blogitto ergo sum

January 2, 2017

#226 – Commuter Mug Anyone?

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 23:10
Tags: , ,

Going somewhere? Traveling? BYOC.commuterMUGS-06And it’s not champagne we are talking about.  It’s about the cup and the coffee.

I’ve long ago accepted the fact that more often than not, i’m not going to truly enjoy the over-priced latte i order and pay for, even when being “penalized” for those extra shots of espresso i ask for in my attempt to make it better.
On the other hand, I can do something about maintaining the temperature of whatever the under caffeinated super-pretentious barista put in my mug.

When you are in product management, you can’t help to.  you think of any product or service in terms of features, requirements, tradeoffs, usability, user experience, the cost of a feature vs. the value the end-user [Me, Me!] will attach to it… it simply becomes part of you, your assessment process of most things. honestly, I can’t help it.  Food may be one exception.  As for the rest, the PM approach works.  it’s most obvious when i go car shopping.  Most of the features pitched by the smooth, oh too smooth, sales guy are simply irrelevant in the long run.  Color included.  yes, white is better than black in sunny climates, but won’t break the deal.

So what makes a travel mug an exceptional one?  The obvious top two features woul


Contigo redesigned cap for ease of cleaning

d be to safely contain the liquid and maintain temperature over an extended period of time.  These two, however, are far from enough, and yet many mugs fail.  Don’t say a word of Starbucks or Peet’s’ mugs; they are 99% OEMed anyway.


Over the years, I’ve tried brands and non-brands, including Aladdin, Thermos, and Contigo.  Even There is plenty to choose from you may say, but… they are wrong.  Very few mugs actually deliver on what i think should be the basic set of requirements, going from the hardest to the trivial:

  • Keep it hot.  I mean REALLY hot, for at least four hours – critical for a flight or a road trip, but also for the workday – all places that rarely offer good coffee.
  • Keep me and my bag dry.  Spill and leak proof.  one should be aware that leak proof protects you less than a spill proof.
  • Usable – easy to drink from.  Usability is implied or included in most of the other features, but, when looking at a mug that meets all other nose-cuprequirements, but has for a lid a contraption that keeps hitting your nose or detaches from the mug only to get lost and render the mug useless you realize that some mug designs were led by the technologists, forgetting the usability is a key feature, neither an afterthought, nor a marketing nice-to-have thing.
  • Easy to carry, travel with.  This is tricky.  while handles are useful, when packing,
    traveling, trying to fit in a bag or a backpack, that handle spells trouble.  Miles of travel taught me that the best option is a no-handle mug with a built in D-ring or a clip to attach it.  Haven’t found even one mug to hook up with that meets the two previous requirements
  • Easy to clean.  This is such a basic, fundamental requirement, and yet it seems that all manufacturers, without an exception fail at one level or another.
  • Age well.  Yes, it is a feature, and not a trivial one.  that’s when ROI comes to play a an important role.
  • Capacity. Minimum 16 Oz. definitely a trivial requirement.  there’s no point to invest in a travel smaller mug; it’s that simple.

While working on this blog, friends shared their experience and observations.  just like in mobile, there is no RIGHT answer but lots to share.  A colleague of mine swears by her LiquidLogic mug.  Unfortunately, it seems to be available only for promotional large


nice design, low performance

number orders, so not a real option.  THIS blog post lists about six mugs, most of made by Thermos and Contigo.  This blog mixes office and travel mugs along with flasks and water bottles that could double as hot drinks containers.  Brands such as Hydracentials seem to have ventured to this niche, yet stepped out quickly, leaving loyal drinkers behind without replacement options.  Strangely enough, their mug, still offered via Amazon, looks very much like one of the Thermos mugs.  OEM?  Probably.  I do have one Thermos mug that was OEMed by the Sharper Image, and with a bad painting job too.

Thermos mugs maintain temperature impressively, but fail on three major features: cap is almost impossible to clean and ages badly.  Worth, it’s hard to tell “open” from “close” so spilling accidents are bound to happen.


Currently, the obvious winners for serious commuters is Contigo.  Are they the best? No.  But they are the beast, a the newly easier to clean designed cap with “auto close,” and promotions everywhere including CostCo  I’m still looking, but at least i got the requirements right.

To our hot, unspilled coffee!


October 6, 2011

#196 – the lemon test

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 22:55
Tags: , , ,

I don’t remember when it started.  I do know it became “the lemon test” after FourSquare entered my phone, and check-ins entered FaceBook.


I love water.  It’s the best drink there is.  Period.

Never got into carbonated drinks; can’t find anything soft in them.  Coffee is a whole different story, but we are in cold, refreshing land tonight.

