Shake Shack and Barnes & Noble on 86th Street

Shackburger, Fries, Peanut Butter Shake and Root Beer. Looks good, doesn't it?

Shackburger, Fries, Peanut Butter Shake and Root Beer. Looks good, doesn’t it?

After putting off going to the Shake Shack for a … well, a few years, we finally made the trip. We never went before, because it just wasn’t convenient. There was never one near where we lived. I’m still surprised that they don’t have a location near Union Square. I’d always heard good things about the place, though, so when we decided to take a trip to the Met, I suggested we eat at the Shake Shack a few blocks away on 86th street between 3rd Ave and Lexington.

I was a little surprised by the prices, but after we finished eating, we felt like it was worth it. The fries really weren’t anything special, but the burger and shake were exceptional. I had a Shackburger and my wife had the portobello mushroom burger. She said that was also delicious. I was a little worried about the “special sauce” on the burger, but it really complemented the taste. The peanut butter shake was thick and tasty, but it’s heavy so we split a small. The best part is that it tasted real. The peanut butter shake especially, but all of the food as a whole. Maybe not the fries. But, in general, it felt like I was at a family barbecue eating a real burger off the grill.

After eating, we went into the Barnes & Noble next door to take a look around. We’re both suckers for book stores. Even if we don’t plan on buying anything, we love to browse. We were surprised by how big the place is. It’s all underground in two basement levels. We never quite managed to leave and before we realized it, it was 8 pm and we were ready to head home. I wound up taking pictures of some book covers from the current events section to pick up later, when (or if) I ever get through the books I already have lined up to read. 4 years of college really put a dent in my pleasure reading.

The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail

The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail

ISIS: The State of Terror

ISIS: The State of Terror

The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism

The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism

Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.

Israel Trip: Traveling to Jerusalem

When I was offered the opportunity to go on this trip to Israel, I was really psyched about it. I mean, it’s not every day that you get the chance to travel to one of the most important places in the world. Israel, and Jerusalem specifically, has been the direction of prayer for Jews for thousands of years. For some Christians in some periods it has also served as a direction of prayer. The same can be said for Muslims. During the initial years of Islam, Jerusalem was the qibla, or direction of prayer, before it was switched to Mecca to create a distinction between Muslims and Jews. Jerusalem has been a place of pilgrimage for all three faiths. Millions and millions of people have turned their thoughts, hopes and dreams toward that city. And, I got the chance to go for free. I’m still not entirely sure why. The Jewish Studies program director said it’s just because of who I am. I suppose he means personality and academic achievement, but no matter the reason, I am exceedingly grateful because it was an amazing experience. Life changing in some ways. And, while we didn’t all become the best of friends, we all bonded with each other to varying degrees. How couldn’t we?

The van ride to JFK

The van ride to JFK

But, that came later. Before heading to the airport, we all met up at our professor’s apartment in Manhattan. She had arranged transportation from there to the airport so we could arrive organized, as a group. It was less stressful for her to do things that way and reduced the chances of someone missing the flight.

Security was less aggressive than I expected. I suppose I had built up the interrogation process in my mind and the actual process was sort of a let down. I suppose that sounds sort of odd, but being battered with questions is part of the Israel experience now, for good or bad. I was asked about my identity, who I was traveling with, how long I’d known them, if I’d packed my bags and had my bags in my possession the whole time, and whether or not anyone had tried to give me anything to take to Israel. I was also asked who was in charge of the group and how long I’d known her. I think the process of trying to explain to them that we were all traveling as a group from a school was more complicated and tiresome than answering the questions and Professor Kornfeld handled that part of it anyway.

Awesome memory foam neck pillow.

Awesome memory foam neck pillow.

We wandered around the airport for a while before we headed to the boarding area. I bought a neck pillow. I figured I would need it and got a firm memory foam pillow. It came in handy, especially on the flight back. I thought about how long the week was going to be. Besides Professor Kornfeld, I was the only married person on the trip. I was also the only guy on the trip. That made things interesting, but not in a bad way. But, what I mean is that I was wondering how well things were going to go with my wife being alone for a week with the dog and cats.

People praying in the boarding area by the windows.

People praying in the boarding area by the windows.

When we got to the gate, we went ahead and got in line to board. We stood near the velvet cords that are removed when the staff is going to allow passengers to board. There were people standing by the windows praying. I’m not sure if they were doing evening prayers, praying for a safe flight, or both.

Chassidic guys that cut us in line.

Chassidic guys that cut us in line.

As the time to board came closer, a lot of the Chassidic people decided we weren’t important enough to be at the front of the line, or perhaps that they were too holy to be second, and walked in front of us and squeezed us out of our spot in the line. We had to start telling people the line actually starts at the back, not the front, or I think we would have found everyone bunched in front of us in a huge cluster of stupid.

The El Al staff wasn’t much better. The woman that checked my ticket and passport before letting pass through onto the boarding walkway even made a “psst” noise through her teeth as she handed back my identification. I didn’t have time to stop and think about it then, or perhaps I was too excited to be getting on the plane, but I can’t understand how these people can be so rude to customers and still have their jobs. The flight crew made up for it. They were extremely pleasant.

The El Al plane we flew in.

The El Al plane we flew in.

Interior of the El Al plane.

Interior of the El Al plane.

