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( Full Disclosure: I am a long time Laker fan, having rooted for them since the days of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. I have stuck with them through the highs- Magic, Worthy, Kobe, Shaq – and the lows – Kobe’s final years. I admire the Warriors for their unselfish style of play which reminds of the glory years when Magic was battling Bird and the Celtics.  I detest Lebron because of his arrogance and selfishness and his me-first attitude and am thankful to Golden State for raining on his parade).

Now that the Warriors have swept the Cavaliers, Kevin Durant’s detractors have come out in full force. Over and over again, I hear him labeled ” a coward” and ” weak” for having joined a 73 win team in order to get a championship ring. These same people hate the Warriors for making the NBA championship a foregone conclusion. Many of them are also Lebron supporters who rail against the ” unfairness” in Lebron having to play, all on his lonesome) against a team with four All- Stars and a deeper bench. To which I say ” Bosh!” and I don’t mean Chris Bosh.

These critics seem to have forgotten that it was LeBron himself who, eight years ago, orchestrated the idea of a ” super-team”, one with three All-Stars when he enticed Chris Bosh to join him in decamping to Miami and teaming up with Dwayne Wade. There have been other super teams before but they were put together by GM’s through the draft and through trades. This was, as far as I know, the first time that players took it upon themselves to form a super team. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, suffered for seven years in Oklahoma City with the ball-hogging duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook before being recruited by Stephen Curry and a bunch of Warriors players. Who can blame him for not wanting to continue playing with Westbrook, a player  like Lebron whose ego is even bigger than his admittedly great skills. Besides, in coming to Golden State, Durant not only took a huge play cut but subjugated his skills for the good of the team. It was only when Curry and Thompson misfired that Durant unleashed his one-on-one skills for the good of the team. The Warriors are only too aware of the sacrifices that KD has made and that’s what makes them such an unselfish team and a joy to watch.

Lebron is a terrific player with unbelievable physical attributes, definitely in the conversation for the Greatest of All -Time for fans who are interested in such things. He is also a selfish player who demands the ball, a flopper and a whiner who gets more than his share of calls because of his reputation. In recent years, he has expanded his game and is a threat from anywhere on the floor but I dislike his ball -dominant style of play where most often he barrels over defensive players and gets the call when he should actually be  called for an offensive foul. If he does not have a good supporting cast, it is partly because he insists on getting his full market value leaving very little for management to recruit other players with. He also drives away teammates with his selfish play. Kyrie Irving demanded a trade inspite of  reaching the finals three times and winning a Championship with LeBron. According to one report, he was tired of seeing Lebron hog the ball for most of the 24 second possession , being unable to do anything with it  and then passing ( to Irving) with only  2 or 3 seconds left . Irving would then have to hoist a desperation shot with the shot clock winding down, missing more often than not and getting the blame. Finally, LeBron undercuts team mates and the coach and often acts as a de facto GM insisting on trades and then moaning about the lack of support when things don’t pan out.

In the first game of these finals, LeBron played a fantastic game and I felt for him when the Cavs lost due to J,R Smith’s bonehead play. I was feeling more in sympathy with him after the final game and he had to stomach yet another defeat. Then he had to come out and talk about his self inflicted injury and detract from the Warriors win instead of keeping quiet about it and giving them their due. Reminded me of Serena Williams, who never lost a match without making excuses for it.

Now that the finals are over, there is a lot of speculation about where LeBron will go next. The possible landing spots are Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston. I don’t care where he goes or whether he stays in Cleveland… I just don’t want to see him join the Lakers. LA has a  young team , and in Luke Walton, a coach in the Steve Kerr mold. They are fun to watch and with the addition of a superstar or two could challenge the Warriors and the Rockets. But not with LeBron. His me-first attitude would destroy the team’s chemistry and would impede the progress of the youngsters. Furthermore, LBJ has played so much basketball that he is older than his chronological age of 33. His skills will ,be on the decline in the next year or two; if he is given a long term max contract it will tie up valuable cap space much as happened in the final years with Kobe. I hope the Lakers don’t make that mistake. I loved Magic as a player but as a GM he is still an unknown quantity. I was unhappy with his drafting Lonzo Ball because of his crazy dad. Giving LiAngelo, a tryout was inexplicable. Please Magic, take a pass on LeBron.

 

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(On Friday mornings at 11:30, my wife conducts a meditation session at our clubhouse. Usually about 20-25 people attend and, as we all sit in a circle, she plays a meditation tape from a free app called Insight Timer. It guides us through a meditation exercise which lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. There follow ten minutes of gentle music or, sometimes, silence.  The entire session lasts  thirty minutes and has been described by some participants as the best part of their day as it soothes and refreshes the mind.  Additionally, the act of sitting together engaged in a common pursuit enables us to connect and creates a sense of community. Lately, I have been closing each session with a short talk, usually a teaching story from something I’ve read or a personal experience. Here is an example).

