Friday, February 28, 2014

Winter Wonderland

Monday, February 24, 2014
I finally watched a few minutes of the Winter Olympics this weekend during the men’s hockey finals between Canada and Sweden.  I was rooting for Sweden because Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers was Sweden’s goalie.  I also found the symmetry of the Swedish team attractive.  Lundqvist aside, Sweden’s leading players were Erik Karlson, Karl Erikson, Erik Erikson and Karl Karlson, or so it seemed.  However, the randomly named Canadians dominated and captured the gold medal.

With the weather at 37 degrees, under a clear, bright sky, I took a practice run at my signature event, Walking for Food.  I found Savory Kitchen Inc., 237B Grand Street, a very new joint, as indicated by the large collection of red-ribboned plants on display.  It’s a small place, about ten tables of varying sizes crowded into the 2/3 of the floor space not taken by the food preparation area in the front left of the restaurant.  The tables were all occupied and a steady stream of take-out orders were handled as well.  The menu listed well over two hundred items, almost all familiar to the old China hand.  

I ordered Scallion Pancake in Hong Kong Style ($2.75) which might be why there was shredded lettuce under the slightly undercooked pancake.  From the 64 item lunch special list, all at $5.25, I had Beef with Satay Sauce, which came with a small bowl of vegetable broth and white rice.  As I’ve noted before, Beef with Satay Sauce, not to be confused with Satay Beef as served in a Malaysian restaurant, is never the same place-to-place (August 9, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 23, 2012).  This version was okay, C+, no unique flavors.  I’m not writing Savory Kitchen off with its hundred of untried alternatives, but I’m not rushing to return.  
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - FEB. 25, 2014, 9:04 A.M. E.S.T.
“U.S. home prices fell for the second straight month in December as brutally cold weather, tight supply and higher costs slowed sales [according to the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index].”

By REUTERS - FEB. 25, 2014, 9:06 A.M. E.S.T.
“U.S. single-family home prices in December rose slightly more than expected from the previous month, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.”  Yes, the S&P/Case-Shiller composite index. 
I was delighted to have Stony Brook Steve come down for lunch with me.  We chose Lotus Blue, Dong Tian Kitchen, 110 Reade Street, in the western suburbs of Chinatown, which was simply called Lotus Blue when I first ate there, soon after it started serving lunch (April 17, 2012).  Dong tian means winter, but there was no other indication that the restaurant has turned into an Eastern version of the Four Seasons.  With this alteration of its name, Lotus Blue, Dong Tian Kitchen adds one to my count of unique restaurants.  We ordered stir fried rice noodles with chicken ($12) and spicy cumin lamb cubes ($12), with complimentary bowls of mushroom broth to start.  Another extra which was much less welcome than the hot soup was the cold winds which managed to enter the restaurant in spite of the double entry doors.  

We both liked the noodles, containing shredded chicken, onions, celery, carrots and a covering of chopped peanuts.  We differed on the lamb, which was chunked, not cubed.  It must have been broiled and then roasted with (a lot of) cumin, scallions and hot peppers until very dry and chewy.  I ate all of mine and most of Steve’s. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014
Michael Ratner, another distinguished grandfather, joined me for lunch today, and, after comparing pictures of the little darlings, we continued the duck hunt at Joe’s Ginger Restaurant, 25 Pell Street, noted for its soup buns and scallion pancakes.  After an order of 8 soup buns ($4.95), we had a whole Peking duck ($39.95), which came with 8 pancakes, scallions, cucumbers and hoisin sauce.  The waiter prepared all 8 packages very tidily.  The duck was excellent, nearly fat-free, the skin crispy.  We had to ask for the carcass, and when it arrived, I think it was from another duck.  However, we had had plenty to eat by then, so it didn’t make much difference.  As I walked Michael towards the subway, I stopped for mangoes, so that he might have another special treat when he got home.
Friday, February 28, 2014
“But, it’s a dry cold” is probably the only reasonable response to learning that the temperature is 12 degrees outside as you went to work, the analog to what people in Arizona and California say when their brains are sauteeing.  
In a way I was disappointed that Arizona’s governor vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for businesses to refuse service to gay men, lesbians and other people on religious grounds.  I planned to campaign for Madison Square Garden to ban admission to New York Ranger hockey games to fans of the rival New Jersey Devils, since so many of us hold deeply-felt religious scruples about Satanism.

