an aberration that began the meals.  (Just serve hard-boiled eggs as we did in Brooklyn.)  However, I experienced rapture almost immediately when the deep-fried gefilte fish came out.  I have to confess that I have been attributing this marvelous creation to Aunt Judi for years, even though she freely acknowledges that, unlike everything else, it was an outside purchase.  It doesn't matter.  She will always be my deep-fried gefilte fish queen.

After two pieces of fish each night, I moved into the heart of the meal, but I have to explain something first.  Kugel (coo-gull) is a baked pudding or casserole, traditionally made from egg noodles (lukshen) or potatoes, however Aunt Judi pushes the boundaries of kugeldom to new limits.   

Friday night:
Beef brisket cooked with a mixture of cranberry sauce, onion soup mix and beef bullion; herb-marinated chicken breasts; cabbage salad with red peppers, scallions and candied almonds; vegetable kishka; apple kugel muffins; roasted vegetables (butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions, red peppers, celery).  Chocolate mousse cake; chocolate fudge cookies; zebra cookies; almond drops; sorbet; fresh fruit.

Saturday night:
Aunt Judi's famous sweet and sour meatballs; chicken Marbella (see "The Silver Palate Cookbook"); Israeli couscous; vegetable kugel; mushroom kugel; cabbage kugel; health salad (I think that means no mayonnaise); cucumber salad; cranberry pineapple relish.  Brownies; frozen strawberry mousse; chocolate chip mandelbrot; almond chocolate chip drop cookies; fresh fruit.

After this head start, 40 years in the desert is no problem.
I skipped an important stage in human development.  I was never a parent.  I went from being a man-about-town, gourmand, free spirit directly to being a grandfather without experiencing that vital, often messy, challenging role as parent.  I was thinking about this Sunday morning when I took my two highly-energetic grandsons (visiting for Passover) to the playground next door for a couple of hours to allow their parents some peace and quiet.  There were other children there, mostly toddlers, 2 or 3 years old, much younger than my boys.  Parents, often two at a time, hovered around their kids.

Which brings me to San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured by a married couple, he an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, she a Pakistani-born lawful permanent resident.  For exact reasons that remain unknown, the couple chose to pursue jihad at a local government facility, where the husband was employed.  They left behind a six-month old daughter.  

It's possible that the couple thought that they could get away safely, although there seems to be no evidence of a thought-out escape plan.  So, I sat in the playground watching kids and their parents and wondering how could the couple avoid the gravitational pull of their child, dependent on them, staring at them with adoration, seeking comfort in their arms, and instead pursue an inevitable path to suicide.  Could it be that a six-month old child, not able to run around or communicate clearly, had not yet registered a presence with her parents, or had the parents found a set of values so potent that they overrode seemingly universal human instincts? 

How to save $161.
1) Buy ticket to game 6 of New York Rangers first round of Stanley Cup playoffs.
2) Watch New York Rangers lose game 5 and exit first round of Stanley Cup playoffs.
3) Return ticket.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Let's get great again, but just when was that?  Both Republicans and Democrats seem to like 2000.  Of course, that was when Hillary Clinton was last in the White House.

Grandpa Alan's Career Advice:  
Go to law school and move to Minnesota.

Prince, the musical star who died last week in Minnesota, apparently died without a will (intestate -- you might as well start learning the lingo).  He was divorced, with no children or surviving parents.  He had one sister, three half-brothers and two half-sisters.  The size of his estate is unknown at present, but is likely to be in the hundreds of millions and growing rapidly as his fans have rushed to buy his music after his death.  Besides physical property, Prince owned a copyright to a large inventory of music. 

Minnesota law applies, as the place of death (that will be on the exam).  But, if you imagine that six adults will come to an easy agreement on the disposition of this huge estate and future revenues, you don't need a lawyer, you need a doctor -- a psychiatrist.  I think that there won't be an unemployed lawyer in Minnesota for decades as each of the six relatives, and maybe more to emerge, go to court to express their unique position in Prince's esteem and the tender loving care they provided him in life, warranting more than an ordinary division of the spoils.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Still Hungry After All These Years

Monday, April 18, 2016
The business section in the Sunday New York Times always contains a Q&A column on work issues, office politics, employment options, performance standards, and the like.  A question appeared yesterday that stirred up some memories for me.

