AN INKLING OF GREAT DINING — ELSEWHERE

If you are looking for a great meal and a fantastic place to eat it, the Blackstone Valley isn’t IT.

We can find a few diners that are good and at least one interesting hot dog joint in Worcester … but otherwise? Let me give you a hint — an inkling — of great dining you won’t find here. Or anywhere in the area, including Boston.

Rich’s post today on his home blog brought me waves of nostalgia about food in Jerusalem. When I first moved there, I was lost. I couldn’t cook because I didn’t recognize the packaging and things were usually just a little different that they had been back in the States. Eventually, I worked it out and became a better cook than I’d been at home because I no long relied on prepackaged ingredients. I learned to make everything “from scratch.”

When I first got to Israel, I didn’t even know what good food meant. Eventually I discovered a million tiny restaurants tucked into neighborhoods all over the city, all with the name “Mother” in title.

Sure enough, Mom was the head cook. She had a few daughters and maybe a niece or two working their way up — as well as half a dozen sons and nephews handling the serving, busing, management, shopping … and cleaning. Restaurants — the good ones — were family affairs and ALL of them were good.

Dishes were some version of Middle Eastern Jewish — meaning no pork or dairy in it, but that was no problem. Muslims don’t eat pork either and dairy isn’t generally a part of dinner anyway.

The absolutely best food EVER was served by friends and neighbors on Shabbat.  Our Moroccan neighbors with whom Owen played could cook. I don’t know if every family were quite as brilliant as those neighbors on Hebron Road, but … OH my LORD.

Owen got to eat out pretty much every Friday night. His friends mothers loved him. “Look at that tall skinny kid — doesn’t anybody FEED HIM?” They could feed him to death and he’d roll home and tell us about it. I’d drool.

Middle eastern food is labor intensive to a degree that is hard to explain. It takes days to make all those little chopped up dishes that are wrapped in couscous or grape leaves or some light yet delightfully crunchy cover. Served plain — with a sauce — or as part of a soup.

We called those skinny roll-ups in thin filo dough “cigarettes” which they resembled in form, but too delicious to describe.

Everything was chopped, seasoned, sometimes cooked, sometimes semi-raw or entirely raw, and  wrapped. Then there were the sauces ranging from red (hot) to green (blow your head off hot). Owen learned to love ALL of it. I never quite made it to the green stuff, but I loved the red sauce.

It’s a very short hop to vegetarian or Vegan cooking, too. Meat isn’t the big issue in any of these dishes. In these native lands, meat was in short supply, which is why is was shredded and chopped. A single chicken could serve a lot of people that way.

There were some other foods, too. Israel adopted a bunch of Vietnam boat people who had nowhere else to go, so they took over opening oriental restaurants. Some were pretty good, some not so great, but at least it was different.

Italian was popular:  Kosher which meant meatless because the cheese was more important than the meat — or non Kosher. But it wasn’t as good as Italian restaurants in New York. Then again, few Italian restaurants are as good as they were in NY, unless you went to Italy where my mother assured me you would find the BEST food in the world. She used to diet in advance of traveling to Italy because she always came back 10 pounds heavier.

In Israel, though, the  great food was “tribally” local. Moroccan, Tunisian, Syrian, Persian, Algerian and sometimes Kenyan or generally Arabian — everything was GREAT. Also expensive. Eating out was surprisingly expensive, so getting an invitation from a neighbor was like getting invited to the best restaurant in town. Better, really.

I miss the food. I can make just about the best humus you’ve ever eaten, but the rest of it the food requires mother and three well-trained daughters — and about a week to prepare it. You don’t see that around here. Maybe in other cities, but not in New England.

We settle for good Japanese food. Sushi and tempura and anything that comes in rolls. But so far, not very good Chinese. There were some wonderful Chinese restaurants in Boston, but not out here.

That both Garry and I have eaten some amazing food in amazing places probably explains why we find most of the local eateries uninspiring, to say the least. Other than a couple of Japanese places, we haven’t found anywhere worth the price. Food is bland and the preparation is uninspiring. As for Italian, try mine. Much better. For that matter, try my son’s. His is much better, too. We do not live in great dining out territory.