My last word about the many non-sports that populate the winter Olympics, where ultimately futile attempts are made to quantify quality, comes from a review of a fine bottle of Puligny-Montrachet:
“A slightly riper nose features aromas of dried peach and apricot as well as spiced pear and background floral hints.  There is excellent volume and plenty of mouth coating extract supporting the delicious, round and voluminous medium-bodied flavors that terminate in a very generous finish that really fans out on the lingering finish.  This is fleshy but not flabby and is definitely worth a look.”
This may all be true, but you’d have to be crazy to assign a number to it, as the supposed judges do to ice dancing or free style skiing, as examples.  The endeavor may require great skill, concentration and practice, but if it’s not faster, longer, bigger, it ain’t a sport. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Michael Jordan Also on the 17th

Monday, February 17, 2014
We were very excited to see that Staple’s was offering the smartyphone rated highest by Consumer Reports for only one cent with an extension of cell phone service.  With both of our plans about to meet the two-year renewal period on February 26th, my young bride and I headed to the Staple’s store on Broadway, opposite Zabar’s.  A young man served us competently and answered our questions about new features and compatibility with our existing smartyphones.  “Proceed,” we instructed, and spent about one hour in all as he fetched two new phones and entered all the necessary information on his computer, several times it seemed, to complete the transaction.  
“Oops,” he uttered, about 3/4 through.  On February 17th, the system would not allow him to book the deal until February 26th, or thereafter, when our current plan expires.  The only trouble with waiting, I explained, was that the one cent offer might be time-sensitive, and a quick look at the circular confirmed that it ran from February 16th to February 22nd.  We came in today to lock in the deal, but the young man and his manager were unable to break the time barrier, even after several telephone calls to higher authority.  Now, we must wait another 9 days to see if we have another chance to strike at a hot iron.  Ironically, earlier this morning, we told Professor David of our intention, and, with his mobile phone contract having expired, he waltzed into a nearby Staple’s, 200 miles to the northeast of us, and got his one cent smartyphone without a problem.  

February is a low ebb for real sports fans, with only professional basketball active.  I dismiss the Winter Olympics, on the whole, especially when it serves as the corrupt showcase of an authoritarian regime.  Even in the absence of meaningful competition, however, there is still sports news of note.  I am particularly interested in the recruiting policy of the University of Connecticut football team (the Huskies).  It seems that Ernest Jones, a running backs coach, was just terminated after saying that “Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”  Jones’s obvious lack of judgment warrants his dismissal.  Jesus, after all, was considered to be relatively frail, paying little attention to physical conditioning.  Putting him in the middle of a Huskies team that won only 3 of 12 games last season is a recipe for disaster.  Until and unless it shows vast improvement, I think that this team should be extremely careful about whom it welcomes into its ranks.  Just think about the potential for bad publicity if Jesus is felled by a cheap shot, or worse, bullied in the locker room.         
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Ilana M., my courthouse colleague, accompanied by her intern, continued on the duck hunt with me.  We went to Mottzar Kitchen, 70 Mott Street, where I had had a good half Peking duck before, but, at $25.95 for a whole Peking duck, $20 less than the last duck that we shared, we could not resist a good deal.  And, in fact, the quality of Mottzar’s Peking duck made it an extraordinary deal.  The waiter covered all 10 buns with juicy (but not notably fatty) meat, scallions and cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.  Additionally, the carcass came afterwards with lots of edible chunks of meat along with 2 polkies and 2 fliegels (legs and wings) in crispy skin.  A good time was had by all, except for the duck.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Last night, I attended a discussion on  political polarization.  Nolan McCarty, professor of politics at Princeton University, offered some intriguing research findings.  He has recorded and analyzed every roll call vote in the US Senate and House of Representatives, probably with the assistance of some graduate students.  Starting at the end of the Civil War, when the two major modern parties emerged in opposition to each other, legislative polarization, most of them versus most of us, ran high until the Progressive Era, early in the twentieth century.  While it is understood that roll call votes are only the end of a process where bargaining and posturing may obscure actual ideological positions, and that some issues are never framed as roll call votes on a chamber’s floor, the many thousands of roll call votes examined offer a formidable profile of American legislative politics. 

