Friday, December 28, 2012

Holiday Notes

Monday, December 24, 2012
At the behest of the taxpayers of the State of New York, I stayed home today using an accrued vacation day. I spent part of the afternoon walking up and down Broadway in our part of the upper West Side. Barnes & Noble was very crowded with last-minute gift shoppers. Zabar’s was very crowded with folks stocking up for holiday celebrations. Fairway, by contrast, was totally manageable when I shopped for some regular groceries, maybe because it would be open on Christmas day. In general, I’ve escaped the combination of panic, elation, frenzy and voraciousness that seem to characterize many people rushing in and out of retail establishments at the time of year. First of all, my holiday, Hanukkah, ended on December 16th. We had our party on December 9th, more than two weeks ago. The shopping, the wrapping, the eating, the drinking, the cleaning up are all fading in memory. Naively, in the last few days, I’ve occasionally wondered why all the fuss now.

Also, my preparation for gift-giving begins long before December rolls around. I take pains to avoid the combination of panic, elation, frenzy and voraciousness attending the late search for the appropriate, if not the near-perfect, gift for the many diverse souls on my hit list. Simply, I shop for gifts all the time. Last week, I bought six of the same item for next Hanukkah, which, by some extraordinary circumstance, begins on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve already discussed the weirdness of the Jewish calendar, with its leap month inserted every few years, but I don’t recall this strange configuration of dates ever in my lifetime.

Of course, this is added incentive to start shopping early for next year, but my obsessiveness in this matter is really independent of anyone’s calendar. While I don’t want to be pressured into last-minute shopping, I really enjoy this perpetual search for the right gift. I always spend time on our trips abroad wending my way through street markets, bazaars and emporia seeking less-than-commonplace items. Favorable prices, especially after a dramatic bargaining interlude, add to my pleasure on these foreign sojourns, as long as I keep my mind free of images of child labor.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012
I’m not going to name any names, but a recent letter to the New York Times by Susan WADLN (with a distinctive last name), a law professor, brought back memories. The writer was not a classmate, nor an instructor of mine. When I met her, about 25 years ago, she had a law degree, but was working in her father’s successful textile business in a pretend role that would fund her privileged lifestyle. The business was a prominent client of the firm where I was a management consultant, and I was assigned to try to extend our range of services to them.

I began a professional courtship of the charmed daughter, and requisitioned a pair of my firm’s tickets to the U.S. Open tennis championship, a major, late summer event in New York City. She agreed to go and offered to drive us out to the site, near LaGuardia Airport, in Queens. I went to her apartment, about one mile from mine in Manhattan. I was not invited upstairs, but the building was a nice one in a particularly nice neighborhood. She pulled her Jaguar sedan out of the underground garage and we drove off. She spoke of some of her interests and inquired of mine, as she drove her Jaguar sedan, I don’t recall whether I spoke of the Mets and the Rangers as I rode in her Jaguar sedan. However, I seem to remember admitting ignorance of or lack of interest in some of the writings, practices, teachings, philosophies, and techniques of self-knowledge and self-improvement that preoccupied her as she drove her Jaguar sedan. Finally, out of frustration with my obvious obtuseness, or, worse, my willingness to play with the cards I was dealt, she said, as she drove her Jaguar sedan through traffic, "You know, you’re not a very spiritual person."

Whoa! Stop the presses! I got it wrong, somewhat. The story is true, and my identification of the young woman is correct. But, and here’s the BIG BUT, Susan WADLN, the Jaguar owner/operator, did not grow up to be Susan WADLN, the law professor. Just before publishing this latest contribution to human understanding, I searched the Internet. It turns out that there are two women, both 50-60 years old, named Susan WADLN in all of the good old USA, one the law professor, a specialist in international human rights law, and the other, who has written a collection of short stories and a novel using her married name. Armed with this information, I am contemplating reaching out to "my" Susan WADLN and asking if she now drives a Prius and would she send me a copy of one of her books.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I did not expect to find a new place today. The weather was cold and gloomy and I wasn’t eager to wander about except I wanted to escape from the sad case that I’ve been working on for the last few days. So, I headed east, aiming for my mother’s birthplace at 13 Essex Street. Just before I got there, I went into Sunkiss Bakery, 160 East Broadway, a very narrow, but deep space. Only its first five feet are available for customers who come and go quickly with their takeout orders. For those who linger, there is only a 9" L-shaped ledge without any stools. I lingered, probably the first person in the last decade to do so. In any case, the traffic kept four people busy preparing the food.

The menu is quite large, mostly noodle and rice dishes with assorted toppings. I ordered a pan fried scallion cake ($1.50) and corn and fish cakes (3 for $2). Both were prepared (more reheated than created) on the grill right behind the counter, and emerged quite successfully. The scallion cake was a first-rate scallion pancake, not greasy after cooking on the grill with little or no oil. The corn and fish cakes were 3" in diameter and just shy of ½" deep. They too were lightly grilled and almost delicate in taste and texture.

Before I finished, I got into conversation with a letter carrier who stopped in for a bite. He was a Sikh (adorned with a big beard and a turban) and a vegan, so he had to choose his food with care. I didn’t hesitate recommending the scallion pancake, but there was little else that we could find that was free of animal, dairy or fish contents. I’m sure that he is used to this, and, by the size of his corporation (remember when this was a euphemism for potbelly?), he seemed equipped to continue on his appointed rounds.

Thursday, December 27, 2012
The New York Times has an interesting article chasing down the phrase "the whole nine yards." Contrary to the conventional view, I’ve always regarded this phrase as an admission of failure, rather than success. When I first heard it used, some 40 years ago, I immediately connected it to progress on a football field, where it takes ten yards to make a first down, that is to allow the team with the ball to continue its progress towards a score. If you have traversed the whole nine yards, you are still short of a first down. In football, then, you have to turn the ball over to the opposing side without having scored. Upon first hearing the whole nine yards, I thought how wonderfully ironic the phrase was, praising in such robust terms an effort that fell short. When, after some time, I heard the cement-mixer-truck rationale (nine cubic yards is supposedly a truckload), I was unconvinced, and still today I stick to my subversive view of a thwarted effort by mud-encrusted, near-breathless, bone-weary gladiators on any given Sunday. It’s just more real that way.

Friday, December 28, 2012
I read in today’s New York Law Journal that the beds at Riker’s Island, New York City’s main jail complex, "cannot accommodate anyone taller than 5 feet 11, and cause lower back, neck and leg pain" for taller individuals, if a lawsuit against the City can be credited. Thank goodness that I didn’t learn this first hand.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Name Game II

Monday December 17, 2012
I am essentially an evidence-based person. I like to begin with empirical data before applying the inevitable gloss of ideology and delusion. This morning, all the local meteorological readings were no doubt in the moderate range, temperature, humidity, wind speed. However, it was just crummy out as I walked to the courthouse from the subway station four long blocks to the west. Just damp and raw and yucky. So, I was a little surprised to see a film crew at the foot of the courthouse steps shooting an episode of Law & Order: The Rule of Perpetuities. I did not recognize any acting types among the huddled masses handling sound equipment, lighting equipment, props and significant clipboards. They probably were being sheltered until they were called upon to glare into the camera and say, "But, he wasn’t home at the time."

By lunchtime, there was no trace of law, order, crime, punishment, actors, extras or crew in front of the courthouse. It still wasn’t nice out when I walked over to Tribeca to have lunch with Marty the Super Clerk. Befitting the down-to-earth guys that we are, we ate at Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, 146 Chambers Street, a creditable enterprise, though not in the league of Ess-A-Bagel, once my home away from home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The weather improved today, warmer, drier, less wind, although it rained fiercely overnight. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Margarita K., Stuyvesant ‘07, Harvard, ‘11, now living and working in downtown Manhattan. While I lack her knowledge of so many things given my modest background of Stuyvesant ‘58, CCNY ‘62, I have home court advantage in Chinatown. Therefore, we proceeded to Peking Duck House, 28 Mott Street. Since there were only the two of us, we could not order the Peking duck dinner, which includes three appetizers, soup, choice of two main dishes and dessert, in addition to the duck, at $29 per person for four people minimum. Every extra body above four brings on another main course. Instead, we had our own duck for $45. It was a good duck, but, inevitably, a fatty duck, so I have to deny it a place on our moveable feast. I'm beginning to believe that a tea-smoked duck may be a better choice for our notional banquet because its preparation dries out the duck considerably, leaving a pungent flavor though that does not appeal to everyone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
As a native New Yorker and a devoted puzzle fan, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was once (long ago) unable to quickly supply the next number in the sequence 14-18-23-28-34. I had the same feeling of inadequacy this morning as I approached the courthouse from the northwest instead of the southwest, as I usually do. Standing at the corner of Lafayette Street and Leonard Street, I gazed up at the municipal building that covers the entire block from Lafayette Street to Centre Street, Worth Street to Leonard Street. Its proper address is 125 Worth Street, and it is currently occupied by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Department of Health. But, my interest was not aroused by anything about the building’s current operation. Rather, along the top, just below the roof line, a series of names was deeply engraved in two-foot high letters – FARR, HOWARD, LISTER, NIGHTINGALE, SHATTUCK, LIND, SIMS, MORTON, BARD, SEMMELWEIS, WELCH, SMITH, MOSES, JENNER, RAMAZZINI, HIPPOCRATES, PARACELSUS, PINEL, DALTON, BIGGS, GORGAS, REED.

