New York City


In most cases, the internet is a pretty spiffy place to hang out.  But sometimes in the switch from print to digital, certain aspects of our quality of life – of our collective culture, I’d even say – are lost.  Newspaper corrections are some of the more entertaining aspects of print journalism to have fallen out of view as online readership has soared, and with that evolution a little bit of the fun disappeared…

Elena and I are on week three of “The Weekender”, which is a three times weekly subscription to the New York Times.  The paper arrives in our foyer on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, and–because we are the only people in the 10 unit building we live in to get the paper delivered–there’s never any confusion as to which one is ours.

Although I always grew up with the newspaper around, this has been my first experience as an actual paying newspaper subscriber, and I’m really enjoying it!  The ritual of grabbing it on the way to the subway on Friday mornings has been particularly joyful.  After reading what interests me on the front page, I quickly jump to page two and read one of my favorite sections: the “Corrections”.

There’s something really captivating about these short paragraphs. (There were 10 of them this morning: a really high number methinks!)  The writing is so calculated, and thorough, and the corrections themselves are usually fairly entertaining.  Aside from correcting errors from previous papers, they also serve as a sort of apology to the (hopefully) small handful of people likely offended by the indiscretion.  And it almost goes without saying that corrections provide good reading and the occasional laugh.

There were no grammatical errors to correct in this morning’s paper.  Nearly all of them were minor legal or statistical changes, or name misspellings.  And in a few cases, the Times had simply gotten people confused, an error that I’d hope a professional fact-checker or copy-editor would have caught before printing.

Take this gem of a correction, for example:

A picture caption on Wednesday with an article about the latest tradition at Yankee Stadium – throwing something resembling a cream pie in the face of the player responsible for a walk-off win – misidentified one of the Yankees shown getting creamed.  He is Juan Miranda, not Jonathan Albaladejo. (Mr. Albaladejo is the player laughing behind Mr. Miranda.)

A few takeaways from this example:

1) It’s hysterical! Just the phrase “misidentified one of the Yankees shown getting creamed” is worth repeating.

2) The description is truly meticulous.  The correction writer sets the scene, describes the reason for the creaming, briefly notes that it is a relatively new phenomenon among Yankee post-game celebrations, and even makes sure to point out that the projectile in question was not a genuine pie and was instead “something resembling a cream pie”.

3) The misstated name is, by itself, memorable: 18 letters in all and the last 10 of them spell Albaladejo.

Miranda, Albaladejo, and the "pie" in question. I can understand not being able to verify Miranda's face, as its covered in "pie" and as his jersey number is not visible, but Albaladejo is clearly standing right behind him. Come on now, factcheckers! Earn your keep!

In this other example, you wonder who actually called (or e-mailed) the Times to complain:

An article on Monday about Brandon Jennings’s season thus far as an N.B.A. Rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks referred incorrectly to a Ferrari driven by one of his teammates.  It belonged to Bucks guard Michael Redd; it was not center Andrew Bogut’s car.

1) I love the semi-colon usage; it was perfectly suited to describe the situation.

2) I do have to partially retract my previous statement about the meticulousness of the Times’ corrections writers.  The Bucks season starts this evening, four days after this piece appeared.  Therefore to refer to the article as being about his season thus far was incorrect, insofar as the season hadn’t started yet.

3) Most important was the next thought that jumped in my head.  Who called this in? The car itself was not pictured in the article, and it certainly wasn’t newsworthy on its own. Was Michael Redd making sure that people who read the New York Times were aware of his Ferrari ownership?  Was Andrew Bogut hoping he wouldn’t be seen as the type of player who would drive something so decadent to practice in St. Francis, Wisconsin?  Was it an incredibly nerdy Bucks fan who was actually aware of which cars in the practice facility parking lot belonged to certain players?  (By the way, it turns out it was a little of Column B and a little of Column C.)

See what I mean now?  These were just two of the ten corrections in today’s paper, and if I’d read it online, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure.  In their defense, when the New York Times makes corrections to articles on its website, a note is inserted at the end of the article containing the same correction text as in the print edition.  But, as a result, the corrections are hidden.  Scattered about the site, in random articles, and always at the bottom of the page, corrections can no longer be sought out and enjoyed as they are in the print edition…

…or can they?

Sweet Jesus, yes they can! (I litereally just discovered that now, hidden in a tiny little link all the way at the bottom of the main page.) There are even links to the actual articles.  Bring it on, internet! Rant rescinded.