McCarty found that polarization declined through the Depression, WWII and the post-war period, but turned upward in the 1970s, rising now to an all-time high.  In other words, strict partisan divisions on roll call votes in the House and the Senate have never been greater.  Maybe that’s not a surprise to even the casual observer, but he also tracked income (in)equality through our history, using a variety of accepted measures.  He reported that income (in)equality parallels legislative polarization.  They rise and fall together.  In the short time available for his presentation, he did not offer his explanation of which drives which, or even why they might be linked.  Now, turn to the person seated next to you and discuss.

The Boyz Club met at Shanghai Café Deluxe, 100 Mott Street, and ate scallion pancakes, sesame cold noodles, tangerine chicken, fish fillet with wine sauce, sauteed sliced beef with scallions, and eggplant with garlic sauce (meatless).  With the economies of scale coming into play, it cost us $13 each, including a big tip.  The food was good, too.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Alert!  Champagne mangoes have hit the streets of Chinatown, 5 for $5, medium size, 4 for $5, large size.  Wherever you shop, I urge you to get into this fabulous fruit now, and I hope that you have a wonderful person nearby to lick the delicious juices running down your chin.  

Friday, February 21, 2014
Looking back to last week’s photograph of those amazingly wonderful cookies offered by Café Trend, I think I see the face of John Kerry on the right-hand cookie.

Nihonjin ni ayamaritai - Aru yudayajin no zange is the title of a 1979 Japanese book that remains untranslated into English.  It is the invented confessions of a Jewish elder and spreads the rumor that “Enola Gay,” the name of the pilot’s mother painted on the fuselage of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, means “Kill the Emperor” in Yiddish.  Does it get any better than that?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chew On This

Monday, February 10, 2014
I did something yesterday that I had never done before, leaving the list of undone at 87,312.  I was a shomer, that is a guardian of a dead body before the funeral.  Jewish law (or is it lore?) provides that a body not be left alone until burial.  Whether this was always a spiritual exercise or a cautionary practice to ward off animals or other predators is uncertain.  Jews of many stripes now maintain the practice at least to honor the deceased.  Observant Jews will chant psalms during their guard duty.  I, on the other hand, went equipped with the latest copy of the New Yorker, and the book review and magazine sections of the Sunday Times.  I didn't know the deceased, a recent member of our congregation, but, as someone drawn to our collection of interesting Jews, she probably would have felt comfortable with how I chose to spend my time with her.  I admit that I was nervous as I left the house, but the brown glove on my right hand wasn’t a bad match for the black glove on my left hand. 

I sat in a corridor downstairs in the funeral home, behind the casket display room, where a nice piece of wood could run to $13,990.  In contrast to the calming decor of the showroom, the corridor’s cinder block walls were painted yellow -- a long time ago.  The floor was covered in linoleum trying to look like fitted slate rocks.  As I sat at the end of the corridor facing the door that I entered, there were two rooms on my right, maybe 10 x 10, that were fitted with stainless equipment and fixtures, used for ritual washing and other corporal preparations.  On my left was the refrigerated room holding bodies; I never looked in to count.  In fact, while I was on guard, one body was brought in in a body bag and placed in that room, and, later, an occupied plain pine box, a more typical container than the oak, mahogany or chestnut beauties in the next room, was wheeled out of the refrigerated room and into the elevator to the main floor for a service.
With those rare interruptions, I attempted to concentrate on my reading, trying to forget just where I was.  Except, every few minutes, the refrigeration unit cycled on with a clamor that would have evoked calls to the super in almost any nearby Upper West Side apartment house.  Even more upsetting was the deodorant/disinfectant spray that visibly shpritzed out of a box on the wall every so often, leaving a lingering odor until the next discharge. 

