At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

THE FOUNT OF ALL WISDOM

Words to live by:

1. Don't ride the elevator if you ate beans. Please.

2. When someone drops their panties, be a gentleman and pick them up.

3. Little children and old people scare easily. Enjoy.


There.


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A FORTHRIGHT PROPOSITION

UGG BOOTS! For the past several weeks, someone has tried to seed the comments field under my blogposts with clickable urls to Ugg Boots. Which, frankly, baffles me. This blog is not about feet.
While I like feet oh lordy yes, I do NOT like Ugg Boots.
Bare feet. Entirely without an ugg-factor.
Those are the nicest feet.

Are your feet cold? My dear, you do NOT need Ugg Boots, you need a lobster. Or perhaps a nice warm bowl of soup. Cold feet can be very uncomfortable, but Ugg Booted Feet just look nasty.
Instead of Ugg Boots, may I suggest that you come inside?
Let me rub your feet for you, and bundle you up in a throw-rug.
You'll feel ever so much happier after a nice foot massage, I promise.

Every day I have rejected Ugg Boot comments. Hundreds of surreptitious mercantile spammers trying to sneak a link to their fabulous Ugg Boot vending sites have been disappointed. Or maybe it's just one Ugger, but a very stupid one.
Whatever. No Uggs here, ever! Feet are welcome.
I encourage complete pedal freedom.
Go ahead, wiggle those toes!
Tickle tickle tickle.


What, precisely is the point? Does anyone really think that Ugg Boots are attractive? Big nasty leathery things with dirty wool inside, torn from the body of some poor murdered ovine? And the smell of them!
Caveman clothing, pure and simple. Not elegant, not flattering, not comfy.
If your feet are cold, there are many sensible and attractive ways to alleviate the problem without resorting to those hideous fashion-disasters from Kangaroo land.
I have gentle hands. I'm just saying.
Step away from the Uggs.

The best possible garb for feet is total nakedness - no boots, no high heels, no toe rings, and absolutely no nail polish.
Just cute curvy feet, with a lovely instep, glowing in the fire light.
I don't have a hearth, but I do have a multitude of flashlights. Let me illuminate your delicate nether extremities with those, while making sure that you are nice and toasty warm.

Which is where the lobster comes into play. No one is cold when eating a lobster. It's just not natural.
And after that, some warm soup.
While happily wrapped in a fluffy throw rug, and letting me play with your toes.


You have such lovely feet. Please, just dump the damned Ugg Boots.


NOTE:
This blogger is not a foot-fetishist. But I might be, if the right pair comes along. Do you have lovely feet? Or are your feet lonely and in need of a holding hand? Please do feel free to trumpet YOUR feet as worthy of attention!
In fact, I encourage you to send me pictures of pretty feet.
There might even be a foot massage in it for you!
See instructions below for contacting me.
But no Ugg Boot adds, please.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

LOVELY LADIES SERVING LUNCH

Three out of my four favourite lunch counters in the Financial District are staffed by Asian women. From this you might assume that I've got an Asian thing going on. A fetish of some sort.
But you would be wrong. At lunch time, I've got a hunger thing.
Two Koreans and two Vietnamese at the sandwich joint. Korean women at one buffet (succulent lamb chops!), and Cantonese women at the other (dumplings! and darling little cabbages! plus little saucy morsels!).
That's a total of fourteen Asian women.
I know the names of two of them.
Betty, and CoCo.
That's after over a decade of getting food near the office.
Ten years plus: lunch times two thousand.

My fourth fave lunch counter is the Taco Truck, which is staffed by Latinos.
Don't you DARE suggest that I have a thing for fine dashing Mexican gentlemen with deft hands and a vibrant approach to food.
On the other hand, good carnitas make me wet my boxers, oh yes.
Mmmm, zesty and delicious!
Carnitas!

What it basically boils down to is that in the San Francisco Financial District, food is prepared by people who are far too intelligent for their jobs but not quite English-fluent, and largely sold to people who are of rather sub-standard intelligence, that being the average English-as-an-only-language suburbanites.


Haven't tried the curry truck yet - the mob of supergenius Indian engineers in front waiting for their aloo tikki or murgh makhni wraps reaches crisis proportion by eleven in the morning, and does not significantly diminish till just before three o'clock.
Like many white people, the prospect of being surrounded by a whole host of brainiacs talking about logarithms, tolerances, systems theory, Immanuel Kant, and cricket frightens the zirbits out of me.
Especially the latter.

[When I worked at the Indian restaurant I always avoided the subject of cricket. It's a mental block. All sports talk makes me yawn, eventually I start nodding off. My fantasy baseball team is fast asleep.]


Some of the ladies who work at the lunch places are rather charming. Which is a by-product of their environment: Women bearing food - delightful.
Food. Women. Women and food. Women surrounded by food. Hot!
The next logical step would be women covered with food, but that would be perverse.
Evenso, associating two fine things subconsciously makes them equal.
I suspect that if I ever even winked at miss CoCo she'd clobber me and call me a hahmsaplo.
That does have a spicy and totally unique appeal (seeing as I am indeed a hahmsaplo), but I still want to get food there.
So it's probably not such a good idea.
I'm just here for a nice lunch.
It's lovely. Thank you.
Appetizing.


NOTE: Yes, one of them does look very much like my favourite goth manga teenage vampire babe.
A long bouncy bob cut with bangs can be stunning, likewise a scowly pouty all business frown.
But unless she develops some serious canines suitable for neck-chomping, I'll just stick with the fine juicy dumplings.


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Monday, November 28, 2011

KEEPING COMPANY WITH THE EYES

What struck me first about him was his facial hair. Specifically, his enormous bushy eyebrows. White, wiry, with flecks of pepper - mutant hoary caterpillars wriggling across a severe landscape. They added emphasis to his expressions and were quite the signature of his visage. Impressive. Somewhat frightening.
She didn't look at first like she should be with him, because he was obviously in his seventies, though still erect and trim.
She looked no more than late forties, very early fifties at most.
Short, shapely, blonde.
Very much younger.
And much smaller.

I was flabbergasted to find out that they had been together for over thirty years. Was she his second wife? Trophy with a brain?
A woman with a maturity thing going on?
Had he as a dashing middle-aged man robbed the cradle or raided a high school?
These were the questions I thought, but did not voice.

As it turns out, she was only eight years younger than her husband.
Obviously, I am a lousy judge of a woman's age.
Some people just sparkle.


Though they acted like two fully formed unique individuals, with independent thought processes and very different tastes and interests, it was clear that they had long grown suited to each other. Perhaps they hadn't started that way, but over the years they had worn soft spots that formed an even fit. They were, it became more and more obvious, completely adapted to their relationship, and well-matched.
They had met, they had married, they had become a couple.
How did two people come to be so perfect together?

Talking with them I didn't know on whom to focus my attention. Now one led the conversation, now the other. And they completed each other's sentences at times, or elucidated meanings and expanded thereupon.
Naturally I tried to draw them out.
Interesting twosome.
No, they didn't both want to be there. At least not in equal measure. They had come to the smoking lounge after a show (her choice), and he had needed a cigar before they went to dinner. She sipped wine, he drank straight single malt.
She did not smoke at all, and actually rather disliked the filthy habit.
His eyes were hardly visible beneath excessive brow-shrubbery.
Her eyes sparkled expressively, evocatively.
He had wit. She had insight.
They had passion.


I cannot really remember everything we talked about. Largely that is because between the two of them my input was often limited to commentary and reaction. They were electrically alive, involved with each other and with everyone around them. The conversation was fully engaging, and at times roped in several different people and trains of thought.
Hard to recall, however. I was involved, but it was their show.
An enchanting ride but dizzying for stray participants.
There are times when despite your own generous pissantness you must necessarily yield to the vibrancy of others, and two people of that age who are still so brim-full of vim and vigour...... well, you have to respect that.
Not just at that age, at any age. But especially at that age.
Let them lead. They're fascinating.


I've met them there a couple of times. Each time they surprised me anew. Fully developed characters, and yet so smoothly suited to each other.


They say that maturity wears off the rough edges. Perhaps it does.
It doesn't mean any loss of flavour, however.
Inherent qualities improve.


Suffice to say I'm somewhat envious.
For any number of reasons.


