Saturday, January 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

One: Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind...

Two: Why are you singing that?

One: In celebration of the new year.

Three: But New Year's was a month ago.

One: I know, but I completely forgot to sing it then.

Two: You can't sing "Auld Lang Syne" after the fact. You missed your chance. Now you have to wait until next New Year's Eve.

Three: Yeah, who ever heard of retroactive "Auld Lang Syne?"

One: Is there some kind of law that says I can only sing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's Eve?

Three: Just the law of common decency.

One: Who am I offending?

Two: It's not so much a matter of offending anybody. It's that you're upsetting the natural order of the universe.

One: The natural order of the universe! Are you serious? New Year's Eve is a man-made construct. Different cultures celebrate the new year at different times.

Two: And we'd expect them to sing "Auld Lang Syne" at the appropriate time.

One: Do the Chinese sing "Auld Lang Syne?"

Two: I don't know.

Three: I've never thought about it.

Two & Three: We'll check on it and get back to you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Finishing Each Other's Sentences

Actually, we finished each other pieces, sort of.

In November, I posted a link to a collaborative piece I had done with Holly Anderson some years ago, which had just been published for the first time.

As a result of that collaboration appearing in Admit Two, Holly and I were invited to submit another collaboration to the "Mutating the Signature" issue of Qarrtsiluni. This time, instead of brainstorming together, we decided on a process where we'd each finish/rework a piece abandoned by the other. The process statement accompanying the first of our two pieces gives more detail. Along with the text, there's audio available of Holly reading the piece.

Read "Found Photo"

I'll let you know when the second of our two pieces is posted.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's January 27

Prilosec Masala

In these tough economic times we have to cut corners wherever we can. It has always made sense to buy generic versions of drugs when they're available, as they're equally effective as the name brands, and you're not paying a premium for R&D and advertising. Last year Prilosec OTC (Omeprazole), which I've been taking for some time, went generic. But the readily available generics aren't that big a savings. For instance, at a 42-day supply of Prilosec OTC is going for $26.99, and the generic is $21.99. It's not like it's half off or anything.

But there is, I learned, a way to get about half off. is an online mail-order business specializing in generic Omeprazole direct from India. It's a mom and pop operation. Actually, it's a pop operation, run by a guy named Dan Sherman, who has a little welcome video on the home page. Dan negotiates deals with Indian generic drug distributors and collects your payment, then you get your meds shipped direct from India. A 180-day supply of 20mg Omeprazole goes for $49.05, shipping included. And if you're skeptical, first-time customers can order a 10-day supply for $3. It'll take a couple of weeks to get to you, but Dan is very up-front on the site about how everything works. [UPDATE: RECENTLY DAN TOOK THE WEBSITE OFFLINE DUE TO HARASSMENT FROM THE U.S. DRUG INDUSTRY THUGS].

A lot of people are apparently wary of buying drugs from India. But many of the generics sold in the U.S., both prescription and otc, are made in India. I checked my medicine chest and saw that I have two prescriptions from Indian suppliers (Dr. Reddy's and Lupin). With Prilosec I figure there's absolutely no reason to worry about the Indian version. After all, Indian cuisine features some pretty rich and spicy dishes, so these drugs surely have stood the acid test. I received my first order last week and the pills have been working just fine. In fact, the first day I took one I went over to Tadka and had their phenomenal lamb vindaloo for lunch.

A couple of months ago I forgot to take my Prilosec before I left for work one morning. So I stopped off at a Duane-Reade near the office and picked up a package of generic Omeprazole. This one was made in Israel. I think I'll keep those around to take when people at work give me tsuris.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Kiss to the Blarney Stone

There was a time, and not so long ago, when Blarney Stone bars were ubiquitous in New York as Starbucks are now. Not only Blarney Stone, but other Irish dive bar chains too, like Clancy's, Blarney Rock, Blarney Castle, and Shandon Star, to name but a few. Back in the 'seventies, when Ford was telling New York to drop dead, thousands of sad, quiet old men and rowdy young men, and more than a few women too, were tanking up at these establishments on cheap beer and booze, and occasionally supplementing those drinks with solid, cheap eats. The entire stretch of 14th Street, in its long, seedy history, after its nineteenth-century heyday as the city's entertainment district and before its late-twentieth-century gentrification, sported scores of these watering holes, as did the financial district, where early in the morning men in suits prepared for a day at the office. Just about every neighborhood in Manhattan, come to think of it, had Blarney Stones and their cousins.

While many went to these places to drink, some went to eat, as they boasted hearty, dirt-cheap cafeteria-style meals: carving board meats, on platters and sandwiches, and burgers and fries. Now there are hardly more than a handful of Blarney Stones in the city, once a cornerstone of lowlife drinking culture. But one of the old hangers-on, on Third Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, still offers cheap booze, boisterous camaraderie, and most importantly for local office workers, a decent cheap meal. Six bucks, I think, will get you a burger and fries. Some people swear by their burgers, and they're pretty big, served on a cross between a hard roll and a hamburger bun, but don't plan on getting yours medium rare, as they seem to be partially pre-cooked and probably come out the same way no matter how you order it, which is medium-well to well-done. A platter of roast beef, or corned beef, or roast pork, or brisket will run you about eight or nine bucks with two sides, though other than starches you're left with cabbage and maybe one other vegetable as a choice. The corned beef is good, but it's cured Irish style, and I prefer Jewish deli style. But the brisket, now that's my weakness. A brisket sandwich for $7 may not be the humongous monster you'll get at Katz's or the 2nd Avenue Deli, but it's more than ample and less than half the price of those establishments.