A teacher (gender unspecified) just won a teacher-of-the-year award, in a position that the teacher "loves," although involving a long commute.  Another school, very close by, that previously attracted the teacher, is offering a lateral position.  "[M]y biggest concern is about leaving the only job I’ve had, and people to whom I feel a lot of loyalty, right after being given such an honor."   

Well, once upon a time, when Grandpa Alan was in the computer business, he received an award as the technical manager of the year for leading a group of about 30 programmers and business analysts, the largest office in the country among 20 locations.  I received the award at the company's annual convention of over-quota salespeople, the only technical person present.  Two weeks later, I was fired.  That's management's view of loyalty for you.

On the way to lunch today, I saw lines out on the street waiting to get into two joints right around the corner from each other.  Levain Bakery, 167 West 74th Street, is known for its extraordinary chocolate chip cookies, almost the size of a Spaldeen, packed with chocolate chips in a tiny amount of flour held together with butter.  They ain't cheap; one cookie is $4, but it can last for two sittings.  People have to stand in the street to get into Levain because it is tiny, basically a counter to order and then out the door.  

Sweetgreen, 311 Amsterdam Avenue, on the other hand, is a large joint, three storefronts wide, at a jinxed location that has seen one failed operation annually throughout this decade.  It is part of a national chain.  It seems to be the place to go to get a bowl of "organic quinoa + farro, swiss chard, pea shoots, roasted mushrooms, red onion, roasted tofu, spicy sunflower seeds, miso sesame ginger dressing."  Or, maybe the people waiting outside thought that it was a side entrance to Levain.

I plowed ahead to the Meatball Shop, 447 Amsterdam Avenue, now with 5 locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.  It is two storefronts wide, but not particularly deep.  Tin covers the very high ceiling and subway tiles are on most of the vertical surfaces.  The flooring is weathered planks, or a reasonable facsimile.  
I liked the place right away because it is really the meatball shop, focusing on meatballs, without any cutesy diversions.  The menu is built around a choice of meatballs -- beef, pork, chicken, veggie, or lamb (today's special) -- and a choice of sauces -- classic tomato, spicy meat, mushroom gravy, parmesan cream, and pesto -- served up as platters or sandwiches.  I ordered sliders ($3.50), beef with spicy meat, chicken with mushroom gravy, and lamb with pesto. Each meatball was about 1 1/4" inch round, and just fit on a bun that did not dissolve until the second bite.  The flavors of each were distinct and palatable.  

While I was satisfied with the amount (and quality) of food, I noted abstemiously that they offered homemade ice cream sandwiches, assembled to order ($6).  A choice of four or five cookies baked in house hold four or five ice cream flavors also made on the premises, certainly to be enjoyed at a future date.  

I am not an American exceptionalist in many regards, but I believe that professional sports in America, with all of its flaws, generally operate more honestly and transparently than foreign flavors.  Just look at the criminal charges involving international soccer, with many of its most prominent leaders on the way to jail, and the frequent charges of game fixing.  However, one crack in the integrity of American sports is about to be imported from abroad -- advertising on uniforms.  The National Basketball Association has announced that 2.5 x 2.5 inch patches for commercial enterprises will be permitted in the 2017-18 season for a supposed three-year trial program.

It is estimated that this will bring the team owners $100 million in additional revenue a year, which will probably not influence their decision to continue or expand the program after the trial period.  Okay, get off the floor. I was only kidding.

April 20, 2016
I labeled this opus Heaven on Earth when I began it in January 2010, because I viewed Chinatown as the functional equivalent for New York Jews of heaven for Islamic martyrs.  See my introduction.

I was reminded today how appropriate this appellation is when I returned to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, with the Boyz Club.  I don't think that I took Wo Hop for granted when I ate there three times a month or more while I was still working, but entering this temple of culinary delights felt like a pilgrimage to a holy site.  

We enjoyed fried wontons, beef chow fun, spicy eggplant, shrimp fried rice, beef with scallions and   chicken with black bean sauce at a cost of $18 each, generous gratuity included.  While the conversation focused on the presidential campaign, evoking differences in preferred candidates, the food generated a sense of euphoria that furthered our fraternal bond.

