Friday, August 27, 2010

Thirty-Fourth Week

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I returned to work today after more than a week of intense grandparenting and am happy to be back at my desk merely trying to please 50 judges of the New York State Supreme Court instead of trying to gain and maintain the attention and cooperation of one 2 ½ year old child. I remained upbeat in spite of the gloomy, damp, gray, gusty weather and the news that the New York City Department of Health has closed New Bo Ky Restaurant, 80 Bayard Street, visited on April 16, 2010, Sweet Spring Restaurant, 25A Catherine Street, visited on May 17, 2010, Chang Wang, 38A Allen Street, Gao Xin Seafood Restaurant, 31 Division Street and Golden House Chinese Restaurant, in Long Island City. The latter three I have not visited and may now never have the opportunity.
The weather dictated a bowl of soup and I chose to go back to Big Wong, 67 Mott Street, a favorite of many, but which impressed me more with value than flavor on March 17, 2010. I ordered soup with dumplings ($4.75) and got a medium-sized bowl of soup with 8 or so tasty dumplings. When I left Big Wong, I decided to add a second course to lunch by buying fruit from one of the vendors on the sidewalk around Canal and Mulberry Streets. The white peaches looked spectacular, ranging from 4 for $2.50 to 4 for $5 based on size. However, in complete contradiction to Starbuck’s, the smallest were large. Unfortunately, none of the white peaches of any size at any of three stands I approached were ready to eat. In fact, they were ready to drive nails. Instead, I bought pluots at 6 for $2, nice and juicy, ready to eat. Pluots, pronounced plew otz, are a cross between a plum and an apricot, tasting and looking more like a plum. There is also, but not in Chinatown at present, plucots, another cross between plums and apricots, favoring the apricot. I don’t recall ever having had a plucot actually.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Bonnie Glotzer tells how to avoid the Evil Eye when faced with the necessity of moving from a higher floor to a lower in the same building, a very risky maneuver. Leave your old apartment carrying a chair and take it down to the street. Sit on the chair on the sidewalk for a reasonable (lawyers say practicable) period of time. Then, enter your new apartment by ascending from the street rather than descending from above.
With former President Jimmy Carter (see note) in North Korea, it was no surprise that Thai Son Vietnamese Restaurant, 89 Baxter Street, was jammed at lunchtime with as many non-Asians as Asians. The Asians may have been Chinese or Vietnamese, but I’m not able to distinguish them. People were always waiting to be seated, although not for very long. The medium-sized, pleasantly-decorated restaurant handled diners quickly without rushing them. In fact, I had to go to the cashier to get my check after finishing my Cha Gio (spring rolls, 4 for $3.95) and Tai (beef soup with rice noodles and thinly-sliced eye of round, $5.50). Both were very good, the Tai leaning towards excellent. A dish with bean sprouts, lime wedges and mint leaves accompanied the soup, which was already aromatic with the scent of cilantro. I threw some of the stuff in the soup, but did not use any of the four sauces, soy, sweet, hot and hotter, on the table.
Note – Harry Truman used to insist that he was a former President while Herbert Hoover was an ex-President, during the Eisenhower years when both were still alive. The difference, according to Truman, was that Hoover had been defeated for re-election. By Truman's standard, Carter is an ex-president. What about a former wife and an ex-wife, then. Any comments?

Thursday, August 26, 2010
New Wong Rest. Inc., 103 East Broadway, is so new that the take-out menus by the cash register still read 103 E.B. Rest. Inc., which was okay because they seemed otherwise identical to the menus stacked on the tables. All the dozen or so tables were occupied, but usually by only one or two people. Pink predominated on most surfaces including the walls and the table tops. I was the only non-Chinese customer, but my English was clearly understood and service was prompt and polite. I had Singapore Chow Mei Fun ($6.25), a big portion of fine rice noodles, hot off the wok, cooked with shrimp, pork, egg, celery, green pepper, red pepper, green onion, and onion, with a mild curry flavor. Good job, New Wong.