Twenty years ago, words like” Mindfulness” and phrases like ” being in the moment” were still exotic. Nowadays they are mainstream; one hears them in the oddest places. Yesterday, I was reading an old issue of New York magazine when I came across a little filler, a paragraph about how habits are created. According to researchers at MIT, habits are formed as the result of a three step process: Cue, Routine, Reward. For example: “You feel bored” ( Cue). You pull out your iPhone ( Routine) A few moments of empty stimulation (Reward).

But, all too soon, you are bored again. What is to be done?

Solution: Choose a reward that contributes to your feeling of well being. Two of the best rewards, happiness wise: Staring a conversation with a stranger  Or Being more present in the moment.

What do these two things have in common?

In both cases, you consciously remove yourself from center stage. You become the observer, not the central character. You do not think of I.. I.. I.

This too is an aspect of mindfulness, one that I don’t think is stressed enough.

Summer Fruits

A couple of weeks ago, the New York times critic Pete Wells listed his Top Five Fruits of summer. They were, in ascending order, as follows.

5. Raspberries

4. Peaches

3. Blueberries

2. Cherries

1.Watermelon.

His choices were based on not just on the fruits eaten out of hand but on their versatility in various preparations. It was an interesting list and started me thinking about my own. My first act was to see the complete list of summer fruits. There were 25 of them listed in many sites and I thought that was too inclusive. Many like Boysenberries, loganberries, and gooseberries are not widely available. Some, like grapes, are available throughout the year and don’t really come under the category of summer fruits.( In my book, summer fruits are those available primarily in the summer months, from June to September.) Guavas are delicious in tropical countries but a sore disappointment in the U.S. They’re out. And , as for zucchini, I don’t consider it a fruit.

My Top 5 list and my reasonings for elevating these above all others is given below, in ascending order of desirability.

5,. Honeydew melon. I love the fragrance and the delicate taste. Great eaten chilled on a hot summer day  but also wonderful when made into a smoothie At this point, I’ll also mention that, on my list, honeydews edged out watermelons, the number 1 choice on the NYT list. Watermelons, it is true, are synonymous with summer but I find them one-dimensional.  Very often, they are not very sweet and perhaps I am turned off by their ubiquity. I admit they are more versatile than honeydews but that is not enough.

4. Blackberries.  They are larger, plumper and usually sweeter than raspberries. The latter are more attractive to look at but they also spoil quickly. Too often, I have had to throw raspberries away because I left them in the refrigerator for a couple of days instead of eating them immediately.

3.Peaches, when they are at their peak, are really really good. I remember attending the U.S. tennis Open at Flushing Meadows for many years with my father and my friend Bill. At the time, fans were allowed to bring in outside food ( I don’t know if it is still the case). I would bring the ham sandwiches and the water bottles. Bill would bring peaches, and what peaches they were! When I bit into one of them, the juice would run down my chin . And as for sweetness, they were unbelievably sweet. I’ve never had peaches elsewhere that were half as good. Usually, they are hard and bland, almost a different fruit. I do like the peach flavor though in ice cream, in peach melba and in peach pies.

2.Mangoes might have been in the top spot except that the varieties available in the U.S are not as good as those I’ve eaten elsewhere. The Alphonso mangoes available in India are in a class by themselves and the variety of  mangoes on offer there, each with it’s distinctive character, is mindboggling. The Kent mangoes, which are widely available in the U.S, are not bad but they lack flavor and are often fibrous. Still, a so-so mango is better than most other fruits.

1. Cherries carry, for me, a certain mystique. I’ve seen peach trees, blackberry and raspberry bushes and mango trees but I’ve never seen a cherry tree. All I know is that in late June and early July the supermarket has bins of the luscious black fruit at affordable prices. I like the sweetness of cherries but also their firmness. I could happily eat them year round but, alas, after a scant two months they disappear just as suddenly as they came on the scene. I like them fresh and eaten out of hand but also in cherry pies and clafoutis and, of course, in cherry vanilla ice cream. At the doctor’s office, one lady ( who was a diabetic) was plaintively bemoaning the doctor’s command that she not eat more than six cherries at any one time. ” Six !”, she moaned” “After six, I’ve only just begun”. I sympathize with her and I hope it never happens to me.

 

“They Say” that the French are small minded xenophobes who hate those who don’t speak French, that they are stingy and ungrateful and altogether despicable.

