Thursday, December 14, 2017

Jim At Long Last Goes Home

"So what's your home cuisine, Jim?" no one's ever asked me.

Good question! I suppose Cantonese. I spent my formative years in a restaurant called Shing Kee in Manhattan Chinatown, where I memorized the menu, and where the waiters came to treat me like a complete paisano. To this day, Cantonese feels like my culinary ground zero.

"No," insists nonexistent person, "I mean your family's food!"

That'd be burnt brisket and Green Giant canned French-cut string beans - over-boiled and cooled to room temperature before serving. And, on (very) good days, slice pizza, normally consumed while driving.

"But what are you, exactly? Your people must come from somewhere!"

Well, my grandparents had accents, so I figured they were immigrants. But they didn't like to talk about the old country. My paternal grandparents were from "Russia", but that seemed like an amorphous blob. I knew my grandmother was from Minsk, and my grandfather was from Pinsk, though I had no concept of these places, and it freaked the bejesus out of me when Corporal Agarn on F-Troop recounted the exact same origin story. Anyway, you are now thoroughly up to speed with every data point I have concerning my heritage.



Ace chowhound Barry Strugatz (new movie out next spring; read his lightly anonymized story here) recently told me about a brand new Belarusian restaurant in Sheepshead Bay that's crazy-popular. I perused the food shots on Yelp, and felt a strange stirring in my chest.

A few days later, having made the trek to Sheepshead Bay, I awaited the waiter at Belarussian Xata. Playing out a hunch, I checked the Wikipedia entry for Minsk, discovering that, geez, yeah, I'm actually Belarusian. Honey, I'm home!

Felt like it, too. The place is outfitted like a Russian village. See plenty of interior photos on the Yelp page, but I shot a couple minor touches:





I've never eaten Belarusian before. I had my grandmother's cooking a few times, but, being a "picky eater" as a kid, I pretty much confined myself to her fried potato pancakes. Nobody has ever made them the way she taught me, by the way. I figured it was a family thing.

Starting off in food critic mode, I ordered a couple of high-difficulty items, to troll my tablemate and prove myself worthy to the establishment: garlic toast with salo (unrendered pork fat), and hog's ears.

The "garlic toast" consists of fingers of pumpernickel that are fried crunchy. They're super garlicky, and, combined with the lard, offered a glimpse of a magic land I'll never fully enter without a couple new stents in my chest. I contented myself with a few small dips, but they were life-changing.



Them hog's ears was about three times normal size (see dollar bill for scale). Do they sew them together, ala Silence of the Lambs? Or crush them in some fearsome lobe press? They were chewy, of course, but a bit dull. I like how the Portuguese prepare them way better. But the visual was astonishing. I was thinking more "Dumbo" than "Babe":



The Belarussian borscht tasted like somebody at long last got borscht exactly right. It was neither a clobber of beety sweetness, nor watery/dull. So soulful, with a few chunks of floating over-cooked meat - the ingestion of which stirred some muttering deep in my deep brain that could only represent innumerable generations of ancestors approving, finally, of an action of mine (or maybe they were just screaming bloody murder re: the hog and the pig fat). My tablemate and I were so mesmerized by this soup that we forgot to add sour cream - I felt so utterly embarrassed that I seriously considered hiding the untouched cream in a nearby potted plant. Amateur error (tsk, don't buy my app after all).



Then things got all primordial as the potatoes began arriving.

First up: Potato koduni with meat. These are the gordita form of potato pancakes - a couple inches high, glistening with grease, and full of very black-peppery ground mystery meat. I've never had anything like this, yet it was like giving an elephant its first peanuts. I didn't so much enjoy it - it didn't have much flavor to speak of, aside from groaning tonnages of spuddy starch and fat - as meld with it. I suspect this may be what I'm meant to have been eating all along. It was so heavy and greasy and unlively and burdensome...and something in me liked that.





Then came the potato pancakes "with meat", which consisted of bovine chunks and sausage in a creamy, black peppery sauce (the "old country" always tastes like black pepper), all served atop a murderer's row of oversized potato pancakes that are my grandma's latkes...for the first time ever (including Hanukah latke parties at the Jewy functions my parents would occasionally drag me to, where like 40 families all brought their versions, none resembling ours in the least).