Friday, August 27, 2010
A lead local news story today concerns James D. Gibbons, who abruptly resigned as a judge of the Criminal Court of New York City. While his affair with a Legal Aid attorney resulting in the recent birth of their son was well known, other factors apparently led to him leaving the bench. According to the New York Daily News and the New York Post, Judge Gibbons had pornography stored on his work computer, “lots of crotch and cleavage shots” said an unnamed investigator from the Manhattan DA’s office.
Why do I bring this up? Judge Gibbons’ work computer is the same as my work computer; we are part of the same enterprise, the same system, the same telecommunications network. I just found him on our internal electronic address book. Our office e-mail addresses both end in His telephone extension is 4677 and mine is 4685. But, you know what’s different? I can’t get pornography on my work computer, or at least not until now.
The court system has a firewall that excludes lots of stuff. For instance, access to Facebook, Jdate and other social networking sites is barred. That’s fine with me, especially considering my state of wedded bliss. Some rules, however, need a drop of nuance. America’s Favorite Epidemiologist has published many scholarly articles in her distinguished career. For a time, she focused on perinatal transmission of HIV and the efforts to curb the infection of newborns. When I tried to view an article she co-wrote on this subject, the court system’s firewall rejected the request because of the content – HIV, AIDS, sex, drugs, naughty, naughty, naughty. From now on, inspired by Judge Gibbons, I’ll be aiming for crotch and cleavage.
Lunch was at Lok Sing Seafood Restaurant, 290 Grand Street, with a shiny new exterior, but looking half-finished inside. Much more notable than the food was the location, Grand Street at the corner of Eldridge Street. Once upon a time, this location was closer to Kiev than Kunming, teeming with Eastern European Jews. Now, it’s simply a northeastern section of Chinatown.
A bit hungry after the modest portion of beef with orange flavor and the long walk, I bought one Dragon Fruit for $2.25, at $2.99 per pound. Dragon Fruits, I looked it up, are properly called pitaya, a fruit of the cactus family. They are covered by beautiful purplish red leaves with green tips. They are about the size and shape of a medium-sized cooking onion. You eat them by cutting off one end and peeling the skin back to reveal soft white flesh studded with black specks, poppy seeds if this were a bagel. There is no pit, so you can bite into it or scoop out the fruit. The texture and black seeds evoke comparison to kiwi. Mine was mildly sweet and I can say I finished it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Book of the (20th) Century

What would be your choice for this distinction? "The Lord of the Rings" was voted to the top in a poll by a British bookstore chain. Americans over the age of 17 would probably prefer "The Great Gatsby." My cousin Allan might choose "The Fountainhead," while I lean towards "Goodbye Columbus." "Mein Kampf" has to be considered given the the cataclysm it foretold. Of course, there is Camus, Hemingway, Freud, among others who helped us look at the modern world.

The Book of the (20th) Century, however, and sadly unsung, is "How to Avoid the Evil Eye" by Brenda Z. Rosenbaum, published by St. Martin 's Press in 1985. It is apparently out of print, but that should not diminish the power of its ideas. It claims, in a self-deprecatory fashion, to be only a "collection of Jewish superstitions." But, can almost 5771 years of history be dismissed as the product of superstition?

Before I sample for you some of the wisdom of "How to Avoid the Evil Eye," allow me to locate the underlying concept as experienced by every Jewish child fortunate enough to grow up with at least one Yiddish-speaking grandparent. For illustrative purposes, I shall call our hearty, growing child Alan. From his earliest years of cognition, Alan heard adults, relatives and strangers alike, say "kinahora" when he was introduced into their presence. Kinahora, or some near-homophone, is a concatenation of the Yiddish phrase, "kein ayin hara" meaning no Evil Eye. The Evil Eye, as we all know, is the simultaneous sower and reaper of bad things, which must be avoided at all costs.

Children especially, given their limited physical and mental abilities, require protection from the Evil Eye and, thus, the frequent utterance of kinahora when dear, cute Alan appears. Sometimes, kinahora is spoken before anything else is said, because the mere sight of Alan causes a concerned adult to take prophylactic measures. More often, kinahora is spoken immediately after an adult utters a word or phrase of praise, admiration, or compliment, to immunize Alan from the danger that such positive attention places him in. The Evil Eye, after all, is drawn to people who are experiencing even a moment's good fortune and aims to lay them low. It doesn't take a winning lottery ticket to attract the Evil Eye, just Alan's Aunt Sophie saying, "He's so tall."

My dear friend Andy, of blessed memory, was a chubby child even before he was a chubby adult. He heard kinahora so often growing up that he was convinced it meant "What a fat kid."

Sometimes, it takes more than saying kinahora to ward off the Evil Eye. The Book of the (20th) Century teaches us:

Changing the name of a sick person diverts the Evil Eye. NB -- Mother Ruth Gotthelf bore the Jewish name Ruchel at birth, but, after a childhood illness, became Chaya Ruchel. Chaya is the female form of life; Chaim would be added for a male. See page 40.

Breaking dishes when an engagement is announced frightens off the Evil Eye that is attracted by a joyous event. P. 26.

To prevent a bad dream, put a prayer book under your pillow. P. 70.

To counteract the Evil Eye, put garlic in a child's ear. P. 19.

Fish arouse amorousness and should therefore be eaten on Friday night. P. 78.

News of serious illness is withheld for three days lest the Evil Eye cause the death of the invalid after overhearing talk of his weakened condition. P. 82.

In taking money out of a safe or purse, never remove all of it. Leave a coin or two for luck. P. 64.

To divert the glance of the Evil Eye, interesting objects may be hung between the eyes of the endangered person. P. 15.

Once a man sets out on a journey, he must not reenter his house if he has forgotten something. He should stand outside and ask to have it handed to him. Otherwise, the forces of the outside world might come into the house, and with them, bad luck. P. 76.

A person dies when he has used up the number of words allotted to him in his lifetime. P. 90.

It is bad luck to move to a lower floor in the same building. P. 55.

Birth can be eased by opening all chests, closets and doors in the house. P. 32.