Of all people skeptical of the backyard chicken fad, I’m sure I come across as an unlikely one.  So it is with great shame that I have to recommend this article in the New York Times from a few days ago:

“When Problems Come Home to Roost”

The author, Kim Severson, rightly characterizes the backyard chicken craze as a fad, like the potbellied pigs of a decade ago.  Like any fad, many people jump in head first without acknowledging the risk, commitment, or education and skill involved.  Severson rightly points out that a lack of attention to these issues by unprepared and inexperienced owners–as well as the unavoidably strange and unique biological climates that urban and suburban areas contain–often lead to some bumps in the road.  In the case of San Francisco, new diseases and other persistent health problems have emerged, and many unprepared chicken owners have begun abandoning their hens and roosters at animal shelters.  These unprepared and overly hasty owners have unfortunately given the movement a bit of a black eye.  No offense to the people featured in the article–I’m sure they meant well–but they are far from the victims in this story; the abandoned and sick chickens are.

Seriously adorable backyard hens in Toronto, Canada. Photo from torontochickens.com via http://www.blogto.com.

Personally, I grew up around chickens: picking them up from the post office at 5:00 AM in a loudly chirping, warm cardboard box, raising them, collecting their eggs, cleaning them, and butchering them.  I (with my younger brother) even won best in show for the Grant County Fair two years in a row, and have the trophies to prove it!  These were, in fact, the only two years we entered, marking a short and impressive reign in Southwest Wisconsin.

At any rate, I love chickens! They’re wonderful, intelligent, even affectionate creatures, and if I ever have the time and space to care for them, I’d do so in a heartbeat.  I do have an apartment with a private backyard in Brooklyn, and its physically able to handle a few chickens, but still I’d never attempt it here for a few reasons.

First, I’m a renter and I seriously doubt my landlord would approve.  Elena and I looked at an apartment in Red Hook where the landlord lived downstairs and had chickens in the backyard, but as the chicken owner also owned the building, the situation there was much more friendly.

Second, I’m more than a little worried about the microclimate that these chickens would be living in.  Brooklyn soils contain a lot of lead and other heavy metals, and anyone who knows chickens and has been around them knows that chickens spend a lot of time with their beaks in the dirt.

Granted we all have to start somewhere, and as far as chickens in backyards, go I’m all for this movement gaining ground.  It’s a spectacular and sustainable trend, and as soon as I am in a place to participate, I’ll do so!  Online communities such as Backyard Chickens and The City Chicken do a lot to encourage responsible urban chicken ownership, and more and more cities are realizing that they are beneficial creatures that should be legalized.

It’s clear that we’re headed in the right direction, and this I applaud!  But clearly, more education is necessary.  We saw this in tomatoes as well, just this year. The blight that affected the tomato crop this year was partly blamed on too high a demand for seedlings by too many amateur gardeners growing heirloom varieties for the first time.  This problem, I would surmise, has partly the same roots as the chicken diseases we’re seeing emerge.

So, please, if you’re planning on gardening or getting chickens for the first time next year, do your homework! Do more than you think is necessary, or even sane!  I’ve seen far too many tomatoes planted in the hard soil of full-shade tree pits in New York, and it really does sadden me every time. There are plenty of skilled gardners and urban farmers dying to warn you about that kind of thing, and you have to listen to them.  Thanks!

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Somewhere along the Williamsburg Bridge. I have no recollection of taking this photograph.

Now that the weather has begun to turn, and the longest winter in recent memory is receding in the rear-view, I’ve begun walking places again.  I’ve resumed my semi-regular walk home from work: a constantly evolving, jagged path through the fire-escape-gilded Lower East Side and the pungent lanes of Chinatown. Aside from the sidelines–Broadway to the west, and the Co-op (balcony-clad) and NYCHA (balcony-less) towers to the east–no street is safe.  Anything in between is in-bounds.

A couple weekends ago, I offered to bring a case of Brooklyn IPA to an afternoon of watching baseball in the vicinity of Gramercy Park.  Ordinarily, the trek to the Brooklyn Brewery involves the L-Train, but I decided to walk instead.  Having never walked across the Williamsburg Bridge, I headed straight down Avenue D (and then Columbia, as I crossed Houston). After I realized that I couldn’t access the bridge at Columbia and Delancey, but before I started to backtrack west, I ran into something that reminded me of Iowa: Masaryk Towers.

