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In the seventies, my wife was doing a medical technology course in Trenton, NJ and it was a hard slog. Her day began early ( and ended late) but one thing she looked forward to was a breakfast bagel at the hospital canteen. Not just any bagel but an egg bagel, halved and toasted on a griddle and dripping, dripping, with melted butter. Golden yellow with brown streaks, salty, buttery, crisp on the outside but dense and slightly chewy on the inside…  I never did get to taste this delectable treat but she described it so well, and so often, that I thought I had! I did however make these bagels at home, often, though I cut down on the butter.

Those are the first bagels I remember though I must have eaten bagels earlier. Those bagels are my gold standard  and I measure all others against them. I cannot imagine eating an untoasted bagel ; I would rather do without. Nowadays,  my wife and I occasionally go to Kettleman’s, a nearby deli in Somerset. We go there early and pick up our bagels at the counter … Hers is a multigrain bagel with jalapeno cream cheese, mine an egg bagel with garden vegetable cream cheese. Both toasted, of course. Washed down with a container of Kettleman’s coffee, it is a breakfast for the gods. Sitting there surrounded by other retirees, dawdling over our breakfasts, watching office-goers pick up their orders and rush out… nothing could be finer!

It is the common wisdom that the bagels in New York City are the best in the world. There is something about the texture that seems just impossible to replicate elsewhere. New York bagels have just the right amount of chewiness which contrasts nicely with the lightly glazed exterior. Those who have lived in the New York area can never forget them. I have heard of a group of New Yorkers who retired to Florida decades ago but still satisfy their hunger for the bagels of their New York days.Whenever any one of them travels to New York, it is understood that he will take along an extra carry-on bag and bring it back crammed with bagels to be shared. Luckily for me, enough New Yorkers have moved to the suburbs that the bagels in New Jersey are almost as good.

Exactly what makes New York bagels so distinctive and so good is a matter of much debate. The general opinion is that it is the New York water supply which is piped in from pristine upstate reservoirs. Admittedly, the water is very good ( at one time , it was being bottled and sold in other parts of the country for $ 2.50 for a 16 oz. bottle) but could water make so much difference in the taste of a bagel? I don’t think so but am hard pressed to think what the reason might be. My guess is that the best bagel makers, the old timers who learnt the craft from their fathers and grandfathers, never moved away from the New York area because, elsewhere, the product is not as much appreciated and the demand is much less. At least that is what I think.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I found how inferior bagels are outside of the New York area. We spent two weeks in Frisco and, purely by chance, discovered a Katz’s deli within walking distance. Naturally, I went there ASAP and picked up a half dozen bagels. What a disappointment ! They were nothing like the real thing. They were misshapen, smaller than their New York cousins and had a texture that was all wrong. They were also more expensive. I later found another bagel place , also within walking distance, where the bagels were larger but no better and where they cost $2 apiece. Two dollars for a plain untoasted bagel without at toppings! Highway robbery! At Kettlemans they are 95 cents each and at another nearby bagelry, on Wednesdays, I can get a dozen bagels, good bagels for only $ 5.49 which works out to 46 cents apiece.

Lately, I have been reading about Montreal Bagels and how they are the best in the world, better than those in New York.  That they are markedly different, I understand because there are significant differences in the way they are made. Montreal bagels are thinner and flatter, have a bigger hole and are less dense. They are also sweetish, being boiled in honeyed water before being baked in wood fired ovens. New York bagels, on the other hand are boiled in water with malt and baked in traditional ovens. This gives them a shiny crust with a hint of crispness.

Which is better? The New York or the Montreal ? Opinions abound and are divided roughly down the middle. I guess it all depends on what you are accustomed to. If you have a New York background, you will plump for the New York bagel; if you are from Montreal, you’ll vote for the Montreal variety. The only true test would be to ask those who have never eaten a bagel and are not from either New York or Montreal.  I haven’t heard of such a survey yet.

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Since I became a grandparent, I’ve noticed that others open up more about their own grandkids. Recently, I’ve heard plenty of stories about other people’s grandkids, all of them interesting or cute and many of them funny.

One of our good friends was telling us how much fun our granddaughter would be. She said ” You’re going to have a ball getting her new clothes. I remember how much my granddaughter loved to dress up and how happy she was to get a new outfit. Boys are different. My grandson is five years old and he just told me, ” Gramma, don’t buy any new clothes for me. I have enough. Instead you can buy me toys. And , gramma, money is OK too.”