Thursday, April 21, 2106
Personally, I would rather share a bathroom with a transgender person than with Ted Cruz.

Friday, April 22, 2016
While I consider myself well versed in American politics and history, I admit to having little understanding of economics as a field of study, an academic discipline.  My checkbook is balanced; I have created and followed budgets.  But, the work of the Federal Reserve and the World Bank, for instance, are mysteries to me.  Still, I have some simple questions about the current state of American economic policy.  What lesson may we learn from the Eisenhower administration's massive public works program -- the interstate highway system?  How was New York City able to operate a world class higher education network for over one hundred years without charging tuition?  Maybe there are elements of a great America to return to.

For the last six years until I retired, I ate lunch in Chinatown about 4 out of every 5 workdays.  To the surprise of some, I never got tired of this.  Now that I operate out of the Palazzo di Gotthelf, proximity does not favor me, so a trip to Chinatown, as on this past Wednesday, is a special treat.  Of course, even staying close to home does not eliminate the need to have lunch, or my desire to enjoy it.  El Mitote Torteria & Cantinita, 208 Columbus Avenue, is a relatively new Mexican restaurant that seems to be thriving.  It's a small space that fits in a lot of people.  There are 4 high tables with 6 stools at each, 6 two tops and a counter with 10 stools.  With the fair weather that we are experiencing, several tables are set out on the sidewalk.  Service was friendly and efficient, even with most seats occupied.

The menu is simple, but offers a comprehensive assortment of casual Mexican dishes -- burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tostadas.  I ordered a chorizo mollete, an open-faced sandwich with chopped tomato, refried beans and melted cheese on top, a nice concoction.  El Motite (an Aztec dance) serves beer, wine and tequila, but, since it was lunchtime, I only asked for a Diet Coke, which they don't have.

Tonight, we begin the historic escape from Egypt and the forty-year trek across the Sinai Desert.  As in the past, we are privileged to attend the seders hosted by Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu.  And, as always, Aunt Judi's kitchen magic makes the journey more than tolerable.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

New York Values

Monday, April 11, 2016
When someone was once extolling the virtues of the Left Coast to Mark Kolber, they asked him, "What does New York have that we don't?"  He quickly replied "The Statue of Liberty."  My own chauvinistic approach to New York also treasures its abundance of memorable people, places and things.  However, I am happy to concede that New York has until now lacked something for decades -- incessant presidential campaign advertising.  

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won New York's popular vote was 1984.  Since then, the margins for the Democrat have been predictably healthy enough to have both parties avoid New York's expensive media market.  And, according to Crain's New York Business, "For the first time since modern White House primaries debuted in 1972, the state [of New York] is hosting competitive presidential races in both major parties this month."  The happy benefit of this has been the absence of annoying campaign ads, at least in the presidential campaigns.  While we have not been spared the stuff and nonsense of local candidates, I suggest that the exaggerations, idle promises, distortions and fabrications of national campaigns notably weaken our confidence in the state of the union.  

An interesting feature in today's paper highlights another distinction for New York, an especially surprising one -- longevity for its residents.

The article identifies several overall population trends, including the connections between wealth and geography on longevity.  Particularly, the "top 1 percent in income among American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent; for women, the gap is 10 years," and "[f]or poor Americans, the place they call home can be a matter of life or death."  However, New York City seems to have partly overcome these trends to the benefit of its residents.  Poor New York men live longer than any comparable group in the country, 79.5 years, while poor women (84.0 years) are second only to Miami.  By comparison, poor men in Gary, Indiana have an average lifespan of 74.2 years, and poor women in Las Vegas, Nevada have an average lifespan of 80.0 years, clearly trailing New York. 

The rich still do measurably better here than the poor.  In Manhattan, for instance, a rich person will live about 6 years longer than a poor person, yet "about 1.5 years smaller than the gap for the United States as a whole."   Given the notorious chasm between our haves and have-nots, does envy fuel the local will to live?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
My neighborhood in Brooklyn was composed of blue collar, pink collar and slightly-soiled white collar families.  Nearly 100% white, we were roughly divided between Eastern European Jews and Italian Americans, with no evident friction.  We lived side by side and sat next to each other in school.  There was no "West Side Story" in our neighborhood, but there were also no ecumenical functions or interfaith services to bring us together.