Not only are the food prices at the Third Avenue Blarney Stone cheap, taxes are included and there's no tipping (nor have I noticed any jars for discretionary tips). A guy in front of the counter takes your order, writes it up, hands a copy to you and one to the counter men, you pay for it, then you wait around for a bus boy to call your number and hand your food to you, whether it's eat-in or take-out. If you're eating in you find a spot at one of the long communal tables and chow down. If you're with someone conversation may be difficult, depending on how loudly they're blasting the music, but at these prices, who's complaining?

The Blarney Stone, 710 3rd Ave. (between 44th & 45th Street)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations, Mr. President

And thank you for acknowledging nonbelievers.


An Atheist American

Monday, January 19, 2009

Word of Mouth to the Rescue

I suppose this could become an infinitely reflexive exercise as I link to Dave Cook's blog which links to this blog. It's your move, Dave.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What a Rooster Can't Say

I must have been boasting or gloating about something, because Ida, my Ukrainian coworker, said, "You're crowing!"

A few minutes later I showed her a drawing I had just dashed off. It was a caricature of myself with a speech balloon in which I had written "Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Ida looked at the drawing. "What's this?" she asked.

"It's me, crowing."

"But what's 'cock-a-doodle-doo'?"

"It's what a rooster says."

"What do you mean? A rooster says 'kukureku!'"

"In America, a rooster says 'cock-a-doodle-doo.'"

"Impossible," Ida said. "A rooster can't say doodle!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jeffrey Steingarten is straight. Sorry to disappoint you.

A Google search that often brings readers to my blog is the following three words: Jeffrey Steingarten gay. Apparently this is a pressing question for a lot of people: is food writer Jeffrey Steingarten homosexual?

I think I can guess why people would wonder. His rapier wit is reminiscent of Waldo Lydecker, Clifton Webb as the obviously gay (regardless of his obsession with Gene Tierney) cavilling theatre critic in Laura. Steingarten is married (not that that proves anything), and, yes, straight. I don't know whether I'm disappointing the curious ones, but I do know how they got to Word of Mouth in the first place. In my piece "I Love Jeffrey Steingarten" (the chaste love of one writer for another's style, I assure you) I mentioned a young writer who appeared on a panel with Steingarten and seemed to have nothing to contribute to the conversation other than the fact that he was gay (this apropos of an out-of-the-blue discourse on the semiotics of pocket squares, which was well beyond my comprehension). So in my blog post about the event, "Jeffrey Steingarten" and "gay" appeared in proximity to each other, giving me Google primacy for this particular search.

If you don't believe me that Steingarten is straight, here's an excerpt from Serious Eats:

"But it’s hard to ignore the dearth of openly gay male chefs working in restaurants today. Of all the famous chefs launched by the Food Network and Bravo, how many are openly gay men? I can name one: Ted Allen. But he’s not a restaurant chef, he’s a home chef. And you can see his confidence flounder when placed alongside a straight bulldog like Jeffrey Steingarten at the Iron Chef’s judging table. Steingarten (not a chef, but a distinguished food writer) wipes the floor with him every time, and Ted Allen’s credibility is immediately called into question. Who is this guy? What’s his pedigree? He was on Queer Eye and he has a cookbook. Big whoop."

So not only is Steingarten straight, he's a straight bulldog, one who has turned a multitude of bites into a formidable bark.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

South Florida Redeemed by Brunch

A visit to South Florida is not normally cause for culinary jubilation. If my mother didn't live in Broward County I'm sure I'd never find myself down there wondering where the hell do I get a decent meal. I understand that as New York Jews get older they're genetically programmed to head for a warmer climate, but why can't it be some place like New Orleans or Charleston, or how about Singapore, where the question is more likely where can't I get a decent meal? So I was as shocked as anyone to have finally found an actual culinary destination right there in Coral Springs, not far from my mother's home in Tamarac. I first had the Sunday brunch at the Blue Moon Fish Co. last winter, and I made sure my visit this time would include a Sunday stay so I could go back, it was that good. Not only is it good, it's an amazing bargain. All you can eat for $21.95, including a bloody Mary or a mimosa. What really distinguishes this brunch, though, is not the price, or even the quality or the quantity of the food, but the added element of presentation to all of the above.

