Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wonderful locavore restaurant in Stockholm

There's an amazing locavore restaurant in Stockholm called Mistral that is highly worth a visit. They're also happy to adjust the listed menu for vegetarians and other special dietary requirements.

The 5 course tasting meal turned into an 8 course plus crusty fresh whole wheat bread and creamy butter extravaganza. Almost everything is from a local farm, and since not much grows in Sweden these days most of their ingredients have been preserved since the summer.

We had:

bonus starter: raw and cook beets with yogurt and chocolate dust

first course: hollowed onions with potato creme and pickled chanterelles

second course: 25 different raw marinated baked or vegetables, creamy egg yolk and yogurt

third course: cabbage pickled in its own juices and cabbage picked in whey and then caramelized, with rhubarb marmalade and lingonberry dust

fourth course: caramelized celery root with pickled garlic, pear slices, and coffee bean

bonus pre-dessert: apple cream with zucchini topping

fifth course: tomato with chocolate with rhubarb marmalade, creme angles and vanilla tomato paste

bonus post-dessert: chocolate mousse with dried chocolate mousse, with lovage herb infusion
and herbal blend tea to cap it off.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rick Levin for NEC Director

Several news sites are reporting that Yale President Rick Levin is one of the three finalists to replace Larry Summers as Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council.

Despite being two baby boomer Jewish economists who have run two of America's top universities, Levin and Summers could not be more different. Summers while many accounts a difficult manager is also one of the top economists in the world. (He ranks at a super-human 17, surrounded by numerous Nobel Laurates).

Levin, by contrast, is a spectacular manager, having personally trained the presidents of Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Duke, Wellesley and the former president of Penn. (In a further comparison to Summers' ill perceived comments about women in science, four of these Levin acolytes are women.) That said, Levin doesn't even rank in the top 10% of economists, in part since he has served almost the past 20 years in administration, first as dean of Yale's Graduate School and then as University President.

Since the NEC is not a large government department or agency, and since Levin's skills are more as a manager than as an economist, perhaps he would be better suited for another position in the administration, should one open up. Unlike former President Bush, who for the first 6 years of his presidency diminished the importance of his Treasury Secretaries, President Obama has put Secretary Geithner front and center with his full support. Given the sprawling nature of that department, maybe it would be a better place for Levin.

As for NEC chair, how about Alan Krueger? Then again, he's already at his two-year public service leave limit from Princeton, and so he'd have to give up his tenure. That in itself is a topic for another time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ten more thoughts on India

Ten more observations about India, having just returned from my trip there.

1. I went down to the southern most tip of India, where I was able to simultaneously swim in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal. There was a shrine there in memory of Mohandas Ghandi. The shrine had a picture of Ghandi, with what I'm relatively sure is a Christian halo around his head, which I've only otherwise seen for saints. Similarly, the language in the English version of the text near him made more "virgin" references then I'm used to in Hindu sources. It's fascinating that India's Christian population also has a significant following for Ghandi, despite him not being a Christian.

2. We stayed in the Leela in Kovalam Beach, which was gorgeous, though at times a bit inept. India is still barely electronic in their administrative functions, and so in the shuffles of papers things get lost. Despite telling the hotel when we checked in last Sunday that we were checking out on Thursday, they seemed to think that we were checking out Wednesday and began demand we vacate the room because they were full. Eventually the conference staff intervened on our behalf, but it was amazing that they would consider kicking out paying guests because of a snafu on their part.

3. Luckily, we didn't have to stay in one of the other conference hotels, the Uday Samudra, where we heard the rooms were not great, and everyone got sick from the food.

4. After the conference, we drove a few hours up north. Indian driving is something I have never seen before. Down here, it's not mass chaos, like Cairo, but it is crazy. First of all, you have vehicles sharing the road of vastly different cruising speeds (from bicycles to mopeds to three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, to cars, buses, and trucks). On mostly two lane roads, faster vehicles have to have some means of passing slower ones. What happens is that the middle of the road becomes a passing lane, used by traffic in both directions. If that weren't terrifying enough, if a medium speed vehicle is passing in the center and a high speed vehicle (like our driver's car) wants to pass, he goes fully into the oncoming traffic lane. Somehow the system seemed to work. While India has very high car crash rates, I happened to see none when I was there.

5. Farther north, we spent a night on a houseboat, exploring the backwaters of that area. It was wonderful - relaxing, comfortable, with great food. Apparently there are 500 houseboats in that area, each few owned by a different person. The boats contract with the tour companies which then contract with the drivers and the hotels. It seems to be a good system, though our hotel (Greenshore Apartments - see below) did not charge us a commission, which is very nice of them.