One tradition that did not emerge from this setting was an early exposure to Italian food.  If our family went out to eat, not often because of economic constraints, we usually headed for Wu Han's, a Chinese restaurant up one flight of stairs on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville, home to Murder Incorporated slightly more than a decade earlier.  At rarer intervals, we went to Lundy's, the gargantuan sea food emporium in Sheepshead Bay.  
There was an Italian restaurant two blocks from our house and I walked by it weekdays on my way to and from Hebrew school after the regular school day.  I remember the red neon sign in the window, PIZZERIA, an unfamiliar word that I mispronounced for years.  I thought that the first syllable rhymed with fizz.  No one that I knew ever entered this joint. I still have no idea what might have transpired behind its walls.

In any case, I only became familiar with pizza and Italian hero sandwiches in high school, a pattern that I've learned is common to other contemporary Jewish friends and relatives.  I've been doing my best to make up for that initial handicap.  

Therefore, today I went to Parm, 235 Columbus Avenue, the second iteration of a restaurant that started in Little Italy.  It occupies a large space, previously occupied by a deservedly failed pseudo-Jewish delicatessen.  Parm has a bar with 12 stools on the left of the front room, a retail counter on the right and its open kitchen beyond the retail counter.  I'm not sure how much of the decor was retained, but there is a nice old-fashioned feel to the tin ceiling and the mosaic tile floor.  However, the wallpaper seemed to have been borrowed from Ralph Kramden's Brooklyn apartment.

I had a "meatball parm" ($15), as they style it, on a six inch oblong roll, heavily coated with sesame seeds.  The bread was fresh, maybe too soft, just managing to contain the meatballs.  There was only a modest amount of sauce on the sandwich, a positive since it allowed you to hold the sandwich while eating, not having to resort to knife and fork to manage a drippy mess.  On the other hand, the sauce was a bit bland, needing a hit of garlic, oregano and rosemary.  

I also had mixed feelings about the Diet Coke that I ordered.  It came in a full can, cold, with a glass of ice and a lemon wedge . . .  for $3.  Now, there are far worse deals on soda around town, often no more than colored carbonated water.  But, $3 is still a tremendous markup, comparable to the price gouging on wine at too many "nice" restaurants.  Parm has a regular menu which I have not sampled, in addition to sandwiches, with moderate prices.  For instance, linguine vongole (clams) is $18 and chicken limone (half chicken in lemon sauce) is $24.  It seems worthy of future exploration.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016   
[Sigh of relief]  I went to my first Mets game of the season and they won.  

Baseball is the nominal focus of an article that I found provocative.  It was annoying and thus provocative.

It's an awful example of identity politics.  The author compares the percentage of black (African-American) baseball players, 8%, to their share of the population, 11%, and decides that baseball, therefore, "has lost its place in American culture."  He contends that this is based on baseball's disdain for "showboats," and how "baseball’s pool of young talent just doesn’t captivate fans like the stars of football and American sports . . . who, in some way, flouted the white, stoic traditions of American sports."  

The author wrestles with placing Latin baseball players, approximately 30% of major leaguers at present, into his binary racial perspective.  Yeah, there are a lot of them, but "baseball's media have mostly ignored them."  Even the best of them, he claims, "have had to go through humiliating acculturations to make them seem more American."  His only two examples, an unwelcome, though not insulting, nickname for a player who died in 1972, and a Latin superstar who "seemed to go through his entire career [1996-2011] without a single memorable interview or profile."  Really?  Memorable interviews of baseball players?     

To me, the preeminent tradition of American sports is winning and I believe, in my white, stoic fashion, that flashiness sometimes interferes with that goal.  That happened at the last Super Bowl, where the gifted, young quarterback seemed to give more thought to the outfits he wore off the field than his performance on the field.  In the author's eyes, the athlete might have been more culturally relevant than his grizzled, old opponent, but the young man went home a loser.  Yes, Cam Newton is black and Peyton Manning, the victor, white.  However, I am not ready to automatically award style points to any athlete solely on the basis of skin color.  I leave that to the author and other racists.

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Try and remember that "regular walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening may substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s."