I’m told there are good Indian places in Worcester and in Providence, but we don’t like a lot of traveling for dinner. I don’t mind going, but when we’re full of food, we don’t want a long trip home.

Retirement, you know?

SNOWBOUND

By Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


As far as Ralph was concerned this was the worst winter ever.  There were years with more snow, that’s for sure.  There were years that brought colder days.  There was never a winter that brought one snow after another followed by one arctic blast after another. Memory had no recollection of this many days below zero.  There were several days when pipes were frozen at Ralph’s house, leaving him without water to the kitchen.

After that, every sub-zero day meant water would be left running to prevent the pipes from freezing again.  Towels and throw rugs were tossed against the bottoms of exterior doors to prevent drafts.  Humidifiers were used to make the house more comfortable and the gas bill…  Well, Ralph did not want to think about that.75-BigSnowHPCR-7

While he hated every day of it, the neighbors might have thought otherwise.  Ralph was always out shoveling the snow that fell or that drifted across the sidewalk in high winds.  Even when the temperature fell below zero, he was out doing something for a little while.

Some years, there were teenagers to be bribed, but this year there were none around so Ralph was resigned to doing the work himself.  When he finished the walks, he would shovel around his car and brush the snow from the windows.  Sometimes a snow plow would push a ridge of snow against the car and then it was time to dig some more.  This winter, Ralph was a busy man.

After he finished the work by his house, he frequently walked down the street about 5 houses and shoveled around an old brown Pontiac.  Some days, he could not do it due to subzero temperature, but when he could he went down there.  No one else on the block seemed to know whose car it was that got so much attention.  Now and then it was moved and parked back in the same area, but when the brutal weather hit, it just stayed put.

And yet, Ralph walked down and cleaned it off, just in case.  It was not Ralph’s car.  He never drove it in his life.  A few on the block might have wondered why he shoveled around the car and cleaned it with great regularity.  It was just something that Ralph felt inside he had to do.

Certainly there were some that felt that a man of Ralph’s age should not be out shoveling snow in such extreme weather.  It was winters like this that made Ralph understand why people retired and moved to Florida or Arizona.

As a matter of fact, Ralph might have retired and moved to Florida on his last birthday when he turned 62, but the pension he paid into for decades lost most of its value 6 years earlier.  It was reduced to 25 per cent of what he had.  He knew he would never make that up in the short time left before he would have to retire.  He just hoped when he did, the meager pension and meager social security would be enough to live on.  It certainly would not be enough to send him to Florida.

One particularly frosty day, Ralph arrived home to some fresh snow on the ground, took his usual parking spot and went right to work. When he finished his walkways and parking area, he was tempted to go in, but decided to walk down to the brown Pontiac anyway.  It was weeks since the car last moved and no one had seen the driver.  Nevertheless, Ralph was on the job, cleaning off the car and all around it.

By the time he was satisfied with his work, his fingers and toes were numb and almost in pain.  As he started to walk away he noticed an old man come carefully down the stairs of a brick 2 flat house and walk toward the Pontiac.  He had a decidedly puzzled look upon his face.  Ralph tossed his brush and shovel aside.

“Hello, Mr. Schuman,” Ralph called out.  “How are you today?”

“Cold,” Mr. Schuman replied with an odd smile that he had acquired whenever he was unsure of what was going on.  “And who are you again, young man?”

“It’s Ralphie, sir.  Ralphie Combs.  I had you for Economics in Senior Year at the high school.”

“Oh,” Schuman said.  “What year was that?”

“I guess it was quite a few years ago, but I remember it well,” Ralphie beamed, as he recalled his senior year.

“Were you one of those boys that I put in the front of the class so I could keep an eye on you?  You look like one of those boys,” Mr. Schuman said with a suspicious glance.

Ralphie laughed.  “Yes, sir.  That was me, sir”  At that Mr. Schuman laughed too.