That little scamp!

 

 

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( I ‘ve only just started posting again after a two month long hiatus. The reason… many things, but particularly, the birth of our first grandchild, our granddaughter Saya, in San Francisco. This post is about our emotions on seeing her for the first time).

When we told our friends that we were leaving for San Francisco to see our new granddaughter, they were delighted for us. Those who had grandchildren of their own were particularly effusive. ” We’re so happy for you. That moment when you see her for the first time: cherish it. There is nothing like it'”, said one. ” Sheer magic”, gushed another. With such a build -up, we were eager to see the baby.

We arrived in San Francisco, took a Lyft to our son’s apartment, greeted him and were ushered into the living room where Saya was cradled in her mother’s lap. My first thought upon seeing her was how small and vulnerable she appeared. She  was not yet one month old and I had not dealt with babies that young in a long, long time. I took in her features : the gimlet eyes that seemed to look right through me, the Cupid’s Bow mouth ,the cute little nose, the neatly combed hair – and I began to feel the first stirrings of love, an emotion that grew stronger day by day as this little stranger became a person and stole into my heart.

I remember the exact moment when it happened.

Little babies have it so hard. Thrust suddenly into a world they cannot comprehend, utterly helpless, completely dependent on large strangers for their every need, they can communicate their needs only by crying. Life is an endless cycle of eat, burp, sleep, eliminate and get clean. Even after being burped, Saya would be affected by hiccups. At such times, the only thing that brought her comfort was sitting in her grandma’s lap and being rocked gently until the hiccups subsided. We also discovered that Saya loved to hear the Hindu chant, Soham, sung by a church choir. As soon as we put it on, the crying would stop and , in minutes, she would doze off. I loved to look at Saya as this happened. One day, she was apparently asleep and my wife was thinking of putting her in the crib, when Saya opened one eye and looked at us. The look was so knowing and yet trusting that my wife and I were both charmed. It was magical.

Another such moment happened when she was fast asleep in her crib. As I watched, a beatific smile stole across her face. What could she be thinking of that brought such peace and contentment ? I thought of angels and Heaven and was reminded of the Inner Divinity that resides in all of us. The smile lasted for only a few seconds but , as I wondered if it had really happened, it happened again! O happy day !!

When we came back to New Jersey it was a wrench, parting from Saya. Even now, our thoughts are often with her. After we left, we heard that she was sad for a couple of days. Then, she got her shots and was miserable for a week. Hearing that, we were too. Luckily, her other grandmother is there now to take care of her and to pamper her and Saya is smiling again. We FaceTime with her on Sundays and, while it is no substitute for face- to face interaction, it is the next best thing. We get to see her and how fast she is growing and keep tabs on what is happening with her. We count the days until we can see her again in November.  Will she remember us then? Or will we have to make her acquaintance all over again?

Children and grandchildren both bring us joy but, as a friend once remarked, we are more relaxed with our grandchildren. Having brought up children, we know what to expect and are not as nervous as when we were young parents. At our stage of life, we also have less worries than when we were still making our way in the world.

I often think of how fortunate we are, those of us who have children and, perhaps, grandchildren. We have seen our children grow up, tended them through their mishaps, rejoiced in their achievements and shared in their happiness. Now, through our grandchildren, we get to re-live those golden years once again. Truly, we are blessed.

 

 

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I watched the  Wimbledon Mens Singles Final this morning, on ESPN, and it was both a delight and a relief. It was a delight because, as a Federer fan, I’d been waiting for Roger to clinch his 19th Grand Slam ever since the Australian Open in January. It was a relief to a Federer fan who knows all too well that anything can happen in a sport where 35 ( almost 36) years of age means that one is a geriatric.

From a tennis fan’s point of view, the tennis on display this morning was disappointing because the match was so one- sided. Marin Cilic had looked in great form in the earlier rounds including in his four set semifinal win over big serving Sam Querry, and his subpar display this morning was mystifying. Apparently, he suffered an injury to his foot … but when ? The tumble he took early in the match did not appear to be that serious, nor did it seem to result in any lasting injury. I thought I heard one of the McEnroes mention that it had happened in the semifinal but I could be mistaken. More likely, it was nerves that got the better of Cilic, who is a high strung type. In any case, he was outclassed and was never in the match.