Who are these people? Since their names circle the building on all four sides, without an obvious beginning or end, we don’t have to supply the next in the sequence, that is if we can find any logical connection among them. I propose that the best way to deal with this conundrum is through rapid response, without external assistance. Who comes to mind when you hear the name? Here’s my contribution: Jamie Farr, Cpl. Klinger on MASH; Ryan Howard, Phillies first baseman; Joseph Lister, British medical neat freak; Florence Nightingale, heroic nurse; pass; Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale (no relation to Florence); Phil Sims, New York Giants quarterback; Thruston Morton, former Republican Senator from Kentucky; Bard, Shakespeare’s nickname; pass; Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society; Maggie Smith, English actress; Moses, big Jew; Bruce Jenner, former Olympian; pass; Hippocrates, oath giver; pass; pass; Timothy Dalton, film actor; pass; pass; Willis Reed, former captain of the New York Knicks. While not everyone of these folks deserves immortalization atop a New York City municipal building, I think it’s a pretty good crowd, on the whole. I welcome your suggestions.

At lunchtime today, my department (or at least some of its more convivial members) held our annual White Elephant Party, a chance to offload some untreasured treasures, at the risk of gaining ownership of some more undesired item. I probably could stock such an endeavor entirely on my own, with a collection of unwantables stretching back over many years. I admit that my collection of hidden ge(r)ms is not merely the result of misguided generosity on the part of others. I am not easy to please – you would never guess. First of all, I was a bachelor for 23 years, between matrimonial adventures, providing for myself. I had to clothe myself, furnish and decorate an apartment myself, and find ways and means to amuse myself. Over 23 years, I was able to satisfy most of my material needs, and many of my whimsical ones as well. Second, for much of that time, I was gainfully employed, earning on the average more than the average. I had no excuse to deny myself reasonably-priced goods. Third, I’m picky. The net result is that many well-intentioned gifts to me were either quickly outplaced, or parked in the deep recesses of some closet. Accordingly, I welcome our annual White Elephant Party and have encouraged more frequent gatherings of the sort. But, you may ask, don’t you emerge from each such event with another space-occupying, dust-collecting, taste-defying eye sore? Aha! Allow Grandpa Alan to tell you his secret: Forget to pick up and carry your selection out of the room after issuing the necessary Oohs and Aahs upon first seeing it.

In any case, I did not go out to lunch.

Thursday, December 20, 2012
I realize that this is very short notice, but Mount Rtanj, in a mountainous region of Serbia, is considered to be a good place to survive the end of the world tomorrow. According to local lore, mystical powers attend to the pyramid-shaped mountain after it swallowed a castle belonging to a well-to-do sorcerer, trapping him inside. However, the local hotel is supposedly fully booked for the weekend.

In case sleeping outdoors during Serbian winter nights is not the way you would like to face the end of the world, there still may be room in or near Bugarach, a village in the French Pyrenees, which also harbors a magic mountain. Of course, while either destination is off the beaten path, just think that you can put all your travel-related charges on a credit card, even fly first class, and not be around to pay the bill.

Friday, December 21, 2012
Is there anybody out there?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Body and Soul

Monday December 10, 2012
I was in the computer industry for 25 years until it departed me in 1994. My interest was in business application development, software and supporting methods and procedures to assist organizations in doing their work better, faster. The major lesson I learned from those years can be captured under the title of the Roumanian Invoice Problem. I’m reminded of this by an article in the business section of the Sunday Times under the headline Billion Dollar Flop, describing the US Air Force’s attempt to introduce a new computerized logistics program. After six years and one billion dollars of our money, your money, and even Mitt Romney’s money, the effort is being abandoned.

The basic idea was a sound one, build on an established commercial software system with known results and modify to the Air Force’s requirements. It was an approach that I preached in my time consulting to organizations planning for new systems. The Air Force selected software from one of the world’s largest and most successful software companies and set about making the perceived updates. In retrospect, a government spokesperson said, "We started with a Big Bang approach and put every possible requirement into the program which made it very large and very complex." That goes to the kernel of the Roumanian Invoice Problem.

I give it that label, because, in the mid 1980s, I consulted with a large local manufacturing company that produced electrical parts. Not diodes and transistors, but extension cords and light bulb sockets, items that wound up in ordinary households. It was a very successful business, about 60-years old at the time, with thousands of inventory items and thousands of customers all over the world, including Roumania.
At that time, Roumania was still part of the Soviet bloc, ruled by a Communist despot. The government, accordingly, tried to exercise tight control over commerce, especially incoming goods. It probably feared the bourgeois threat posed by bubble gum, Playboy magazine and, most dangerously, rock’n’roll records. Therefore, the Roumanian authorities demanded precise documentation on any shipment of commercial goods into the country, far more detail than would be needed in the normal course of buying and selling.

While I was engaged by the company’s top management, my immediate dealings were with the company’s top computer people, who were very jealous of their domain, and had little interest in seeing an outsider introduce change under their noses. When I identified an existing automated billing, inventory and accounting system that came close to the company’s stated needs, and seemed able to handle their substantial transaction volume efficiently, the computer guys were adamant. "It won’t handle the Roumanian invoices." They voiced their objections to top management and our project was abandoned, because of the likely time and expense to modify the existing system for this special need.

I don’t take defeat gracefully, which is consistent with my lack of grace in almost any endeavor. After I learned that the Roumanian Invoice Problem was a deal-breaker, I dug into the issue. How great was the need to automate Roumanian invoices? Well, the computer guys told me, there were maybe two a month. This company issued thousands of invoices monthly, hundreds each work day. While I would be guessing about the economic value of the Roumanian trade for that company, somehow I don’t believe that the number of extension cords and light bulb sockets going into Roumania in the mid 1980s was critical to the company’s profitability. A clerk with a typewriter could have dealt with the Roumanian Invoice Problem in less than an hour each month, and the rest of the company could have migrated into a new computer system with far-reaching benefits. The good news was that we did not try to adapt the computer program to the Roumanian Invoice Problem, which would have produced a result akin to the Air Force’s, although not at taxpayers’ expense.

The moral of the story: Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you are serious about managing a sizeable operation, or even a personal relationship, figure out what’s important and invest your resources accordingly.

I entered Famous Sichuan, 10 Pell Street, thinking about the tea-smoked duck attractively-pictured in the window. Once seated, however, I realized that I wasn’t that hungry and really needed a companion to assist me in comparing and contrasting this tea-smoked duck with Grand Sichuan’s. Instead, I ordered one of the lunch specials at $5.95, up from $5.50 when I visited on March 12, 2010. I got a small bowl of won ton soup, a small dish of cold, diced vegetables in hot Szechuan (Sichuan) pepper oil, and beef chow fun. Another dish would have come with rice, as well. The portion of chow fun was small, but it contained pea pods, carrots, yellow onions and green onions along with more tender, freshly-cooked beef than noodles. That made it a very cost-effective dish. While the noodles could have been a bit more al dente, they took a back seat to the beef.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
The most typical spam e-mail that I usuallty receive offers me means to increase the size of my body, at least in part. Lately, however, the trend has been the opposite, to shrinkage. I just deleted messages offering to share the weight loss secrets of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Aniston, Beyoncé Knowles, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, Jessica Alba, Salma Hayek, Reese Witherspoon and Britney Spears. I guess that I should be bothered that so many famous people are aware of my weight problem. That might explain the absence of invitations to really slick parties in my mailbox.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Happy birthday, Harold Gotthelf.

This was a busy and varied day, but without any interesting food, so you can skip to Friday. I went to work for a few hours in the morning and then attended a funeral back on the upper West Side. From there, I took a long subway ride to the north Bronx to consult with senior faculty members of Montefiore Medical Center’s dental school about my degenerating mouth. I got back to the ‘hood just in time to pick up a borrowed copy of Cultures of the Jews, edited by Daniel Biale, the densest book that I ever can recall trying to read.  In spite of the title, the book had nothing to do with Al Jolson or Philip Roth. The assigned chapters for tonight's discussion dealt with Jews v. Hellenes, Romans and Christians roughly 2,000 years ago. Other than some isolated factoids about the Maccabees and the supposed origin of Hanukkah, and the growth of early Christianity, I pull a total blank on Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, Hasmonaeans and other popular bands working the Middle East in the good old days.