These are not "fun" potato pancakes. They are not a special "treat". Non-delightful. These are staple, akin to rice...or, more precisely, Ethiopian injera, given that they serve primarily as a spongey mop for the creamy sauce and residual grease. I've been potato obsessed my whole life - apparently, it's in my blood - but now I've finally spotted them in their natural habitat.

What's more, neither the latkes nor the koduni are crispy, but my grandma's weren't, either, and neither are mine. I can achieve crispy edges, but the middles are always soggy. I've seen latkes fried as crispy as Mississippi fried chicken, but I've never managed it, myself. I figured it was a character flaw. Little did I realize, this is The Way of My People.

These limp, homely, very familiar potato pancakes also contained no onion (rendering them even more staple-ish and non-delightful, yet still highly satisfying). I happen to use onion, but I suddenly recall, out of my distant memory, a note of controversy on the matter. I believe we didn't normally use onion, either. I am Remembering.

At this point, I'm in pain. Not badly over-full, just over-full of the sort of thing I never ever eat. But I craved a bite of vareniki (dumplings) stuffed with sour cherries, another ancient youthful memory, and the waiter talked us into also getting "cottage cheese cakes 'orshanskie'" - cheesey dough balls in pot cheese and cream with loads of vanilla.





The vareniki are not exactly light in the dough. In fact, I nearly requested a steak knife. And this, too, seems deeply right to me. The cherry filling is resolutely tart (very little sugar), and, oddly, you can taste grease, which seems to come from out of nowhere. You know how Game of Thrones has gratuitous nudity? This place is like that with grease.

The cheesey thing was devastating - figuratively and (in my condition) literally.

As I rued the wrecked state of my digestive system, I found myself plotting ways to raise funds for passage to a new land, a modern place where people eat green foods and everything isn't so goddamned heavy and burdensome. America! I must make my way to America!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Check Out the "Eat Everywhere" App for Free!


The Hitchhiker's Guide to All Cuisines!

Your Personal Eating Assistant!


The "Eat Everywhere" app previously cost $5. Problem: being utterly unlike anything out there, it's tough to explain exactly what customers are buying! So we've made it "Freemium". Anyone can install the app for free (it comes with several cuisines), then make an in-app payment of $4.99 to unlock all 75 cuisines.

We'd appreciate if you'd inform friends and networks that "Eat Everywhere" is now free to check out. Links to both iPhone and Android versions can be found on our home page, EatEverywhere.cc.

Previous customers need to know that we took different approaches with the iPhone and Android apps:

Previous iPhone customers:
You'll see an update in "App Store" on your phone. Once you update, you should automatically be upgraded to premium mode, with access to all cuisines (also new: iOs 11 and iPhone X compatibility). If not, please let us know (via email to the address in the app).

Previous Android customers:
Do nothing! The freemium version is a separate app, but you can stay with your current one. However, please do refer friends to this new, freemium one (at this Google Play page, or linked in EatEverywhere.cc">the app's home page).


Thanks very much to those who already purchased. The app has received exclusively five star reviews. We built it with great love and dedication, the goal being to absolutely delight you.

Bitcoins and Bubbles

If you're even considering getting involved with Bitcoin (and, for that matter, even if you're not), read the classic "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay (read for free here, listen to a free audiobook here, or read free on Kindle here), chronicling centuries of irrational investment crazes. It's an amazing, entertaining read, and will inoculate you against this perennial viral foolishness.

These bubbles appear periodically, usually right around the point where memory's dimmed about the previous one. I hear people are now re-mortgaging their houses to buy Bitcoins. Also that the Russians are exploiting and manipulating the market as a way to evade sanctions - and perhaps in order to cause further chaos in the West. What could go wrong?


Please don't comment or email me about how this bubble is different and you're going to make a jillion dollars. It's not, and you won't.

Killer Breakfast Scramble

I managed a full-out "9" (using my surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating foods from one to ten), and it's a kooky enough recipe that I want to share.

This is a skillet of veggies and egg where the egg is essentially steamed. Topologically, it's an upside-down skillet scramble, sans scrambling, and with no saturated fat...that actually tastes good. Feel free to tart it up all you'd like, but this really works as-is.

You can use any leftover veggies, but I used a combo of shisitos from Trader Joe's (remove stems, slice into thirds, marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper, then blister in a wok with Chinese cooking wine and scallions), stir-fried chopped kale, and baked sweet potato.