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Sunday, November 27, 2011

IMAGES OF SPRING IN AUTUMN

The horses are in a frisky mood. Excitement has spread among them, and they're happy to be observed. As if putting on a show they gallop around the meadow, now passing each other, now falling behind. Lively, playful.
Finally a pony approaches the fence, to nuzzle the hand outstretched with a sugar cube.
She sniffs to see if there is any more, and raises her head, unabashedly face to face.

"Look into my eyes, and know what galloping means to me."

It is easy to understand that message there, with the quivering excitement and the radiant joy of motion.
Velvet hide that glows with life, over a well-formed body and elegant limbs.
Exquisite details, perfect proportions.


A QUIET APARTMENT FAR FROM PEOPLE

The semidark of autumn afternoons is perfect for relaxation. All that is needed to complete the mood is a plate of cookies, and sweetness in a cup of warm milk-tea. Music? No, that would be a distraction. Just being here in half-light requires no sound. Distantly hearing the murmur of birds, faintly the hum of traffic. Occasionally a bus rumbles past on the other side of the building.
Slowly, intensely, savour the sensations.

How quiet it is inside, nothing can be heard from the other apartments. It is as if everyone took off and headed downtown.
This time, this place - utterly perfect. It must be enjoyed right now.

There is so little to say, each discovery is mysterious, delicious, rewarding.
Both tension and fabric yield to the reassuring touch, a wisp of dry incense lends an old-time fragrance to a slow afternoon.
Stretch languorously, warm inside the comfortable throw rug.
A comfortable and intense hour that slowly fades to sleep.

Later a refreshing shower - soap and towel smelling clean, reminders of spring - time past, time coming.
Warmth, moisture, grass in the rain, luxuriant down and velvet at the touch of finger tips.

Pause. Pleasure.

And then one more cup of tea, with milk and sugar.
Eyes half-closed listening to the clock.
Happily plan another afternoon.
Precisely like this one.
So very perfect.


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THE BEST KIND OF PIE!

It is rather a great pity that there are so few places for pie in the Financial District. None, in fact, that beckon on a Saturday. Sometimes you just want pie. One slice, that's it. A whole pie is far too large for one person, and can you imagine the amount of whipped cream that would require?

We are in the time of pie. And chocolate. And strange inedible candies unavailable at any other time.
Yes, sometimes the stress that these things give us is too much. Especially after the third wedge, at which point all we want to do is hide under a nice warm blanky and pretend that the holiday season is over. Twenty minutes later we crawl out, hesitant, noses twitching....
Is that pie I smell?
I had to eat it, you understand. It was calling me.

Fortunately, this year I am better able to resist. I am neither baking, nor purchasing any pie this year.
Indeed, I do a damn' fine pecan pie, as well as a pretty good mixed fruit pie. And southern short-crust has no mysteries.
But the heck with it. If I allow myself to be co-opted into this whole ridiculous holiday spirit thing, the next thing you know I'll be watching bad movies and lots of football, as well as going to the mall and pepperspraying people standing between me and an x-box.

Instead, I remain aloof. Especially on weekends, when I am thirteen floors above the Financial District.
I may dream of pie, here at my desk in a nice peaceful office, but there is none to be had.

Peach pie, apple pie, rhubarb pie, cream pie, mixed fruit pie, pecan pie, custard pie, sweet potato pie, coconut pie, chess pie, shoo-fly.....

Cream pie.....

CREAM PIE!

Cream pie is especially dangerous. One always gets sweet globs on one's nose, or chin. Or gloopings falls inconveniently on one's clothes. Gobs of delicious dairy.
Ideally one should eat cream pie naked, so that it does not mess one's garments. And, you understand, that absolutely requires another person, so that cat-like the two people eating the cream pie can lick each other clean. Some pie just tastes better nude.
Not in this weather, though. The idea of happy tandem bare cream pie eating takes a backseat to staying warm.
Baby, it's cold outside! Freezing!
Far far better to crawl under the covers and simply imagine pie.
You, me, two steaming cups of cocoa, and a fabulous book of baked goods.
Together, we will conquer the evil forces of midwinter insanity. And their pies.
Or fall asleep trying. Mmm, toasty! Nice warm blanky, and a pie-imagining person.


Can you honestly think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon while everyone else is out going mad in the shopping district?


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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A TALE FOR YUAN YUAN

Alcohol is a marvelous tool for increasing happiness. You know this. But it has limitations. Like with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, if you are downcast, it will only make everything worse.
Oh sure, booze and good company combine nicely to ramp up the good cheer, but once you leave the bar you realize that you are alone, alone, and you roam the streets of Nob Hill wailing that you have nobody, why must it be like this? This is not good, especially for sleeping children in upstairs apartments.
It gives them bad dreams.


THE PEARL

She threw the coverlet off in the middle of the night. No, she did not wake up - what was happening in her head held too fast to her attention, and would not let her go. She was running through a dark forest pursued by crows, cawing fiercely as they gained on her. They were so large, and whenever she looked back, she could see their eyes glowing in the night. She ran. She ran harder than she ever remembered running before. Her sleeping body twitched while she tried escaping, and she stumbled over a fallen branch. As the crows swooped in for the kill, the nearest tree grew enormous, and revealed itself to be a giant beast. With a few strokes of its branches, now transformed into giant scaly arms, it dispersed the crows - their indignant screeches faded as they fled. Only now did she wake up, drenched in sweat.
The dream faded, and she wondered why this kept happening. Why did she always wake up in the middle of the night?

Later, in the kitchen, she tried to remember what had happened. But it did not come back to her, as if the black shadow that lived in her unconscious refused to reveal itself except when she was vulnerable. The milk started bubbling up and she poured it into a mug. Stirred with honey it soothed her, she felt her eyes grow tired again.
She returned to bed and slept soundly till dawn.


She had never really known her mother, who had passed away when she was still a small child. What she remembered were warm arms and sad sad eyes. Her mother had wasted away, and after she died the relatives seldom mentioned her. Such bad luck! Yes, at the end of March they would sweep her grave too, and put some flowers or fruit upon it, but other than that it was as if the woman had never existed.
Did I already mention bad luck? Very very bad luck! To die so young, and leave only a little girl behind. A burden to her father, whose chances of remarriage were lessened thereby.
She wondered what her mother had been like. Was she a happy woman? Had she smiled a lot? When her mother had still been well enough, she had told her daughter stories at bedtime of sunlight and cool brooks, fields and trees, small animals, birds......
Mom must have been very fortunate indeed, as the husband she had left a widower was a kind man, a gentle person. Her dad was never around in the daytime, but came home late from his job. He would kiss her forehead as she slept, his beard grazing her skin like silken feathers, and she would dream of heroes and fabulous adventures.
Or...... other things.

Both of them would get up early, and have breakfast together before he left.
She left her dreams in darkness, and did not speak of them in daylight.
Dreams ARE the night - when you're awake again, why bother?


As she grew up, she missed her mom. Her aunties did not have warm arms, and though their eyes were not sad, they seldom smiled. And they never called her by her mother's pet name: Little Pearl.
After school each day she went to the house of her youngest auntie, who would make sure she did her all of her homework, before dinner with the family. Later one of her cousins would walk her home, and check to make sure that she had locked the door after entering the deserted apartment.
If she didn't turn on all the lights, she saw birds and dragons in the corners, and could day-dream about faraway places.
Somewhere, she knew, her mother was still awake. Not in this world, but in a place where there were trees and running water, hills that were not covered with apartment buildings. The cable car that passed the house every twenty minutes or so would pull her out of her fantasy, and as the sound faded in the distance, she wondered if perhaps one of the trolleys might take a track sideways and enter another universe. If it did, there would be a woman at the end of that line, waiting near a brook, in sunlight among the trees.


Once a very different dream disquieted her, but it was one that she remembered well, and sometimes revisited in her waking moments because it was so vivid, so real.
It was night, and she was high above a forest, she could see the crowns of the trees far below. She did not remember how she got there, or why she was riding on a long twisting reptile, whose warm bony back she clenched with her thighs right below the shoulders, her hands firmly entwined in the silken mane that flowed backwards from the head. They whirled through wisps of cloud in pursuit of a white flaming fireball that hurtled through the sky. Whenever they got close, their target suddenly gained speed and left them far behind. It was frightening, it was exhilarating.
The creature spoke to her at times, but she did not understand what it said. It's voice was reassuring though, and calmed her, she did not fear the height. Long wiry whiskers grazed her cheeks, and scales chafed against her skin through the thin fabric of her clothes.