The lovely and talented Ken Klein arrived just before 3 PM to relieve me, and although he is a world-class schmoozer, I left Ken in some haste to regain Amsterdam Avenue and the fresh air outside.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Today’s favorite headline: “Suicide Bomb Trainer in Iraq Accidentally Blows Up His Class”
The very wintery weather that we have been experiencing has resulted in soup for lunch most days recently.  Today, it was pho bo kho ($6.25), the signature Vietnamese beef noodle soup at Pho Viet Huong, 73 Mulberry Street.  The hot broth had real flavor, picking up the juices of the slices of very rare beef that continued to cook as they sat in the soup.  I threw in some bean sprouts and squeezed in the lime that sat on the plate placed next to the soup bowl.

With the good hot soup inside me, I decided to walk the extra half block up to Canal Street in spite of the 24 degree temperature, because I spotted my favorite fruit vendors in operation at the corner.  More surprising than their operating on such a cold day was the presence of a small film crew shooting two women, one young, one middle-aged, dressed as Amish women, wearing ankle-length, blue-gray skirts of a heavy fabric, and white bonnets.  The very brief scene being filmed had the women buying fruit from one of the Chinese lady peddlers, conducting the transaction almost wordlessly, pointing and grunting to bridge the cultural divide.  I’m stymied trying to extract a plot line from this strange scene. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
I learned that the fabulous cookie that I had at the last lunch with the Feingold Claque, the very buttery, hand-shaped Milanoesque cookie, partially covered in slivered almonds, comes from Café Trend, 596 Third Avenue at 39th Street, which claims to prepare all of its own food.  The location is a bit off my normally beaten path, but this is too important to ignore, and, with the day off for Lincoln’s birthday, still celebrated separately by New York State employees, I headed over to the East Side. 

When I got there, the genial manager was pleased that I held his product in such high esteem, but so apparently did others as they were all sold out.  He told me to return tomorrow when a new batch would be available.

Thursday, February 13, 2014
While a new batch of cookies might be available today, a new batch of snow came rushing in overnight and stayed through late morning.  The high winds whipping the snow around at least gave me a chance to test my new Brooks Brothers umbrella on the way to the subway.  It stayed intact and I stayed mostly dry.  One train line stopped as I reached the platform, but otherwise the trip went well.

By noon, about one foot of snow had fallen in Manhattan, but it was icy rain that greeted me as I went to lunch.  Several shops and restaurants were closed in Chinatown.  I was most surprised to find the Chase bank branch at the corner of Mott Street and Canal Street closed when I tried to order a new box of checks.  Fortunately, Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, was open, having ended their New Year’s break.  Ducts along the low ceiling had been painted, but no other changes were apparent.  To their credit, menu prices had not changed even though they had over a week to print up new ones. 

The real ugliness set in at the end of the day as I made my way home.  All precipitation stopped by mid-afternoon and the temperature rose to the high 30s.  That resulted in slop just about anywhere you stepped.  Of course, the worst places were the intersections where you had to cross, á la the chicken, to the other side.  But, you couldn't, because there weren't puddles in your way, they were ponds.  I walked in the gutter on Chambers Street for a one-block stretch until I could find a place to get to the sidewalk safely with slush below my ankles.   It was only slightly better when I got off the subway uptown, and I was happy to get into the shelter of the Palazzo di Gotthelf.

Friday, February 14, 2014
Happy Valentine’s Day.  I spent the morning at the tender hands of my dearly beloved prosthodontist.  The comprehensive renovation of my oral cavity, which began about a year ago, has been a success overall.  However, whether my new teeth or my new bite or some combination therein thereof is to blame, I have been regularly chomping on my tongue, trying to turn it into steak tartare, or maybe tongue tartare.  This occurs while chewing, no surprise, but when speaking or sneezing?  Blood has been drawn.  Fortunately, my dental practitioners gave me an appointment on short notice, and, after a couple of hours, sharp edges were smoothed and surfaces polished.  Only if my personality were to be repaired in such a short time with so little discomfort.