Scene I.  It is 1977 and my wife and I are in Paris on a vacation. We are in a Metro station trying to figure out the ticket vending machine and we are failing badly. Next to us is an elderly Frenchwoman, a grandmotherly type in a shapeless dress, who has no such problems. Hesitantly, I approach her, a French banknote in hand and, in my broken French, explain my problem. She responds in rapid fire French which of course I don’t understand. Shaking her head, she reaches into her copious handbag, pulls out some coins and feeds them into the vending machine. It spits out two tickets which she hands over to me. I am grateful and extend the banknote to her in payment. At least I try to. She waves me away, as if offended, and scurries away. I follow her trying to get her take the money but she is adamant. Mind you this is not a rich woman. From her appearance, she appears to be an old age pensioner. Yet, she helps out a stranger with her hard earned money. Forty years later, I am still humbled by her gesture.

“They say” that New Yorkers are the worst. That they are rude, obnoxious and heartless with no time for anyone but themselves.

Scene 2. A packed E train during the morning rush hour. People are packed in like sardines. Suddenly, a childish voice pipes up. “Mommy, I HAVE to go.” It is a five year old boy, his face scrunched up in discomfort. His mother shushes him, saying “One moment.” She pulls out a half full bottle of water, quickly gulps it down. She unzips his pants and holds the bottle while he does his business shielding him from the public gaze. Not that she needs to. The people next to them look away and give them privacy. The child finishes his business, the mother zips him up and caps the bottle. Another passenger hands her a tissue to wipe her hands and yet another gives her a plastic bag to put the bottle in. All this without a word being exchanged except for murmured “Thank you’s” and “You’re Welcome.”

What did I tell you about New Yorkers…

“They say” that the poor are lazy bums who prefer to walk the streets rather than do an honest day’s work. That most of them are alcoholics or drug addicts in search of their next fix, their next drink.

Scene 3. (The Final Scene). Circa 1982. Late evening. A woman in a NYC apartment receives a phone call. A male voice she does not recognize asks, “Is this JoAnne?” Hesitantly, she replies,“ Yes. Who is this?” The man continues, “Listen. You simply have to make up with Bill.  If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. He truly loves you.” Mystified, and a little angry, she demands” Who IS this? Are you one of Bill’s friends? Did he put you up to this because he didn’t have the guts to call himself?” The man doesn’t answer the question but continues to plead Bill’s case saying she will never find anyone else so well suited to her, who loves her so much. By now, Joanne has had it. She snaps, “If you don’t tell me who you are … right now… I am going to hang up.” At this, the man comes clean. He is a homeless man who had been rooting through a dumpster looking for food when  he came across a bundle of love letters that Bill had written to Joanne and which she had thrown away when they broke up. What is remarkable is what this man says next. He says “ I would have called sooner but I didn’t have the money for the phone call.” Imagine that. This homeless man who didn’t know where his next meal was coming from was willing to spend his last dime to help a stranger.

So this is what I think …

Generalizations are wrong. People are individuals first and last. Fifteen year old Anne Frank wrote in her diary,” I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”

Can we believe any different?

( The first story happened to my wife and me as described. The second is a recent one from the N.Y. Times; so is the third, dimly remembered from almost forty years ago.)

 

 

 

 

“You really have to try this.”

“No way. Absolutely not. You know I don’t eat fish.” I reply.

“Try it just once. You’ll love it. Just once and you will be hooked.”

I tried it. Then I tried it again. And yes, soon I was hooked on sushi.

I think my experience parallels that of many other Americans. In the early eighties, most people confronted with sushi had the same reaction “Raw fish …Ugh!” That perception changed steadily over the years and now there are sushi restaurants in even the smaller towns in N.J.

What is it that I like about sushi? It’s everything… the aesthetics, the textures, the variety, the taste and, something I find amazing when I think about it… it does not smell like raw fish.

When Shula and I go to a sushi restaurant, I like to get a table that allows me to watch the sushi chef work his magic. Such a pleasure to observe an expert at work and, believe me, these chefs are experts. I am entranced as he selects the prime cuts of fish or seafood, the sureness of his hands and his motions as he slices it , lays it and the other ingredients on a bed of rice on a sushi mat, then rolls the whole, firms it up and slices it into six rolls. Other times, he molds the rice into an oblong and carefully tops it with a thin slice of fish or clam or a piece of shrimp. Once he has prepared our order, the sushi are placed with a mound of pickled ginger and a little wasabi on a distinctive rectangular plate with upturned corners. It is brought to our table and we revel in the different shapes and colors.

I pour some soy sauce into the little rectangular saucer, mix in a little wasabi and I’m ready for my sushi experience. A delicious moment of indecision and anticipation… which one shall I try first? Finally I make my choice. I top it with some pickled ginger, dip it in the wasabi-soy sauce mixture and pop it into my mouth. Sheer bliss as I savor the taste and the texture, the coolness of the fish, the faintly vinegar tang and firmness of the rice. I try to make my mouthful last but, alas, all too soon, it is gone and I am reaching for another piece of sushi, a different one, and another and another. At the end of the meal, when every last piece has disappeared, we are content, sated but not stuffed.