They never did catch up with the luminous orb, though they got close enough that the trail of heat did at times envelope them. Always it would vanish, now in feathers, now in mist.
It was so sad - their goal seemed so deeply desirable, it was so heartbreaking that it remained out of reach. They both wanted it so very much!
When she woke up it was full morning and the sun shone bright into her bedroom.

She did not mention what had happened in the night to her father, just like she never mentioned any of her other frustrating dreams. She did not want him to look more tired than he already did.


She read a lot in those years. Books were friends, and by reading, a person could escape into a different world. First it was fairy tales, later fantasy novels set in different eras, different countries, different realities. The descriptions of how other people overcame trouble, pursued their passions, achieved goals (or failed gloriously and dramatically) excited her young mind. Pictures painted by the authors coloured her days and gave form to ideas that she herself would otherwise not have thought. And there were real illustrations too: animals, heroines, wonderful animals. The spark that stories gave to her imagination made the frequent emptiness more than bearable. She'd lie in bed at night munching apples while reading, then later have some warm milk and brush her teeth.
Once her eyes closed, she dreamt. Usually happy dreams.

When she went away to college, her dad moved to another state. He had a job there, and whenever she came back during school breaks, he would fly in, and they would spend a few days together, staying at her youngest auntie's home. It was good to see him again. He seemed happier now, and she suspected that he had a girlfriend in that faraway place. She never asked about that, even when she wrote to him. She sent him a lot of letters in those years, he always answered. But sometimes it would be a few weeks before he responded - then he would write a long multi-page epistle that showed he had attentively read everything she wrote.

She didn't dream much when she was at college. But when she did, there would be forests, and rain. Sometimes dark shapes flitted around and between tall tree trunks, or shadows grew large and threatening. But not often, and she always woke up.
Once or twice she dreamt that she was on a cable car, heading towards a green grove and a sunlit place. But she never got there - those dreams always ended abruptly.


The year that she got her degree, her dad finally remarried. He still wrote to her, but not as much. And when she went into the master's program neither of them came back to the city - she didn't have time, and he had other things to do. It was during that period that she started waking up with sweat covering her thin body. And always, the details of what had happened were difficult to recall. Crows? Rooks? Ravens? Dark wet logs, and the smell of rotting vegetation.
Never the sound of a cable car, never sunlight.

Perhaps it was her own personal life, perhaps what she imagined her father's new life to be like. She herself briefly dated another student, but it went nowhere. He was not the kind of person that she could fully respect, although he seemed likable enough. They took the same courses, and had lived near each other in the city. But no. He wasn't what she thought he was, and once it was over she couldn't help wondering what people saw in each other, how they got together.
Relationships just seemed so fraught. Differences between dreams and reality, fantasy and the real world..... very frustrating!
What was it about the new woman that had attracted her father? And did his new wife resemble her mom? She didn't really want to know, she felt that what little she remembered of her mother would fade if she found out.
She graduated with honours, and some friends threw a party.
The photo taken of her at the restaurant shows a pretty woman with sad eyes.


The dreams got worse when she returned to the city. No, not often - she didn't have those dreams very often. But once every few weeks, she would wake up shivering in the darkness and know that something was missing. Warm milk and honey always worked, however. After that she would sleep till morning. Once or twice she put some brandy in the mug too. She would then see warm sunlight, and shadows, off in the distance. Even though she never reached that place she knew she had to get there. It always seemed as distant, no matter how long the journey. So far away, so utterly unreachable!
Eventually she stopped adding brandy, and while she didn't see the sunlight in her dreams again, she didn't wake up disappointed afterwards either.

During this period she started reading novels, voraciously adding book upon book to her shelves, until she had to buy another book case. Some romance fantasies, some history, and some silly adventure tales. It occupied her mind and gave her other things to think of. She discovered that she was no longer so fond of apples, but she still liked warm milk at bedtime. It did seem rather childish, though.
After several months the dreams grew less threatening. The forest was more velvety, and sometimes she heard the sound of a cable car bell. She lived further from the tracks now, a few streets over. Still in the old neighborhood, but on the other side of the hill, the side that gets the afternoon sun. On a good day you could hear the Mason-Hyde trolley AND the sea lions down at the wharf.
It was a good place to live, on a quiet shady street, with nice gardens behind the apartment buildings.


Her dad visited her after a year. He stayed with her youngest auntie, because her own apartment was so small. She would have gladly yielded her own bed and slept on the couch, but he insisted. It would not be right of him to impose so much upon her, and her place was too compact, too private. They spent a few days together and talked about old times, about her childhood, going to school, her college years. But they didn't talk about her mom - she didn't dare bring up something so permanently past, he didn't volunteer any information. Other things.
On his last day in the city, after eating together at a restaurant that served all of their favourite dishes, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a book. "This was your mother's, she kept a journal when she was sick. She knew she was dying, and wouldn't see you grow up....." He paused.
After a while he continued speaking, softer now. "She wanted you to know her. She loved you so much..... Please read it, and think of the woman she had been." She promised him she would.
When he dropped her off on her doorstep later, he kissed her on her forehead, and whispered "you're so like your mom, so very like mom. I loved her, you know".

She started reading her mother's journal that evening. Long after midnight, she put the book down and went to sleep. That night she dreamt of a cable car travelling through a warm summer forest, where the shadows arched up majestically under the long long tree trunks. Soft breezes, and cawing in the distance, and at the end of the track there was sunlight. When the vehicle stopped, she got off and walked through tall grass. It was warm, and she could hear birds in the nearby trees. And somewhere there was a brook.
A magpie hopped towards her with a luminous object in its beak. She had never seen a magpie before - they don't live in this city. But she had seen them in paintings. They're rather like crows, but smaller and more cheerful.
It had no fear, and looked alertly at her as she approached.
She recognized what it held: a pearl.



AFTER WORD

I wrote this post for Yuan Yuan in Rotterdam, a woman I have never met but know on Facebook. She is not happy at the moment. Things have changed, and she needs cheering up.
That's not something I am particularly good at. Still, perhaps this story will distract her.
Just stubbornly persevere, and everything will be better.
Stay confident about your decisions.
Be strong, live well.



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Friday, November 25, 2011

LEFT-OVER TURKEY: CHEUNG FAN, RICE FLOUR NOODLES IN SOUP, AND JOOK

Here it is, barely twenty four hours after you feasted on turkey with a number of other things - too much food, your stomach feels a wee bit stressed - and you're wondering what you can do to make some of the left-overs disappear.
And how to be kind to your stomach (see previously mentioned stress).

It's a valid question.

You can make cheung fan.


火雞腸粉
SHEET NOODLES THAT 'POETICALLY' RESEMBLE INTESTINES

Cheung fan (腸粉) are soft fresh sheets of rice flour batter steamed till set with a little filling - shrimp, beef, pork, or whatever - then folded over, drizzled with a little soy sauce and sesame oil, minced scallion to garnish.
Cut into segments of folded roll and dipped in a little hot sauce, mmmm, tasty!
Very heaven.

In commercial establishments, a sheet of cloth is tightly stretched over a rectangular steamer and wetted. Then the rice flour batter is shplooped upon it, smeared flat, a little bit of filling material is strewn over one side, and within mere moments the cloth is lifted with the skin adhering and another put in place and wetted. Meanwhile a deft hand with a spatula separates the already steamed skin, dexterously jiggling it into a loosely folded wedge or roll. It is sliced across into segments, garnished, and promptly served.

At home it is not made thus, because you do not have a large rectangular vat of fiercely boiling water with a perforated metal plate on top.

But you have a steamer.

So what you can do is use pie pans instead of taught wetted cloth, either lightly oiled or with a little Pam sprayed on. The steaming time is a little longer, because your cheung fan will be thicker. And instead of nice sharp-edged rectangular rolls, yours will be a little thicker around the middle.
If no pie pans, salad plates will also do - the result will be cute little cheung fan, quite suitable as a mid-day snack.


CHEUNG FAN BATTER

One cup plain rice flour.
Quarter cup tapioca flour.
Two TBS cornstarch.
Two TBS oil.
Half a teaspoon salt.
Cold water.