The book is a scholarly attempt to portray the development of the Jews outside of a purely religious frame of reference. In doing so, it throws out names, places and ideas at a rate that would leave the thumb of the most knowledgeable Jeopardy contestant raw and bloody from pressing the buzzer with recognition. I managed to ask a couple of semi-intelligent questions in the group, and learned a few things, as well. It was very hard work, however, and I might go back to my own version of Jewish history, that is, Jewish history began in 1903 when my father was born.

Friday, December 14, 2012
The Law Secretaries and Law Assistants Collegium, our local successor to the International Workers of the World, is holding its Holiday Party (get that "Holiday" Party) today, at lunchtime. The spread of food includes a Kosher table, just in case you need an incentive to maintain the War on Christmas.

PS -- We have a new friend who lives in Newtown, Connecticut, and has an apartment near us for weekend visits. When I heard the terrible news about the school shooting, I called her New York telephone number and then her Connecticut number seeking reassurance that she was safe and sound. When I only reached voicemail, I sent her a simple e-mail, which evoked an immediate comforting response. I know that the horror was not lessened because this dear woman was safe, but it was a reminder that the mosaic of our lives has so many pieces, some very ugly when seen up close. I hope that those people directly affected by this terrible event will eventually be provided with at least some bright colors and beautiful images to incorporate as they move forward and look back.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

So Much Food, So Little Time

Monday December 3, 2012
As we all know, December 21, 2012 will be the end of the world. On that day, the 5,125 year Long Count of the Mayan Calendar will run out and that’s that. Facing those cataclysmic circumstances, I won’t apologize for being both ethnocentric and egocentric. First, I’m trying to figure out whether the end of the world on December 21, 2012 is good for the Jews. You see, Hanukkah this year begins on Saturday night December 8 and ends on December 16, 2012. In other words, our celebration will be over 5 days before the end of the world. Jews will have given their children and loved ones gifts for 8 days with so little time left for them to enjoy these things. I doubt if the thank you notes will even be in the mailbox by December 21. On the other hands, our Christian brethren will be thwarted from celebrating Christmas on December 25, 4 days after the end of the world. That means that they can, if they wish, defer shopping for gifts and never face the hassle and expense of satisfying the expectations of myriad family and friends. We urban dwellers, of all religions, may prudently hold off on tipping our doormen, mail deliverers, hair dressers, dog-walkers, babysitters, garage attendants and newspaper deliverers who serve us during the year. On the other hand, anyone can adopt a profligate approach and let it all go before December 21. Such hedonism would obviously transcend race, color, creed or national origin. Can you imagine a Jew eating a BLT seated with a Mormon drinking a cup of coffee?
Going beyond the ethnocentric elements of the end of the world, I have to turn to the egocentric dimension. Specifically, our beautiful daughter-in-law’s birthday is December 21. Please understand that I have always been dedicated to celebrating holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events, precisely on the correct date. My mother and my friend Burt always sent me birthday cards arriving 5 days or so early. Without pause, I put the cards aside until the right day and opened them when they should have been opened and then acknowledged them accordingly. I’m not sure of the exact schedule for the end of the world, morning, noon or night, so I am reluctant to send a gift to our daughter-in-law that might go unopened, or worse undelivered.

Meanwhile, you got to eat. Hua Xia Restaurant, 49 Division Street, is a bright, new restaurant with 11 round tables, ranging from 8 tops to 12 tops, all with pink cloths. When I walked in, only one table had patrons, 1 man, 4 women and 1 baby. Two women employees sat at another table shelling peas. One man sat at the front register, but joined two burly Chinese men who came in about 15 minutes after I did.

Besides a pot of tea, a small dish of salted peanuts was given to me along with the menu. Aside from the occasional goose web and pork stomach, the menu was pretty familiar. I ordered House Special Wor Yee Mein ($12.95), with the expectation of getting some form of noodles, and I did. I was served the largest plate of noodles that I ever got not from the hands of an Italian or Jewish mother. It was mei fun with egg, shrimp, clams, scallions, carrots, bean sprouts, sesame seeds and some other finely-diced or slivered ingredients. It was so good that I ate a little over half the portion, which normally would feed three people.

One anomaly that I didn’t explore was the menu calling the place W.C.J (sic) Seafood Restaurant, while the big, new sign in front says Hua Xia, which, according to a little research, means things Chinese or Chinese civilization.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
I admit to a long-standing adherence to the pinko/folksinging/eat-the-rich school of political thought. However, a letter in this week’s issue of The New Yorker has given me pause. The writer was responding to an essay on climate change, expressing pessimism about the prospect for meaningful action in the current political milieu. I was in awe of the writer’s unreflective populism. I believe that the last paragraph of the letter alone could well serve as the basis for a full semester’s examination of American political thought. It reads:

"We need a true democracy in which communities decide what is the most sensible way to satisfy their energy needs, without the interference of people and institutions that are primarily interested in profit."

Some suggested topics for class discussion:

Shall our society function as diverse political communities or one political community? Should climate change be addressed by communities responsive to (local) community needs? Should climate change, and similar fact-based issues, be subject to popular decision making?

Can a true democracy limit the polity? How and when, if ever, should political participation be limited?

Why exclude people and institutions (institutions are people, too, my friend) because of their interest in profit? Shall West Virginia coal miners and/or mining company shareholders be allowed to interfere with our energy decision making?

Meanwhile, I’m going on sabbatical.

Friday, December 7, 2012
I’m having a problem keeping a promise that I made a couple of weeks ago to identify my moveable feast. I had little difficulty making it through the fried crispy noodles, soup, egg roll and scallion pancake. Those are one-man operations. But, now that I’ve gotten to main courses, I’m having trouble going it alone. For instance, while I’ve had an excellent beef with orange flavor at Peking Duck House, 28 Mott Street, which presents its own problem because I’m limiting each restaurant to one dish and Peking Duck House, not surprisingly, does a very good Peking duck, there are so many places where I haven’t tried it yet. If you came with me, we could order beef with orange and say roast chicken with garlic sauce, another dish worth memorializing at its best. That would cut my decision time in half and the world would be a better place, at least until December 21st.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Report From Israel

Shira R. is the daughter-in-law of friends of ours.  She and her husband Daniel, observant Jews, emigrated to Israel, and are raising their family in a southwestern section away from disputed territory, yet within range of rockets from Gaza.  She has kindly permitted me to reprint her unedited diary for the period November 13-19.  I found it to be a fascinating account of a family under challenging conditions.   