Even though the quality of play was not outstanding, there was still a lot to enjoy, as there is in any match in which Federer is involved. First and foremost, there is his style which makes everything look so smooth and effortless. The flowing groundstrokes, the serve effective because of its pinpoint placement rather than sheer pace, the way in which he glides , seemingly unhurried, all over the court and the unparalleled beauty of that one- handed backhand. What I appreciate, too, is his approach to the game, the manner in which he goes for his shots rather than play safe and wait for his opponent to make mistakes. Finally, there is the obvious enjoyment he derives from tennis and his on-court demeanor. He is intense but always in control of his emotions; he is not one to yell, or curse, or abuse his racket. Those are the things that set him apart from everyone else. That is why he is such a fan favorite all over the world and why  the crowd is in his corner even when he is playing the home-town favorite. It was wonderful to see the reaction of the Wimbledon crowd this morning when he won.

With this victory, Roger Federer leaps into second place in the standings behind his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. Even so, even if he wins the U.S Open in September, I doubt that he will be # 1 at year’s end since he plays so few tournaments these days. At this stage of his career, the Number 1 ranking is no big deal. Far more important is to conserve his energy and prolong his career and, hopefully, win another Grand Slam or two and stay ahead of Nadal. With his two Grand Slams this year, Roger has increased his lead over Rafa, from three to four. I think he is safely out of reach but one more GS at Flushing Meadows would put the issue beyond doubt. Go Roger!

P.S There are some armchair ” experts” who will sneer at Roger’s win because he didn’t have to meet and defeat any of the Big Three ( Novak, Andy Murray and Rafa). It is a silly argument because all of them entered in the tournament and their early exits were not any fault of Roger’s.

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About twenty five years ago, I started seeing an appetizer called Chicken 65 listed on the menus of Indian restaurants. It consisted of  reddish hued deep fried chicken pieces and it was quite spicy.The name was a mystery and no one seemed to know its origin. There were some fanciful explanations, each more absurd than the last. One held that the dish contained sixty-five spices. This didn’t hold much water because I doubt that the pantry of Indian spices is that extensive. Besides, would restaurants go to the trouble of mixing up so many spices in making a single appetizer? Another theory was that the dish was a favorite of Indian soldiers at the frontlines during the 1965 India- Pakistan war and was named in their honor. This was scarcely more credible. Yet other theory was that 65 chillies were used for every kilogram of chicken. It too was easily debunked because so many chillies would make the dish too hot to eat.

This afternoon I finally happened upon what looks like a plausible explanation.

We were lunching at the Paradise Biryani Pointe in Bridgewater, NJ when I noticed a wooden plaque on the wall. ” The Origin of Chicken 65″, it proclaimed. According to it, the menu at a military canteen in Chennai ( formerly Madras) listed dishes only in Tamil. Many of the jawans ( soldiers) frequenting the canteen were from the northern states and did not know Tamil. They took to ordering dishes from the menu by number and number 65 , a fiery chicken dish, was a big favorite. Thus “Chicken, 65” became a frequent request and eventually became a menu entry. This version makes more sense than everything I’ve heard.

So, now you know.

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(In a previous post, I had written how Denmark is judged one of the happiest countries in the world, year after year. Last year, in 2016, it was the happiest and this year , in 2017, it is third. I also mentioned  Hygge,( pronounced Hue-gah), the term that Danes use to describe their happy state of mind. It is a word that has no exact equivalent in the English language though ” cozy” comes closest. Hygge is best described in terms of examples: Sitting before a roaring fireplace while it snows outside. Curling up with a good book . Having dinner with family and friends. Enjoying coffee and cake with a loved one).

A Danish friend wrote to tell me of hyggelistic parties for example, a big birthday bash  in a rented hotel ballroom, where one is served the exact same food ( soup, pork roast and ice dessert) to be  enjoyed in the company of the same group of friends as the previous year. The prospect gave me pause. While I understand the comfort that one feels in the familiar, the prospect of attending such parties is not one that appeals to me. No matter how enjoyable an experience, it is not one I care to repeat ad infinitum.