Sift dry ingredients together. Slowly stir water into it, add the oil, and keep adding more water while stirring till you have a batter that looks like heavy cream - approximately 1¾ to 2¼ cups water in all.
Let it stand an hour, re-stir. It is now ready for use.

Grease a pie pan, ladle in enough batter to thinly cover the bottom, and place in the steamer. After about a minute to a minute and a half, add the filling along one side. Steam for another four to six minutes, depending on how thick your layers are. Remove the pie pan from the steamer, and prepare a second pan while the first one cools.
As soon as you have added a filling to the second cheung fan, separate the first one from its pan with a flexible spatula, rolling as you go. Proceed in this manner till all the batter is used up. There should be about eight or nine cheung fan stacked on the plate when you're done. Drizzle a little sesame oil over for fragrance, slash into segments to show the filling, and garnish with minced scallion.


CHEUNG FAN FILLING

Well, yesterday was Thanksgiving, so some minced cooked turkey comes to mind. Even though very few Chinese people would think of that - more on what Chinatown folks would do with left-over turkey later.
The traditional fillings are thin slivers of of beef (remember to rinse a bit, or soak in a little rice wine briefly to remove that charnel-house fragrance that adheres to the meat), or very fresh shrimp, peeled and veined, or even minced fresh cilantro, which will lend a soft fruity-herby-floral tone to the noodly sheets.
Chopped char-siu or rehumidified dry shrimp also can.

But you could experiment. I often use dried mushroom and codfish silk jerky re-humidified and chopped, with an equal amount of lap cheung (臘腸), and a bit of finely minced of ginger.
The filling should be slightly savoury, slightly sweet, nicely fresh tasting, and not too much. Only a tablespoon or two per noodle sheet.


NOTE: The amount of tapioca flour can be reduced, replaced with a quantity of glutinous rice flour, or it may even be increased slightly. It depends on the mouthfeel that you wish to achieve. An all rice flour batter yields a noodle that isn't very interesting and lacks the tacky toothsomeness that you like. The oil which is added to the batter sweats out slightly during steaming, thus making it easier to lift the cheung fan off the cooking surface.

The same batter can be used for Teochew-style char kwee teow ('fried cake noodle': 炒粿條). Just steam the sheets without any fillings, peel them off the surface, and cut them into broad strips. After cooling they may be used for stir-fried rice noodles with clams, shrimp, and oysters, and bean sprouts. Use pork fat to fry it for that authentic Teochew flavour. Add minced scallion (or chives) and a thin omelette cut into strips, plus some sweet soy sauce and chili paste, and serve it hot from the pan.


火雞粉湯
RICE FLOUR NOODLES IN SOUP

Last night you probably dumped turkey carcass bits and bones into a cauldron with a stalk of celery and an onion to simmer. If you left it on the stove for a few hours you now already have a respectable broth, with ONE minor problem: a certain cloudiness. For a nice clear soup, strain it well. There is no orthodox way to do so.
I use the regular strainer, leaving the solids in the pot, then carefully repeat the process with a tea strainer - the same process also works for bacon grease, by the way.

Rice flour noodles, whether the thin rice stick (mai fun 米粉), or the thick kind (ho fun 河粉) which are called 'river noodles', need very little preparation. All that is really required is a rinse, and brief period in boiling water, and draining, after which they can be dumped in a bowl. Then you inundate them with hot broth.

The key thing is that what you then add to them is simple, flavourfull, and clean tasting. On the day after Thanksgiving, naturally you would use chunks and thick ripped shreds of bird, with cilantro (yuen sai 芫茜) and chopped scallion (ching tsong 青葱). Lots of cilantro - it's good for the stomach.
Some very finely minced ginger is also a splendid idea, as well as one or two grinds of white pepper.

Why rice noodles instead of wheat, egg, or Italian pasta noodles? Because like the sheet noodles mentioned above, they comfort the stomach.
You need this; you ate too much yesterday.


火雞粥
TURKEY JOOK - COMFORTING GLOOP

Jook (粥), also called congee, is rice porridge. Simple, yet satisfying. But just like the two previous items, it is best to combine everything right before serving - merely jumbling stock, rice, meat scraps, and whatever into a pot and praying for a tasty outcome doesn't work - doing so may make excellent cat food, but not stuff that a human should eat.

Prepare the stock separately, strain, and simmer down to concentrate the flavour.

Then measure out the rice: between a twelfth of the volume of the liquid, to as much as one eighth. Less rice in proportion will yield a thinner soup, more will give you a thicker porridge.
Rinse the rice thoroughly, put it in a heavy pot on high with water to cover, and cook till the grains have swollen and look like roiling clouds (and this explains why you needed to concentrate the stock - you're using plain water to precook the rice, some of the liquid will be taken up).
Drain off the excess water, then place a heat diffuser between the bottom of the po and the flame, add the turkey stock, and turn it low.
Stir regularly to keep the porridge from burning.
You must it cook till the grains have partially fallen apart and the jook is smooth, which will take a few hours.

A totally unorthodox shortcut is to turn off the heat immediately after the rice has swollen and become soft. Let it cool to a temperature for comfortable handling, then whirr it in the blender till reasonably smooth. After which proceed as usual.
It will require far less stirring and simmering, and the chance of burning the bottom of the pot is enormously lessened.

In either case, add large boneless scraps of turkey, plus a few pieces of chopped carrot, about half an hour before the end.

To serve, bowl it up, and put some chunks of bird with the nicely roasted skin on top, plus a little chopped scallion for colour.
Add a few drops of Chinese sesame oil (ma-yau 麻油) for fragrance, and perhaps a dash of soy sauce.


NOTE: There are many yummy additions to plain jook that you will find in Chinatown - pork slivers and preserved egg (pei dan sau yiuk juk 皮蛋瘦肉粥), pork and dried oysters (ho-si sau yiuk juk 蠔豉瘦肉粥), or fresh sliced raw fish that poaches perfectly in the heat of the porridge (yi-pien juk 魚片粥), blanched chicken curls porridge (gai kau juk 雞球粥), slivered pig liver (chu gon juk 猪肝粥), even cooked beef bits.
For a paradoxically luxurious quick lunch, try abalone and chicken jook (bao yu kwat kai juk 鮑魚滑雞粥), jook with roast duck (fo ngaap juk 火鴨粥), or fresh shrimp jook (sang gwan ha kau juk 生滾蝦球粥).

All of these are perfect cold weather or late night soup.


Further note: 生滾 (sang gwan), meaning ' fresh boiled', indicates that the shrimp, fish, or pork is cooked in the heat of the porridge.



MERELY A SUGGESTION......

If you were wondering what to do while your mom and all your aunties go shopping-crazy down in Union Square today - something that actually bores you rigid - now you know.
Prepare something delicious, and leave plenty for them when they return.
It will fool them into thinking that you can cook, actually really well too! Perhaps they can find a man crazy enough to marry you even if you did major in Mediaeval Studies (history of the First Crusade, thesis on Arabic borrowings into the Lingua Franca, emphasis on terminology for Frankish cannibalism at the siege of Maarrat en-Nouman)!

And while you've got them snookered, you plot your escape.
Hmmmm, saved-up funds, job lined up in the Romance Language Department of a college somewhere in Kansas, sleeping bag, books shipped overland, and that nice dashing short intellectual with the goatee and the sad mysterious past.........

You'll have to know how to prepare tasty food anyway, there's nothing good to eat in Kansas.



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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A CELEBRATIO​N FOR TURKEYS

He had been in the city for several days now, and he was getting seriously paranoid. Someone would discover him and then it would be over. Walking down the street he would withdraw into his overcoat and pull his fedora down. He tried to be as unnoticeable as possible, and avoided eye to eye contact. Fortunately, being rather short, not many people looked at his face. He resembled almost any other pedestrian, and most passers-by were too busy to give him more than a passing glance.

Still, he worried. And with good reason.

It was less than a week since his escape.

Surely the authorities were mounting a search?


He walked along Clay Street, under the Gingko trees. One tree had all yellow leaves, so glorious, so beautiful. It reminded him of the California hills in early summer, when he was still young and lived on the farm. All golden in the sun.
Life, then, had been wonderful. Warm carefree days, cool evenings, lots of friends.