6. The tuxedo, mentioned in my previous post, came exactly as specified - without a doubt best fitting two pieces of clothing that I own. I highly recommend Duron Tailors. Bring many pictures of what you want, and ideally a driver or friend who speaks Malayalam (though their English is passable).

7. If you are looking for an inexpensive, comfortable place to stay on the beach, Greenshore Apartments is a great option. It has kind, helpful staff and charming British owners.

8. The religious harmony in India was absolutely incredible. We saw nothing but Christian, Muslims, and Hindus living side by side in accommodating peace (dietary requirements respected - it took our Hindu driver to explain why the tailors were closed for 3 hours Friday afternoon - the owners are Muslim). Our of Greenshore's 4 staff members one is of each religion and they get their respective Sabbaths off

9. Trivandrum Airport (TRV) does not understand internet boarding passes (the kind you get when you check in online and then print them from your computer). They kept asking for our "original" boarding passes and then finally sent us all the way back to check-in (past immigration) to get them. Hand luggage also all has to be tagged, so we would have been in trouble even if they accepted the boarding passes. This level of anachronistic incompetence at an international airport is incredible. Maybe Qatar Airways shouldn't laud their online check-in system if the local airports can't handle it.

10. Finally, the Sunday morning flight from TRV-DOH (Doha), as to be expected, is almost all men commuting for work. (Remember that the work week starts on Sunday in Muslim countries.)

That's all! Anyone traveling to Kerala please get in touch with me for more travel tips.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What happened to the Dems who voted against health care?

There were 34 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against comprehensive health care reform last March. Politico has a story on it, but here are the details (from my own analysis):

Number who stood for reelection to the House: 30/34
Of those 30, number who won: 13 (38%)
Of the 2 who ran for higher office, number who won: 0
Of the 2 who retired, number whose seats the Democrats retained: 0

Great night for those who opposed health care reform!

I fully expect Nate Silver's blog to come out with a comprehensive analysis, looking at those Democrats who voted for it from Republican majority districts and how way they did. But, suffice to say, voting against health care reform to appease one's conservative constituents did not appear to buy sufficient good will.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First nine hours in India

I landed in Trivandrum, India at 3:45 AM local time (6:15 PM EDT - yes - this is my first time ever in a half time zone). Total journey from the Upper West Side to my hotel in India was about 24 hours, by way of JFK and Doha.

Several observations about my trip so far:

1. Qatar Airways is fantastic, especially because they have plentiful delicious vegetarian food. In coach. (None of this chicken-or-beef nonsense I once experienced in first-class Continental.)

2. Doha Airport has surprisingly reasonably duty free single-malt Scotch prices, despite its majority culture prohibiting alcohol.

3. Indians have near 100% compliance with mustaches. It is rare to see a man without one or with any other style of facial hair.

4. Indian men tend to wear western clothing, whereas Indian women tend to wear traditional clothing.

5. India has the best, most considerate vegetarian food in the world. Every one of the dozens of dishes at the breakfast buffet was labeled as to whether it was vegetarian (by Indian standards - so eggs and fish are not, but dairy is).

6. I went into town to get a tuxedo made. The hotel provided me (at my expense - about $30 for the first two hours and then $10 for each additional hour) with a driver, who not only could navigate the crazy driving in India (passing in the opposing lane or worse between the two lanes, the bikes/walkers/auto-rickshaws - which are tiny cars with only one wheel in the front instead of two), and had cold bottled water, but came into every store with me and translated what I wanted into Malayalam (yes that's a palindrome in English transliteration) if needed.

7. Speaking of which, Malayalam and Hindi use different alphabets, so most signs here are written in three languages (English being the third).

8. If you ever go to get clothes made in India, bring many many pictures of exactly what you want. Don't assume they will know what a tuxedo is or what it is supposed to look like or why there is a satin stripe over the seam in the pants.

9. I went to two places - Duron and BodyFit. Duron was much better - they spoke better English, knew what I wanted, asked detailed questions of things I didn't think of, arranged me for to come back for a fitting two days later and then would have it done in four days, and even sent me with fabric samples so I knew what kind of satin to buy.

10. With regard to fabric, when you want clothes made you have to go to the textiles store nearby and buy your fabric (the tailor tells you how much he needs of what). I had never done this before, and learned two things. One, to make a tuxedo jacket and pants for someone my size (5'6") requires 3.5 meters of wool and 1.25 meters of satin (the tailor provided the synthetic lining for the jacket). The high quality materials ended up costing the same amount as the labor from the tailor! Fascinating. All in, including the three trips with the driver, the cost will be under $250, which is incredible for a custom made tailed tuxedo using high quality fabrics.

