Friday, May 27, 2016

Sweets To The Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cookie Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Music To My Ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Gotthelf Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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