But that had changed. Those last few days down at the farm had been truly nightmarish.
Why did none of the others understand?
Why didn't they get it? Fools!
Their giddy optimism and complete blindness to evil frightened him, why were they so cheerfully and simple-mindedly upbeat?
Were they after all just turkeys?
He shook his wattles irritatedly - of course they were! They had been promised by the farmer that they were going to a feast, and so they happily scuttled into the truck that would bring them there. The silly birds hadn't even questioned why they were being transported in a vehicle boasting "Johnson's Poultry - we put the gobble gobble in holidays".

Only he stayed behind, hiding in a dark corner of the barn. He had tried to warn them, but no one had listened. They didn't want to hear his gloomy theories, why should they fear anything from the farmer? Hadn't the farmer taken care of them, fed them, housed them in a nice warm coop?
The farmer was a good man, and there was going to be a wonderful party.
They were looking forward to some serious fun.
Them and their state of denial.
Hmmph, feather brained idiots!


That evening, after darkness fell, he snuck out and headed for the open road. A kindly driver gave him a lift to Richmond, and told him where to get on B.A.R.T. He was determined to go to San Francisco, feeling that he would stand out far less in a big city.
But it wasn't easy to get used to this place.
He had only known the farm.

He was preparing to sleep in the bushes next to a church, on his first evening in the city, but after he saw some raccoons shaking down a seagull he got scared. The hobo behind the next shrub over mumbled that those animals were nothing but thugs, man, worse than the cops. And nobody says anything about that! Nobody does anything about those black-hearted furballs!
He spent the rest of the night at a twenty-four hour donut place, finally stumbling out at dawn, wired and jangly from too much coffee. He wandered around for hours till the caffeine and sugar wore off.

That evening he was kicked out of the main library at closing time - "yo, dude, you can't sleep here, go to the shelter at Polk and Geary, they'll put you up for the night."
He had taken one look at that place and decided against it. Several people there looked carnivorous, and quite a number of the others were missing either their wings or their drumsticks. That alone would have been suspicious, but what really freaked him out was that there were pictures of HIS kind on the walls. Some turkeys were illustrated in pilgrim clothes. Others were shown surrounded by all the fixings. He felt sure that if he stayed there, he would be fingered and roasted. No way man, he didn't plan on getting caught! And he sure wasn't going to let them harvest his limbs one by one, like they were doing to some of these people.
He nearly got run over by a wheelchair on the way out.

He spent most of the night sitting on the bus-stop bench at Jackson and Polk. Occasionally a squad car would roll by, and he'd remain as motionless as possible, desperately hoping that the police wouldn't see him. Sometimes people would come out of the bar for a cigarette, and one or two of them asked him for a light. He told them he didn't smoke.
Long after closing time, a drunk sat down next to him and started talking about the Grateful Dead - that really freaked him out. He tried to explain to the fellow that Thanksgiving just wasn't a good time for his kind please don't make insensetive jokes about 'gratitude', but the man started screaming about his plump meaty thighs so he fled.

He spent the next several hours in an unlit doorway on Larkin Street. Just before dawn a raccoon ambled past and glared at him, but was obviously too tired from strenuous illegal activities elsewhere to make any trouble. He resolved to avoid Larkin Street at night, too many furry criminal types. Yeah, he realized he was stereotyping, but better safe than sorry.
He hadn't realized that city living could be so dangerous. The city is not a gentle place, if you are short, feathered, and wearing only an overcoat and a fedora.

One significant problem was that the ATM machines were all far too high up, altogether NOT turkey accessible.
And bank tellers insisted on seeing a photo id.
For obvious reasons, he didn't plan to go to the DMV to have his picture taken until after December 25th. Just too risky before then.
During the holiday season, he was a marked man.
Bird. Marked bird.
He'd simply have to pile boxes in front of an ATM when no-one was looking, but it was hard.
Short wings do not give one much leverage.

On the plus side, he got to ride the busses for free, provided he acted like the nearest adult was with him. And if it was too crowded he could always scoot under the seats for safety. He had seen what happened to a pigeon that wasn't smart enough to do so and tried standing in the aisle with the tall people. The crowd of office workers heading down to the financial district had crushed the poor bird, and thrown its carcass out on Montgomery Street.
They had utterly NO respect for feathered Americans! Brutes!
San Francisco can be a cold and heartless place.
Whatever you do, don't make eye-contact.
When other people stare at you, leave.
Especially with wattles trembling.
Never let them see your fear.

He spent most of the time exhausted from lack of sleep, wandering the streets trying to stay out of trouble and out of sight.
Once he witnessed an accident, but ran away because he couldn't risk being a witness. Not only no id, but no fixed address either! He was sure the cops would give him the stink-eye at the very least. They might even take him down to the station, and he'd disappear into the system forever. They ate people like him there!
No way was he going to be imprisoned again.

A crazed addict in the Tenderloin tried to steal his wallet, but he pecked her fiercely and fled down an alley, then hid for several hours underneath a parked van while she roamed up and down the sidewalk howling, howling, howling. That had been a close call, but there aren't many places in the downtown where a turkey can walk down the street without being in danger.
There were other incidents.
He nearly got mobbed by parrots several times. Such rude birds!
And they kept importuning him for beer money or cigarettes, too!
A large shaggy dog had leered suggestively, and followed him for several blocks. He finally lost his amorous pursuer when a passing fire hydrant called out "why hello sailor, doing anything tonight?" At that the canine delightedly licked his chops and grinned. Wow, free sex!
In Chinatown it was made plain that he looked different, when a little tyke pointed at him and happily exclaimed 'wah, fogey, fogey!'
The mother shushed the child, and looked at him with mute apology, but it still hurt.
It was only a matter of time. He was sure of it.
He was keenly aware how vulnerable he was.

The combination of sheer exhaustion, fear, and far too much coffee had a demoralizing effect.
An excess of tryptophan, adrenaline, and caffeine made him jittery, and it twisted the mind.
He knew that he was no longer seeing things straight, but he had to stay alert.

Except at the public library. When nobody was watching, one could scoot behind the encyclopedias and sleep.
He liked the encyclopedias. Warm, tall enough to hide him from view, and so smooth.
Encyclopedias were very nice. More books should be like that.
Clean, comforting, and hardly ever touched.



Finally, on the fifth day in the city, he had a stroke of luck.
He was reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the library when a small boy asked for his assistance at the computer. The youngster was doing his homework, and needed a helping hand.
Helping wing.
Whatever.
The boy's mother came by later to pick him up, and asked "who is your little friend?"
The kid introduced him, and explained how kind he had been.
When she found out that he was new to the city, and had no plans for the holiday, she invited him over - "we're vegetarians, Tom, I hope you don't mind....."
It was quite the nicest thing he had heard in his life.

He went home with the two of them, and was introduced to the rest of the family.
Then they all sat down to a sumptuous supper of borsht with sour cream, tofu and spinach casserole, and lentil-stuffed cabbage rolls.
With red tomato sauce.
It was all so VERY delicious!
This was the best Thanksgiving ever!
And he had never slept in a real bed before.

***

Have a happy Thanksgiving.
火雞節快樂!
Fo-guy jit fai-loh!



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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

MASLOW'S HIERARCHY

One of the other pipe-smokers remarked that I could stand to gain some weight.
Politely, I disagreed. I've got pants that fit, and I like my clothes slightly baggy.
But that got me thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and I realized that some of my personal hierarchy isn't being met.
I blame the world. You guys just aren't working hard enough.


SAVAGE NEEDS

All I really want is a nice comfy armchair, with a small table next to it.
On which there is an ashtray, and a tin of tobacco.
In a room filled with books.
With another armchair nearby.
Holding a small cute brilliant person, reading.

Ideally, there should also be a large supply of good pipe tobacco (and cigars, if she likes a Corona or a Churchill once in a while), plus a large pot of coffee or tea, and privacy in case naughty behaviour were to transpire. That would be nice. The naughty behaviour, that is. The other stuff is also nice, but not quite the same.
Still, I would like all of it.

Oh, plus fresh scones, clotted cream, and fruit preserves, and a long rainy summer twilight. But that hardly qualifies as a need.
A dark November evening, with leaves scudding about outside and a raccoon down in the utility area breaking into the garbage cans would also do very nicely. Perhaps with a cable car full of cold tourists lumbering past the house.
We will make scones, having acquired the preserves and clotted cream already (or substituting butter), and pretend that it's a pleasant summer day.
Might have to cuddle together under a nice warm rug against the cold, but with enough tea and scones, ANYTHING is possible.