The plane itself was not impressive. It looked old. The screens on the backs of the chairs were discolored, flickered, or were dim. There was no on-demand video. There was a screen at the front of our section of the cabin that was just set to show what was on one of the available channels. It was worse than most domestic Delta flights I’ve taken. It didn’t hold a candle to Singapore Airlines. Those guys even give out slippers, tooth brushes and tooth paste. Complimentary champagne too, in economy class. El Al wouldn’t even agree to provide vegetarian meals for people in our group who don’t eat meat. But, at least it was safe.

I had a surprise on the plane. When I looked to my left I saw a guy I recognized and after a while I realized he attends the same synagogue I do. When I caught his eye he smiled and waved and I found out he was heading to Israel for a wedding. I bumped into him again at the customs/border control area.

Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.

Mosaics on the wall, heading into the customs/border control area.

Arriving in Israel, we discovered that there is no immigration stamp anymore. Because the Arab countries behave like children and won’t allow anyone in that has an Israeli visa stamp in their passport, Israel has had to change the way they issue visas. Now, they provide you with a printed card that looks sort of like an ID, with a photo and an entry number. You get another one as you leave the country. I was disappointed. Even though not having that stamp is probably best if I want to do more traveling in the region, it would have been cool to have. And, do I really want to visit and spend money in countries that behave like that anyway?

Balloons on the ceiling from families greeting returning loved ones.

Balloons on the ceiling from families greeting returning loved ones.

A large menorah outside Ben Gurion International Airport.

A large menorah outside Ben Gurion International Airport.

We left New York City at about midnight and arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion airport at about 4 PM. The drive to Jerusalem wasn’t that long at all. Before we knew it we were dropping our things off at the hotel. We were staying at the Eldan, across the street from the King David Hotel. I can’t remember if we showered. I’m sure I brushed my teeth at least, but before long we were back in the van and heading out for dinner.

To be continued…

No Time For Cooking

We’ve both been busy and we seem to not have time to cook like we used to so here I am, waiting on dinner at this Chinese place at 10:35 at night. I’m not complaining. The food here is good and they have a lot of vegetarian options. They give out hot tea while you wait for your order as well.

Yum.

Name of the place is Empire Noodle. Also, this is a test of the new Pressgram.

Published via Pressgram

My Curry Experiment

A couple of years ago, when I was living in Singapore, I got over my fears of being poisoned by “the enemy” and tried some Indian Muslim food at a hawker center in Pasir Ris.  Indian food basically means curry.  There’s a lot of different types, but all the curry I had was delicious!  I finally got tired of reminiscing about how great the curry was and my wife and I decided to try our hand at making curry ourselves.

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

Curry Time

After a little trial and error we finally got it down right, using a recipe from a local Indian spice store as a guide.  It was a lot of fun and it’s great to know that we can throw together some curry whenever we want.  It’s amazing how many different types and how great a quantity of spices go into one meal.

I wonder how the first Europeans felt when they got to India and tried the local food?  I mean, obviously they loved it, or the spice trade wouldn’t be what it is today, but what I’m getting at is, were they surprised?  Shocked?  Amazed?  Or did they not like it at first and then it grew on them?  I suppose I’ll research that when I have time, but for now, I’ll just enjoy the goodness that India’s spices create.

National Night Out (Against Crime) 2011

Well, it happened yesterday so this isn’t so much a post about looking forward to observing it as it is about, “Oh look. Llamas and donkeys. Why are those in Campos Plaza?”

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

This immediately reminded me of a joke I heard about Singaporeans.  A teacher (in Singapore, with Singaporean students) asks her young students (think, 8 years old) to draw pictures of farm animals.  So, the students happily sit around drawing for awhile and then present their work to the teacher.  One boy walks up and proudly shows her his drawing of a chicken, and it looks really good, except the chicken he draws has no feathers on it.  She asks him why he drew the chicken without feathers, and he asks, “Chickens have feathers?”

This is funny, but I completely understand the reality behind the joke.  In a place like Singapore, which is highly metropolitan, it would be very rare for kids to see any chickens other than the plucked and cooked ones hanging on hooks at the hawker centers.  Even when I lived in Georgia, I would get excited at seeing horses or cows or other farm animals.

A hawker center in Tampines, Singapore.

Anyway, when I was heading home yesterday, I smelled animals and I saw a lot of people in the square between a set of buildings so I went to investigate and these guys in the photos above were the first thing that pulled my attention.  It was fun!

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I didn’t investigate all of the booths, but the one to the right in the second picture above had face painting, which is why the line was so long.  I imagine the table on the left in the above picture had something to do with distributing literature regarding crime prevention, since it was manned by NYPD officers.

US Army Recruiters at National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I was, of course, drawn to the set up in the photo above.  I was curious to see what the recruiters were up to, having been in the Army myself.  I wound up spending about half an hour chatting with Sergeant First Class Chen.  He’s a pretty nice guy.  We traded a few stories.  I told him about my time in service and he talked mostly about the benefits and stability of joining the Army Reserves after leaving Active Duty, but that’s his job after all.  We did talk a bit about some of the things that make you say, ‘WTF?’ while you’re in service.  It was nice to reminisce for a while, about the time I spent in the military.  It wasn’t all good, but it definitely wasn’t all bad either.

It was a pretty nice event overall, and it was good to see something positive taking place in the square for a change.  The area is known for violence and drug related shootings.  Ironically, the ‘Night Out Against Crime’ booths started shutting down and wrapping up as the sun set.