Impromptu Russian Night

November 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

Woke up early, yesterday.  Not sure why.

Spent most of the day watching college football and successfully relaxing before the big week ahead. The person we sublet from left a ridiculous media center, couch, and a slough of free premium movie channels. Add to that the factthat (A) it was chilly out and (B) that we live on a fourth floor walk-up and you have yourself a screaming inner voice that says  “Sit your ass on the couch all day. You earned it.”

Best Friend

Later on, we did actually leave the apartment to buy ingredients for our impromptu and unintended Russian night: Beef Stroganoff with Moscow Mules. Added bonus: the drink gave me an opportunity to buy the insanely cheap limes I had seen on Church Street.

The Stroganoff was easy to make and tasted fantastic…but it is not health food. If you look at the recipe (a combination of this and this), you’ll see why. Butter, sour cream, steak, and beef broth? But how could it taste bad? The answer is, it can’t.

The Moscow Mule is definitely worth a try. It’s not too sweet and the ginger gives it a pleasant crispness. Tip: if you too are considering an impromptu Russian night, I’d drink the leftover Stroganoff wine (see below) with dinner and drink the Mule after dinner.

The rest of the night was spent watching almost every top ten football team lose. When the Badgers aren’t in that mix, which they sadly are not, the upsets are always welcome.

The new job starts on Monday. Since I’m working in Midtown, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of new food experiences. Wish me luck.

Recipes from Impromptu Russian Night

The legend holds that an servant originally made the dish for a toothless Count Stroganoff to help him overcome his handicap

Simple Beef Stroganoff Recipe

Ingredients: (1) Half stick butter (2) 1 package fresh mushrooms, sliced (3) 4 green onions, sliced–white part only; (4) 1 clove garlic, minced (5) 3/4 pound top sirloin, thinly sliced (6) half can condensed beef broth (7) 1/3 cup sour cream (8) 4 tablespoons flour (9) a few dashes of red wine (10)  Egg noodles (11) salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Step 1: saute mushrooms, onions, and garlic in butter til tender. Step 2: Remove contents of pan and place in bowl. Step 3: In same pan, use butter residue to brown steak. Step 4: start boiling water for egg noodles. Step 5: when steak is brown, add broth, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Step 6: start boiling water for egg noodles.  Step 7: combine rest of the ingredients in the pan and simmer for a few minutes. Step 8: cook noodles. Step 9: put stew over noodles, pour the remaining wine into glasses, and enjoy.

Actually an American drink dreamed up during the "vodka craze" of the 1950s.

Moscow Mule: 

Ingredients: 1 part lime juice, 2 parts vodka, 4 parts ginger beer*

Directions: Combine ingedients in a tall (collins) glass with ice. Feel free to add a slice of orange or tangerine.

*No ginger beer? You can combine a shot of ginger syrup and fill the remainder of the glass with club soda. Note: we found a few places in Brooklyn that sold ginger syrup, but discovered that we could make it at home for cheaper.


Produce, Parking, and Trinidad

November 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of many produce shops along Church Street

Yesterday morning, I went over to the cool little produce corridor, down the street from our place to buy some fruit. The selection isn’t the best quality, but when you can get 9 apples in New York City for $2.25, I won’t complain. Most grocery stores are overpriced. For example, later on I bought a box of everyday cereal on sale for $3.99. [Expletive deleted]!.)

These limes are actually expensive. I've seen 40 for $1.

After shopping, I moved my car. Daily alternate side parking rules for street cleaning seems a little excessive to me.  Note: if you move to New York City, call 311. The rules are not always in effect. It’ll save you some time and having to park miles away from your apartment (like I sometimes have to do).


I spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon blogging, watching movies on free promotional premium channels, and relaxing before my hectic full time work/night time tutoring/bar studying commences on Monday. Sleep may soon take on “hobby’ status.

That night, my fiance’ and I couldn’t decide what we wanted to eat, so we went wandering. New York City is one of a few cities where having no plans for dinner is a good thing. You’ll be sure to find something and it will almost always taste better than the equivalent in any other city.

