Things to be Grateful For 4/12 – 4/18

Last week, I added a section to a blog post I made where I listed a few things I should be grateful for in the previous week. It seemed like a pretty good exercise, given the situation. I think it’s something I’m going to try to continue on a regular basis with once a week lists. Even after this pandemic is over, I think I could benefit from reminding myself of all of the good things that happen over the course of a week and meditating on them for a bit.

  • I reread The Red Badge of Courage and it made a lot more sense to me now as an adult and an Army veteran.
  • I’m continually grateful that the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library have such a large catalog of audiobooks and eBooks that I can borrow through my phone.
  • I discovered free online courses from Harvard. The certificates aren’t free, but it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.
  • The cat we rescued, Mama Cat, is finally starting to improve. She is suffering from some kind of skin condition that we’ve been treating with antibacterial/antifungal wipes. We gave her a bath and she’s finally getting fluffy enough to pick up and pet. She’s super grateful for the affection.
A 9" round cake pan half filled with fresh baked brownie.
Fresh baked fudge brownie in a 9″ round cake pan.
  • I baked some kick-ass brownies.
  • I found a really cool horror anthology on Amazon Prime Video called Hitokowa: The Killing Hour that is kind of cheesy, but in a great way.
  • Honda Financial Services allowed us to defer our car payments for two months, so we’re relieved of that burden until June.
  • My wife and I are both healthy and we’re eating well, which is more than many can say right now.
  • We have lots of toilet paper.
  • Our cat, Dapper, is super happy that we’re around all the time.
One of our cats, Dapper, trying to get attention.
  • I’ve been reading more by Stoic authors and the stuff makes sense. Here’s a quote by Epictetus that is still very relevant:

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

Epictetus

There’s an element of this in Buddhism as well, where you’re encouraged to live in the present moment. Or maybe I’m mixing that up with Western mindfulness? I’ll have to do some more reading.

Shake Shack and Barnes & Noble on 86th Street

Shackburger, Fries, Peanut Butter Shake and Root Beer. Looks good, doesn't it?
Shackburger, Fries, Peanut Butter Shake and Root Beer. Looks good, doesn’t it?

After putting off going to the Shake Shack for a … well, a few years, we finally made the trip. We never went before, because it just wasn’t convenient. There was never one near where we lived. I’m still surprised that they don’t have a location near Union Square. I’d always heard good things about the place, though, so when we decided to take a trip to the Met, I suggested we eat at the Shake Shack a few blocks away on 86th street between 3rd Ave and Lexington.

I was a little surprised by the prices, but after we finished eating, we felt like it was worth it. The fries really weren’t anything special, but the burger and shake were exceptional. I had a Shackburger and my wife had the portobello mushroom burger. She said that was also delicious. I was a little worried about the “special sauce” on the burger, but it really complemented the taste. The peanut butter shake was thick and tasty, but it’s heavy so we split a small. The best part is that it tasted real. The peanut butter shake especially, but all of the food as a whole. Maybe not the fries. But, in general, it felt like I was at a family barbecue eating a real burger off the grill.

After eating, we went into the Barnes & Noble next door to take a look around. We’re both suckers for book stores. Even if we don’t plan on buying anything, we love to browse. We were surprised by how big the place is. It’s all underground in two basement levels. We never quite managed to leave and before we realized it, it was 8 pm and we were ready to head home. I wound up taking pictures of some book covers from the current events section to pick up later, when (or if) I ever get through the books I already have lined up to read. 4 years of college really put a dent in my pleasure reading.

The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail
The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail

ISIS: The State of Terror
ISIS: The State of Terror

The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism
The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism

Israel Trip: Traveling to Jerusalem

Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.

When I was offered the opportunity to go on this trip to Israel, I was really psyched about it. I mean, it’s not every day that you get the chance to travel to one of the most important places in the world. Israel, and Jerusalem specifically, has been the direction of prayer for Jews for thousands of years. For some Christians in some periods it has also served as a direction of prayer. The same can be said for Muslims. During the initial years of Islam, Jerusalem was the qibla, or direction of prayer, before it was switched to Mecca to create a distinction between Muslims and Jews. Jerusalem has been a place of pilgrimage for all three faiths. Millions and millions of people have turned their thoughts, hopes and dreams toward that city. And, I got the chance to go for free. I’m still not entirely sure why. The Jewish Studies program director said it’s just because of who I am. I suppose he means personality and academic achievement, but no matter the reason, I am exceedingly grateful because it was an amazing experience. Life changing in some ways. And, while we didn’t all become the best of friends, we all bonded with each other to varying degrees. How couldn’t we?

