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“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?

 

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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.

 

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Taystee

Until four years ago, we were living in Edison NJ and making frequent pilgrimages to the Taystee Subs shop. Indeed, if it had not been at the other end of Edison we might have done so more frequently. Established in 1963, the sub shop located in what is little more than a shack has a well deserved reputation for its scrumptious subs ( or heroes, or hoagies, if you prefer). When President Obama made a short trip to Edison in the early years of his presidency, he stopped at Taystee to sample their subs. No surprise, because they ARE good.

On the face of it, there should not be that much difference between Taystee subs and the rest. After all, a sub is a very basic preparation. A variety of sliced deli meats and cheese piled on a long roll, cut in half lengthwise ( usually white bread , though wheat is available for 40 cents extra), topped with shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and onions, sprinkled with oil and vinegar ( or slathered with mayonnaise if you prefer or both). Nothing could be simpler… and yet Taystee subs are head and shoulders above the rest.

If I had to choose the one factor that elevates them, I’d have to say it’s the bread. The fresh sliced meats are very good but the bread is what puts these subs over the top. It is just the right combination of soft and firm that is able to cushion the meats and other fixings without becoming mushy.

I was surprised to find a branch of Taystee Subs fairly close to where we  now live in Somerset. Who am I kidding? It is twenty minutes away from us, but the subs are worth the drive. There is usually a line stretching out the door when we get to the shop but I don’t mind. It’s fun to watch the assembly line of deli guys ( and gals) assembling the sub. The first in line takes your order ( whole or half?), slices the meats and cheese and layers them on the cut loaf. The next person adds the fixings and cuts the long sub into halves ( or quarters if you prefer) and passes them on to be wrapped in white paper. The last person takes your money ( 5% off for cash) and hands you your prize. It is a supremely efficient operation and it takes about 3 minutes for each sub from start to finish. The deli personnel are polite and really make you feel pampered.

I usually get the #5, the super sub with ham, salami, cappacolla and proscuittini, light on the lettuce please, tomato and onion, and both mayo and oil and vinegar. It’s the most expensive sub on the menu and costs under $ 11.  I ask for it to be cut into fourths and it’s enough for both my wife and me. What a bargain ! She has been making noises about trying the tuna salad sub next time but me I’ going to stick to the # 5. Why mess with perfection?

P.S I wonder whether President Obama also had the # 5. I must ask the guys at the counter next time.

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I was reading an interesting excerpt from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD about how our sleep patterns are the key to a much longer life. According to him, we are not sleeping the way our distant ancestors  did, the way Nature intended us to.

Walker states that in olden times, in hunter-gatherer societies, people enjoyed a biphasic sleep pattern, seven or eight hours in bed at night resulting in about seven hours of sleep , along with a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. Furthermore, the nightly slumbers usually began 2-3 hours after dusk, around 9pm and lasted until dawn. No doubt, this was because those early cultures did not have the benefit of electric light and even firelight represented a drain on scarce resources.

Nowadays, in the post industrial age, we have been forced into a mono-phasic sleep pattern in which we sleep  for less than seven hours a night. Typically, this begins late at night though we still wake up quite early. And ,of course, modern office hours don’t permit the taking of an afternoon nap.

In support of his argument, that this enforced monophasic pattern is harmful to health, Walker points to a study of people who had to switch from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern. Previously, they had office hours that incorporated an afternoon siesta but  were then forced to fall in line with the rest of the world and work regular 9 to 5 shifts. This study showed that over 6 years, these people suffered a 37% increased risk of death due to heart disease. Another statistic: People on the Greek island of Ikaria were four times as likely  to reach the age of ninety as Americans did.

When I began to read this excerpt, I did so with an open mind, but the more I read the more my doubts began to mount. Firstly, even if a biphasic sleep pattern is ” natural”, most of us never enjoyed it once we started our working lives. So how could we feel deprived of something we never had? Just as some factory workers, medical staff and others  get used to working the night shift, is it not likely that a monophasic pattern is becomes the new standard for us? In any case, what choice do we have? There is no way we will be able to shift back to a biphasic pattern. Even nations that enjoyed a siesta are switching to a 9 to 5 schedule.