Wearing the sloppy clothes that matched the sloppy streets, I didn’t want to go to work for the rest of the day.  That allowed me to head back to Café Trend to see if there was a Valentine’s Day present for me.  Indeed, I was recognized and welcomed.  The manager first rummaged through boxes of cookies, but could not find my favorite.  Another guy reached for a cellophane-wrapped catering dessert tray, which contained their full repertoire of goodies, and asked me how many cookies I wanted.  At first, I demurred, but they insisted that they would break up this package for me.  OK, not knowing how they would charge for the cookie under the circumstances, I asked for 10 and pulled out a $20 bill.  I’m not going to finish the story, because, if the word gets out how generous they were to me, the New York bakery ecosystem might be irreparably harmed.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow Job

Monday, February 3, 2014
We spent the weekend away, celebrating with Boaz, the Super Bowl Birthday Boy.  We were kept very busy during the weekend with imaginative activities organized by his devoted parents, including a Bingo game where the numbered squares were replaced by the photographs of locally-prominent 5- and 6- year olds.  Except for the monumentally uncompetitive Super Bowl, there was no reason or time to watch television.  However, once back in our hotel room, we watched local television news primarily to keep track of the weather.  The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was, of course, disturbing.  I had marveled how he had managed to seemingly shed his bulk to play to the wispy figure of Truman Capote so convincingly.  Yet, his last role was that of desperate junkie with a script that allowed for no improvisation.

I was interested in how local Boston television stations handled the news of Hoffman’s death.  After giving the ugly details of his being found with a syringe still stuck in his arm, at least two different broadcasts proceeded to read Twitter feeds (Tweets) about his death.  While 140 characters cannot be expected to do justice to Hoffman’s talents, the very idea that I wanted to even hear the terse comments of celebrities about him read aloud was absurd.  Yes, his death was sad.  Yes, we feel sorry for his family.  Yes, a major talent has been lost.  I already knew that.  I didn’t have to put on makeup or have my hair sprayed into place in order to repeat these unsurprising observations to thousands of folks out in TVLand.  Do some investigating; do some reporting, or shut up!
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
I hope that I never stop searching, but on a return visit today to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, 100 Mott Street (August 26, 2013), I found the scallion pancake ($2.50) to be incomparable.  It is flaky without being brittle, with a soft inside layer.  With a lot of snow still on the ground, and more predicted for tomorrow, I chose Shanghai wonton soup with shepherd’s purse ($5.95), but don’t ask me how that differs from Shanghai wonton soup ($4.95) or what in the bowl was a shepherd’s purse.  The 8 wontons, however, were very good, not gummy.  There were no noodles, leaving room in the bowl for an ample amount of hot broth.  I can handle winter under these circumstances.  By the way, many sources commend the soup dumplings here, but I still haven’t tried them.

The New York Times has a debate on “The Casual Couture of the Average American.”
Six contributors, ranging from a psychologist to 3 bloggers (is that now a job category?), comment on whether we have “ a culture that’s taken comfort to the extreme?”  While I long ago abandoned wearing a suit and tie on an airplane flight, I am frequently annoyed at the sight of someone dressed like a slob heading to a place where slobs are not usually found, such as, an office or a theater.  One writer in the group asserts that “[c]reativity requires diversity and free expression.”  First of all, creativity is not necessarily a virtue in many of our jobs, all or part of the time.  I shudder at the thought of a creative bus driver.  Secondly, whether boiling an egg or writing software, a person has to look around, recognize and gather resources, and proceed in some semblance of an orderly fashion to achieve a goal, that is if a goal exists beyond the pure occupation of space.  Getting the mind organized, even if to then launch into an improvisatory outburst, is, I believe, the necessary first step in approaching the day ahead or any task therein.  Picking your clothes is the right kind of inaugural exercise, considering the who, what, when, where and why of your anticipated endeavor(s), to my mind.

