Friday, April 24, 2015

Competitive Instinct

Monday, April 20, 2015
I found the Boston Marathon more difficult today than the New York Marathon or the London Marathon in the past. The temperature was 43 degrees. The wind was blowing and it rained throughout. The roads were slippery in places, and squishy shoes have always tormented me. In the 45 minutes that I stood at the 10-mile mark in downtown Natick, I was quite uncomfortable.  Fortunately, Bakery on the Common, at 9 South Main Street, was only ½ block away, and, in spite of large crowds seeking its shelter and nourishment, we were able to find room for three generations to get warm and refuel. 

This marked the end to a satisfying weekend, which began with dinner Friday night at the well-traveled Bergs, whom we met on our trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia, almost two years ago. Their special guest was Professor Xu Xin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Israel Studies at Nanjing University. This topsy-turvy enterprise was founded in 1992 by Xu Xin; it now is one of nine institutes in China devoted to Jewish studies as an academic discipline. The institute has produced Ph.D.s, published and translated many significant works, sent scholars to Israel, organized conferences in Judaic studies, and built the largest Judaica library in China. Quite amazing. I thought the Sino-Semitic interchange was entirely in one direction, from kitchen to table.

Xu Xin proved remarkably erudite, engaging and energetic in spite of a regimen of international traveling, speaking, teaching, fundraising and overcoming the skepticism of American and Israeli Jews about the scope of his endeavors. It all started when Xu Xin was a graduate student in China, 40 years ago, studying American literature. This led inevitably to Bellow, Malamud, Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer and others, all with the same affliction. He then probed deeper into Jewish history and culture, and Israeli affairs.

The evening, of course, flew by, and the eats weren’t bad either. Note that I was unable to get past the Chinese version of the institute’s web site –

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Stony Brook Steve and Dan K. joined me for lunch today and I took them to Canton Lounge, 70 Mott Street. This was formerly the site of Mottzar Kitchen, which I found to have the best Peking duck in Chinatown, coincidentally at the lowest price (October 24, 2014, June 24, 2014, May 7, 2014, February 18, 2014, August 7, 2013, April 18, 2012). Mottzar closed suddenly, and after a brief renovation reopened as Canton Lounge. I described my meal there, on February 3, 2015, as "mildly pleasant." Then, again suddenly, the restaurant closed for almost two months while extensive renovations were conducted. The name is the same, but there have been physical changes to the interior, notably the step-up area opposite the preparation area has been leveled. Probably too many personal injury lawyers hovered around as people tripped upon arriving or departing. The menu has changed, too; the new one offers more dishes. Lunch specials have gone from $6.50 to $5.75, a rare change in direction. There is no more mention of virgin chicken on the current menu, although it may be disguised as "house special chicken." A large section of this menu is unfortunately labeled "Beam Crud."

We shared a scallion pancake ($2.25), sesame cold noodle ($3.95), and passed around three lunch specials, beef with orange flavor, braised bean curd with mushrooms and chicken with garlic sauce. To be fair, Dan is a vegetarian, so he got a little less passed his way. In any case, the food was no better than average, with the scallion pancake decidedly bad. Canton Lounge offers Peking duck, whole or half at prices close to average, but I am unsure whether I’ll give them a chance to live up to their predecessor after this meal. The company, however, was excellent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The admirable Danny Macaroons ( has directed my attention to MilkMade Ice Cream ( MilkMade is a small, Manhattan-based company that reputedly makes very high quality, very expensive ice cream, personally delivered only in the New York metropolitan area. Apparently MilkMade is available by subscription only, two different pints a month at $15 a pint. The flavors change each month. Not all of the names are edifying; Cordially Yours turns out to be amarena cherry ice cream with chipped dark chocolate and a white chocolate ganache, Witches’ Brew is a blend of witch finger grape ice cream and fresh peanut butter (whatever witch finger grape is), and Krampus Kreme is chocolate ice cream with a hint of birch bark, for some opaque reason. On the other hand, there is no surprise that Cara Cara Creamsicle is orange ice on the outside, sweet cream on the inside, Maple Glazed Donut is maple-donut ice cream with chunks of glazed donuts, and Buttered Coffee is brown butter and coffee ice cream. As of now, you don’t get a choice, which may be a significant limitation in the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. 

But, duty calls and I am enrolling this week, if only for your sake, dear reader, although I have had a dialogue with my conscience about this. $15 for a pint of ice cream is a lot. Wo Hop can provide two heaping plates of chow fun for that amount. Ordinary people can usually buy three or four 56 oz. containers of good quality Breyer’s Ice Cream for $15. Odd Fellows East Village store will deliver one pint for $12, four pints for $40, but not above 59th Street in Manhattan. Häagen-Dazs (14 oz.) and Ben & Jerry’s (a full pint) sell for $4 to $5 around here. Republicans probably think that $15 in food stamps should last a family for a week. And, I am going to spend it on one pint of ice cream, mind you, hand-crafted locally from locally-sourced ingredients by people who like ice cream. We’ll see.

Time Out New York has started giving out free copies on Wednesdays. Today, I couldn’t resist the cover story, "New York’s 25 Best Pizzas."  I can’t say that I agree or disagree with many of the choices, because, on behalf of diversity, the magazine actually left the isle of Manhattan to explore alternatives in all five boroughs (counties). Of the alleged 25 best, 11 are found in Brooklyn, 9 in Manhattan, 2 in Staten Island, 2 in Queens, and 1 in the Bronx. While I would like to fold in these establishments with my lunchtime forays into Asian cuisine, only Rubirosa Ristorante, 235 Mulberry Street, is even a long walk (about 3/4 of a mile) away. I may have to retire in order to do justice to this subject.

Dan K. continued his jury duty and I had the pleasure of his company again at lunch. To make sure that the food would not disappoint, we went to the head of the class, Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street. Since he is a vegetarian, we ordered nothing that had ever moved under its own power. We had vegetarian egg rolls, vegetable chow fun and mushroom egg foo young. I must admit that it was a very good meal, even though missing my kind of food.

Friday, April 24, 2015
I received a potentially destructive e-mail this afternoon about my supposed "application for a grant from the government." While I was tempted to respond with vulgarity, I certainly was not going to choose one of the options provided for further inquiry. Even if this crap were not so patently phony, I can't imagine having any confidence in a web site labeled "zombiedivinity."

Last year, thanks to Generous Jeff G., I went to one game in each of the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a new experience for me. Tonight, I went to game 5 of the first round of the Rangers vs. the Penquins, which is really a good name for an ice hockey team, although lacking geographic specificity à la the Washington Capitals or the New York Islanders. Names aside, I proudly pulled on my white Rangers jersey on the way out of the courthouse to Madison Square Garden, with a stop at Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, on West 38th Street, where Rob T. and I powered up for an exciting evening.

A note on costume – I own a blue and a white Rangers jersey, both fairly authentic, but without any player’s name on the back. These days, the Rangers generally wear their dark (blue) jersey at home and their white one on the road, as is the prevailing convention among teams. However, while I am not superstitious, I recall vividly that the Rangers wore their white jerseys at home in 1994, when they last won the Stanley Cup. While I would never consider body or face painting to aid their cause, wearing the historically-appropriate jersey to this game was the least that I could do. And it worked.  Rangers 2-1, advancing to the next round.  But, I am not superstitious.  

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