Masaryk Towers: Named in rememberance of the Third Defenestration of Prague in 1948.

Masaryk Towers: Named in rememberance of the Third Defenestration of Prague in 1948. (It's private, not public housing: notice the balconys!)

Masaryk Towers, according to New York Songlines (a spectacular site for DIY walking tours of Manhattan), was a 1967 Mitchell-Lama co-op development, sponsored by SOKOL (A Czech organization similar to the German Turner’s Society).  As I suspected at the time, this development was named after Masaryk the younger, Jan Masaryk, who while acting as Foerign Minister, was (though there is some speculation of suicide) thrown out of his bathroom window in 1948 by Soviet-sympathizers.  This defenestration, was actually the third in Prague’s history, thereby emblazoning this unfortunate event as the “Third Defenestration of Prague.”

Tomas Masaryk, first President of Czechosolvakia, and father of the victim of the Third Defenestration of Prague.

Tomas Masaryk, first President of Czechosolvakia, and father of the victim of the Third Defenestration of Prague.

I spent the fall of my third year at Grinnell in the Czech Republic, and during my senior year I studied Jan’s father’s personal and literary relationship with Karel Capek, for whom this blog is named.  Tomas G. Masaryk, a philosophy professor turned politician, led the exiled Czechoslovak army (literally) around the world during the First World War.  After the War he became the country’s first president, and was a strong crusader for small nations during the inter-war years.  Masaryk’s story and his writings are fascinating, and I would recommend “The World Revolution” (translated meekly in English as “The Making of a State”) to anyone with an interest in European history.

Back in New York, I rounded the corner of Columbia and Delancey, and headed west until I hit the bridge.   Of the three East River bridges I’ve crossed, the Williamsburg Bridge may be the most visually interesting.  And, like the elegant Brooklyn Bridge, it is most striking in that it reflects the character of the neighborhood you’re traveling to (that is, if you’re coming from Manhattan).

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All gray steel and rivets, save the red stripe elevating pedestrians and cyclists above the roadway, the bridge is mesmerizing and beautiful and repetitive, while at the same time transparently functional.  Nothing is showy; there is no artistic stonework; and the girders themselves are straight and simple, unlike the curved and stylized metalwork of the Manhattan Bridge.

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As the cables between the towers began to rise in front of me, and as the slope of the bridge began to tilt Brooklyn-ward, I was reminded that my comparison between the bridge and Williamsburg itself was fragile and tenuous.  On the south side of the bridge, uninteresting condominium towers jutted upward from what was once a completely industrial area, and much of the industrial buildings that have been left standing have long since become residential.

I like Williamsburg, and I like to an extent what it has become, but after two years studying cities and Urban Planning, there is one constant despite the chaos and diversity of American cities that is nearly universal.  Once manufacturing areas are rezoned and turned to residential, they never go back.  Jobs may be lost for residences, but residences are never lost for jobs.  And in a society that requires vapid consumption just to survive economically (as we’ve seen recently with the demise of Circut City, Chrysler, and, (*gasp*) even the strategic shrinking of Starbucks), the permanent loss of manufacturing and industrial infrastructure in favor of residential development in communities like Williamsburg, Willets Point and Red Hook is a historic act whose reprocussions will be far reaching, and, most likely, irreversible.

These were the sorts of thoughts in my head as I got off the bridge and walked north on Berry towards the Brooklyn Brewery.  But to finish my story, I made it to the Brewery, had a Blast! (the beer) while reading Lush Life (Richard Price’s most recent novel), and trudged back to Manhattan and up First Avenue to my destination: this time with a case of beer in hand.  Thankfully for my back and my arms, I took the L-Train.

The moral of the story: Good beer tastes even better under the following conditions:

  • it cost only $25 for a case,
  • you drink it in good company, watching a good baseball game, and
  • you just walked 4 miles to retrieve it

CHEERS!

Around the corner from the Brooklyn Brewery: Silly, I know, but really well done!

Around the corner from the Brooklyn Brewery: Silly, I know, but really well done!

Its been awhile since I’ve posted anything even remotely political, but as a regular transit rider and supporter of the MTA, I wanted to post this poster produced by the Working Families Party in New York.  As any NewYorker already knows, significant fare hikes, and massive reductions in service are set to kick  in over the next few months, and its not too late to take action (or at least voice your outrage).