Don't have the comfy armchair.
Do have the small table, plus the ashtray, and the tin of pipe tobacco.
I actually possess several hundred tins of pipe tobacco. So the large supply of good pipe tobacco has been taken care of. Abundantly so.
And I also have the books. Lots of them. Haven't succeeded in catching up on my reading in years. Working on that might cut into the time slated for naughty behaviour, except that there isn't any of that.
Nor a second armchair.

See, the key to all of this is the small cute brilliant person.
Without such, many things just won't happen.
No scones, no clotted cream.

I absolutely have to find the small cute brilliant person. Everything else will naturally fall into place once that has been accomplished. I'll acquire cigars if she needs them, and I know how to make a pot of tea.
Abraham Maslow has nothing on me.
He probably wasn't a pipe smoker.
Maybe he didn't drink tea either.


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RABBI BOYARSKI AND STRANGE MENTAL ASSOCIATIO​NS

Third installment in a series written for Felix and Adam. It is late, and I am slightly beyond reason at this point.

I had been deep in conversation with a pipe smoker wearing a kilt when the chicken man walked into the tobacco store. Within mere moments I could feel my eye-lids grow heavy, as a bone-crushing ennui gripped me. The chicken man has that effect. He was trying to tell me a lange eingewikkelte meise about a relative who passed away while simultaneously referring to an English scholar of chassidismus.
As well as a chabadnik, whose connection with the foregoing escaped me.
Four months previously the conversation involved a masechte nobody ever reads, and kabalah.
Those of you who know him, know the effect.

[Kilt: an eccentric Keltic garment, both très geshmak and butch. Lange eingewikkelte meise: a long complicated story. Lang, lange: long. Eingewikkelte: tzerdraite. Meise: a story, a narrative example. Chassidismus: a version of Judaism from Eastern Europe that stresses faith, joy, and sincerity over scholarship and rigour. It provided an alternative to the intelektiwelische drang of the famous Yeshivos, and was consequently much opposed by the brilliant lights of Lithuanian Judaism, and especially by academies such as Volozhin, Slobodka, Ponevetch, and Mir. At the beginning, the contra-Chassidics were identified with the Gaon of Vilna (Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer), today it is perhaps best to think of Soloveitchik and Brisk as holding such simplicity at bay. Chabad: the Lubavitcher Chassidim, who among other things give much credence to a book that I find impossible to read without fury (Tanya, more commonly known as Likutei Amarim, by Rabbi Shneuer Zalman), but whose many shluchim do much good, even among the Gentiles. Masechte: a tractate of Talmud. One cannot really study Talmud without also going through the Shulchan Aruch ('the well-arranged table', by Yosef Karo) and without having at least a passing familiarity with the Arba Turim of Yakov ben Asher. Kabalah: sheer nonsense, and consequently popular among celebrities.]



The only thing that helps is a massive injection of cortisone, or ingestion of something rich and sweet.
Neither was available. The tobacconist that serves tasty cups of crème caramel, bread pudding, or sweet noodle kugel doesn't exist yet.
And I wouldn't trust any of those people to rip off my shirt and slam a long needle directly through my sternum.

Tzimmes, or noodle kugel? That is the question.
The first does not seem particularly appetizing, even if it is sweet. It requires the company of a plate of brisket, and some fairly mediocre wine.
Whereas a refined pipe smoker like myself would be more inclined towards a dry sherry, and a book about something obscure.

Imagine then, a serving of Kugel, the sherry, a volume of dikdukei soferim, or maybe a Tikkun.


JERUSALEM KUGEL

Half a pound fine or medium noodles.
Half a cup sugar.
Quarter cup oil.
One teaspoon ground pepper.
Quarter teaspoon salt.
Three eggs, slightly beaten.

Preheat your oven at 350 degrees.
Cook the noodles till tender in a large pot of salted water. Drain and cool.
Heat the oil and carefully add the half of the sugar. When the sugar turns colour (caramelizes), remove from heat and stir to keep it from burning, then promptly add the noodles, remaining sugar, salt, and pepper, and mix together. When it is cold enough, mix in the eggs. Gloop it all into a greased pyrex dish, and place it in the oven for an hour or so, till gilded and crisped on top.


The amount of pepper can be increased. Raisins can be added but are not orthodox. Note that perfect caramel is a beautiful ruddy hue, whereas anything noticeably darker verges on burnt. Let it sit for while before serving.


Instead, you might prefer something a little more old-fashioned, perhaps with a bit of Amontillado, and a nice article about literary archeology.


APPLE SAUCE NOODLE KUGEL

Half a pound fine or medium noodles.
Half a cup sugar.
Two cups (1 pint) sour cream.
Two cups (16 fl.oz) applesauce.
Quarter cup raisins.
Pinches cinnamon, dry ginger, ground cardamom, salt.
4 eggs, slightly beaten.
Butter.

Cook the noodles till tender in a large pot of salted water. Drain and cool.
Mix all ingredients together. Gloop it all into a greased pyrex dish. Dot with butter.
place it in the oven for an hour or so.
Three hundred and fifty degrees.



You could also read The Lonely Man of Faith, by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik while pensively eating your kugeln.
Which is highly recommended.


In any case, either of these kiglech, with or without the sherry, should inculcate a nice Litvishe attitude - more than sufficient to counter the absurd amateurish baalshemism of the chicken man, in keeping with the spare persevering scholarship of both Rabbi Shmuel Shlomo Boyarksi and Rabbi Mordechai Breuer, who were mentioned in the previous post.
The kugel yerushalmi would probably have even been something that both men had tasted numerous times.

The wine, not so much.

While not yayin nesech, it is stam yainom, and hence something with which neither of those gentlemen would have had much truck.
Rav Breuer because he was a sincere and erliche mentsh, rav Boyarski because as a sofer he had to adhere rigorously to the full set of rules that dictate a clean and trustworthy life. Both were choshuve leite, a chezkas kashrus pre-empts their consuming such a product.
I myself, as mamesh a gontseh goy, have a chezkas of lo kashrus entirely when it comes to food and drink.
As you might have noticed from some of my other food posts.
Though not so much an epicurean as an apikoros.

[Yayin nesech: wine that has been poured for an idol (such as arguably communion wine may be), as was common among the heathens. Stam Yainom: wine handled or made by an idolator or someone who holds by idolatry. Erliche: honest, and by extension upright, sincere, and reliable. Mentsh: human being, but more usually person in the most positive sense. Sofer: a scribe, more specifically a scribe producing religious texts, whose personal conduct, sincerity, and adherence to the rules has to be beyond reproach, in order that the products of his hand can be considered kosher. Choshuve: proper and reliable, respectable. Leite: people. Chezkas Kashrus: one of my favourite concepts, being that there is a presumption of correctness and reliability to a person, organization, or thing, based on what is known. Such as, for instance, the talmid muvak of a respected rabbi might have, or a pipe manufactured by Dunhill prior to the eighties (examine the date marking on the bottom of the shank). Mamesh: a gevaldike virt that serves to emphasize - certainly, completely, entirely, all together, how can you possibly doubt what I say? Gontseh: another gevaldikeit, meaning entirely, all of. Goy: nation, but also a masculine Gentile. Lo: no, not, none. Apikoros: better than a shaigetz, if married to your daughter. But still not quite our kind dearie.]



FINAL NOTE: there is no real connection between a kugel (or kigl) and either gentleman named above. But ever since Rabbi Boyarski was mentioned, I have had Yerushalmi kugel on my mind. A bee in the bonnet, if you will.
No, I cannot explain that. Perhaps it's because it is quintessentially Ashkenazi, perhaps the place name connection.
But perhaps this Thanksgiving you should prepare a kugel as one of the dishes?
It would be far better than that weird candied yam muck.
A bit of ginger is an excellent addition.
Good for your digestion.
Takeh.


[Boyarski: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.]




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Sunday, November 20, 2011

RABBI BOYARSKI, RABBI BREUER, AND THE ELEVATION OF TEXTS

This post is for Adam, who may never read it, and Felix, who probably will.
Part two of a piece inspired by mention of a rabbi who lived in Jerusalem.