I never log onto my facebook account, but someone has sent me a link that can only be viewed by clicking through facebook.  When I log on, I smile at several people’s status “My country is under attack.  More than 100 rockets have been fired at Israel over the past 48 hours.  Didn’t hear about it?  Don’t worry, you’ll hear about it from the world when we retaliate.”  It seems tongue-in-cheek.  Israel isn’t going to retaliate.  It has endured missile fire for years and is currently worried about its Northern border with Syria.
We receive a text message that rehearsals for Shabbat Irgun (B’nai Akiva’s biggest shabbaton of the year, the culmination of a month’s worth of activities and preparations) have been cancelled due to the security situation.  We check the internet and discover that Israel has indeed retaliated by assassinating Ahmed Jabari, the chief architect of Hamas’ terrorist activities against Israel.   Bracing for Hamas’ response, Israel cancels school and gan on Thursday for anyone living within 40 km of Gaza.
My five daughters all pile into the mamad to sleep.  It is a fun “sister sleepover,” but soon it turns contentious as some want to sleep while others want to talk.  It is crowded and they are tired.  It is after 10:00p.m. before they are all asleep.
Daniel is at shul and I am preparing to take Shadow for a walk.  Suddenly, the air raid siren sounds.  My daughters already know what this means.  They immediately head for the mamad with me at their heels.  Miryam, age 12, gets upset because I have left the dog downstairs.  I promise that we will bring him into the mamad if there are further sirens.  We hear huge booms.  We sit in our safe room for the requisite ten minutes, reading Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.  When we emerge, my daughters are shaken.  They do not want me to leave to walk the dog so I wait for Daniel’s return. 
Our community has organized an impromptu trip out of the red zone to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, a welcome diversion.  1500 local residents set out for the zoo in 30 chartered buses.  At the zoo, a reporter interviews me about living within missile range.  He wants to know if my family in the U.S.  is worried about us.  (Duh?!)  He asks if the missiles make me want to return “home” to the U.S.  “Just the opposite,” I respond.  “The missiles only strengthen my resolve to live in this Land.”
The reporter interviews Miryam.  He asks if she is scared to go home.  She says she is nervous, but that home is home.  She explains “in America we used to have snow days when we didn’t go to school.  Here we have war days.”
When we get home we learn that three Israelis were killed by a rocket in Kiryat Malachi.  Kiryat Malachi is the closest city to our community, a seven minute drive, and the place where we do our grocery shopping and other business.  One of the victims is Mirah Sharf.  The name seems so familiar to me, but I can’t figure out why.
Daniel  and I are both horrified by the New York Times’ coverage of Operation Amud Anan.  Daniel writes a letter to the editor.  Mary from the NY Times calls to verify that our community has been under fire.  They publish the letter.
School and gan are still closed.  Another mother organizes a parsha party.  My 3rd graders refuse to walk by themselves.   I walk them to the party and ask the host to call me when the girls are ready to leave.  “Usually, I’m not so paranoid” I explain.  He understands.
From my roof porch I see my neighbor leave in his army uniform.  His wife and children are not home.  They are probably in Tiberias with her parents, waiting for Abba to return safely from reserve duty.  I email my friend.  Her husband has also been called up.  Our shul sends out an email that they are setting up an emergency committee to help women and children whose fathers and husbands have been called up.
My daughters are happy to idle the day away at home, but I prefer that they not experience more sirens than necessary and I bundle them into the car and head for Bilu Center, a nearby open-air mall that is outside of the red zone and has advertised that its kiddie rides and Gymboree will be free today for southern residents.  I am overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, strangers and organizations.  Already, we have received three Shabbat invitations from total strangers who live outside of the red line.  We have been showered with offers of free daytrips and reduced hotel stays.  The country is opening its arms to the children of the South.
While the girls bungee  jump on trampolines, we hear constant booms in the distance.  Uzi, the trampoline owner, explains that we’re hearing the explosions in Ashdod.  Two visitors from the North are surprised at how close the rockets are.  A woman nearby shouts that there is a siren in Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv.  We all said it could happen, but we are in shock that it actually has.
On the way home we are stuck behind a massive flatbed truck carrying a huge tank to the front line.  The truck moves slowly and I am in a rush to get home before Shabbat.  We pass the tank and the girls are amazed by its size.  They want to know how you go to the bathroom in a tank.  I explain that there is a hatch in the bottom that can open to the ground.  They laugh, but not because it is funny.
We return home an hour before Shabbat candle lighting.  My husband hasn’t finished cooking, the house is in chaos, and everyone needs to shower.  My husband confirms that we missed several sirens while at Bilu Center.  It was worth the late afternoon rush, I think to myself.  We are cooking and cleaning like crazy.  It is 20 minutes before candle lighting and we are trying to finish our preparations.  My 7 year old is in the shower.  The siren pierces the air.  It isn’t the pre-Candle lighting siren that gives us a 20 minute warning.  We race to the mamad.  My daughter is in her towel with shampoo in her hair.  We laugh with her.  We worry that the schnitzel will burn on the stovetop and that the final dish won’t make it into the oven with enough time left to cook.  Daniel leaves the mamad a few minutes early to salvage dinner.  The rest of us wait ten minutes and emerge from the safe room to finish what we can.
I light Shabbat candles and wait for the peace and tranquility to descend, as it always does.  Before I finish the blessing, the siren sounds again.  I grab the prayer text and we rush back to the mamad.  My 12 year old is upset because Daniel is not in the mamad.  We didn’t leave the light on in the mamad because it is also a bedroom.  When we pull the outer door shut and close the shutters, the room is pitch black.  At first, the girls aren’t scared.  We sing lecha dodi together loudly.  Then, one of the girls is petrified and turns on the light.  (This will be rectified by a visit from the local Philippino later…)
Daniel returns from shul.  He reports that it was extremely empty, as anticipated.   Many have been called up to miluim.  Others have gone to family or friends outside the red line.  (Later, those who went to Jerusalem will report that they, too, heard a siren on Friday night and that they should have stayed home where at least they have a mamad in the house.)
We make Kiddush and hamotzi and start to eat.  The siren sounds again.  Back to the mamad.  We know that we are relatively far from the Gaza epicenter, that my daughters’ classmates from Ashdod and Kiryat Malachi are faring much worse.  We live near the Tel Nof airforce base and the sound of jets is constant.
For the third night in a row, all five girls crowd into the mamad to sleep so that we don’t have to wake them up in the middle of the night in the event of a siren.
There is no mamad in our shul and the girls are afraid to walk there and back.  I wait for Daniel to return from the early hashkama minyan and then I walk the dog.  Someone must be home with the girls at all times. 
It is 8:00a.m.  My 3 year old is musing while sitting on the toilet.  “Ima, why isn’t there an azaka (siren) now?”  My heart sinks.  Have the sirens already become such a part of her consciousness that she questions their absence?  I tread lightly.  “What do you mean, sweetie?  We don’t always have azakot, just sometimes.”  “I want there to be an azakah” she replies.  “Why sweetheart?”  “Because I want to be all together in the room.”  My heart soars and for a moment I nurture the hope that the warmth of our family and the power of community can turn traumatic memories into rosy ones.
The girls and I all daven.  My 7 year old tells me that she is saying an extra chapter of Psalms to pray for the safety of the soldiers.
Homefront command has stationed dozens of soldiers in a gymnasium in our community.  By now, they have called up 75,000 reservists.  Stationed with us is a search and rescue unit.  They want them close to the front, if necessary.  Although our yishuv is generally closed to traffic on Shabbat, this is a milchemet mitzvah, an obligatory defensive war to protect the Land and People of Israel, so travel is permitted.  Some soldiers arrive on Friday.  Others arrive in the middle of the night.  By the time they wake up, there is a line of families waiting to host them – religious and secular soldiers – for Shabbat meals.
Shabbat passes quietly.  We host a family of 8 for lunch and the children enjoy each other’s company.  The girls are too anxious to go to the park or play outside in the street as is their usual custom on Shabbat afternoon.  B’nai Akiva’s Shabbat Irgun has been cancelled due to the security situation.  Homefront command does not want groups of more than 100 children congregating outside of a mamad.  My daughter is extremely disappointed.  I try to put it in perspective for her.  I tell her that I understand how important this is to her, but that it will be rescheduled.  Meanwhile, people are dying.  She knows I am right, but she is still disappointed.  She and her friends have been practicing their dance performance for weeks.  They have been preparing to paint the walls and stay up all night and graduate to the next “shevet” in the movement.
My friend tells me that Mirah Sharf was a 26 year old, pregnant, mother of three, a Chabad emissary in India and that, strikingly, she was killed on the anniversary of the Holtzbergs’ death.  (The Holtzbergs were the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai who were murdered by terrorists last year.)  All of a sudden, I realize why the name Mirah Sharf is so familiar to me.  I am heading to India with my parents for two weeks and I have been in email contact with Mirah several times.  When Shabbat ends I open my email and re-read Mirah’s friendly invitation to come to the Chabad house when I am there.  Now, her words are eerie and I am profoundly sad.  I can’t believe I have three emails in my inbox from the stranger who was just murdered in Kiryat Malachi.
The youth groups set up a “pinah chamah” for the soldiers stationed in the gymnasium.  For bonding purposes, the army doesn’t want the soldiers spread to different host homes, so families bring a constant supply of home-baked goods, hot drinks, and treats to the soldiers.  The soldiers are overwhelmed by the support and love shown by the community.  It is one of the times in Israeli life when religious and non-religious communities transcend their differences and appreciate what each has to offer the other.
My 9 year old’s best friend sleeps over as she has so many times before.  She awakens in the night and is scared.  She can’t sleep and is on the verge of tears.  She wants to go home.  For the first time ever, her father picks her up in the middle of the night.
School and gan are still cancelled, but once again the community has organized a trip outside of the red zone for the children.  Miryam goes to Jerusalem with her middle school and I accompany the younger four to Keftzuba, a children’s Gymboree and funland.  In the car, my 7 year twins debate whether this trip is really far enough out of the red zone to keep us safe.  One argues that Iran has given Hamas missiles that can reach farther into Israel and that sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv mean that keftzuba is still in range.  Her twin sister insists that the Iron Dome system can be deployed, if necessary, and that we will be safe at Keftzuba.  I wonder if their 7 year old counterparts in the U.S. are talking about current events or Barbie Dolls.
In Keftzuba we meet youth from Sderot and Ashdod, as well as a group of adults with special needs who are all in wheelchairs.  I wonder how long it takes them to get to the mamad.  In our community, we have 64 seconds from the time that we hear the siren to get into the mamad before the rocket hits.  In communities closer to Gaza, the amount of time is far shorter.
As the girls jump and play, I set up my computer and try to work – something that has been difficult these past few days.  I think of the many thousands of other parents and employees who have been unable to work since Wednesday.  My boss is understanding, but I feel the internal pressure of a work-aholic to perform regardless of the circumstances.  I succeed in writing 1.5 grant proposals.
From Keftzuba we head to Jerusalem for a performance of Anne of Green Gables (in Hebrew) at the Jerusalem Theater.  The actors have donated a special show for children of the South.  At the end of the show, one of the characters tells the children how happy the cast is to be able to do something to make the children happy.  He encourages them and wishes them strength in the coming difficult days.  While we are enjoying the show, tens of thousands of soldiers are amassing on the border of Gaza preparing for a possible ground invasion.
When we get home we see that three cement public shelters are being delivered on flatbeds.  Hundreds of families, all former residents of Gush Katif, live in caravans in our community.  The caravans do not have safe rooms so external, communal safe rooms are being delivered.  I reflect on the irony of the situation.  The families of Gush Katif left their homes so that Israel could have peace in Gaza.  Now, seven years later, they live in Southern and Central Israel and are being fired on from their former home.
Miryam beats us home from Jerusalem.  She says that we missed two sirens.  Her younger sister hugs her and apologizes for getting home late so that Miryam had to be in the mamad by herself.
It is my turn to go to work and Daniel’s turn to parent.  Once again, he takes the girls on a community tiyul outside of the red line to a park in Modiin.  They boat and get their faces painted.  They get sparkly tattoos on their arms and they succeed in escaping their reality.
As I make the long, two-hour drive to my office in the North, I listen incessantly to galei tzahal army radio.  It seems that the army had mistaken intelligence and bombed the wrong house, killing 9 women and children instead of the sought-after terrorist.  High ranking officers are apologizing on the air.  Mistakes happen in war, but the entire country feels deflated.  Nobody, and certainly not the soldiers, want to kill civilians.  I wonder if our Gazan counterparts are as upset by the civilian casualties caused by the rockets fired indiscriminately at civilian population centers.  No matter what the answer to the question is, we hold ourselves and our army to a high moral standard and we don’t want to make such mistakes.
On the way home from work, army radio reports that Tzahal successfully hit a building where four Islamic Jihad terrorists were meeting.  Initial reports confirm that one is dead and we wait with baited breath for news of the other three.  Hamas reports that only one was killed.  The BBC reports that Israel hit a media building that had foreign media offices inside.  They neglect to mention the Islamic Jihad terrorists or the fact that the operation was very particular and targeted only the place where the meeting was being held, not the other media offices.  Galei Tzahal takes a break from war-related reports to discuss the all-important soccer match results.  The sports report is regularly interrupted by “tzeva adom” announcements indicating where missiles are falling.  Are they kidding?  Maccabi Tel Aviv at a time like this?  CNN reports that more than 57% of Americans support the Gaza operation.
A friend calls to say that the community has received permission to resume school tomorrow.  Children in communities closer to Gaza will remain at home.  She is concerned because some of the children study in caravans that don’t have a mamad.  I speak to the principal who says that the classes will be relocated from the caravans to other rooms in the permanent buildings.   She sends out a letter describing all of the additional security measures that the school is undertaking including missile drills, posting soldiers at the school, and limiting students’ movement during recess.  She asks me to translate it into English for all of the new olim who have just recently chosen to make Israel their home.
Talk of a cease-fire is in the air, but for now Israel and Hamas are not willing to meet each other’s demands.  If a cease-fire is not reached, a less popular ground invasion will proceed.  We pray and we wait and we pray some more.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Road to Malaysia