Even if you can afford the fare hikes, there are thousands of people for whom the proposed hikes and service cuts are really, really detrimental, so click on the poster or go to the link below (www.haltthehike.org), print out some of these, and spread them around!  Write a few letters to representatives while you’re at it; there’s a form to do just that after the link!

I’ve fallen noticeably behind in my search to find great pilsner, and in an effort to keep myself honest I’ve created a tentative schedule for the coming weeks. That said, I feel the need to say a few words in my defense. 

Having recently moved to New York City, I also moved into a completely different beer distribution market.  Therefore, the available American craft-brewed pilsners shifted from New Glarus and Bell’s to Victory and Brooklyn; and the imports have gone from Bitburger and Stiegl to Jever and Radeberger.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in principle.  Its just taken me a few months to redefine my quest based on availability.

And a couple weeks ago, I was all ready to launch head-long into the NYC edition with probably the most available and highest profile American craft pilsner: Victory Prima Pils.  Literally the day before I was going to buy a 22oz bottle of the Prima Pils, crack it open, and write about it, I stopped for dinner at Back Forty (one of my favorite East Village spots: seasonal food, served unpretentiously, and paired with a small but well-crafted beer list).  As usually happens, my eyes drifted first to the tap handles, and noticed the familiar red “V”, signalling the Prima Pils (or occasionally the ESB).  However, when I saw the menu, instead of “Prima,” it was “Harvest.”

Needless to say I was excited.  And the beer did not disappoint.  I had it with catfish, and I seem to remember some sort of watercress element as well, though I may well be making that up (the menu has changed since then, thankfully, so I cannot verify this hunch).  However, I didn’t feel like taking notes over a great meal, and figured I could find the Harvest Pils again soon… 

Boy, was I wrong!  The beer is only brewed once a year, is served exclusively on tap (which is great!), and apparently moves very quickly.  So, instead of reviewing the Prima Pils, I’ve been searching again and again for the Harvest Pils.  At this point, I’ve given up until next fall, but you can be sure that a review will appear here sometime next winter.

A Great Austrian Pilsner. Hard to come by, however, in New York.

A Great Austrian Pilsner. Hard to come by, however, in New York.

 

So, without further ado, here is my tentative schedule for the next few weeks/months:

Victory Prima Pils

Jever

Dogfish Head Golden Era (a stretch, I know)

New Glarus Bohemian Lager (Unplugged Series)

Dinkel Acker CD-Pils

Brooklyn Pilsner

The Pennsylvania Trifecta (at the suggestion of “the great pumpkin“):

Troegs Sunshine Pils

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils

Stoudt’s Pils

Stiegl Pils (if I can find a bottle)

Clipper City Small Craft Warning (Heavy Seas Series)

 

Please let me know if you have any further suggestions, amendments, etc. Hopefully this list will help me finally get myself in gear.

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Buckwheat, in its 19th Century botanical color plate form. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Backstory:

(scroll to bottom for recipe)

One of the more significant limitations Elena and I face in terms of cooking hinges on an otherwise benign, if enigmatic staple: buckwheat.  As a flour it is most commonly consumed – I would guess – in the form of soba noodles, a Japanese pasta made from buckwheat flour.  However, it’s more commonly known as “kasha” the roasted version of buckwheat groats used heavily in Eastern European Jewish cooking.  Small, chewy, and distinctive, these little groats (as they are technically not “grains” per se, but hulled archenes) are fairly healthy, and loaded with obscure minerals like Manganese, Copper, Phosphorous, and Zinc.  I’ve always been intrigued by the shape–like two pyramids fused at their respective bases.

Kasha varnishkes, that ubiquitous staple of Eastern European Jewish Cuisine, employs buckwheat as its primary ingredient.  Coated with egg, pan-fried, and paired with onions, bowtie noodles, mushrooms, and sour cream, kasha varnishkes is a spectacularly simple, and surprisingly delicious dish.  I love it; and Elena absolutely reviles it.  (For the record, one of my brothers has the same reaction to Buckwheat groats, so maybe its one of those love-hate foods like cauliflower or cilantro.)