Some thoughts on the subject …

In the nineteen seventies, time-shares were very popular in the U.S. For what seemed a bargain amount, families could spend a week (or two) at their choice of dream destinations. Hawaii, San Diego, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or wherever. However, the prospect of  staying  in the same furnished condo at the same time every year was one that never appealed to us. Why would we want to tie ourselves down, vacation wise, to the same place again and again when they were so many different destinations that we wanted to visit ? ( The time share companies did allow customers to trade their slots with other customers but it was a hassle and the transfer fees were not cheap). We never went in for a time share  and many of our friends who did later regretted their decision. The only  one who didn’t was a chap who lived  in Los Angeles and who purchased a time share at a resort very close to his home. The time share included use of the gym facilities year round  and he was able to enjoy them at less than it would have cost him to join a gym. Besides, during those two weeks every year, he was able to put up friends who were visiting Los Angeles if he didn’t have place for them at home. Smart.

Another example: We used to attend a community picnic at a nearby park on the first Saturday in August. We did it for perhaps fifteen years but each year it became less and less a pleasure. The same people, the same conversations, the same food. It soon began to pall. The picnic still is held in the same place every August but we haven’t been there for the last twenty years.

When it comes to restaurants, one very soon develops a list of favorites that one goes to again and again but even here we take care never to order the same dishes every time. Some of the dishes we order are tried and true favorites but each time we make sure to try something new. If it’s a flop, we won’t order it again but if it’s good it is added to our list of favorites. The same goes for the dinner parties we have at our home. Neither the menu nor the guest list is ever exactly the same.

Coziness is fine, familiarity is good… but, in my case,only up to a point.  After a while, the prospect of the new eclipses the charm of the tried and true. How is it with you?

 

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Remember Sidney Poitier? The groundbreaking black actor who won an Oscar for Best actor for his role in the 1968 film ” Lilies of the Field” ?  He was handsome, charismatic, polished and urbane, effortlessly projecting an air of refinement and class. I recently read that, until he was ten years old, he never saw his face in a mirror, never knew what he looked like. His parents were Bahamian tomato farmers who had traveled to Miami to sell their crop when his mother went into premature labor. Sidney was born and immediately became an American citizen. He spent the first ten years of his life on Cat Island in the Bahamas, a sun-drenched Caribbean paradise without glass doors, windows or storefronts. Without man-made reflections, young Sidney had no idea what he looked like.

This anecdote started me thinking….

We look at ourselves in the mirror daily, many times daily. We know exactly what we look like or, at least, what we think we look like. We are familiar with our facial features even if we subconsciously alter our perceptions and think ourselves younger and better looking than we really are.

How do we appear to others? People meeting us for the first time assess us, our character, our personality by what they see in our faces. Their first impressions, based on their reading of our faces are, more often than not, correct and are borne out by continued interactions.

In fact, there are face-readers who claim to see our past, even our future from what they see on our visages. They are to be found mostly in India and China and usually combine face reading with palmistry and astrology. Now I can understand that they can read our past based on face-reading, the experiences of the past may have left their mark on our faces, but how can they possible foretell the future? I never believed this possible until the amazing experience of a friend of mine. My engineering colleague “Albert”, unhappy with his future prospects, decided to sign a three year contract to work in Saudi Arabia and make some real money. However, before he signed on the dotted line he decided to consult a face reader and I went with him to New York’s Chinatown. The face reader was an elderly man, poorly clad and unprepossessing, who had set up shop on the pavement. I was unimpressed by him and felt he was a charlatan. He looked long and carefully at Albert’s face before making his prediction; Albert translated his words for me as we walked back to the office. Apparently, after correctly telling Albert about some incidents that had already happened, the man said flatly that Albert would not be going to Saudi Arabia, that he would remain in New York for the  forseeable future. Albert was unconvinced and decided to go head with his plans. What next happened is still difficult for me to believe. That very night Albert got a call from Taiwan telling him that his father was desperately ill and was not expected to survive. Al immediately took compassionate leave and flew back to be at his father’s bedside. He remained there for the next three weeks as his father made a miraculous recovery but in that time Albert’s window to sign the contract expired. Just as the face reader had predicted, Al stayed on in New York for several years more.

We ordinary folk can’t be face readers, at least in the sense that we cannot predict the future. However, it may be instructive for us  to take a closer look at ourselves in the mirror. Tomorrow, when you look in the mirror, look a little deeper. Not just whether your hair is combed or if your lipstick is on just right. Look deeper, at the person behind the mask, under the skin. What do you see? What do you think others will see?

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