I do not want to give the impression that I am a connoisseur of sushi. Far from it. A true  connoisseur would be horrified to see me in action. For instance, I use too much soy sauce. Instead of dabbing it on the fish, I dunk the bottom of the roll, the rice part, in the soy sauce. Positively barbaric! I will also eat only some types of sushi. I stay away from the stronger tasting types of fish such as mackerel though I am trying to expand my range. I once read a piece on the proper way to eat sushi. It was by Ruth Reichl, the one- time NYT food critic and editor of Gourmet magazine, and it was a revelation. I became painfully aware that my palate is not sufficiently refined to appreciate the finer nuances of sushi. And it never will be, either. I was happy however to find that the proper way to eat sushi is with the fingers. Great news for one who has never mastered the art of eating with chopsticks.

Sushi anyone?

 

A woman in her forties walked up to the library help desk and asked for help finding true-crime books. She was tired of reading mysteries and detective novels, she said, and wanted to try something different, non-fiction rather than fiction. The librarian gave her the names of some authors in the true-crime genre and showed her where the books were located in the stacks.

A few months later, she told the librarian how the switch had affected her reading habits.Each night, she said, she would climb into bed with a true crime book and  a bowl of popcorn and read for about forty five minutes, then hop out of bed and make sure that all the windows and doors were locked before going back to sleep. All those years she had been reading detective novels she had never been worried about her safety but now she was overcome with fears that some degenerate killer might break into the house and assault her.

But she continued to read true- crime books.

Which begs the question… Why do we like being scared? What is the attraction that scary books , and movies, have for us? Why do we go bungee jumping or ride on roller coasters?

As for coasters or bungee jumping, it’s to ” prove” ourselves, to show that we are brave,  unafraid to do things that others can’t bring themselves to do. Ditto for scary movies, which we see in the company of others. But books? Reading is a solitary activity. No one knows (or is interested in knowing) what we read. there is no question of impressing others. Those who read books that scare them probably do so because they like the feeling. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.

 

I am not a fan of cocktails. Give me a beer or a scotch any day. But there are certain times when a cocktail seems called for. On my birthday last October, I was treated to a lunch at Junoon, a Michelin starred Indian  restaurant in New York. It was a memorable meal from appetizers to desserts and it got off to a great start with the amazing cocktail menu. My wife had the  East India Gin Tonic ( Bombay Sapphire East gin, St.Germain, Pavan, fresh juniper berries, paan leaf and house made Junoon tonic). It was served in an outsize balloon glass with a huge paan  (betel) leaf half immersed in it . Another good choice that day was the Adraki ( ginger) punch made with fig infused vodka, lemon, grapefruit juice and honey ginger syrup. The long list of cocktails also included several named for Game of Thrones characters — Arya Stark, Lannister, Kings Landing and Jon Snow. The rest of the cocktail menu had some wonderful sounding drinks with decidedly unusual ingredients… Saffron infused maraschino liquer, jalapeno maple syrup, cinnamon orange bitters and spice smoke. They sounded interesting and, when presented at the table with a flourish, I can see how they might seem irresistible.

In the past, Indian restaurants have not been known for their drinks menu. Beer goes best with Indian food and that is what most Indians are accustomed to ordering, when they do drink alcohol. Most of the time they are content with lassi or with soft drinks. However, as Indian food has become more popular with mainstream Americans , Indian chefs have come up with ” designer” cocktails to appeal to their new clientele. Floyd Cardoz, the chef at the now defunct Tabla,was probably the first to do so. At Tabla and at his more recent ventures, Cardoz has had cross- cultural creations such as Mumbai Mule, Tamarind Margarita, Watermelon Mojito and  Kachumber Cooler. Kachumber is the name for shredded cucumber salad and the Kachumber Cooler is made by muddling cucumber with green chilly, pepper and cilantro with a gin base and straining the mix into a cocktail glass. Innovative, yes?

What started me on this subject (Exotic Indian cocktails) was something I came across when writing my last post on Blends, Single Malts and Monkey Shoulder. Specifically, it was an ad for Monkey Shoulder which claimed that the experience of drinking it was like “ Riding bare-back on the wild moors of Scotland with a flame haired maiden on Christmas morning.” WOW!

That over-the-top description reminded me of a drink that Floyd Cardoz used to serve many years ago at Tabla. I can’t remember the details but I think it involved flavored vodka,  ginger syrup, champagne and some sort of seeds ( I don’t think they were pomegranate seeds; they would have to be something lighter, perhaps subza, basil seeds). The bubbles from the freshly poured champagne would carry the seeds to the top before bursting and letting them sink to the bottom; more bubbles would then repeat the process, a mesmerizing effect.. One woman who sampled the drink wrote that it “ made her want to set her hair on fire, rip off her clothes and run stark naked down Madison Avenue.”

Now, THAT’ S what I call a real drink !

 

 

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