Sneezing during prayer is a bad omen. P. 80.

If a child plays with his shadow, it will make him stupid. P. 50.

I gave Mother Ruth Gotthelf a copy of this book 25 years ago. She read it carefully, often saying, "That's right" at key passages. As you are no doubt aware, Mother Ruth Gotthelf is now 100 years old, kinahora!

Footnote to history: I was witness to a record-breaking performance on August 19, 2010 when Noam Webber, four days old, went out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. This breaks the previous record, which I also witnessed, held by Nate Persily on July 10, 1970 at age seven days. Kinahora!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thirty-Second Week

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pho Cho Ben Thanh, 76 Mott Street, on an unplanned second visit when it was 92 degrees, was losing its battle to keep the restaurant cool, even though it deployed several air-conditioning units, portable and fixed, and a couple of floor fans. I decided to endure the warm environment rather than face the hot streets right then. I ordered Bo Xao Sate, it loses a lot without the accents, sauteed beef with "Sate" sauce ($8.75). Besides thin slices of beef, the dish contained pea pods, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, straw mushrooms, celery, carrots, baby corn, green peppers and red peppers, all cooked in a peppery sauce. This dish further disproved the mtheory, proposed by David Goldfarb, among others, that all of Chinatown is serviced by one kitchen, although as a Vietnamese restaurant, it might be in a different niche. In any case, I have countered that there are many kitchens, but one menu printer. "Sate" here is meant to convey satay, a sauce/preparation that I have found and tried in several other joints, always with different results. Wet, dry, sweetish sauce, today peppery sauce, on a stick, without garnish, today with a vegetable garden included. At New Malaysia Restaurant, I was thrilled and delighted by what I was served as satay, while at Nyonya Malaysian Cuisine it was just okay. Listen guys, let’s turn to, or something similar to better identify our concoctions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hong Kong Station, 45 Bayard Street (also at 45 Division Street) has a do-it-yourself angle. You place your order at a counter in the neat, boxy room by picking from a wide array of choices starting with one of 10 noodles or rice with every element priced separately. I picked Ho Fun, a flat rice noodle (same as Chow Fun, my favorite) ($2). I added curry fish balls ($1.45), mushrooms ($1.45), and two fried eggs, cooked to order ($1.45). They added broth and then a shot of garlic sauce and a spoonful of parsley and scallions. With a can of Diet Coke, it came to $7.85. It was very good, although I could not help splashing myself several times even using a soup ladle to eat with. Other ingredients included tofu, squid balls, beef pancreas, beef stomach, chicken wings, Spam and pork intestines.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street, previously visited on April 26, 2010, was an all around winner this time. With the temperature at 90 degrees or so outside, the air conditioning inside was absolutely delicious. The scallion pancake was near-perfect ($2.25). It had been lightly deep-fried, but was almost grease-free. My only complaint was the too small serving of the something-like soy sauce served on the side. Cold sesame noodles were very good ($4), but not in the league with the scallion pancake. Service, unlike my previous visit, was first rate.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I had lunch with Howard, a senior colleague, who, in spite of working at the courthouse for 30 years or so, had a limited knowledge of Chinatown. We went to Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway, the premier dim sum joint for one or two people. The only problem we encountered resulted from our behavior in ordering extra dishes (no rolling carts) from different waiters as they scurried by. The result was some confusion and spring rolls showing up after we paid the check. A delight otherwise.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I’m not superstitious, but I’m going to CitiField tonight to see the Mets play the Phillies. If there was ever an occasion to call upon the forces of mystery, this is it. I decided to prepare for the game with a special meal, so I went to Yong Gee, 104 Mott Street (previously visited on March 18, 2010) for Peking duck, which they serve by the half duck for $15.99. It was okay. The duck was not fat-free and the pancakes were not pancakes, but rather 4 inch spongy discs about ½ inch thick. The waiter made each of the six packages with sauce, cucumber and green onions and arranged the two legs on the remaining greens. I later gave the fortune cookie to my officemate Michael.

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I are going to Massachusetts this weekend to await the arrival of Boaz’s younger brother. This is a very happy time for all of us save some Chinatown restauranteurs who will need new revenue sources.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I am deeply chagrined

I am deeply chagrined at the conduct of the New York Times. They failed to print the self-explanatory letter below, leaving uncorrected a significant error in the use of the mama loshen.

To the Editor:

Dominque Browning's review of The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman contains this serious misstatement about a character in the novel: "Rabbi Helfgott (whose name handily translates a 'With the Help of God')." Whether in Yiddish or German, Helfgott does not translate thus. In German, it appears to be the imperative "Help God," because helf is the root of the irregular verb helfen, to help. In Yiddish, the tenor and cadence of the voice, and the accompanying hand movements while speaking must be considered when offering a translation, but, even in simple black and white, Helfgott does not mean With the Help of God. One might say Gott zu helfn to convey that meaning.

Note that Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, who has appeared at Lincoln Center and other secular venues along with many orthodox synagogues around the world, considers his name "literally translated as someone who helps G-d."

Alan Gotthelf