Friday, December 30, 2016

I Still Have My Appetite

Monday, December 26, 2016
Many American Jews go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas.  There is a new article on the topic and a more analytic older one.   

We did this last year, but were overcome with laziness this year.  We did not turn our back entirely on this modern tradition.  We had Trader Joe's scallion pancakes for dinner last night, a tasty version of this Chinatown staple.  (I recall asking for scallion pancakes in a busy Chinese restaurant in San Francisco about 15 years ago.  The annoyed waitress told me to go to IHOP.)  

Even more than Chinese food, the attention of many American Jews this weekend was on the United Nations Security Council vote Friday condemning Israeli settlements, 14-0-1, the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the resolution.  The Israeli government was furious, along with many American Jews and politicians of all stripes.  I had two arguments on the subject; one, not surprisingly, with a young man who is a senior at an Orthodox yeshiva.  The other disputant, however, was a wise older man, with a thoroughly cosmopolitan view of the world.  His anger at the US position was unexpected.  

I realized that this time, unlike other situations where the UN or other groups have taken shots at Israel while blithely ignoring the more serious crimes of other states near and far, I could imagine myself acting as President Obama did.  There are illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank, according to the Israeli Supreme Court, not just according to some morally-dubious foreign sources.  “Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an unprecedented ruling ordering the state to dismantle the largest illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank by April 2012.”  Haaretz, 08/02/11.  “Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an illegal Israeli settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem be demolished by March 2018.”  Ma’an News Agency, 09/02/16.

While the development of Jewish settlements in previously Arab-occupied territory began under the liberal regimes of Peres and Rabin, the Netanyahu government has aggressively fostered their growth seemingly as much a provocation to the local Arabs and the world at large as to satisfy the housing need of Israelis.  Yet, the US vetoed similar resolutions in the past and has been more generous in providing foreign aid to Israel than to any other country.
The result -- more illegal settlements, more efforts to dodge the rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court and more gratuitous insults to Obama.  

I recognize that the UN vote has both manifest and latent implications.  Yet, there comes a time to keep it simple.  I believe, in the words of the resolution, "that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution."  I also firmly believe that the uncertain existence of my friends and family in Israel will be substantially improved by a two-state solution.  Israel is an answer; it should not be a question.

Throughout the year, the New York Times asks "creative people [to] share the 10 titles they would most want with them if they were marooned on a desert island."   Yesterday, it published a brief collection of eight responses for "the books that have stuck with them."

My first reaction was egocentric -- how few of these creative people I recognized.  More generally, I noted the uncontemporary character of their choices.  Only three date from the 20th century, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel García Márquez, 1985; “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925; and “The Golden Bowl,” Henry James, 1904.  

Then, I considered the inquiry: books to be stuck with vs. books that stuck.  Not the same thing.  While I might have gotten a big zetz from Tolstoi, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Salinger or Mailer, I would prefer to spend my days chewing palm leaves in the company of Calvin Trillin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
In its move from West 38 Street to 128 West 36 Street, Lan Sheng, Szechuan Restaurant, lost its Michelin star.  That did not deter a big crowd, including Michael Ratner and me, from enjoying a very good lunch there today.  We skipped the 49 lunch special items at $8.95, accompanied by choice of soup or spring roll, and white, brown or fried rice, and picked from the full menu.  Mind you, there were many fine choices among the lunch specials, but we headed for the camphor tea smoked duck ($18.95 half), tangerine beef ($16.95) and house special fried rice ($11.95) and landed successfully.  The duck was really special, a large portion, very little fat.  

One choice that sounded more special than it turned out to be was the fish maw chowder soup ($13.95).  It contained shrimp and crab meat along with something squishy that might have been the fish maw.  A quick look later on the Internet showed that fish maw is "the dried swim bladders of large fish."  This must be exotic enough to arrive at the high price for two small bowls of soup, but I suggest that you stick with something more mundane.

Lan Sheng is medium sized, pleasantly decorated, although 5 crystal chandeliers are a few too many.  It is located in the middle of the garment center, surrounded by stores selling bright fabrics, zippers, buttons and bows.  It doesn't just try to be a "nice" restaurant, however.  The menu offers duck and ox tongue, pig brains, pig ears, and (watch out) tofu.  It's pricey, but the location and white tablecloths account for some of this.  In all, Lan Sheng is one of the best choices above Canal Street.    

December 28, 2016
In case you are not tired of being reminded of how different "us" and "them" are, the New York Times has interesting graphics illustrating the divide.    
I accept the idea generally of looking for cultural signifiers, although the pattern of my television viewing, centering on sports and foreign crime shows, falls off the bell curve.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016
The Boyz Club convened for the last time this year at Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street.  For some standard items in the Chinatown repertoire, SAM can't be beat.  Its scallion pancakes, soup buns and cold sesame noodles are all top rank.  We started with this trio to everyone's delight.  We then found room for tangerine beef, sliced chicken with eggplant in garlic sauce, and salt and pepper fried shrimp.  The shrimp were peeled and deep fried, rather than broiled in the shell, the more typical version of this dish.  All went down very, very well, accompanied by conversation that focused mostly on old movies, not new politics.  

We also discussed 2016 -- Love it or leave it.  We were not entirely overtaken by the ill-feelings about current events that we limousine liberals (feeling more like subway socialists) harbor.  My personal position is somewhat counter-pollyannaish; I expect so much merde in 2017 that I want 2016 to stay with us as long as possible.  Of course, some of the merde has already arrived.

Total cost for lunch came to $16 per person, more than reasonable considering the quality of the food and the time we spent sheltered from the rain.

Friday, December 30, 2016
Seems like a few Russians are more powerful than 65,844,954 Americans.

For a moment, let's ignore the nutsyness and craziness of this past year and conclude with a surprisingly easy and delicious recipe.  Withhold your skeptical reaction to its key ingredient.  Last week, I had this for the first time, thanks to the lovely and talented Shoshana P., and I urge you to try it.  It's really good.  Note that this is strictly for carnivores.

The name of the dish originated with a style of food preparation at the Restaurang Hasselbacken, Hazeliusbacken 20, Stockholm, Sweden, but you don't have to go that far to end this difficult year on a delicious note.