As for those people in Ikaria who have a four times greater chance of living to the age of ninety, can this be attributed solely to their biphasic sleep pattern? These people are mostly farmers or shepherds; they work hard, live in an unpolluted environment,  eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a less stressful lifestyle. Is it not likely that these factors all contribute to their longevity?

I think so.

I also think that , as long as one gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily, it doesn’t matter if it occurs all at once or in two or more installments. When the mind and body need rest, the person craves sleep. As long as that need is satisfied, you are fine. I find that, with  most of my friends who are retired, an afternoon nap is an imperative, partly because they tire more easily and partly because they no longer get seven hours uninterrupted sleep at night. One of my friends who is in his eighties wrote me to say that the day’s activities are now accomplished ” between naps”.

So… never mind about terms like monophasic or biphasic.  Just listen to your body and all will be well.

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Pie Five Pizza Co. is a franchise operation headquartered in Texas which recently opened a new outlet in Riya Plaza at the junction of Finnegan’s Lane and Route 27 in Franklin Park. It is different from most other pizzerias in that it offers patrons the opportunity to build their own pies. Pie Five is the first in our area to do so and it’s definitely worth a visit. Their pizzas taste fresh, light and homemade, unlike the heavy, greasy pies at many pizza chain outlets.

If you want to stick to the standard options, Pie Five has seven: Five Star, BBQ Chicken, Chicken Carbonara, Athenian, High Five, Buffalo Chicken and Farmers Market. The Five Star features Tuscan Marinara sauce, cheddar, pepperoni, beef, Italian sausage, green peppers, green olives, black olives and red onions. The Farmers Market is similarly loaded with Tuscan marinara, mushrooms, red onions, spinach, tomatoes  and red and green peppers.

If, on the other hand, you want to build your own pizza, you can specify the type of crust, the sauce, the cheese, the meats, the veggies and the finishes. For the crust you can choose between Crispy thin, Traditional Italian, Classic Pan, and (for $2 extra), Gluten Free. For the cheese you have a choice of Whole Milk Mozzarella, Cheddar, Ricotta, Shredded Parmesan and Vegan Cheese ($2 extra). All in all, there are literally thousands of different combinations you can create. An 11” pizza is $7.99 ($5.99 for a plain pie) and a 14”is $ 15.99   ($12.99, plain).

One of the things I love about Pie Five is that you can have unlimited toppings at no additional charge, a nice change from pizzerias that charge $2 for each topping. Pie Five has separate stations and ovens for vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas, friendly welcoming staff and a clean environment. Patrons place their orders, take their seats to wait for their orders which are completed in minutes.

In addition to Pizzas, Pie Five also offers Salads (Classic Italian, Chicken Caesar, Greek and Spinach), Bread Stix, and desserts (Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ultimate Brownies and Cinnamon Stix).

Six of us ate at Pie Five, ordering five 11- inch pizzas in a variety of toppings, sauces and crusts. Since each pizza was cut into six slices, it worked out perfectly… five slices for each of us. Just right. At the time of writing, Pie Five was applying for a permit to allow patrons to BYOB; the manager was hopeful that they would get it in a matter of weeks.

 We ate at Pie Five when it had only just opened. Understandably, the service staff were still feeling their way, and patrons, unfamiliar with the system, were taking their time with their options.I expect the glitches will soon be fixed.

Pie Five Pizza Co. 3010 Route 27, Franklin Park NJ 08824.   Phone ( 732)  305-7937

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Even though India lost the Test series to South Africa 2-1, and even though their lone victory came after the series was already decided, the Indian team’s performance was commendable and the result as good we could have expected. Even in the first two tests, India were always in the game and had their catching been better and had they fielded the right team, they could have won at least one of the first two matches and taken the series 2-1. This is not to offer excuses or indulge in ” coulda, shoulda, woulda.” South Africa won the series all right but for Indian fans there is much to be happy about. Topmost among them is the lion hearted performance of our bowlers. In all three tests, India were able to bowl out South Africa in both innings, a feat rarely achieved by past touring sides from India. Before the tour started, I’d been very curious about how our pacemen would fare on  the fast sporting South African tracks. They did just fine. True, they did not always bowl the right lengths and were sometimes wayward in their deliveries but overall they acquitted themselves very well. When they were all bowling well, they mounted sustained pressure on the Proteas batsmen.  Bhuvaneshwar was magnificent, Ishant slightly less so. Shami and Bumrah were not always consistent in their lines and lengths but they had their moments. Overall, a very good performance by the unit.