The van ride to JFK
The van ride to JFK

But, that came later. Before heading to the airport, we all met up at our professor’s apartment in Manhattan. She had arranged transportation from there to the airport so we could arrive organized, as a group. It was less stressful for her to do things that way and reduced the chances of someone missing the flight.

Security was less aggressive than I expected. I suppose I had built up the interrogation process in my mind and the actual process was sort of a let down. I suppose that sounds sort of odd, but being battered with questions is part of the Israel experience now, for good or bad. I was asked about my identity, who I was traveling with, how long I’d known them, if I’d packed my bags and had my bags in my possession the whole time, and whether or not anyone had tried to give me anything to take to Israel. I was also asked who was in charge of the group and how long I’d known her. I think the process of trying to explain to them that we were all traveling as a group from a school was more complicated and tiresome than answering the questions and Professor Kornfeld handled that part of it anyway.

Awesome memory foam neck pillow.
Awesome memory foam neck pillow.

We wandered around the airport for a while before we headed to the boarding area. I bought a neck pillow. I figured I would need it and got a firm memory foam pillow. It came in handy, especially on the flight back. I thought about how long the week was going to be. Besides Professor Kornfeld, I was the only married person on the trip. I was also the only guy on the trip. That made things interesting, but not in a bad way. But, what I mean is that I was wondering how well things were going to go with my wife being alone for a week with the dog and cats.

People praying in the boarding area by the windows.
People praying in the boarding area by the windows.

When we got to the gate, we went ahead and got in line to board. We stood near the velvet cords that are removed when the staff is going to allow passengers to board. There were people standing by the windows praying. I’m not sure if they were doing evening prayers, praying for a safe flight, or both.

Chassidic guys that cut us in line.
Chassidic guys that cut us in line.

As the time to board came closer, a lot of the Chassidic people decided we weren’t important enough to be at the front of the line, or perhaps that they were too holy to be second, and walked in front of us and squeezed us out of our spot in the line. We had to start telling people the line actually starts at the back, not the front, or I think we would have found everyone bunched in front of us in a huge cluster of stupid.

The El Al staff wasn’t much better. The woman that checked my ticket and passport before letting pass through onto the boarding walkway even made a “psst” noise through her teeth as she handed back my identification. I didn’t have time to stop and think about it then, or perhaps I was too excited to be getting on the plane, but I can’t understand how these people can be so rude to customers and still have their jobs. The flight crew made up for it. They were extremely pleasant.

The El Al plane we flew in.
The El Al plane we flew in.

Interior of the El Al plane.
Interior of the El Al plane.

The plane itself was not impressive. It looked old. The screens on the backs of the chairs were discolored, flickered, or were dim. There was no on-demand video. There was a screen at the front of our section of the cabin that was just set to show what was on one of the available channels. It was worse than most domestic Delta flights I’ve taken. It didn’t hold a candle to Singapore Airlines. Those guys even give out slippers, tooth brushes and tooth paste. Complimentary champagne too, in economy class. El Al wouldn’t even agree to provide vegetarian meals for people in our group who don’t eat meat. But, at least it was safe.

I had a surprise on the plane. When I looked to my left I saw a guy I recognized and after a while I realized he attends the same synagogue I do. When I caught his eye he smiled and waved and I found out he was heading to Israel for a wedding. I bumped into him again at the customs/border control area.

Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.
Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.

Arriving in Israel, we discovered that there is no immigration stamp anymore. Because the Arab countries behave like children and won’t allow anyone in that has an Israeli visa stamp in their passport, Israel has had to change the way they issue visas. Now, they provide you with a printed card that looks sort of like an ID, with a photo and an entry number. You get another one as you leave the country. I was disappointed. Even though not having that stamp is probably best if I want to do more traveling in the region, it would have been cool to have. And, do I really want to visit and spend money in countries that behave like that anyway?