Blue Moon's brunch is only partially a buffet. There's a salad bar, a raw bar and a bread station, as well as waffles and mussels that you can take yourself, but otherwise you order from a choice of nine entrees and five desserts. You can have as many of them as you want, including seconds, the only rule being that you can only order one item at a time. All the plates are quite nicely presented. The available entrees, which varied only slightly from the year before, included crab and crawfish cakes, blackened mahi mahi, salmon streudel, baby loin lamb chops, chicken breast rolled with Gruyere cheese and wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, filet mignon meat loaf (I don't quite get the concept), black (Berkshire) pork tenderloin, a seafood risotto and a gumbo. I tried all of those except the last two and had seconds of the crab cake and the lamb chop. It's not as much food as you'd think though. They're really only tasting plates, with a small serving of the entree, the equivalent, perhaps, of half an appetizer, padded with sides, usually starchy, like polenta, fries, plantains or boniato hash. But the quality of the ingredients and the preparation are exceptional.

I think for the diner as well as the restaurant this is a winning approach to an all-you-can-eat brunch. Sure it's more labor intensive than a buffet, but I think it discourages excess and waste. I've never been thrilled with food that's been sitting around on steam tables anyway, and food kept hot with sterno always picks up a bit of a sterno complex. At a buffet one is tempted to fill up a plate, to minimize trips back and forth. Invariably most people will bite off more than they can chew. Who hasn't taken a large helping of something that looked good only to leave most of it because it disappointed? I find it hard to go to a buffet and not overeat to the point of discomfort. Even when the food isn't great the buffet center of the brain shuts off the time to stop eating switch in the brain.

The Blue Moon approach is much more civilized and leisurely. In fact, my mother and I spent close to three hours at our last brunch there. By having to order your food one small item at a time you can't help but pace yourself. I did, of course, play the brunch strategically. I had one small waffle, because I'm a waffle lover, but I avoided all the bread, and only took cursory tastes of all the high-starch sides with the main courses. The desserts were actually a bit larger than they ought to be if you're going to eat multiple ones. I had about half a piece each of the pecan pie and the key lime pie (sort of a cream cheesecake), and all of the egg-custardy creme brulee that I fondly remembered from my previous visit.

The salad bar seemed adequate as an adjunct to the main event. The oysters and clams I tried from the raw bar were rather flavorless, but the boiled shrimps in the shell were quite good. The only one of the main courses that left me cold was the very bready meat loaf; as I said, I don't quite get the concept of filet mignon meat loaf anyway. Everything else was superb, as was the service. As I told my mother, a brunch of this quality would easily cost twice as much in New York.

I hope to return to Blue Moon for brunch, but only as an occasional South Florida visitor, please, because I sure as hell hope I was spared that "turn into an old Jew and move to Florida" gene.

Blue Moon Fish Co.
10317 Royal Palm Boulevard
Coral Springs, Florida 33065

(954) 755-0002

Blue Moon Fish on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

For Women Only: Ice Cubes, Flies, and Modesty Panels

We were talking about urinals at a restaurant a while back. The women at the table found the secrets of the male inner sanctum illuminating, so I thought I'd share this privy information with my female readers.

I think the discussion started when I mentioned that there were ice cubes in the urinal at the restaurant. I've never been sure whether the practice of putting ice cubes in urinals is because they act as a deodorizer or because they give you something to aim at. Regardless, women are often surprised to hear about ice cubes in urinals (on the rare occasions that the subject is broached, that is, so I guess "often" is an overstatement). When I google "ice cubes" and "urinal" I find that both theories are espoused. Whatever the original reason, two good outcomes for the price of one is not a bad deal.

I do know for certain that the decals of flies in the urinals at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam are there for the express purpose of keeping the pee off the floor by giving guys something to aim at. Of course, a stationary fly is an easy target, like shooting fish in a barrel as it were, but a moving target would no doubt defeat the purpose.

After we'd beaten the subjects of ice cubes and flies into dead horsemeat, someone brought up the fact that many guys freeze up and can't pee when there's no partition between one's urinal and one's neighbor's. George, who works for an architectural firm, mentioned that there's an industry term for the partitions between urinals: "modesty panels." That was news to me. I've been using urinals most of my life, and I never knew the partitions were called "modesty panels." I feel a bit like Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who was surprised to learn that he'd been speaking prose all his life.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Bar Mitzvah that Made an Impression

The best bar mitzvah I ever attended, though I didn't realize at the time, was that of Howard P. Howard wasn't even a friend of mine, just a casual acquaintance from the extended neighborhood who went to the same schools. But he was a good friend of my good friend Michael Z. To my surprise he invited me to his bar mitzvah.

Howard was a lot less well off than most of my friends. His parents were Polish immigrants, and I believe his father was a barber. Instead of hiring a catering hall, the reception was held in their apartment, a casual gathering. I remember standing in the apartment crowded with guests, eating cold cuts, the food for the party. I remember Howard's father shaking my hand and thanking me for coming. This was the only bar mitzvah party of its kind I ever attended. All the rest were at glitzy catering halls where the main dinner course was always prime ribs of beef au jus (a joke among us kids was "Or jus' what?"). Howard's party was a simple celebration while all the others were status symbols. Its humility and inclusiveness touches me these many years later.

The amazing thing is that I remember the party fairly vividly, when the only other bar mitzvah I have any memories of is my own. I also remember Howard's complicated four-syllable Polish family name.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Two Short Pieces on Snow Monkey

The current online issue of Snow Monkey features two short pieces of mine, Lost and The Same Thing.