The other thing that is praiseworthy is the fighting spirit displayed by the entire team, particularly the batsmen who stood up to a fiery pace attack in the second innings at Wanderers. On a pitch with unpredictable bounce with balls rearing up sharply, the entire team showed grit as they compiled a match-winning total of 247. This sort of stout hearted resistance has not often been seen in past Indian teams. Full credit to the batsmen and to Kohli for fostering this never-say-die attitude. Kohli also deserves accolades for his batting in the series, never more than in the second test when he gave a batting masterclass in the course of his superb innings of 153.

On the other hand, Kohli also deserves censure for the team selection. No matter what he says, I’m sure his was the decisive voice in selecting the playing XI. He has tried to justify his moves in selecting Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma over K.L.Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane but his reasoning doesn’t hold water. The first two have well deserved reputations for being vulnerable on seaming tracks. Meanwhile,  Rahane was not only India’s best batsman in matches abroad but India’s best slip fielder. To have persisted with this folly in the second test while also leaving out Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, India’s most successful bowler in the first test, was indefensible. I cannot help thinking that Rahane was omitted because Kohli sees him as a possible rival for the captaincy.

One wonders what would have happened if Anil Kumble were still the coach rather than Ravi Shastri who doesn’t seem to do much. Shastri  seems to go along with everything that Kohli wants and he also does not provide anything in the way of strategy or coaching. If Kumble had been in his place, one feels things would have been quite different. There would not have been these selection blunders and Team India would not have been so sloppy in the field. Kumble is just as committed to winning as Kohli is even though his style is different. When Kumble was let go, we were told that unnamed team members thought he was too much of a taskmaster. Well, perhaps a task master is just what was needed for this young team. Perhaps then we would not have seen spectacles like Pandya being run because he failed to ground his bat, Pujara being run out twice in the second test and Pandya and Shami colliding as they fluffed a chance for a simple catch. Kumble’s experience would also have been invaluable to the bowlers. And finally, Kumble would have reined in Kohli’s aggressiveness and his unnecessary abrasiveness. As it is, Kohli is not making any friends for India with his behavior and is a terrible role model for the team.

Still, this has been a good start to the tour and cricket fans will be waiting with bated breath to see what happens in the ODIs and T20Is. Having run South Africa close in the Test series will have immeasurably increased the team’s confidence.

Go India.

 

 

 

 

 

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In all of December 2017, Moscow received exactly six minutes of sunlight. Six minutes…. over thirty-one days!! The rest of the time it was cloudy and overcast. Not that last December was much worse than usual. The average amount of sunlight that Muscovites enjoyed in other Decembers was eighteen minutes. Still pitiful.

The lack of sunlight, the early darkness and the longer nights are the things that bother me most about winter. The cold and the snow of a New Jersey winter I can handle particularly since I don’t have to worry about shoveling the driveway ( taken care as part of the maintenance package in our development) or going to work ( I’m retired). What’s also good is that, in New Jersey, there are usually aren’t periods of sustained cold and that, even when it is cold, the sun is out almost every day. We count sunlight hours , not minutes… unlike Moscow. And what a difference it makes. True, the sunlight is weak. It doesn’t matter. Just the fact that the sun is shining is enough; that we can see it provides a lift to the spirit. We had some days last week when the temperature was in the teens ( 14 deg. F = minus 8C) but this week it is in the mid-forties ( about 7 deg. C). It’s a big difference and one almost feels warm today.

And winter has its compensations. It snowed last week  (about 4 inches) and, because it was below freezing, the snow froze and clung to the tree branches like icicles. I was driving to the supermarket and it was a fairytale setting with the snow covered fields and the ice clad trees. By today, all the snow had melted and one was left with the stark beauty of barren fields and leafless trees. There was also the knowledge that this is a passing phase. February is usually the coldest, snowiest month but then there is the promise of spring . Winter just makes us appreciate it more.

San Diego is said to have the perfect weather.. sunny all year around with the temperature never far from 70degrees F.  I admit that it sometimes sounds attractive but then I think it would soon become boring. ( Another perfect day… Ho hum). Give me New Jersey and the change of seasons any day.

 

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