There’s nothing in the world that tastes as great as a glass of cold fresh water, sans ice.  But not all water is born taste-equal.  There’s the kind with a metal aftertaste, there’s the kind with an overdose of chlorine, some plastic aftertaste.  There’s the kind that just tastes awful, so awful as a matter of fact, that it takes acid to wash it off; real lemony acid.   This is how it all started.

I love lemons too.

When there’s no coffee around, and no tea is to be found I’d be happy with hot water w/lemon.

Lemon is predictable [OK the Meyer lemons are amazingly sweet].   Sour is what you get, and I’m ok with that.

Then of course there’s the unavoidable “but why three” question.

Think about it: when ordering water, there are multiple variables one has to take into account.  For example:

which glass is it?

  • Glass size
  • Lemon slice size
  • Taste of water

One slice is never enough.  Two may be just right, but not if the glass is on the large side, nor if the slices are on the thin side.  Three, unless it’s the tiny decorative slices should always work.

Hearing problems of the waiting crowd

I used to say that 80% of waiters can’t count.  Obviously, when asked for three, about 80% of them fail to deliver three.  It got better, or maybe I learned to request better.

Recently, over lunch @ Oran’s Hummus Shop we discussed it, again.  We even engaged Lior, our great waiter, asking for his view of the matter.

There are many reasons why a waiter may fail to deliver lemons.

My assumption always was that it’s about the “auto pilot listening.”  Waiter listens to key words, totally dismisses everything else, assuming he KNOWS what you gonna ask for.  Wrong.

Well, it’s not that simple.  Stress level, how busy the restaurant is factor in.  It also matters where the lemons are coming from.  Getting three lemon slices from the bar is easier than getting them from the kitchen, where it’s received as a more removed request.  The bar however, tends to have thinner slices.

And there’s the personal preference component.  If the waiter thinks two slices to be just right, that’s what I’ll get.  Until I ask again.

So if it’s a test, Martin persists, what it is really testing.  It’s a reflection of the quality of service of the restaurant I argue.  Not the quality of the food, not how clean it is, but how accommodating it is. Is it’s acceptable to ask for the sauce on the side, to eliminate the onion of the salad, and to substitute the rice with steamed vegetables, it’s OK to ask for three slices of lemon.

You could say that it tests the attentiveness level of the waiter/waitress, but that doesn’t factor in how accommodating is the staff that needs to slice the lemon and hand it to the waiter… or if asked for “three”, how it is processed, which brings me back to the notion that it’s about the quality of service the restaurant is able to deliver.

No one can say that lemon slices are an extreme use case.  Now get me those slices please.






August 30, 2011

#195- what’s in a pulke

the joy of pulke?

given the importance that a pulke played in my life [see #194] the following clip is too hard to resist.  i know that most jokes about Jews and chickens focus on the cure-for-all chicken soup.  but i go for the pulke.  extra crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.

i grew up on chicken meat.  wasn’t a big fan of beef until i tasted my first GOOD bloody steak, Argentinian of course.  later, it was followed with a rich  hard to resist roast.  tongue was and is out.

therefore, until late into my teen years, the pulke was MY piece of meat.  it wasn’t until shai and guy graduated from having bits of boneless meat put in their plates that i had to move up into the adult portions of the chicken.  oh well.

like so many kids, regardless of how hungry and harsh their parents’ life had been, i too had to listen to the inevitable “do you know how the starving kids in Biafra [in Nigeria, suffered horrible drought through my childhood] would be happy to have your XXX?” until today the logic escapes me.

  1. i am not happy with this.
  2. you tell me other kids will be.
  3. go give these kids the undesirable load you put in my plate.
  4. make everybody happy.
  5. Extra benefit – i won’t have to work so hard on snicking it to our dog under the table, accumulate an inventory in my mouth that have to be emptied later…  you can make them and me happy.

i’d say go for it.  but my mom never did.

so here’s to all the hungry kids of the world that wanted our meals and never got them.

on a more serious note, i’d like to recommend TWO DEGREES.  this small company truly does good.  not only they make great food bars, all tried and tested, but they also help feed hungry children around the world. for every bar we buy, they give a nutrition pack to a hungry child.  i call it win-win.  their goal?  to feed 200 million hungry children.  buying and eating their healthy great bars brings them and us closer to achieving this goal.  why “two degrees?”  ’cause it’s only two degrees of separation between you and i and that hungry child.  so while i’ll never tell a kid that a hungry child somewhere would love to have his or her meal, I’d happily offer this kid one of these gluten free, vegan, low sodium, no trans fat bars.

order on line or search for a store.  whole foods carry them of course.