Balloons on the ceiling from families greeting returning loved ones.
Balloons on the ceiling from families greeting returning loved ones.

A large menorah outside Ben Gurion International Airport.
A large menorah outside Ben Gurion International Airport.

We left New York City at about midnight and arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion airport at about 4 PM. The drive to Jerusalem wasn’t that long at all. Before we knew it we were dropping our things off at the hotel. We were staying at the Eldan, across the street from the King David Hotel. I can’t remember if we showered. I’m sure I brushed my teeth at least, but before long we were back in the van and heading out for dinner.

To be continued…

No Time For Cooking

We’ve both been busy and we seem to not have time to cook like we used to so here I am, waiting on dinner at this Chinese place at 10:35 at night. I’m not complaining. The food here is good and they have a lot of vegetarian options. They give out hot tea while you wait for your order as well.

Yum.

Name of the place is Empire Noodle. Also, this is a test of the new Pressgram.

Published via Pressgram

My Curry Experiment

A couple of years ago, when I was living in Singapore, I got over my fears of being poisoned by “the enemy” and tried some Indian Muslim food at a hawker center in Pasir Ris.  Indian food basically means curry.  There’s a lot of different types, but all the curry I had was delicious!  I finally got tired of reminiscing about how great the curry was and my wife and I decided to try our hand at making curry ourselves.

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

After a little trial and error we finally got it down right, using a recipe from a local Indian spice store as a guide.  It was a lot of fun and it’s great to know that we can throw together some curry whenever we want.  It’s amazing how many different types and how great a quantity of spices go into one meal.

I wonder how the first Europeans felt when they got to India and tried the local food?  I mean, obviously they loved it, or the spice trade wouldn’t be what it is today, but what I’m getting at is, were they surprised?  Shocked?  Amazed?  Or did they not like it at first and then it grew on them?  I suppose I’ll research that when I have time, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the goodness that India’s spices create.

National Night Out (Against Crime) 2011

Well, it happened yesterday so this isn’t so much a post about looking forward to observing it as it is about, “Oh look. Llamas and donkeys. Why are those in Campos Plaza?”

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

This immediately reminded me of a joke I heard about Singaporeans.  A teacher (in Singapore, with Singaporean students) asks her young students (think, 8 years old) to draw pictures of farm animals.  So, the students happily sit around drawing for awhile and then present their work to the teacher.  One boy walks up and proudly shows her his drawing of a chicken, and it looks really good, except the chicken he draws has no feathers on it.  She asks him why he drew the chicken without feathers, and he asks, “Chickens have feathers?”

This is funny, but I completely understand the reality behind the joke.  In a place like Singapore, which is highly metropolitan, it would be very rare for kids to see any chickens other than the plucked and cooked ones hanging on hooks at the hawker centers.  Even when I lived in Georgia, I would get excited at seeing horses or cows or other farm animals.

A hawker center in Tampines, Singapore.

Anyway, when I was heading home yesterday, I smelled animals and I saw a lot of people in the square between a set of buildings so I went to investigate and these guys in the photos above were the first thing that pulled my attention.  It was fun!

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I didn’t investigate all of the booths, but the one to the right in the second picture above had face painting, which is why the line was so long.  I imagine the table on the left in the above picture had something to do with distributing literature regarding crime prevention, since it was manned by NYPD officers.

US Army Recruiters at National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I was, of course, drawn to the set up in the photo above.  I was curious to see what the recruiters were up to, having been in the Army myself.  I wound up spending about half an hour chatting with Sergeant First Class Chen.  He’s a pretty nice guy.  We traded a few stories.  I told him about my time in service and he talked mostly about the benefits and stability of joining the Army Reserves after leaving Active Duty, but that’s his job after all.  We did talk a bit about some of the things that make you say, ‘WTF?’ while you’re in service.  It was nice to reminisce for a while, about the time I spent in the military.  It wasn’t all good, but it definitely wasn’t all bad either.

It was a pretty nice event overall, and it was good to see something positive taking place in the square for a change.  The area is known for violence and drug related shootings.  Ironically, the ‘Night Out Against Crime’ booths started shutting down and wrapping up as the sun set.

A Taste of India at Newport Centre

Taste of India, Authentic Indian Cuisine at Newport Centre Mall.