Preheat nonstick skillet on medium. Light coat of olive oil (spread via paper towel).

Remove skin and flatten leftover sweet potato between your hands, place in skillet, allow to partially caramelize.

Flip sweet potato, add shisitos and kale (also some quartered cherry tomatoes).

Add three egg whites, seasoned with salt/pepper, roughly atop the sweet potato. Don't stir. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Aleppo pepper flakes. Immediately add 3 TBS water and cover tightly (I'm still riffing on this move). Once sizzling dies down, reduce heat a little and agitate pan (to spread the oil).

Serve when egg whites are quite firm, with some hummus for dipping (recent discovery: blistered shisito peppers and hummus are a fantastic combination, but it also works superbly with this whole dish).

It's killer. Obviously, less healthy versions can be made with cheese, bacon, etc., but it's killer as-is. The egg works its way in everywhere, really tying the dish together, but without the usual blubbery insipid egg whitey vibe. And there's no scorching since egg doesn't touch the pan much and is super-humidified.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alternative Universe Doug Jones Victory Speech

Why are politicians so godawful at politics? Here's an alternative universe Doug Jones victory speech:
Thank you! Thank you everybody!

A lot of people across the country are watching right now, and I hope they'll excuse me, because I just want to speak directly to my fellow Alabamians.

I understand that very close to half of you did not offer me the honor of your support. But I want to assure you that I intend to work tirelessly for everyone in this state, and to listen carefully to everyone in this state, and to represent everyone in this state. Alabama goes first in all my considerations. You may not have chosen to hire me, but I'll be working ferociously on your behalf!

I'm also aware that I owe this victory to Republicans who voted as an expression of conscience and morality. I want those voters to know that I feel a grave responsibility to govern with that same commitment to conscience and morality. I am determined to honor your moral commitment with every action I take, large and small. I like to think I've led my life until now in a way I can be proud of. But I'm going to step up my game. I will stop at nothing to make myself worthy of the principle shown today by those who took the brave step of voting across party lines.

It was said during the campaign that I'd be a puppet to my party leadership. That's just not correct. I don't work for anyone but the citizens of this wonderful state. And while you may not agree with me 100%, by the time my term ends, you just watch and see if I don't leave you surprised by how hard I listened to you, and how much I cared about doing right by you, and how hard I worked to represent you.

Grief Survival Kit

This works for all forms of grieving - not just for departed loved ones. Feel free to pass it on to someone in need, or bookmark for a future moment. See also the Depression Resuscitation Kit.


To be clear, it's ok to feel sad. Grieving is natural. I'm not suggesting that we should be cold, emotionless robots. But I write this with one important assumption: that you aren't trying to fall in love with your pain. You're not using this sad moment to milk drama and stoke self-pity. You feel bad...and you'd honestly like to feel better. If so, this will help. If not, the following will upset you by minimizing exactly what you're trying to maximize! So consider carefully before proceeding.

Here's the question which you must ask yourself - relentlessly, again and again: What is real, and what isn't? Keep shaving off all the layers of untruth and drama. Slice away until you get to the real part, and then let that hurt (open yourself all the way to this pain; don't deflect it). You do not need to find fake reasons for heightening your pain. Deal with what's real.

Below are a few typical falsehoods (there are many more). They're things we've seen people saying in movies, so we have an unconscious urge to say them, ourselves. But they're just empty memes:

"Poor him/her!"
Whatever you believe regarding afterlife, your dearly departed is certainly not discontent. You can repeat "Poor him/her" ad infinitum, making yourself more and more miserable, but it's not a real thing. You're just hypnotizing yourself, and that's self-indulgence, not grief. "Poor him/her" is not true. Slice it off.

"She/he will never get to see/do X"
We, the living, miss out on things all the time. I'll never play quarterback for the Jets, and most likely none of us will celebrate our grandchildren's 75th birthdays. So what? This isn't the sort of thing we particularly sweat, so why would it be any more so for the dead? And if someone checks out at a low point, missing the happy turnaround, well, that's just normal odds! How many ecstatic peaks have you experienced? And would you have been particularly happy to have died during one them?