Monday, November 26, 2012
Our moveable feast so far begins with crispy fried noodles from Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, Fuzhou won ton soup from Shu Mei Café, 67A East Broadway, and egg rolls from Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street. While still in the zone of starchy appetizers, we must include the scallion pancake from Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street. I’ve also enjoyed scallion pancakes at Shanghai Asian Cuisine, 14 A Elizabeth Street, Shanghai Café, 100 Mott Street, Joe’s Ginger, 25 Pell Street, New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, 50 Mott Street and Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street, but, as I wrote on October 16, 2012, it was "the crowning achievement" of Shanghai Gourmet. Still, the accompanying dipping sauce fails to support this wonderful creation, or go next door to Joe’s Ginger in order to dip.

I’m skipping dumplings and buns all together, because I’ve frequently expressed my preference for Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway, with a small group, and Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, with a large group, for dim sum, which would have to be a meal in itself.

The travel section of yesterday’s Times had an article about Pitigliano, a small town in the hills of Tuscany. It is a very pretty place, high up a pile of volcanic stone. What drew us there in May 2003, and the reporter more recently, was its history which gave rise to the name La Piccola Gerusalemme, Little Jerusalem. Jews were welcomed there in the 1600s, while being oppressed in neighboring regions. They eventually made up about 10% of the population in the mid-19th Century, but moved to the larger cities once granted equal rights with Italy’s unification. Now, 6 Jews remain in Pitigliano, but restoration of the traditional Jewish quarter is underway in order to attract tourists. On our visit, with intrepid fellow-travelers Jill and Steve, we bought several bottles of Kosher wine from vineyards below the town, and served the wine at our wedding later that month.

Just as I was contemplating where to have lunch today, the front (of the corridor) desk called to tell me that Nick Lewin, Stuyvesant ‘57, CCNY ‘62 and distinguished advocate, was here to see me. Actually, the court officer did not know that much Nick, but I filled in the blanks. Nick, having appeared before a judge in the building, was now hungry and off we went to Jaya Malaysian Restaurant, 90 Baxter Street (June 24, 2010). I wanted to try their nasi lemak, supposedly Malaysia’s unofficial national dish, and compare it to other Malaysian restaurants’ versions, in the name of science. We shared three dishes, roti chanai ($3.50), a thin pancake with a piece of chicken in a buttery curry sauce, nasi lemak ($5.25), which the menu described as Malaysian coconut rice with anchovy sambal (chili sauce), curry chicken, achat (spicy pickled vegetables) and boiled egg, and beef chow fun ($6.95). The roti chanai had only one piece of chicken, and the sauce was a little thin. The nasi lemak tasted pretty good, but not as good as it sounded. The beef chow fun was notable for the freshly-cooked taste of the beef; it had not sat around awaiting our arrival.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I visited Nyonya Malaysian Cuisine, 199 Grand Street, during the summer of 2010, but apparently I only made passing reference to it in a subsequent writing. So, today, on a rainy, cold day, I went back as part of my Kuala Lumpur tour and ordered exactly the same things as I had yesterday at Jaya with better results. The roti canai (no H) ($3.50) was very good, two pieces of chicken and one piece of potato in the rich curry sauce, with an enormous pancake. Actually, the pancake (called that in every restaurant that serves roti canai) is really a slightly flaky crepe. Even after dipping pieces of the pancake into the sauce, you still need a spoon to get the remaining sauce. Nyonya’s nasi lemak ($6.95) is described as "coconut rice flavored w. cloves & screw-pine leaves. Served w. chili anchovy, pickle, curry chicken w. bone and hard boiled egg." I can’t attest to the accuracy of this, because I missed the cloves and screw-pine leaves. The pickle was either the fresh cucumber slices or the achat which were both on the plate. Whatever, the dish was very good, and the portion was large causing me to cry out for the return of Nick Lewin. Please note that Nyonya has a good selection of lunch specials, including soup, at $6.50. The room itself is L-shaped with a big section to the back left. There are many small, dark wooden tables, with a glossy finish. Service was quick and attentive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I suspended my Kuala Lumpur tour for a day, and went into dinkies, 118 Baxter Street, instead. dinkies is both the place and the specialty item for this new spot. They are very close to profiteroles, but the fillings range from the savory, such as chicken or gruyere green onions, to the sweet, such as apple pie or caramel banana. These all cost $5.49 for an order of 7. For $6.79, you can create your own dessert version, beginning with a choice of platform dinkie, such as chocolate chip or peanut butter and jelly, pick a sauce, such as strawberry or marshmallow, and finish with a topping, such as coconut or peanut butter chips. Again, the order is 7 dinkies. Since I am in a rare period of inter-holiday moderation, I passed on dinkies and ordered a beef short rib sandwich ($13.95), expensive but delicious. The shredded beef was served on a fresh ciabata bun, with mozzarella, and one big onion ring. A mild aioli was on the side and very good French fries came with the sandwich.
I ordered passion fruit iced tea ($3.75) which tasted good, what little there was in the pint glass overwhelmed with ice cubes. The teas, purportedly Taiwanese, Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Indian, are one link to Asia, thus qualifying dinkies for my list. Additionally, the young man taking orders behind the counter was Chinese (although probably born in Queens), as was the lone cook. Finally, cream cheese wontons (!) are listed on the menu as a starter.
dinkies, although getting no natural light because its entrance is down a corridor perpendicular to the street, is nevertheless bright and airy as a result of its aqua and white color scheme. Although it had seating for about 30 people, only one Chinese man was sitting at a table, reading and writing, throughout my stay, and one Western-type guy sat down about ten minutes after I did. Although its pricing needs some adjustment, dinkies deserves more business. I’ll try dinkies next time.

