…That’s how we make an appeal to what is right and decent, and without anger. I did it for the framers of the Constitution, who intended that we would treat each other in a civil way. We call each other gentlemen to avoid being cantankerous. And no one person, Democrat or Republican, should ever call law enforcement on a colleague.

– Rep. Charlie Rangel from And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Hall of Congress

NYC Error 404: Not Found

There are exceptions to every rule. The rule of New York City – that you can get anything, at any time, anywhere – is no exception. You can get a shark on the subway, a watch at the shoe repair, or a diamond in the rough. But you can’t get a decent bank, doctor, or hair dresser for love or money. That’s why city slickers have an ingenuity all their own.

You can get free checking – but only at banks with fewer than a dozen ATMs in a 10-mile radius. You can get free ATMs – but your savings account interest rate is approaching zero. You can use online checking – unless your employer refuses to use them for direct deposit. Solution: open accounts with multiple banks.

You can get wonderful medical specialists – but your PCP won’t return your calls. Your doctor might return your calls, but they won’t see you for a second longer than five minutes. Your doctor might be willing to see you for more than five minutes, but their tremors are so bad that a nurse has to write out their medical instructions for them. Solution: switch doctors every year.

You can get a haircut, but it’ll cost you $35 – before tip. You can get a cheap haircut but the hair dresser will give you a style all their own. You can get a moderately-priced haircut, but the hairdresser will laugh at you. You can get an expensive haircut, but you may not be able to eat that week. Solution: cut your own hair.

Every city has its limits, but the inventiveness of its people knows no bounds.

Candy Jar: Running on Empty

The candy jar at work remains a mystery. It is filled up sporadically with varied options. The rhyme and reason for who fills it with what is a mystery. Mars bars? Someone loves me. Strawberry-cordial filled dark chocolates?  Who did John* screw over this time? Unfortunately, much of the time there’s nothing to wonder at; the jar sits empty, its cheery orange lid covered in a layer of dust.

On a recent day a coworker walked purposefully toward the candy jar, and stopped abruptly in front of it. He held it up to the light and shook it, as though the clear plastic sides, which showed no candy within, were playing tricks on his eyes.

“Why is there no candy?” he called out, tossing it up forlornly. It was empty because he’d eaten the last of the candy two weeks early, and no one had refilled it since.

“I have m&ms,” I called back. “Do you want some?”

“YES!” he replied, in a tone far different from his usual funereal inflection.

He took a handful, and munching happily, asked, accusatorily, “Why are you hoarding candy?”

“I don’t think it’s called hoarding when I buy candy and eat it,” I suggested.

“It is if you don’t put it in the candy jar,” was the reply.

“Ooh! Can I have some?” pipped in a third coworker, ending our standoff.

I suspect that it’s my coworker’s love of candy, rather than the unpredictable nature of the jar’s filling, that leads to it sitting empty. The candy jar, and now my candy stash as well.

*I don’t work with anyone named John. Even though the security guard told me this week that his brother’s buddy John – handsome and tall – works in the same office. I’ll take his word for it.

They May Not Taste Like It, But They’re Pesachdik

My sister is many things.

She’s a clear communicator. See below if you don’t believe me:

We need to make these next year, they don’t taste pesadik.

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 250 F for 30-35 minutes
Makes 30 cookies
She is also a truth-telller.
Chag samach!

Fiction for the 19th Century

I had books thrust upon me at a young age. When my grandparents moved from what had been my dad’s childhood home to an apartment, he picked out a dozens of books he thought we would grow into. Thanks to that, I never ran out of books. Rather, that is the reason I’ve always had unread books lying around. The reason I never ran out of books I’d willingly read is thanks to the public library.

While I loved the set of 1971 encyclopedias my dad brought home from my grandparents, I was never inclined to pick up any of the novels he’d brought along with them. I tried reading the Mayor of Casterbridge once, but didn’t get as far as the mayor before I put it back down. Those books remained untouched until a few years ago. Puzzling at the selection, I questioned dad’s choice of reading material. He pointed out that guessing what a girl of the 90s would want to read from the library frozen in the early 70s, isn’t the easiest feat. I conceded.

He admitted that he hadn’t really loved those books either. But if I wanted a great story, I should read Last of the Mohicans. I borrowed his copy as a consolation prize. I read it. I am still recovering from the horror.

The best I can say of it is that the book is ideal for young boys. It has uncharted territory, bloodshed, people in need of rescue, forests full of known enemies, and unexpected allies. And, as dad never fails to point out, it’s treatment of Native Americans is advanced for its time. The books treats all men, regardless of race, as having the wisdom to choose between good and evil. It may be that more of the Native Americans are cast as sly and black-hearted, but at least they’ve got a white man or two for company. Women don’t fare as well, since they’re all pretty idiots. But still – advanced for its time!