[Part one may be found here: http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2011/11/rabbi-boyarski-segueing-sideways-or-why.html . ]



The Rabbi in question, Samuel Solomon Boyarski, moved to Jerusalem in 1857 with his second wife and the two sons of his deceased first wife.
He died in 1888 or afterwards.
Not much is known about him, and alas, I shall not contribute in any significant way to what little is available on the internet.

What we do know is that he was a prodigy, and spent most of his life studying. And it is in part because of his labours that the pool of our knowledge has increased. In Jerusalem, Rabbi Boyarski worked as a sofer, over his lifetime completing a set of scrolls for the entire Tanach. It was while writing the portions Tehilim ('psalms), Mishlei, ('proverbs'), and Iyov ('Job') that he studied the notations made by Moishe Yehoshue Kimchi in the margins of a printed Tanach belonging to Rav Solem Schachne Yellin - Kimchi having spent some considerable time in Aleppo carefully examining one of the oldest extant Hebrew bibles, known as the Aleppo Codex.

[Sofer: a scribe, more particularly a scribe who writes Toratos, Megillos, y otros. Tanach: standard acronym for the Bible - Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim.]



KETER ARAM TZOVA

The Aleppo Codex was likely created by Shlomo ben Abuya and Aharon ben Asher in the tenth century C.E., and is considered the most accurate extant copy of the entire Bible. For a while it was in Jerusalem, then ended up in Cairo where the Rambam inspected it. The Rambam's descendants are reputed to have taken it to Aleppo in Syria by the end of the thirteen hundreds, where it remained for the next six centuries.
Along with the Codex Cairensis and the Leningrad Codex, it is one of the primary source-examples for the Biblical text, particularly as regards the correct pronunciation of Hebrew.

[Keter Aram Tzova: The Crown of Aleppo, that being the Hebrew name for the Aleppo Codex. Aram Tzova: Aleppo, which is part of the area anciently known as Aram, where the Akkadians dwelt. The kingdom of Tzova is at one end, the Yoke of Aram (Padan Aram) at the other. In between is Aram Naharain: Aram of the two rivers (the Euphrates and the Tigris). Aram Tzova is mentioned in psalm 60, as one of the enemies of King David. Shlomo ben Abuya, Aharon ben Asher: two masoretes (Baalei Mesora), of whom the latter is the most famous, being both a member of an esteemed Masoretic family as well as the redactor who added sound to the vowelless text enscribed by Shlomo ben Abuya. The Rambam: Rabbi Moses ben Maimon of Cordova (1135 - 1204), one of the most famous of scholars of mediaeval Jewry, and a source for much authoritative commentary on a vast wealth of subjects Talmudic, Biblical, and philosophical. The French monks burned copies of his books, considering such depth and breadth threatening to their primitive creed. Codex Cairensis: the oldest complete text of Neviim ('prophets'), vowelized by Moishe ben Asher of Tiberias (Tveriya, one of the four main cities of the Jewish population that had remained in the Holy Land continuously even since the Roman excesses) over eleven centuries ago. Leningrad Codex: the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible in Hebrew with the masoretic text and Tiberian nikkud.]



The Rambam was probably one of the first great scholars to hold it in high esteem, Rashash Boyarski based the paragraph and poetic breaks in his megillos upon it, and, in our century, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer indirectly based his work upon it.

[Megillos: Scrolls. Most commonly the five scrolls of the Torah (chomeish megillos) are meant, though all other books of the Bible are also im gonzen megillos.]



In the late sixties, a century after Rashash Boyarski had examined Moishe Kimchi's meticulous notes, Rav Breuer become an editor for Da'as Mikra, a project intended to provide a modern commentary that was true to tradition. Rabbi Breuer was tasked with assuring the accuracy of the text's spelling, vowelization, and cantilation. His relevant expertise for the task was that he was an acknowledged expert in his field, having carefully proofread an edition of the Bible a decade previously.

[Da'as Mikra: two words - da'as, meaning knowledge, and mikra, meaning that which is read. Hence knowledge of the correct reading as it relates to the Biblical text, which without the input of the Masoretes we would be in the dark about. Quite different from Da'as Toireh, which is the rather simple-minded faith that the rabbonim know everything better. Some do, by no means all, and those that do by no means everything. Unless they have the depth and breadth of a Rambam, than whom there are none.]



The stumbling block with which he was presented, however, was in some ways typical of the academic milieu: specifically, that although the Aleppo Codex would have been, should have been, a primary source for textual correctness, the Hebrew University's Mifal Ha Mikra project jealously guarded the document and refused research access. With that door closed, Rav Breuer availed himself of the only other sources available to him, namely other manuscripts of a lesser age and provenance, comparing these word by word and paragraph by paragraph, deciding between variants in the manuscripts on the assumption that they derived from the same original source document.

[Mifal ha Mikra: not, as you might expect , a serious competitor of Mifal Ha Payus (long suspected of having a monopoly on dreidlech), but 'The Work of What is Read'. Mifal in modern Hebrew means a manufactory, sometimes a workshop. Mikra often is applied specifically to the reading of scripture, and hence indicates in this context the correct pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew and deduction of meanings.]



Luck was with him. Despite being barred from the Crown of Northern Aram itself, he managed to get a hold of the Bible with Moishe Kimchi's marginal annotations, and also, both remarkably and inexplicably, photocopies of the Aleppo Codex. These confirmed (with only two exceptions) that his assumptions were correct.
In other words, there was a direct correlation between the other manuscripts and the Aleppo Codex.


Rav Breuer is rightly considered one of the greatest scholars of the modern era. But the field in which he labored coincides most marvelously with that of the scribe, whose attention to detail and correct materials mirrors, AND overlaps, his focus on the correct reading.


For some reason the tools and trade of soferim, scarce changed over centuries, always remind me of two other subjects - not the pitch black ink of text, but the sea snail exuded indigo blue of techeiles, of which the method of manufacture has reputedly been rediscovered (after an interval of over ten centuries), and the oak bug crimson used ritually, sheni tolaas, traded extensively throughout all the lands of the ancient near-east, at great price. Ink, like rare dyes, has always been precious. As witness the worth of the Keter Aram Tzova, as well as Rav Breuer's magnum opus, the Keter Aram Tzova ve ha Nusach Hamekubal Shel Mikra.
To name but two examples.


Tomorrow: an entirely irrelevant recipe for a dish that Eastern Europeans invented in the Holy City.
Somehow, I'll connect it to all of this. Not quite sure how.
Stay tuned. Everything at some point involves food.


[Boyarski: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.]




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RABBI BOYARSKI: SEGUEING SIDEWAYS, OR WHY EVERYTHING EVENTUALLY BRINGS UP EVERYTHING ELSE

This post is for Adam, who may never read it, and Felix, who probably will.
Yesterday evening, at the only public place in downtown San Francisco where you may smoke indoors, I spoke with a gentleman who was here for a convention. San Francisco over the years has hosted many such - the geologists came to town after several months of whacking rocks in the desert with their small hammers, and went giddy at suddenly being surrounded by people again. The dentists have been here, various other branches of medicine, and of course scientific geeks of all kinds.
Such things up the average intelligence level, if only for a few days.

My conversational partner was in town for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.
Bible scholars in San Francisco. It's a miracle.

Among many other things, we discussed Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (whom I mentioned because Dovbear is now rereading (and citing) Rabbeinu Sforno's perush ha Torah, which I first encountered in 2004), Rashi, Ibn Ezra, the documentary hypothesis, and the masoretes.

[Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno: A famous Italian exegete from Bologna (though born in Cesena), whose writings are still consulted to this day. His commentary on Pirkei Avos ('The Chapters of the Fathers') has a favoured place in my library. Dovbear: a well-known and well-regarded Jewish blogger, whom I read on a daily basis - the readers who leave comments on his posts are a very interesting lot, and one can find both thoughts better expressed than one could do oneself, as well as ideas that will repulse and offend. Plus humour, wit, and eloquence. If you have never visited him, you may find the link to his blog to the right on this page. Ibn Ezra: A great twelfth century Jewish scholar from Spain, whose scriptural commentary is clear and clean. Often, like Sforno, it contrasts with or outright negates the mefarshus of Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), which too often seeks to clean up loose ends and answer questions of only dubious import - though Rashi's Talmudic expositoria is quite otherwise and almost beyond compare.]