Christmas is already in full force on Flatbush Avenue

We ended up eating at a Trinidadian Roti place called Ali’s. While “Roti” is a variety of unleavened breads eaten through most of the Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the West Indies–“Roti”,  in our neighborhood of mostly Caribbean immigrants, typically means a curried meat and chick pea burrito-like entree (which has always left me wanting a chicken tikka masala burrito from the Bay Area’s Curry Up Now Truck). This time around, the “Roti” was mediocre at best (read full review here).¹ We probably should have known when the place was mostly empty when we entered (the first Roti place we went to was a zoo).

I learned that ordering "Bussup Shut" means the Roti comes in non-burrito form and the bread is slightly tastier, i.e. buttered.

I ended the night by watching the movie Closer. If you’re ever in too good of a mood and want to feel like your relationship is perfect, give it a stab (No, mom, it’s not that show on TNT with Kyra Sedgwick).

Lesson 1: Don’t buy produce from grocery stores. You will get ripped off.

Lesson 2: Don’t eat cereal.

Lesson 3: Always, always, always, have your mobile Yelp app ready for random forays into unfamiliar restaurants.

¹This review is relative to other New York City Roti I’ve had. If I had this meal in Princeton, Minnesota, I would think it was amazing.

Brooklyn, Minnesota

November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not going to say I was the busiest human being on the planet yesterday–that’d probably be Penn State’s PR department–but I will say it was pretty hectic. Turns out, the busy day had some positive outcomes.

Try to keep up.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn (home) –> Midtown, Manhattan

Time Square is in there somewhere

I had a job interview for a marketing position with a software firm, so I spent the morning figuring out what the heck a thing called “Product Life-cycle Management” was. Then, I showered, suited-up, and departed for the subway. It was raining and I had no umbrella. Great.

I rode the train dismissively. I approached the interview like Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. When asked by the parole board if he should be released from prison, the oft rejected Red answers, in part, “I don’t give a shit.” It is at that point, Red is finally released. The moral seems to be that you will finally get what you want when you stop caring about it. I am getting to that point in my job hunt.

It was, however, hard for me to remain uncaring when I later learned the job would pay me to Facebook, Tweet, and Blog all day. I think the interview went fine, but who knows? Good thing I don’t care, right Red?

Off to lunch.

Midtown, Manhattan–> Financial District, Manhattan


My fiancee’ works on the Southern tip of Manhattan, so we decided to meet up for lunch. Yes, it was still raining. Great.

We sat down at a bustling Cuban restaurant called “Sophies” and ordered (1) Ox Tail Stew, (2) a beef patty, and (3) the “Pernil with a Twist” (A sanwich with roast pork, mayo, onions, sweet plantains, and a spicy-ish green sauce called “Adji“). If you’ve ever had a “Gobbler”–a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich–the Pernil is the Cuban version and it’s awesome.² Give it a try if you’re in the financial district of Manhattan. The rest of the food was good and bountiful, but this sandwich was a unique experience.

We talked about the day to come and our weekend plans. We determined, as we always do and fail to do, that we would relax this weekend. I give us til about 2pm on Saturday before we crumble and go exploring.

The plates were cleaned and we soon parted ways. She went back to work and I had to go turn some forms in for my tutoring duties.  Yes, it was still raining. I was worried my wet suit would start to unravel and I would take on the appearance of Principal Rooney (Jefferey Jones) in the conclusion of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Off to the Library.

Financial District, Manhattan–>Brooklyn Public Library

No Goosebumps in this entire thing?

I had two tutoring sessions later that night and I was running late. The train was an express and skipped my stop. I corrected myself by taking the local back.

I decided a few days ago that my students needed to enjoy reading before they could analyze, summarize, or even, in some circumstances, comprehend what they were reading. So, based on our nearly two weeks of discussions, I tried to figure out what books they would like and would also be somewhat educational.

Ramond, as discussed in a previous post, has trouble with even simple English due, in part, to the lack of spoken English in his house. I needed to pick something that would be simple, yet not condescending. He said he liked scary, so I wanted to get R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps. That, to my, well, horror, was not available –how could there be no Goosebumps? I decided on an Encyclopedia Brown and Coraline. One a mystery and the other a spooky adventure.