Thursday, November 29, 2012
I returned to the Kuala Lumpur tour today and headed off to Skyway Malaysian Restaurant, 11 Allen Street, which, on October 26, 2010, I found to offer good food at a low price. Alas, today, it was gone, an aluminum shutter pulled down over the empty space. So, I went to Sanur Restaurant, 18 Doyers Street, which serves Indonesian and Malaysian food. On a prior visit (September 23, 2010) I had chicken curry, more potato than chicken, but well-seasoned. I ordered roti canai ($2.95) and nasi lemak ($5.95), but of course. Sanur’s menu tersely identified nasi lemak as coconut rice. The plate held half a hard-boiled egg, two chunks of potato and two chunks of chicken, both modest, cucumber slices, peanuts, anchovies in a spicy sauce and a large mound of rice that had no hint of coconut about it. Also, the part of the dish that should have been hot was only lukewarm. The roti canai had only a piece of potato in the curry sauce, the relatively low price probably chased the chicken away. I don’t think that this is the place that the Malaysian truck drivers eat at.

Friday, November 30, 2012
Our Kuala Lumpur tour ends at West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery, Chinatown Arcade #28, where I first had nasi lemak on July 29, 2010, by chance. Today, it was a deliberate choice ($6.50). The menu describes it as coconut flavored rice w. belacan anchovy, chicken, hard boiled egg & peanuts. I rushed to the (on-line) dictionary to learn that belacan is a Malay variety of shrimp paste. This was the week’s best version, although I still can’t taste the coconut in the rice. Three unadvertised potato chunks were cooked in with the two chicken chunks, which at first made you believe that you were getting a lot of chicken. The plate also held a couple of cucumber slices and there was two halves of a hard boiled egg. Unlike Sanur yesterday, what should have been hot was at least warm. Because we plan to go out to dinner tonight, I skipped the roti canai, although it would have also stood at the top of the list, based on past experience. However, I’m still waiting for a drop dead wonderful nasi lemak without using my passport.

Friday, November 23, 2012

New Restaurants, Old Memories

Monday, November 19, 2012      
First, I must report an error of a sort. Last week, I commended the Fuzhou won ton soup at So Go Cafe (no accent), 67A East Broadway, which I have visited several times since it opened in 2011. However, walking by today on the other side of East Broadway, I noticed that the sign above the restaurant now reads Shu Mei Café. So, add one to my list and change your list of destinations, that is if the name is more important than the address in finding the joint. The soup remains the same.

Panda Dumpling House, 67A Eldridge Street, open 5 months, sits on a corner, lacking a few feet in height to make a cube. The walls facing the street are glass, floor to ceiling. The back wall has the kitchen and serving counter. Another wall has a ledge and stools, which are also along one glass wall. Finally, one small round table sits by itself in the large available floor space. Modest fairly describes the operation. Except for wooden chop sticks, everything came on, in or with paper or plastic.

The menu, however, ran to 60 items, predominantly dumplings and buns. I had hot and sour soup ($1.50), a fried leek dumpling ($1.50) and a beef pancake ($2). The soup was ordinary, but genuinely hot and sour and helped against the chill. The leek dumpling was an ellipse, about 7" long and 4" at its widest point. It was filled with chopped leeks, onions and egg. It tasted good and the price was right. The beef pancake was actually a wedge-shaped sandwich, the bread split and (filled would overstate it) containing slices of cold beef, shredded carrots and lettuce, vaguely more Vietnamese than Chinese. One side of the bread was sesame seed-encrusted. The quality of the bread made the skinny contents less important, and it was satisfying in all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
My father died forty years ago today, only 69-years old. He had a heart condition that today would probably be conventionally treated and his life extended 10 years or so. If I was able to, I would not simply add those 10 years to his life, but rather, I would bring him back for days and weeks throughout these 40 years, a sort of greatest hits tour for a man who was thoroughly devoted to his family. This would allow him to experience the award of a doctorate to my brother, his granddaughter’s college graduation, my law school graduation, my second marriage, and an array of delightful great-grandchildren. As fantasies go, this is a pretty good one.

Egg rolls are a staple of any traditional Chinese meal (by New York standards). Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, at what was the center of fierce Tong wars over 100 years ago, has a unique egg roll ($3.95 for 2). It really tastes of egg. Instead of the conventional hard fried shell, Nom Wah’s egg roll seems to be a thin, plain omelette rolled around the filling, then deep fried. This results in a multi-layered wrapper, with only the outside layer crispy. It needs a touch of hot mustard, as all egg rolls do, in my opinion, but it deserves space in our banquet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The gift-giving season is upon us, even before Thanksgiving. This morning, my periodontist gave me a gift – the gift of knowledge – the knowledge that I have to have at least three teeth pulled and replaced by implants. He is a dear man; he has been treating me for about a decade. I’m happy to insure that his grandchildren will be able to attend the best private schools in the vicinity. Maybe my grandchildren will be invited to play dates with his grandchildren. Maybe someday my grandchildren will even understand why Grandpa Alan was never able to buy them a pony.

Cutting Board, 53 Bayard Street, is a brand new restaurant. Its name and much of its menu belie any connection to its location in the middle of Chinatown. Its web site describes the cuisine as "Chinese style Japanese-Italian food." But, everything listed on the menu, even fried crispy calamari, tri-color pasta salad, and seafood Fra Diavolo, is identified in English and (I think) Korean. Familiar Asian dishes (mostly Japanese) appear as well, earning Cutting Board a place at our table. The restaurant is in a long narrow space, completely new inside and out. The right side is occupied by the kitchen behind a glass wall, with four stools on a counter facing the kitchen. Opposite is a long wall of exposed brick. There is one small round table, one four-top table and four two-tops in the front room. I never looked into the backroom, but they certainly need more room for diners if it is to support itself.

I ordered crispy rock shrimp ($6), which came with a vinegary cole slaw, potato salad and popcorn, yes popcorn. The shrimp were covered by a spicy mayonnaise, not entirely crispy but good. Now, I don’t know how to distinguish rock shrimp from large shrimp, jumbo shrimp, butterfly shrimp or tiger shrimp.  For that matter, they might as well have been prawns. With the admonitions of my periodontist fresh in mind, I ordered more food to give my teeth some last happy days. I had “classic beef curry” ($6) over rice with a fried egg on top, a nice touch. Together, there was more than enough food even for me. I suggest two people order three dishes of this type. Service was good; my tea cup was constantly being refilled, and they served a small dish of tangerine pudding free at the end.

Thursday, November 22, 2012
Thanksgiving Day and 49 years since the Kennedy assassination. I was walking into a classroom at Cornell to teach a freshman section of Government 101 (American government) at 2 in the afternoon that day, just as the news was breaking all over the world. What do you say to your young students under those circumstances?  I didn't quite babble, but I didn't make much sense either. I went home and stayed in bed almost the entire weekend except for attending services conducted by the Newman Club. I saw absolutely nothing of the weekend's events including the funeral, because John Stanley and I had no television in our apartment. In conjunction with the Vietnam War and Watergate, I believe that this country got knocked off the rails. Everything makes a difference, but that trifecta changed the spirit (for lack of a better word – suggestions welcome) of this country until who knows when. If Nate Silver is to be believed, maybe the young people are turning the page.

America's Best Thanksgiving Meal Preparer a/k/a America's Favorite Epidemiologist did her usual great job. The 14 relatives and friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves, even the two (you'll pardon the expression) vegetarians. When Boaz told me that he was not going to eat turkey because he was not used to it, I asked how old he was. He quickly told me 4 3/4.  I explained that in 4 3/4 years, I understood that he only had time to become familiar with a small number of things. But, in the future, new things will be popping up all over the place and he should be ready to give them a try. He agreed to eat some turkey. By the way, he loves scallion pancakes.   


Friday, November 16, 2012

As Time Goes By

Monday, November 12, 2012
The Hebrew calendar is built upon observations of the phases of the moon, with 12 lunar months. However, because this is not an exact match to the solar year, the sages added a leap month, occurring every second or third year (it’s not easy to be a Jew), in order to align to the seasons. While there is internal consistency, for instance the new year begins on the first day of Tishrei, the Jewish calendar is obviously not consistent with our calendar. Rosh haShana, new year’s day, was September 17 this year; next year September 5; last year September 29. Looking ahead to 2016, Rosh haShana is October 3rd.