So much for deep-seeded religious and cultural traditions.  Elena comes from Ashkenazi stock, and I have predominantly German Catholic roots, so common sense would lead one to surmise the opposite.  Nevertheless, I’m the one with the kasha-fixation.  The months following this discovery were spattered with intermittent efforts on my part to find a new method for cooking buckwheat groats that Elena would like.  I tried a few different versions of kasha varnishkes; I even tried an vaguely Italian variation with vermicelli, fall vegetables, and leeks (recipe available here, third from the top).  Nothing seemed to work–until Sunday.

The Experience:

My father was always the breakfast cook growing up.  Alongside the familiar feeling of the cold metal chains of playground swings and the strong scent of dry straw bales wafting out of flung-open barn doors, few associations are as strong and childlike for me as my father, in his well-worn grey robe, making breakfast.  One of his specialties was buckwheat pancakes.  I always remembered their delicious and distinctive nutty flavors, but I hadn’t attempted to make them on my own before this weekend.

I spotted a baker at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday that was selling fresh milled flour and cornmeal.  I bought cornmeal (which I had been out of for some time), buckwheat flour, and a pumpkin “whoopie pie”.  The whoopie pie,  as delicious as it sounds, was consumed that afternoon with a bottle of Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton over a half-game of scrabble.  The buckwheat, by contrast, sat peacefully on the shelf until Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, I slayed two demons that had been nagging at me for some time: buckwheat flour and yeast.  Anyone who’s a from-scratch pancake maker–and this should be everyone, quite frankly–knows that there are two methods of making pancake batter.  One, the more simple and expedient method, calls for baking powder.  Satisfyingly fast, these flapjacks are ready to go instantly; just mix the liquids into the solids (or vice versa), and you’re ready to go.  However, baking powder comes with a slight aftertaste, and is a chemical product.  So if you’re looking for the all-natural, “real deal” pancake, baking powder probably isn’t for you.

The second method uses yeast as a leavening agent.  This method involves letting the batter sit for an hour, but honestly after having tried this method I can assure you that it’s well worth the wait.  When you’re done you end up with a light, fluffy batter and the cooked pancakes have an consistency and lightness and depth of flavor that will amaze you!  The buckwheat flour, too, did not disappoint.  When used to make pancakes, the flour gives the batter a blue-grey color, with beautiful dark specks: almost like a variation on a robin’s egg.  The flour must have been freshly milled as the flavors were intense and delicate.  They hardly needed maple syrup; just a little butter would have done the trick.

And the best news of all: Elena liked them! Mission Accomplished!

Buckwheat Pancakes.  Forgive the product placement; it was unintentional.

Buckwheat Pancakes. Forgive the product placement; it was unintentional.

The Recipe:

Adapted, slightly, from an out of print and slightly odd 1970’s version of the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook:

2 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon dry active yeast

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 cups buckwheat flour

1 cup unbleached white flour

1 cup lukewarm milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix yeast and brown sugar into warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir until dissolved.  Add the milk to the yeast mixture, and then the flours and salt (sifted together if you’re feeling ambitious). Beat this mixture by hand until smooth.

Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for about an hour. The mixture should be light and fluffy at this point.  Stir well and bake on a lightly oiled medium-hot griddle (or cast iron frying pan, if you’ve got one), until browned on both sides.

This is a pretty big recipe, so if you’re cooking breakfast for two, I’d recommend halving the recipe.

Note: in my experience, the first pancake always ends up less than spectacular; its always too oily, or you’re griddle was too hot and it burned a bit.  Don’t worry about it, just treat the first pancake as calibration.  Adjust your temperature and move on to the next one.  Also, you shouldn’t need to oil the griddle/pan after the first pancake.

In honor of my recent move to New York City, and in order to keep up with a quest that has been AWOL for more than six months, I have decided to preemptively announce the next Pilsner in my quest for a good, Czech-style lager in the United States.  That beer will be the Prima Pils, brewed by Victory Brewing Company from Downington, Pennsylvania.  Technically, we’re talking about a German Style Pils; but given the American micro-brewer’s tendency to go over the top, I’m assuming that Victory’s German Pils will come off more aggressively hopped, and, therefore, more Czech.  

This post will accomplish two primary objectives.  (1) It will motivate me to continue updating this blog; and (2) it will force me to update this entry, post-tasting, within the next couple of days.  Just call it a contractual agreement between my tastebuds and my brain–the latter of the two being in the arena that could use the extra motivation.

I think I’ll be heading to the irredemably frat-ish (but well-stocked) East Village Tavern after work today, to see if they’ve got the Prima Pils on tap… so stay tuned!

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