Next was Kurt, a warm teenager of Caribbean descent with dreams of the NFL, said he liked scary stuff (he told me his favorite scary movie was Insidious. I tried to hide how impressed I was with his selection). I thought, given his age and imagination, Kurt would like a favorite of my teenage age: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury.

I could not decide what a girl would like. I left with nothing for Marta, a smart, energetic Art-teacher wannabe.  Every time I tried to make a selection I was confronted with the thought of her giggling and going “that’s lame, Mark.” It appears teenage girls still frighten me, even in my late 20’s. She got nothing.

I raced out of the Brooklyn Public Library with my stack of books (including a few for myself).

You know how movie thrillers based in New York always depict it as rainy? Well, they’re accurate. It was still raining.

Brooklyn Public Library–>Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Prospect Park

I stepped out of the subway station near my apartment. It was 4:14pm. My lesson with Ramond started at 4:30.

I quickly changed out of my wet-dog smelling suit and into my casual wear. Then I ran to my car, panicked for about forty-five seconds about how I have only received one query for the sale of said car, and sped off toward Kensington.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn–>Kensington, Brooklyn

I arrived late for my session with Ramond–I had already been running late and parking sucked..because its New York. The two hour lesson with Ramond entailed nothing but reading out loud from his new Encylopedia Brown book. I would stop him occasionally, correcting his pronunciation of words and asking him if he knew what a certain word meant. Yes, he was still having trouble with the word “possible”. In 90 minutes, he read eleven pages.

At the end of the lesson, his mother and his brother and sister came into the room and I told everyone how important reading was. I told Ramond he needed to read a passage from his Encyclopedia Brown book to his brother, sister, and mom every night before bed. I left, somewhat pessimistic about my request being honored.

I need to learn Spanish.

Kensington, Brooklyn–>Dumbo, Brooklyn

Did I mention it's right next to the bridge?

No, you are not seeing things. The area I went to next is called Dumbo. It’s located on the Northern tip of Brooklyn, right next to the Brooklyn Bridge.

I fought 7pm rush hour (only in LA and NYC) over the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) to pick up a Craigslist purchase–bar prep books. As depressing and embarrassing as it is to admit, I failed my recent attempt at passing the New York Bar. I missed passing by a gut-wrenchingly narrow margin.

On the positive side, I had received an email earlier that day informing me that I would be receiving a $1000 refund check from my previous bar prep provider. Underemployed and overloaded with student loan debt, $1000 is nothing to sneeze at. Although, as I told my brother over the phone as he guided me to my destination, getting excited about a refund for not passing the bar–an agonizing 2-3 month study period–is like bragging about getting reimbursed for a botched root canal.

I quickly handed over the money for some new (more effective) study books ($60<$1000) and continued on to my next tutoring session with Kurt.

Dumbo, Brooklyn–>East Flatbush, Brooklyn

Apparently, Brooklyn has two 52nd streets. I ended up on the west side of Brooklyn when I wanted to go east. Needless to say, I was a little late for my session. Kurt and I worked on a little Algebra, but when I showed him the book I brought him there was no use discussing anything else. To my shock, he started reading the introduction to the Illustrated Man immediately.

As a teacher, to watch a kid that has trouble sitting still for more than a minute silently read a novel was very gratifying. Was I going to say “you need to read this on your own time?” Hell no. Read away, my young padawon. Right then, my not passing the bar seemed so secondary and inconsequential (I hope his mom doesn’t think I’m encouraging him to get a tattoo).

Kurt’s mom asked if I could leave a little early (9:30pm)–she was tired. It had been a long day, so I said “fine by me.” Before I left, I told Kurt to text me after he had read the first part of the book, a story called “The Veldt,” about two kids that experiment with a virtual reality room that allows them to reproduce any reality they can imagine…with creepy consequences.