As literature, the book is wanting. Few characters were blessed by Fenimore Cooper with actual personality. Bit parts are many and stereotypes are rife. The dialogue is stilted, and frequently offensive to modern sensibilities. There is no moral ambiguity, though there’s plenty of ambiguity regarding where the plot is headed. And, perhaps most devastating to me, the books describes the cruel death of the last of the Mohicans, the tribe around whom the book centers.

As my dad pointed out, once his laughter had subsided and he could catch his breathe without crying from the hilarity, the fact that the Mohicans are no more is in the title. He can’t quite believe I found their murder a surprise ending. But my 21st century literary training lead me to believe that the title was an allusion to the end of an era. Turns out that literature was much more straightforward in 1826.

Last of the Mohicans

by James Fenimore Cooper 

Title is also

the ending. Between: damsels,

adventure, and war.

Ivan found his customers’ refusal to take leftovers home offensive to his frugal Eastern Bloc upbringing. Kate would cringe with embarrassment as she heard him arguing with patrons about the wasted food.

“Are you sure you don’ vant to take home? Dat is at least breakvast. Maybe breavast and lunch. You have a neighbor might vant? Dog? Do you haf dog? That vould be a lucky dog. No? Okay.”

Kate didn’t mention to her grandfather that many people don’t like soggy hamburgers the next morning. Instead, she offered to take the food.

“I can give it to a homeless person, if you like,” Kate said.

Her deda nodded his approval and wrapped up the leftovers. As he left them on Kate’s table he said, “Give them to a real homeless person. Not vun of those hippie kids, ok?”

from How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

Trust no one.

Don’t buy into the hype.

Don’t try new recipes on guests.

All of the above are good pieces of advice. So when Special Correspondent Ariella told me about an amazing soup that soothed the soul, I didn’t believe her. Years ago, she told me the tale of a soup that came out differently for every person – but tasted delicious each time. She may have used the term magical to describe this phenomena. I ignored her.

Then, she made Healing Sweet Potato Soup when everyone was sick. I loved it – and I don’t even like sweet potatoes – and I healed. I should have trusted her – it lived up to the hype. As you heal this flu season, I recommend you do the same. In fact, I suggest you make it for the first time for lots of guests.

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

1 onion, diced

1 to 2 apples, peeled and diced

3 large or 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 cup of cashews, or more to taste

Just enough water to cover the other ingredients

For an extra kick, add green salsa

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until ingredients are soft – about 3 hours. Do not drain the water, use an immersion blender or food processor to achieve the right consistency.

The Lunch of Libraries: Spiced Rice

The days of sacrosanct libraries is coming to an end. In the children’s section, parents are reprimanded for shushing their children with the librarian’s gentle, ‘Libraries are for talking too.’ Phone calls are allowed in designated areas. Magazines litter tables once reserved for dictionaries and encyclopedias. However, one rule remains iron-clad: no food is permitted. Adults who try to eat breakfast are asked to leave. Parents who pull out cheerios are informed that they can take their children outside if they need to snack. Of course, there’s one exception: the library staff.

When I worked in a public library, patrons dropped off food for the staff for every major holiday and some of the minor ones. They treated us like neighbors – the food came in glass dishes, with silver spoons, and instructions on how long to heat it up and what would go best with it. Desserts were generally a favorite, but sometimes grateful patrons dropped off a whole meal. The one the librarians loved best was a giant casserole dish of curried rice with shrimp. The Indian woman who made it was chatty and friendly, with a penchant for romance novels and the occasional best seller. She believed in good manners, as evidenced by her generous and reportedly delicious gift, and her innate understanding that the staff would wash her dishes before her next weekly visit to the library. She was proved right on all accounts.

Although I couldn’t eat what she made, the dish made an impression on me. Curried rice – sans shrimp – seems to me the epitome of an elegant thank-you. However, I’ve never found a recipe which lives up to the mythical hype. I’ve tried a number of curried rice recipes, even recruiting Special Correspondent Ellen to cull her finest curried rice recipes for me. None of them measured up. But, I adapted them and came up with this instead:

Spiced Rice

2 1/4 c water

1 c brown rice

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

Pour everything into the pot, bring water to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover, allow to cook for 30 minutes or until water is fully absorbed.

 

To turn this into a full meal:

1 can of chickpeas, drained

1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Spray baking pan with oil, toss on all ingredients. Bake at 400 for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Mix together, place in your best dishes – and walk it over to your local library staff. They’ll thank you, and clean your dishes too.

“But seeing his status doesn’t help,” Mindy said. “It’s not like we can do anything about it if he falls behind. This is a pointless task.”

“How long have you worked for the government?” Venkat sighed.

from The Martian