I went up to the food court at the Newport Centre Mall for the first time last weekend.  I saw some old favorites that I hadn’t been to since before I left the US for Kuwait in 2007 and I was pretty sure I was going to wind up eating at Sarku Japan.  It’s not real Japanese food, but it tastes pretty good.  Then I saw a place called A Taste of India: Authentic Indian Cuisine.  I went over and they were handing out free samples of chicken.  It tasted pretty good, but I wasn’t really convinced.  Then I saw that they had chicken biryani, and I wondered if it was anything like the nasi briyani I’d had in Singapore.  I asked for a sample and while it wasn’t exactly the same, it was really close and really good.  It was really spicy too!

Chicken biryani from A Taste of India at Newport Centre Mall.

I wound up getting a bowl of it, with spicy curry on top.  It doesn’t look too appealing in this photo, but most of the foods I ate in Asia tasted better than they looked anyway.

Something about the restaurant was kind of jarring.  They all seemed to be first generation immigrants, judging by their accents, possibly from the same family.  The way they were working the crowd and cajoling people into taking samples and then buying food from them reminded me of street vendors in the Asian countries I’d visited.  They could have just as easily been on a street in Kuala Lumpur or a food court in Singapore.  The weird part is that they were all wearing cheesy looking, brightly colored, standard uniforms.  I guess it was something about the authentic taste of the food and the authentic behavior of the employees clashing with the American franchise store and uniform designs that threw me off.  I suppose it doesn’t matter though.  I paid for good food and that’s what I got.

No One Wanted The Ugly Cupcakes

This one time, in 6th grade (around 1990), I brought some cupcakes to class.  Ya, this was back before schools started banning cupcakes and other sweets, and we weren’t fat back then either.  Not many of us anyway, but that’s beside the point.  I only vaguely remember why I brought those cupcakes to class, but I think it was part of an event, probably my birthday.  I’m pretty sure that back then, when a student had a birthday, they brought in goodies and we had some free time.  No one brought in poisoned food.  No one cried that they were being forced to eat cake instead of having study time, and no parents tried to sue the school district for encouraging obesity, because we all had common sense back then.  Not like today, where morons sue and win for spilling hot coffee on themselves.  Retarded crap like that makes a mockery of our justice system and our country.

Anyway, back to the story!  My mom made two batches of cupcakes and sent me to school with them.  One batch of cupcakes was ‘normal’, and one was ‘weird’.  The ‘normal’ batch of cupcakes were made of white cake and vanilla frosting.  The ‘weird’ cupcakes were strawberry cake with chocolate frosting.  They just didn’t look right, especially since I’m not a girl and people who are not girls shouldn’t have a pink cake, or cupcakes in this case, at their birthday.  It’s not manly.  The strawberry cake / chocolate frosting combination my mom used for those cupcakes is so unusual that I didn’t find a single result for it on a Google image search.  I found a lot of chocolate cake with strawberry frosting cupcakes, but not the other way around.

strawberry-cupcakes-ed

The cupcakes looked like the image above, but unattractive, and reversed, with pink cake and melty chocolate frosting on top, the kind you get from the grocery store that’s flavored, rather than the fluffed sugar crap you get on ‘fancy’ confections.  (This picture of lovely cupcakes is from the Sweet Indulgences Cakes blog.)

I remember thinking that if I had enough ‘normal’ cupcakes to go around, I would have hidden the other cupcakes.  That wasn’t the case, and when it came time to open the two tupperware containers to present the cupcakes to the class, I could immediately see the same reaction I had to the pink/chocolate cupcakes in the faces of the other boys in class, and in the faces of some of the girls as well.  A line formed, and as students walked past, they picked up a cupcake.  One of the first girls that went by picked up the pink/chocolate cupcake, but everyone else took the ‘normal’ cupcakes until they ran out.  The disappointment was obvious.

So, no one, except maybe for that first girl, wanted the ugly cupcakes, but since there was no choice, the kids at the end of the line had to take them.  I had to take one too, since I took what was left after everyone else had taken a share.  I know that’s sort of backwards from the usual practice of the birthday boy getting the first piece of cake, but that’s how it was.