Two Degrees of goodness

June 19, 2011

#189 – I Take You [Part I]

I’m going to say something unpopular.  Gays, for all intents and purposes, are a minority. Not an ethnic one, not a socio-economic one, yet a minority.  I have a friend who, while intellectually he is all for equal rights to all in all aspects of life, is extremely uncomfortable in gays’ presence, let alone engaging in a conversation.  I had a Chinese friend that until his late 30s had never met anyone who was openly gay.  I have some [males, of another minority] friends who, terrified, refused to join me for a Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus performance.  Discomfort, prejudice, ignorance & lack of education, fear of interacting with a minority – all are present.  It sucks, it’s sad and it’s a reality I hope will change; correction: SHOULD change.

Are we clear?  Good.

My feelings about big fat weddings are no secret.  The same goes for attending them.  I don’t.  This goes way back, to #87-weddings beware through “skipping” my little brother, Guy’s wedding, to #128 – The year of the ring to the 180° turn of producing a wedding[ #151 – You May Kiss the Bride [part I] and #152 – You May Kiss the Bride [part II]] in my own backyard.

When I told my friends that I’m going to NYC to attend close friends’ [gay] wedding, almost everyone asked if I’d blog about it, tell them how it was…  “Of course,” I said, “it is indeed a blog material.”  And yet, it had taken me 2.5 years to get here.  In a funny way it was the gay thing.  The expectation that a gay wedding must be different, funny and/or weird created an expectation for a cool sensational story.  I don’t do expectations; I aim for doing the right thing.  At times, it’s not the same.

on a recent trip to Israel

Howie and David’s wedding was an amazing experience by any standard.  It was a very classic event; more classic than all the formal weddings I attended in Toronto, Philly, or NY when I was still attending weddings.  Their wedding got mentioned in the NYT wedding section [see below].  Yet for me, more than anything else, it was sharing dear friends’ very happy, very special moment.

Over the years, Howie and I shared boyfriend stories.  My mythological X stories are the kind that if turned into a telenovela would cause viewers to scream at the screen in frustration “how can you be so dumb?! Walk away!”  Howie’s stories were more of the typical kind of “a guy meets a guy, they date, incompatibility issues come up, they split and move on, the end.”  Until David arrived.  After spending some time with the happy couple, I not only liked David very much, but also loved seeing how happy they were together.  This is when, over one dinner, while discussing my not going to a friend’s daughter’s wedding, I promised, “if you guys ever get married, I’ll make the exception and attend your wedding.”  and I meant it too.

happy couple ride

And so, on an October 2008 day, I boarded a flight to New York.  First was an informal dinner for the immediate family and close friends.  Some of them I knew, some of them I met for the first time.  As always, it was delicious, in style and in Café Centro.  Some of the relatives gave me the “who are you and why are you here” look.  Others engaged in interesting conversations.

The happiness radiating from Howie and David was contagious.  John, Robin and I were so excited for Howie and David that we couldn’t just go home after dinner.  We went to further celebrate their union over drinks.  Given that it was Halloween Friday, we ended up in the village.  The late-night crowd was still very much in Halloween mode and it just felt right.

A day later, on Saturday, November 1st, 2008, we met again at the wedding.


New York Times, Weddings/Celebrations

Published online on October 31, 2008, appeared in print on November 2, 2008

Howard Marc Sendrovitz and David Clifford Sinclair celebrated their partnership with a commitment ceremony Saturday evening at the Pegasus Suite of the Rainbow Room in New York. The Rev. Robert Brashear, a Presbyterian minister, and Rabbi Michael E. Feinberg led the ceremony.

Mr. Sendrovitz, 40, works in Jersey City as an executive director in the legal and compliance division of Morgan Stanley; he provides compliance support on issues of registration and employee trading and activities. He graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton and received his law degree from the University of Michigan. He is also the chairman of Risa Jaroslow & Dancers, a New York dance company, and is a son of Evelyn Sendrovitz of Plainview, N.Y., and the late Melvin Sendrovitz.

Mr. Sinclair, 39, is the vice president for organization development at Entertainment Cruises, a Chicago company that operates the Spirit and Bateaux harbor excursions in New York and similar cruises in other cities. He is a son of Ellen Sinclair and Robert E. Sinclair of Vienna, Va.

Mr. and Mr. David Sinclair and Howard Sendrovitz

“What with the wedding,” you may ask.  I say “Part II.”