Which, almost automatically brings three great codices to mind, namely the Codex Cairensis, the Leningrad Codex, and the Aleppo Codex.
All three were carefully enscribed nearly a thousand years ago, and are the best examples of what the Masoretes have wrought.

[Masoretes: Baalei ha mesorah: The masters of the tradition. Scholar-scribes who focused on the grammar, cantilation, punctuation, and correct pronunciation of the Biblical texts, producing what is now the standard ketiv menukad of the text. Most notable among them was the Ben Asher family, although Ben Naftali is held in scarcely less esteem. Masorah (tradition) is often applied to the fully vowelized written language, and must be distinguished from the text in a Sefer Torah (a Torah Scroll), which must always be written according to specific rules, and significantly, lacks vowel markings.]



In the same way that scribes have elevated the texts, the texts have molded and marked the scribes.
And, in connection with the last named document (the Aleppo Codex), mention must be made of a man whose name is known because of it.


RASHASH BOYARSKI

It is perhaps primarily because of the Aleppo Codex that a Lithuanian rabbi who had moved to Jerusalem in 1857 is best known.
Rabbi Boyarski (Rashash Boyarski, after his two given names: Samuel Solomon) tasked an associate (Moishe Yehoshue Kimchi) to carefully copy the manuscript, and subsequently wrote in detail about the codex in his book 'Ammudei Shesh'. At that time the famous codex was still complete, and was safeguarded by the Jewish community of Aleppo, in whose pssession it had been for centuries, after passing through a thousand hands since it was written. Maimonides examined it, and wrote the Hilchos Sefer Torah in his Mishneh Torah based upon that study, detailing the precise rules for writing Torah scrolls. In 1949 the book was damaged in the Syrian anti-Jewish pogrom which dispersed the Allepan community, and when it was brought to Israel in 1958 a large part of it was missing, presumed lost.

[Aleppo: A town in Northern Syria probably best known for a mild, sweet, and fragrant chilipepper - the 'ful halabi'. Boyarski: regionomen signifying a native or inhabitant of Boyarka, a town near Kiev in the Ukraine (which is where my grandfather was stationed in World War One, when he was with the American Red Cross contingent aiding the Russians - he and several other American officers fled south into Persia when Russia collapsed). The name probably derives from an old Slavic term for great, rich, noble - alternatively, valiant, fierce, bold. It being remembered, of course, that the Kievan oblast is the heart of the Rus frontier, contested for centuries by Varangians, Turks, Bulgars, and Ruthenians. There was much scope for both greatness and ferocity there. Ammudei Shesh: Pillars of marble. The title of Rabbi Boyarski's magnum opus, dealing with a number of different subjects more or less related to the sacrifices and services in the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple which was destroyed, first by the Babylonians, then by the Romans). The name is taken from Shir Ha Shirim asher liShlomo (The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's - the astute reader will naturally notice the titular felicity, given the custom of coinciding one's own name with a scriptural phrase recalling, however distantly, the same), verse 5:15 "shokav amudei shesh meyusadim al-adneifaz mareihu kalvanon bachur ka'arazom" ('his legs are as pillars of marble set on bases of finest gold'), which is taken to metaphorically indicate the righteous who are occupied with the law and with instruction - a young scholar strong as the cedars, an elderly scholar whitened by age and compassion for the house of Israel. Maimonides: Rabbi Moishe ben Maimon of Cordova (1135 - 1204), who fled the insanity of the Almohades in Spain, eventually ending up as physician to the Caliph in Egypt. One of the most famous of Jewish scholars, whose works are an endless sea of brilliance - mi Moishe ad Moishe, lo kam ki Moishe ('from Moses to Moses, there is none like Moses'). Syrian: The modern term for a native of a country to the north of the Holy Land, though in Ottoman times the term Syria encompassed a much larger region, including Lebanon and most of Jordan and Israel. Israel: Jacob and his descendants, as well as the only democracy in the Middle East.]



RABBI SHMUEL SHLOMO BEN MOISHE MEIR BOYARSKI

The son of Moishe Meir Boyarski was born in 1820 or thereabouts in Grodno, which a generation before had been taken by Russia after several centuries of Lithuanian rule. The city is outside Lithuania proper, in Black Ruthenia (part of White Russia - Bellorus). Like many cities and towns in that area it was ethnically mixed - Poles, Litvaks, Russians, and Jews of all stripes. His first wife, the daughter of Rabbi Zev Wolf of Bialystok, died young, leaving him with two sons, Avigdor (named after his great grandfather) and Zev Wolf (probably named after his father in law).
His second wife was the daughter of Rav Baruch of Kovno, who graciously supported him so that he could devote himself to study.

[I have not been able to ascertain who Rav Baruch was, as there were several rabbonim named Baruch associated with Kovno (Kaunas): Baruch Levi Horowitz, Baruch Dov Leibowitz, Baruch Horowitz, Baruch Ber Leibowitz, inter alia.
Kovno, which had at one point been a center of Torah learning, has not been particularly noteworth since Prince Nikolai Nikolaievich expelled all Jewish residents in May 1915, following which the good Christians of the town looted everything, and destroyed what they could. After the Russians lost the town, some of the Jews returned. In World War Two, the Germans established a ghetto which held as many as forty thousand people at one point. Due to the efficiency of the Germans and the fervent Christianity of the Lithuanians, approximately five hundred people survived. It is a beautiful city that reeks of death, and which you have no reason to visit. ]



In 1857, Rabbi Boyarski with his wife and kinderlech moved to Jerusalem, where due to the generosity of his brother Yisroel Chayim (deceased 1888) he could continue to devote himself to his studies. At that time Zionism had not yet become a significant movement, and the Jewish population of the Holy Land live in what has since been referred to as the Yishuv ha-Yashan ('the old settlement), consisting mainly of Yerushalayim, Tzfat, Tveriya, and Hevron, with minor Jewish populations elsewhere. Despite the efforts of the Romans and later the Christian conquerors of the Midlle-Ages, there have always been descendants of Jacob in the land - both those who never left, and generation after generation of those who came back.

It can be assumed that Rav Boyarski was influenced by the thoughts of his first father in law, author of among other things a work on the laws of temple service (Aggudas Ezov - the Congregation of Hyssop), and at that time many of the scholars resident in the Holy Land were rediscovering, or re-examing, the details of ritual life that had over centuries been somewhat obscured, and in some cases, reviving them.
As a sofer, no doubt Rav Boyarski was aware of what characteristics applied to correct ink ( - it is black, it is permanent, it does not fade, and cannot be erased - ), and which recipes for compounding yielded a suitable product, as well as what surfaces are acceptable for a kosher scroll (carefully cured parchment), and how the letters should be formed. A focus on such minutiae underscores an approach to ritualia that is normative in such diverse things as constructing the tefillin, and, in the last part of the nineteenth century, a type of blue dye which had been lost since ancient times.

[Kinderlech: children (Yiddish). Sofer: a scribe, specifically a scribe who writes kosher scrolls, such as the Torah, the book of Esther, and sometimes the entire Tanach ('Torah, Neviim, Ketubim - the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings). Kosher: ritually acceptable, and by extension both clean and correct. As far as meat is concerned that means certain animals only, slaughtered (schechted) in a certain way and with clean internal organs, as far as practices go it implies both halachically ('legally') correct AND with a presumption of ethics, and as far as objects are concerned made correctly and with the proper attention to details. Torah Scroll: Sefer Torah, written with a quill and oak gall ink on cured parchment or hide from a kosher animal, containing exactly 304,805 letters in Ksav Ashuri (Assyrian Script), copied from another Torah Scroll. Tefillin: Phylacteries, also called 'totafos'. Square boxes containing a roll of scripture affixed to the head and weaker arm with straps ('retzuos') tied a particular way. Concerning the order in which the four passages from scripture contained in the shel rosh (the phylactery on the head) are placed, the two variations are according to Rashi (rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak) and Rabbeinu Tam (Yakov ben Meir, "our righteous rabbi", Rashi's son in law). Hence the practice among some people to wear both sets.]



While there is NO indication that the ancient dye preoccupied Rabbi Boyarski, it is a sufficiently interesting subject that it deserves mention in greater detail.
That will be the subject of the next post along with some totally immaterial discussion of other colours and a kugel, which, bezras Hashem, will be finished within several hours.


[Boyarski: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.]




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