East Flatbush, Brooklyn–> Prospect Park, Brooklyn (home)

I got home to find that my fiancee’ had cooked an awesome tofu dish for me. I watched the newest episode of American Horror Story, groggily read a little of Joe Hills’³ Heart Shaped Box, then crashed.

The busy day was over…or was it?

Epilogue: Appleton, Wisconsin–>Prospect Park, Brooklyn

This is Wisconsin, East Coasters. It is a state.

Remember when I said I treated that job interview like the apothetic Red from Shawshank Redemption? Well, the next morning I got a call from the Software firm’s head of marketing. Guess what? They offered me a job.³

Also interesting, the woman I spoke with telecommutes from Appleton, Wisconsin, of all places. She liked how I had attended UW-Madison (Go Badgers!), but also that the last line of resume’ says “Lived through eighteen Minnesota winters.” She said, “anyone that can live through that can handle anything.” We both laughed.

We really do live in a small world. After talking to this woman, I felt like I really was living in a little town called Brooklyn, Minnesota.

Lesson 1: If you’re beaten down and depressed about not getting something you want, tell yourself “I don’t give a shit.” Something good will happen.

Lesson 2: Always remember how small the world actually is.

Lesson 3: Eat more Cuban food.

¹If you’re ever in Martha’s Vineyard, go to Humphrey’s Bakery and order the Turkey Gobbler. You will have no regrets.

²Stephen King’s son.

³Note: I heard about this job on Craigslist and I wasn’t even going to interview for it until my brother told me to stop being lazy. Major thanks to my brother.

The Gutenberg Dictionary

November 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, I was tutoring Ramond. Ramond lives in a densely populated enclave of Orthodox, Hebrew-speaking Jews and Latin Americans. Never have I ever regretted taking German in High School more.

Ramond is in 9th grade and English is definitely his second language. I have a sinking feeling that the only English that is spoken in his family’s apartment is when I arrive every Monday and Wednesday night to teach English Language Arts and Algebra.

Like most of my students, I am greeted with a disinterested look upon entering. Ramond’s mother tries her best to communicate with me, but for the most part it’s nods and smiles between the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, I blame myself far more than I blame her for the language barrier. Someone not learning Spanish in America is like someone wearing a Tom Brady jersey to a Jets bar–it’s idiotic (and could get you killed).

Given that Ramond is in 9th grade I wrongfully assumed that he would be, in the least, a decent reader. In our most recent session, I had to explain the difference between “possible” and “impossible” through a horribly improvised ceiling analogy (“you can’t go higher than the ceiling, so that is impossible“). I might have confused him more.

Due to the reading trouble, doing Algebra problems has become almost…well…impossible. Even if Ramond did understand the logic behind the math problem–which I think he does–he can’t read most of the question prompts in order to implement the tools in his toolbox, so to speak. You can’t solve for “x”, if you don’t know that “x” represents the range in tire pressure between two car tires (my pictures were ineffective).

So, yesterday, I decided we would spend most of our time on reading English. My genius idea was to have Ramond read passages and look up words in the dictionary as he went along. This was an embarrassing mistake.

Me: Do you have a dictionary?

Ramond: “Yes.”

Ramond then walked to his kitchen and returned in minutes with a tattered pile of papers that could be best described as the “Gutenberg Dictionary”. The book was in rougher shape than the Magna Carta.

The word he needed to look up first was “intrigue.” We both looked through the pile of papers, but were quickly met with a disappointing reality: there was no “I” section and, thus, no listing for “intrigue”. I ended up pulling out my Blackberry and looking up the meaning for him online (I could not recite the exact definition).

When I as growing up, my family always had a specially positioned dictionary–a hard-covered tome that was always available for any $10 word Ray Bradbury (or whomever else I soaking up that week) could dream up. It was embarrassing for me to assume that every family would have such a book.  But, then, I thought, why would a family that has so much trouble with English not have a dictionary in their home?

Is it wrong to assume that each family should have such a book? Especially when there is no internet access?

I’m trying to figure out what to do next time. Ramond says he like scary stuff. I wonder if Goosebumps would be a good idea? I guess I have to determine his reading level first. How does one do that?