The Islamic calendar is purely a lunar calendar with 12 months of either 29 or 30 days. The year is either 354 or 355 days long, the difference responsive to the inexactness of the Moon’s rotation around the Earth. The lunar consistency of the Islamic calendar, however, makes it entirely unconnected to the seasons, which are on a solar schedule. In other words, Islamic events occur on fixed lunar days, which each year differ from solar days by about 10 or 11 days. The most familiar example is Ramadan, the annual 29-30 period of spiritual reflection and increased devotion, characterized by daytime fasting. Each year, Ramadan starts 11 or 12 days earlier than the year before; August 1, 2011, July 20, 2012, July 9, 2013, and so forth.

Why am I telling you all this, you may ask. Because these alternatives, along with the conventional Gregorian calendar used throughout most of the world, were not good enough for Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s. Yesterday, each ran full-page advertisements in the New York Times announcing that their holiday (neé Christmas) windows would be on display as of November 13, 2012. Once upon a time, the holiday season in New York City began with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, obviously on the fourth Thursday in November. Then, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree would be lit on the following Tuesday or Wednesday night and the holiday season would be in full swing. This year, November 22nd and November 28th are the corresponding dates. Since November 22nd is the earliest possible date for Thanksgiving, the mad whirl of Christmas shopping, office parties, doorman tipping and overeating would have its longest duration this year. That is, until Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s decided to adopt their own calendar, eliminating 9 days of relative normalcy and extending the celebration of too often conspicuous consumption proportionally. I can’t say that I wish them well, although I expect that this calendar change will only hasten the advent of merchandise markdowns, my own special form of celebration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I’ve noted that a new television series about cops called Golden Boy has been filming around here for several months (including today), and that Lincoln Center is reviving Clifford Odets’s Depression-era drama Golden Boy (previews began last week). Now, to add confusion, Golden Child, a play by David Henry Hwang, originally presented Off-Broadway in 1996, opens tonight at the Signature Theater Company as part of its season-long focus on Hwang’s works. Topping this off is the New York premiere of Golden Age, a play by Terrence McNally, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, previewing on November 15. Now, we need to re-release The Golden Child, a 1986 movie starring Eddie Murphy. At least, I hope one of these works gets a Golden Globe and none earns a Goldfinger.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I would love to comment on the sex scandal involving the highest ranks of the US military, but I don’t really understand it yet.

Jon Silverberg telephoned me last night to put me on notice of the restaurant review to appear in today’s New York Times. It is a dilly, and, if you do not have access to it otherwise, I’m pleased to share it.

While I’ve announced that I cannot name one favorite Chinatown restaurant to the exclusion of all others because of the panoply of factors involved in making such a critical determination, I’ve considered following in the footsteps of Grand Master Calvin Trillin, and assembling a meal, nay a banquet, of favorite dishes from disparate sources. However, lunch today at Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street, reminded me how difficult even that would be. I ordered roast duck chow fun ($6.25) with a special request to spare the duck fat. The result was a dish that would have to appear on my special menu, a large quantity of a delicious combination of noodle and fowl. Wo Hop also serves the best crispy fried noodles to be nibbled with hot mustard and duck sauce, or plunge into hot soup. For a mere 80¢, it has to be the first thing you ingest at our notional banquet. But wait, what about Wo Hop’s great shrimp egg foo young ($7.95), the classic Chinese omelette? The portion of three omelettes on the plate is so generous that invariably I insist that a nearby diner (previously unknown to me) take one, having met my rapture quotient. Were I also to credit Wo Hop’s Singapore chow fun and beef chow fun (dry), as well as their honey crispy chicken, it might be game, set, match. So, I must impose a one dish per establishment limit in creating my heavenly banquet, akin to China’s one child per family policy. For now, we will start at Wo Hop with those crispy fried noodles. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2012
According to Reuters, today is Guinness World Records Day. Previously, I was excluded from consideration in spite of the unchallenged supremacy I’ve achieved in eating at Asian restaurants in the greater Chinatown vicinity. Guinness maintained that the record would have to be conducted on their watch to insure authenticity. Since I began this (ad)venture in selfless fashion, not seeking fame or fortune, I did not approach Guinness until late into its second year. Were I to wage a legal battle to claim my just desserts (in a manner of speaking), my evidentiary trail might be insufficient. I took a business card or takeout menu from every establishment that had one, and now have a drawer full. However, I almost always paid cash and never saved cash register receipts. "Members of the jury, plaintiff’s purported proof of eating at all these restaurants could easily be assembled in an afternoon or two by him or his accomplice scurrying around the neighborhood, grabbing takeout menus or business cards wherever they found an open door. On the other hand, he has no record of ever spending a nickel in any of the places. Ladies and gentlemen, money talks,walks."

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Soup should be our first course after, or while, nibbling on crispy fried noodles at our moveable feast. Fuzhou wonton soup ($2) at So Go Cafe (sans accent) 67A East Broadway is notable for the abundance of delicate won ton, in near-translucent wrappers, floating in the clear tasty broth. Be advised that So Go is crowded, and the low stools do not encourage lingering.

Friday, November 16, 2012
From today’s news wire:
"A Florida restaurateur who operates roughly 40 Denny’s locations and five Hurricane Grill & Wings franchises in Florida, Virginia and Georgia intends to add a 5 percent surcharge to customers’ bills to offset costs from ObamaCare beginning in January 2014 when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented." In case you still needed another reason not to eat at Denny’s.

Next week will feature our favorite egg rolls and scallion pancakes as we build our banquet. After Thanksgiving, when I address main courses, would be the perfect opportunity for someone(s) to join me for lunch, since attacking a steamed or fried whole flounder ($28.95) at Ping’s Sea Food, or a Peking duck ($45) at Peking Duck House is not a one-person (one paycheck) operation.

Stop the presses! Some last minute sleuthing by Cindy Wilkinson McMullen and I uncovered that we knew the owner of these Denny's restaurants over 30 years ago, when he only sought to continue his life as a Cornell fraternity boy several years after graduation.  Apparently, he still hasn't grown up.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Mitt Liberty and Justice For All

Monday, November 5, 2012
I’m sorry. I just don't know how I could have gotten it wrong. Really, I’m embarrassed by my announcement that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan ran the 2012 New York City Marathon in 3 hours 2 minutes and 17 seconds. We all know that this was impossible, because I finished right behind him in 4 hours 27 minutes and 9 seconds. What was I thinking?

I returned to work today with most subway lines running again and electricity restored downtown. That did not mean things were entirely normal at the courthouse, however. As the temperature dropped into the low 40s, there was no heat until the afternoon, and only the barest amount then. That was more than we got out of the telephone system, which was dead all day.

Chinatown, on the other hand, seemed to be fully operational. I did not see any damage or obvious sign of business disruption, although I covered only a few streets. I aimed for Chen’s Watch Repair & Change Any Part, a business conducted under a beach umbrella set up on the sidewalk closest to 46 Mott Street, to get my watch battery replaced quickly and economically. I then went into Wonton Noodle Garden, 56 Mott Street (September 12, 2011) for a hot bowl of Shanghai Big Wontons w. Noodles ($5.50), a proper antidote for the cold air. The Shanghai Big Wontons had thin wrappers and contained shrimp as well as ground meat, noticeably differing from the typical Cantonese won tons with their thick skin. The noodles were thick, hefty lo mein, and the soup, which was almost crowded out by the won tons and noodles, was good and warmed me for the first time since I left the house this morning.

When I walked back after the lunch, I saw that a double-decker tour bus had hit a bicyclist at the corner of Centre Street and Worth Street, doing far more damage to the smaller of the two. A fire truck, an EMT ambulance and a police car were all at the scene, and the bicyclist, with his head bandaged, was strapped onto a board for removal. No one on the street admitted to seeing the accident, when a cop asked around. Given the location surrounded by courthouses, I was surprised that the victim was not covered by business cards tossed by passing attorneys.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Most public employees have Election Day off. Still, I could not manage to sleep late, so I saw America’s Favorite Epidemiologist off to work. She, too, could have treated today as a holiday, but she is quite dedicated to her job. Even last week, when her office in Brooklyn was unreachable from Palazzo di Gotthelf, she spent much of her waking hours reading, writing, editing and consulting with her staff by telephone about reports and proposals. The only difference in work style for her last week over the normal was her less formal wardrobe and makeup. Otherwise, science marched on.