The odd thing is that after biting into the cupcake, I realized that it tasted great!  I heard other students commenting on it as well, and then the burden of disappointment shifted to the people who had taken the ‘normal’, and ultimately more boring, cupcakes.

I’m sure that I didn’t think of this at the time, but I wonder if, on some subconscious level, this experience reinforced the idea that being adventurous and taking chances can pay off? I’ve taken a lot of chances, some which paid off and some which ended in disaster, but up to now, I don’t regret those choices, because I’ve seen and done things that a lot of people will never see or do.  To me, that’s special.  If I were more conservative and I were the type to always take the ‘normal’ cupcake, I wonder how boring my life could have been?

Don’t always take the ‘normal’ cupcake.  Take chances and enjoy life.

Fake Chinese Food

Once upon a time, before I actually visited a mostly Chinese ethnic country, I thought I knew what Chinese food was, and it looks like this:

American Chinese food.

Imagine my surprise to not find egg rolls over there.  No one knew what an egg roll was, unless they’d been here.  There’s something similar called lumpia, but it’s not quite the same.

Chinese food in the US has been thoroughly Americanized, to make it more appealing to the local palate.  The Chinese food I ate in Singapore was a lot blander in most cases, with most of the flavor coming from dumping lots of chili sauce on everything.  That or eating green chilies along with each bite of food.  There’s also a lot of MSG used.  (Just a note, I’m basing this on the common Chinese food found in food stalls that a person would eat at on a daily basis, not expensive restaurants.)

Chinese food in Singapore.

Chinese food in Singapore.

[Update: It was very rudely brought to my attention by some piece of shit Singaporeans that I accidentally uploaded the wrong photo from my folder.  I’m quite aware that this is ramen, a Japanese dish, most likely from that Japanese food court in Tampines 1.  I can’t remember its name.]

That’s not to say that the food there, the ‘real’ Chinese food, was bad.  On the contrary, a lot of it was awesome, and thankfully I did read about a place in NYC where I can get chicken rice and pork rice.  The pictures looked similar to the dishes I grew to love in Singapore.  I’ll blog about it when I find it and try it out myself.

One other thing, the orange duck sauce that you can find at most Chinese restaurants in the US?  Ya, that’s nowhere to be found in Singapore that I saw.

The Antipolo, Rizal, Philippines Wet Market

Man selling rice in Antipolo

The last time I was in the wet market in Antipolo I didn’t take a lot of photos because I was worried about offending the stall owners.  Well, that and thieves.  The place was really crowded at the time.  On our last trip I realized I had my camera with me and the place was relatively quiet, so I started snapping photos.  The reactions were different from what I expected.  A lot of the girls behind the counters smiled and laughed.  Then the guys started laughing at them for getting so excited over a picture being taken.  It was fun!

Rice in the Antipolo Wet Market
Rice in the Antipolo Wet Market

We don’t normally get our rice inside the market.  We go to a stall just outside it.  I haven’t checked to see if the prices are any different, but my wife’s family all buy rice from the same guy, so it just seems natural to go there as well.  Besides, the stall owner is always smiling and seems really pleasant.

Man selling rice in Antipolo
Man selling rice in Antipolo

I can’t remember if I posted the photo or not, so I’ll post it again here!

Antipolo Wet Market

Pig feet and intestines

Pig feet anyone?  No?  How about those intestines?  Nothing goes to waste in the Philippines and every part of the animal gets put on sale.  Someone must be buying it…

Longganisa at the Antipolo Wet Market

A Filipino type of sausage called longganisa.  We bought the redder looking kind on the left and had it for breakfast.  It was a little sweet for my tastes but it was good anyway.

Fish at the Antipolo Wet Market

Fish, crab, shrimp… You can get almost every imaginable seafood here.  I think I even saw some sturgeon for sale.  I noticed that there were a lot of very large bangus (milk fish) for sale.  Some of them were as long as my arm.  My wife said that after typhoons the milkfish swim closer to the shore so it’s easier for fishermen to catch them.  The prices were low too at 40 PHP (about 0.95 USD) per kilogram.

Vegetables and cooking supplies at the Antipolo Wet Market

A row of stalls selling vegetables and random cooking items like oil, spices and sauces.

Going to the wet market is always interesting because there’s so much activity and so many people wandering around.