“Well I was expecting a lot of work on the car today, but all the snow is gone.  I am certain it was piled on there earlier when I looked out the window.”

“It must have been the winds, Mr. Schuman, sir.  The wind was very strong this afternoon and has blown a lot of it down the street.”

“It’s a good thing, because I have to run some errands and shoveling snow is too much for me.  I guess I was pretty lucky with that wind.”

“Yes, sir, I think you were.”

“Well, I have to go young man, it is too cold to stand and chat.  Now you be good.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Schuman.  I will be good.”

The old teacher got in the old car and drove away.  That few minutes of conversation was the warmest Ralphie felt all winter.

“AMERICA FIRST” DREDGES UP RACISM FROM THE PAST

This post is primarily quotes from Huffpost and others. Because “America First” has a rather long and ugly history … and it started long before Donald Trump.

Dr. Seuss Cartoon from 1941 on antisemitism. The old story, just updated with a red hat.

Trump Was Not First To Use The “America First” Slogan
The phrase has a long history.

01/25/2017 11:11 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2017

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase has a longer history.

President Woodrow Wilson, a hardened internationalist, ironically coined the term today associated with Nationalism. In 1916, Wilson was running for re-election by promising to remain neutral in WWl. His campaign slogan was: “He kept us out of War, America First.” Once Wilson was safely re-elected, he ordered troops into what was, at the time, called “The Great War.”

Once the U.S. was enveloped in the war, newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a vociferous critic of Wilson, used the slogan against the President. Hearst was sympathetic to Germany, and warned the U.S. not to aid the allies in the fight against Germany. Hearst exclaimed: “Keep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores at home, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made absolutely secure. After that, we can think of other nations’ troubles. But until then, America first!”

This slogan soon became an imprimatur for non-interventionists in both major political parties. Once WWl ended, the Americans became weary of foreign intervention. Wilson had failed in his effort to garner the requisite two-thirds majority needed in the U.S. Senator to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included allowing the U.S. to join a collective security alliance called “The League of Nations.” Some Senators would have supported the agreement if the President agreed to certain reservations. However, the bi-partisan group that steadfastly opposed the treaty came to be known as “the irreconcilables.”

Complete post: TRUMP WAS NOT THE FIRST TO USE AMERICA FIRST” – Huffpost 


If anyone thinks what Trump is doing is new, it isn’t. This is classic Fascism on the rise. So far, he’s still working at it, but it isn’t hard to slip over that line and suddenly discover that “free” means “people who agree with The Leader.” We are damned close to that already.

Democracy is a slippery slope. Our slope is covered in ice.

BACK-LIGHTING AND SILHOUETTES — EASY PHOTO TRICKS

There are serious techniques in photography, but there are also “tricks.” I learned most of the serious stuff, but eventually I also learned a few tricks that have saved a lot of otherwise useless photographs and turned them into “art.”

Late twilight by Lake Otsego – backlighting at work

One of the very first “tricks” I learned in photography was how to create a dark frame around a picture. All you need to do is stand in shadow and shoot into light. You will create a dark “frame” around your picture. It has become a standard “thing” for me. It looks surprisingly elegant and requires zero skill.

More back-lighting

The second was in response to the bane of back-lighting. If you want decent detail on your foreground, back-lighting tends to make that difficult. For what I would assume are obvious reasons. Sometimes, you simply can’t make it work because the different between the items in front of that very bright sky are too intense to get any decent details without a lot more work than you are willing to put into that picture.

Okay — yes, it’s true. Not every single photograph is worth hours of effort. Sometimes, it’s a nice shot, but this isn’t your day to spend the afternoon messing with it to make it perfect.

For those of us who take a lot of pictures, imperfect is where most of them will be. Not every shot has to be an award-winner — and anyway, is someone giving out awards? I haven’t gotten one in years!

Date palms under a dome of sky

For this, there are silhouettes. This can really make a very crisp, clean photograph. Just don’t let too much clutter mess up your lines!

That’s it for the day. Two little tips that if you didn’t already know them, are easy and fun.