Today started strong. On only one cup of coffee, I finished the Saturday crossword puzzle, which sat more than a quarter undone since the weekend. Then, I went to the gym in the basement, the second time this week, and the third time this year. After cleaning up, I ventured forth to further the democratic process and insert another brick in the wall of freedom. Well, I wasn’t the only bricklayer in the neighborhood; there were more people waiting in line than I’ve ever seen at this polling place. This is particularly interesting considering the lack of competitive balance in this area. We have one of the most predictably left-wing constituencies outside of North Korea.

The good collectivists of the upper West Side did not limit their public spirit to voting alone. I carried a shopping bag of men’s jerseys (cotton, long sleeve, XL and XXL) that I no longer wear or risk being voted off the runway if I wore. I gathered this bundle as I assembled a presidential election outfit this morning. I wasn’t necessarily being charitable; I was looking to make space in the closet. When I walked into the JCC, on Amsterdam Avenue at 75th Street, they were turning away donations – clothing, household goods, food. They had been trucking these items to areas hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, and had, at least for now, filled perceived needs. I was directed to the Goodwill store on 79th Street, which was directly on my path to Zabar’s. In the words of George W. Bush, Mission Accomplished and I don’t mind having my desire for closet space mistaken for philanthropy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Grandpa Alan awoke this morning happy. Happy, but very tired. While the results of most major election races were known by 11:30 last night, I decided to stay up to hear the resulting speeches for historical purposes. For some reason, Mitt Romney waited until 1 AM to appear before his supporters in Boston and make his concession speech. There was a rumor that the delay was caused by his attempt to outsource the speechwriting to China, hedged by a futures contract on the Renminbi secured by a credit default swap on the collateralization of future royalties on his yet unwritten autobiography "Don't Judge A Man By His Underwear." In any case, I sat playing Sudoko on my smartyphone until Romney appeared. After his brief and gracious remarks, I was extremely fatigued and, when the President failed to pop right up, I went to sleep about 1:30 AM and got up at 6:30 AM.

Winners and losers alike around here later experienced miserable weather as a Nor’easter arrived with rain, sleet and snow. Now, I don’t know anyone who uses the word Nor’easter in conversation. Personally, it only presents me with 180 degree opposite alternatives, because I don’t know whether nor’east is the origin of the storm or its destination. So, use of this strange label only eliminates a path to or from the southwest.

Thursday, November 8, 2012
I went for my annual physical examination today, so I traveled no further south than East 38th Street. Normally, my doctor is situated at the NYU Medical Center on First Avenue at 32nd Street, but that facility was completely knocked out of commission by Hurricane Sandy, or, more exactly, the effects of extraordinary wind and water on an old building retrofitted periodically to meet the demands of modern medical practice. Dr. Michael Perskin did his usual fine job in excusing all my excesses and pronouncing me fit to cross streets unaccompanied.

Friday, November 9, 2012
As I began with a correction, I end with a clarification. When I went to Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, a couple of weeks ago, I raved about their scallion pancake, just the best ever at a mere $2.25.  I noted though that the total experience was compromised by having a delicious bowl of hot and sour soup first, which numbed some of my taste buds. Therefore, I could not taste the sweet and salty ginger/soy/rice wine vinegar dipping sauce that typically accompanies a scallion pancake. However, today I took precautions and ordered the scallion pancake first so that no other flavors interfered. But, I discovered that the sauce itself was not up to the task. It was weak and would have been overcome by almost any other spice, aroma or flavor. Each table holds bottles and jars of condiments which could properly pick up the slack, if you can find the right combination.  But, I had so eagerly dug into the scallion pancake, that I could not pause to goose up the sauce. It was still a great scallion pancake.     

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stormy Weather

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
We have been quite lucky in the midst of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.  We live roughly halfway between the northern and southern boundaries of Manhattan Island, but much closer to the Hudson River than the East River.  However, in our vicinity of the upper West Side, the land climbs quickly up from the Hudson River to the adjacent residential areas, so there was no water damage from overflow anywhere above the tip of downtown Manhattan.  Also, electricity never failed in this neighborhood, unlike the entire area south of 23rd Street, river to river.  Of course, the suburbs generally suffered the worst damage.  Friends and relatives on Long Island still have no power this morning along with 90% of the other residents.  We have not been able to reach anyone in Nassau County or Suffolk County since Sunday.  Some of our New Jersey friends and relatives have bounced back more quickly, at least in the power department. Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu took the prudent measure of reserving a hotel room because of the inevitable loss of power they experience during any sizable storm.  They don’t live anywhere near a coastline, but their backyard seems to be a natural resting place for falling trees.  So, they carefully identified a nearby establishment featuring backup power.  However, a cozy night’s rest was denied them when the hotel’s generator failed.  Fortunately, friends in another town were able to accommodate them for a couple of nights. Today, however, they relocated to Palazzo di Gotthelf while trying to sort out their options.  My brother, on the other hand, remained home, but only lost power Sunday night and awoke Monday morning to find it restored.

I never left home all day Monday.  Our friends Susan and Steve, who live in the adjacent building, came over for tea in the afternoon, and we enjoyed good conversation for a couple of hours.  Tuesday, I took a walk and did some simple shopping.  Broadway was busy with pedestrian traffic, although most stores were closed including Starbucks, Maoz (falafels), Subway sandwich shop, Trader Joe’s, Chase bank, the liquor store and McDonalds (which was already closed for renovations).  Only the pizza joint near 71st Street, some cafés (too elegant a description but no good alternate name comes to mind), and Fairway were open.  All the eating establishments were quite busy, occupied by folks from other neighborhoods and those locals who still haven't learned to navigate their kitchens.  There were a few trees and branches down on my path to and fro Fairway, but the streets looked remarkably normal.

Today, Wednesday, foot traffic was even greater than yesterday when I went out between 9 and 10 AM.  Most of the stores had reopened, except for Trader Joe’s which had a sign announcing a 10 AM opening when I passed it walking north, and then 11 AM when I came back.  Fairway, which had essentially no perishables available yesterday, was almost fully restored today including fresh bagels.  Strangely enough, there were no eggs.  Were the chickens still hiding from Hurricane Sandy or were they too frightened to relax their orifices and lay?  I knew that we still had some eggs in the refrigerator, so I bought some lox pieces to mix in for lunch.  While the fresh bagels were tempting, our freezer is loaded with bagels and bialys needing only 20 or 30 minutes at room temperature to be ready for action.

I expect to walk about again during the afternoon.  I can’t go to work because the courts in Manhattan remain closed, while the other boroughs are open for business.  A power station at East 13th Street was swamped by the storm-swollen East River, knocking out electricity for all of lower Manhattan, including the complex of courthouses around Foley Square.  I admit that I’m beginning to miss reading legal pleadings and turning to LEXIS and Westlaw to try to arrive at a defensible determination to disputes.  I need that apartment seller refusing to return the deposit to the buyer when the deal blew up, that guy who stalked a woman for over a year and then sued her when her boss complained to the cops because of the effect it had on her, that landlord who waited two years to tell his insurance company that a tenant fell down the front steps, that woman in the $11 million apartment who forgot that she left the water running in her bathtub while she chatted on the telephone, that adolescent parochial school student who fell down the stairs but could not explain why or where in the building that it happened, that real estate firm that wanted the commission on a commercial deal that was revived by another firm months after the deal initially fell flat, that prostitute who sued her John because the fancy hotel threw her out when she refused to pay for the spa treatments she took after he checked out.  Even with the added company of Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu, nothing around here offers that level of entertainment.  Maybe we should have all worn costumes tonight for Halloween.

Thursday, November 1, 2012
I shopped for some interesting items at Zabar’s this afternoon, including their salmon chowder and whitefish croquettes.  We didn’t have them for dinner, however, because Uncle Stu ordered takeout from Estihana, [Kosher] Oriental Restaurant & Sushi, 221 West 79th Street.  Adding to the buoyant atmosphere was the appearance of Uncle Myron, oldest of the Poloner kids, with his latest companion.  Even though these siblings are in frequent contact, with little going unreported in their respective households, putting them together of an evening produces almost endless anecdotes covering past and present generations of friends, relatives and neighbors.  The Kosher Asian food wasn’t bad.  The Shredded Crispy Beef ($12.50) and Beef Teriyaki ($19.50) (tell them to hold the baked potato) would hold their own on any menu.  

Friday, November 02, 2012
Our boarders left this morning and the courthouse remains closed.  Of course, even if I ignored my temporary unemployment and chose to pursue my gustatory passion, Chinatown suffers from the same loss of electricity as does all of Manhattan south of 23rd Street.  Now, that’s a tragedy.  

Bulletin: Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan completed the 2012 New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 2 minutes and 17 seconds.  What a great performance and a harbinger of things to come.