So young!
We all die young (at heart, we're the same person we were since we first opened our eyes; we only pretend to be grown-up). This meme, too, has to do with a person's "story", not the actual person. It's not real. Beneath the story-telling, we are ageless presences who watch stuff unfold. This, from their point of view, was just another thing that unfolded - and unfolds for each of us. It's not dramatic in any way. Don't try to make it so.

What a lousy way to go!
Accounts of gristly deaths used to really upset me. But I'm old enough now to have actually lived through some gristly stuff, and you know what? It was all just stuff. Broken bones and root canals seriously hurt! But such things don't ruin our lives. We get through them, and relief follows. Rest assured all suffering's over. It's natural to sympathize with pain, but, question: Did you sob for days when your cousin broke her ankle skiing?

I'll miss him/her.
Ok, now that's real. And that's all that's real. Everything else is just stuff you're telling yourself to heighten the drama and pain. Stay with what's real, open up to it, and let it subside, gradually, to a more manageable level. That's actual grieving, not cinema. Stay with the true!


The impulse to torture ourselves with dramatized falsehoods has nothing to do with the departed. It's entirely about our own internal issues. Consider this: if death's so unthinkable (because living's so wonderful), then why would you pollute your precious alive time with unnecessary drama? If the departed saw you doing this, they'd slap their foreheads and holler "Stop! That's just crazy! Don't do that!! Especially not in my name!" They'd want you to mourn for a while, and then go out there and kick ass, relishing every moment.


Resilience is related.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Cornered Rat" Report #1

December 11, 2017. The phrase "cornered rat" finds 74,300 google search results.




Good and Evil

"Cold" isn't a thing. It's just a subjective impression of the absence of heat.

Similarly, "Goodness" is just a subjective impression of the absence of malevolence. There's no being a "good person"; even saints are merely opting out of malevolence.


Why do people act malevolently? Simple. It's resistance, born of fear, insecurity, or other internal turmoil. Think of it as aggrieved friction between one's internal and external world; between how one needs it to be and the way it really is; between the burden of the myriad stories one carries around and the utter simplicity and lightness of the actual flow of it all. People are frustrated by the ineffectual toy steering wheel they've spent their lives grasping, and feel compelled to force a result of some sort.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Celebration

I've never had a taste for celebration. I've beaten myself up about this over the years, figuring I was a mope, or a cynic, or that this was just another component of depression. After years of working as a musician while strangers celebrated, maybe I'd gotten detached from human high-spiritedness.

Even worse, my inner terrain was full of discontent and aggravation. I could have used some celebration! For years, I felt like I was a guy with a steep emotional downside and no upside.

In recent years I've re-landscaped my inner terrain via some adjustments of perspective. Tl;dr: I no longer perpetually probe around for what's missing or imperfect in a given moment, nor do I pull back the camera to view and judge how I come off from a third party view. I've let go of my hopes and dreams in the good way. And, finally, I've thinned out my agenda to focus on the things that give me real satisfaction. As a result of these small adjustments, the present moment always feels pretty good. Celebratory, even! But I still don't celebrate "occasions." I just don't get it.

I think, for most people, celebration represents a brief respite from their everyday sense of punishment. I find that appalling. I don't view life as punishment...even when it's punishing. It's all just a ride for our bemused entertainment. And if I needed relief from my normal state of mind, I can't imagine I'd find it in birthday cake and sparklers!

And most people see their lives as hanging upon a series of dramatic plot points. Graduation, new job, favorite-team-wins-Superbowl, That Bad Thing That Happened, etc. But I don't fall for that cinematic view. That Story isn't me; I'm just this guy right here living straight through it all, as always. Nothing happens to me; it all happens around me.

So what's to celebrate?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Presumption of Innocence is Bullshit, Man

I saw this much-liked posting on Facebook:


We need to judge more; to act more confidently from our uninformed initial takes. The problem is too much restraint and circumspection. We don't put enough stock in our snap impressions. Never forget: your initial visceral uptake is solid gold. Embrace your piqued outrage and act out from that!

Don't talk to me about facts or rational deliberation. I have something far better: a deep intuitive knowing about things. When I go there, that's when I'm fully alive. It's kinda spiritual, even if its primary use is to gin up the sort of outrage that generates angry mobs. It's a righteous sword to be cherished, not resisted. Unconstrain yourselves!


This is how the right managed to vomit up MAGA, and now this is how the left is responding. Same exact damned thing from the same exact damned impulse. Just swap in a new set of variables.

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