When “we put on a smart outfit, we feel more confident,” according to the psychologist in the newspaper.  By coincidence, in this week’s Torah portion (the Jewish book of books is read continually throughout the year), Exodus 28:2-3, the Big One tells Moses about the priestly role destined for Aaron, Moses’ brother: “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty.  And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office.”  In other words, the garments qualify Aaron to be a priest.  Moreover, according to a critical source of biblical analysis, if priests “were not wearing their proper priestly garments, they lacked their priesthood and were considered like non-priests, and were liable to death if they performed the priestly service.”  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 83b.  I might not go that far, but, conversely, by any measure, flip flops should never appear away from a sandy beach, a shower stall or a pedicure salon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The weather is particularly ugly this morning.  The sky seems to be directly depositing slush on the streets, skipping the intermediate steps of snow and rain.  I’ll have to step carefully on my way to lunch in Chinatown.  And, speaking of Chinatown, Professor David Lee McMullen send me the following link this morning.  The report cites the gentrification of some urban Chinatowns (New York, Boston and Philadelphia) as a threat to their culture.  Notably, the white population of these locales is increasing as the Chinese population decreases, an indication of the intrusion of newer, more upscale residential properties.  I’ve seen evidence of and commented on this over the last four years that I have worked at the very edge of Chinatown.

This is a pattern, however, that has prevailed over time on the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and currently in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, among other neighborhoods.  Ironically, the population and geographic contraction of Little Italy, as Little Italy, and much of the Lower East Side as a Hispanic neighborhood resulted from the influx of Chinese people and businesses into those areas.  I’m really up in the air about this issue.  Yes, I’d like to see an aggressive housing development policy providing for working class and lower middle class families, of the sort that I emerged from.  However, until that occurs, likely contemporaneous with a cure for cancer, I admit to being heartened that success for many has not lead them to the suburbs, deserting their urban neighborhoods, in contrast to the white flight and suburban sprawl that characterized the second half of the twentieth century.

New York has clearly benefitted by the Asian, Latin American and former USSR residents’ immigration of recent decades, just as it did by the Eastern and Southern European immigration of 100 years ago.  The coincident arrival (or return) of over-paid financial wizards on their temporary rise to the top and then, often, to jail, seems to be an inevitable part of our dynamic growth.  These two demographic shifts are linked, at least, to  the relative ease that New York City deals with diversity and change, without resorting to arming our citizenry and shooting strangers.

The current crisis in Argentina:

Thursday, February 6, 2014
I recently wrote about the seeming windfall of a large check from my health insurance company.  Well, it was too true to be good.  A bill arrived this week from an anesthesiologist, who allegedly sent me off to dreamland during a recent medical procedure, for exactly the same amount as the check.  Today, I did the right thing.

The Winter Olympics start tonight or tomorrow.  If it did not interrupt the National Hockey League schedule, I could ignore it entirely.  I loathe the patent corruption surrounding Olympic site selection and development, rarely exercised so publicly, so heavy-handedly and on such a grand scale as by Putin and his puppets.  See

Further, the Winter Olympics especially is host to so many events that, while demonstrating formidable athletic prowess, are not properly labeled sports.  Results are governed by judges, not goals, times, runs, points, or distance.  As the New York Times wrote today about figure skating and related events, “The major problems are that judges continue to lack independence; nationalistic impulses still often prevail; apparent conflicts of interest abound; and the anonymity of the judges’ scoring has undermined efforts to increase accountability and transparency, according to interviews over several months with more than 70 judges, referees, athletes, coaches, officials and other experts.”  Another article today has the headline “Who Needs Stopwatches? From the Shadows, Judges Take Starring Roles.”  Judgment calls play a role in every conceivable sport, and often commentary the day after the Big Game focuses on officiating.  It’s not the same, though, as having every call/rating/score entirely dependent on someone off the field.  If you and I can’t explain why X won and Y lost, it ain’t a sport.