More to come later.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Weekend in Warsaw

I just returned from a weekend in Warsaw (which includes a massive clock tower - see above). It was an absolutely fascinating experience. Aside from a few days in Berlin (including East Berlin) several years ago, it's the first time I've spent in any formerly communist country. (I'm also not counting Shanghai here, which is a wholly different situation.)

The owner of the vacation apartment we rented (he insisted on being paid in cash upfront; the apartment was clean and had a functional kitchenette, but was otherwise relatively bare and in a building otherwise in relatively poor disrepair), who spent a year living in Sweden, commented to me that he liked Warsaw better, because Sweden was too clean and orderly and Warsaw was grittier. I agree with his descriptions, but disagree with his preference.

As some examples, on our first day when walking into the subway, we walked by a women with a black eye, limping as if someone had just beaten her up. (I'd hope that she was going home after receiving the appropriate care and concern from the authorities and heath officials...). On a more mundane note, nothing was particularly clean or new, and some parts of the central station looked like the shop that was previously there had been just ripped out of the wall.

That said, the public transit system was actually excellent, with buses, subways, and trolley. Getting to and from the airport was very easy (take the 175 or 188 bus and then switch to the subway or trolley) and a great planning site. You can also get a day pass for 9 zl (~$3) good for 24 hours once validated (perfect for after Shabbat and Sunday), though no one ever checked our tickets on a bus or trolley.

Customer service, on the other hand, was not so great. For example, after checking out we put our bags in a locker for the day before heading to the airport. Upon returning to them, we had a very hard time getting the machine to accept a 1 zl coin and unlock our luggage. If we hadn't gotten it to work (through some combination of backspin on the coin and sheer luck), I'm not sure what we would have done. The one worker at the information station upstairs spoke no English, and there was no one else around. Our best bet may have been to break into the locker and hope no one noticed.
One of our goals in Warsaw was to see evidence of the Warsaw Ghetto and Jewish uprising there in 1943 that every Jewish child learns about in Hebrew school. We able to find a section of the ghetto's original wall (see above, between Seina and Zlota Streets, enter at 55 Seinna) as well as numerous monuments in Hebrew, Polish, and English.

We also thought that we would go to the Uprising Museum, which was supposed to be excellent and have lots of English. When we got there, the line was literally "out the door and around the corner." One of the guards said that it (August 1) was the anniversary of the beginning of the uprising, and so is a very popular day to come to the museum. (There was a large ceremony going on outside.)

This seemed odd to me, since I had learned that Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) was celebrated in the spring because of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. So how could this uprising have begun in August, long after the Ghetto Uprising had been crushed?

It seems that this museum was actually for the Warsaw Uprising, which took place in 1944. (Wikipedia shows you both links.) This was after the vast majority of Polish Jews had been murdered, and represented a much larger, coordinated, Polish military effort against the occupying Nazi army. It seems that, in anticipation of the advancing Soviet army from the east, Polish leaders tried to defeat the Nazis first, in an attempt to reclaim their independence, in part in the face of future Soviet hegemony.

Stalin, however, after encouraging the Poles to revolt, double crossed them and halted his army, allowing the battered Nazis to defeat the uprising, diminishing hopes of true Polish independence. To make matters worse, Stalin later persecuted those who had organized the uprising, likely to remove potential threats to his own totalitarian regime. In fact, this museum is only a few years old, as it would have been impossible to build it in Communist Poland.

As for the Jewish community, we went to Friday night services and Shabbat dinner. It's an Orthodox shul, with all of the gender inequality that comes with that. Furthermore, the vast majority of the people there seemed to be heloni (secular) Israeli tourists, and so I found the overall davening experience somewhat lacking, though, it reminded me how very much missing davening with a minyan on Friday nights this past summer. Shabbat dinner was much smaller and lovely, and is worth attending if you're looking for somewhere to spend Shabbat in that region.

A few interesting notes about the synagogue: Becoming a member of the community seems very arduous. I've never heard of an American shul doing such a litmus test on potential members. Maybe it's because in the US members are the primary source of funding, whereas here the nominal fee is small compared to funds from the Warsaw and Polish governments and other sources.

The Rabbi is fascinating. He speaks fluent Polish as well as native English. and has both Conservative and Orthodox smicha. Perhaps most fascinating, and spooky, was that he was invited to be on the plane with late Polish President in April but did not fly, because it was Shabbat, saving his life. The interview he gave after the tragedy is worth reading.

All in all, a fascinating city, and definitely merits a visit.