June 14, 2011

#188 – a Loaded Pig

Note: this post was first published on, a website dedicated to pork and identity, and how our choices surrounding the pig often reveal our cultural backgrounds and worldviews.  Jeffery is a long time friend who earlier this year launched the story project Pork Memoirs.  This is my loaded pig story.  I’m sure most Jews have one.


There’s a Chinese folk saying, “Chinese can eat everything that has four legs, except tables; everything that flies, except for airplanes; and everything that is found on water, except boats!”  From the point of view of the hungry, making a choice to avoid a certain food is viewed as less than smart.  Why would you avoid a good source of proteins [OK, fat too]?

The Pig, among few other animals, is a loaded meat for Jews.  Dear old bible orders us, “the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he chews not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcass shall you not touch; they are unclean to you“[Leviticus 11:7-8].  This is the pig load Jews have been carrying around ever since.

My parents grew up in religious homes; strictly orthodox on my mom’s side, kid-friendly orthodox on my dad’s side.  I grew up in a looser Israeli home, yet, a Kosher one.  Spaghetti Bolognese was made of beef/turkey and served without cheese; chopped liver was never fried in butter, and we never had milk with our meat-based lunch.  Yes, the observant doesn’t mix dairy and meats together.

But… in the pantry, well sealed in hiding, we had one small frying pan and a knife.  These were used on the rare occasion of some good swine making it to home.  In a house were everything was open for discussion, we didn’t talk about it.  Every now and then it provided delicious teasing material about hypocrisy.  My own place has no aspirations to be called kosher.

In 1991, I landed in Canada, Director of Academic Affairs, Tel Aviv U.  My job took me to Canada’s universities, Israel-centered events, Study Abroad Program fairs… I met with university staff, overseas programs’ officials, Jewish student organizations, community activists and many others.

Then the unexpected happened.  I was working hard representing Tel Aviv University, Israel’s largest university, and an open minded, knowledge seeking institute.  Yet, for many if not all, I first and foremost represented Israel.  Slowly, I realized that whether I cared or not, I was expected to act Jewish.  Funny.  No one actually forced me; no one accused me of not making the Jewish threshold.  But after saying once too many “it’s OK, I can eat this [Pork/Ham/Bacon] sandwich, no problem” and getting an awkward look, I got to the point of accepting the expectation.  I stopped eating pork in all public events.  No pig for me.

As much as I hate hypocrisy, I become a public kosher Jew by choice; my choice.  The non-Jews I was interacting with felt more comfortable when I avoided pork and other piggy meats.  By standing out [as the kosher one among all those other international academic program’ representatives], I was fitting in.  Go figure.

Source: Marc Boy's photostream on Flickr

Afterthought: Years later, I no longer tease my parents about their hidden pan.  I don’t bring bacon or ham into my home, only prosciutto on occasion.  Logical?  No.  Rational?  It doesn’t have to be.  My inconsistent relations with the pig are part of my identity.  Judaism is a part of it too; not the orthodox Jewish practice, but Judaism as a culture, heritage and tradition, a tribe I was born into, with collective memories and shared past.


June 13, 2011

#187 – the fun of paan

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,on the road,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:06
Tags: , , , ,

i could have enjoyed India without ever hearing of paan.  many visitors do.  luckily, friends who support and encourage experiencing [mine, not theirs, obviously], introduced me to this very diverse snack/digestive.

Bukhara, New Delhi

i had my first taste of paan in Bukhara, a fancy New Delhi Muslim restaurant located within the ITC Maurya hotel.  Bukhara is known for its grilled meats [all shahda halal].

dining @ Bukhara with two vegetarians meant no extra carnivorous  to share more of its flag dishes with.  at the end of our meal, when asked if i wanted to try something different, very local, of course i said “yes.”  and paan arrived.

an infomercial moment:  The betel leaf is popularly known as paan in India. It is a medicinal plant whose leaves are taken as a spice. Paan is an evergreen.  The leaves are glossy and heart shaped. Of the many varieties of betel leaves, the best one is called magahi and is from the region of Magadh, in Bihar, India.
The paan leaves are generally chewed either by themselves or in combination with slaked lime, betel nuts (areca variety) and other exotic stuff like aniseed and sometimes tobacco etc.

my first paan

first taste: a bit chewy, no distinctive taste…  can’t determine if i like it or not.  definitely a labor intensive jaw work.  i file it under “requires further investigation.”

Bangalore, a day or two later.  i spend the day with Narayanan, an old friend who moved from the valley back to India.  i mention the paan and am surprised to learn that there are more kinds; let’s call them the sweet and the interesting, otherwise known as zarda paan and meetha paan.

Narayanan and i tour Bangaluru and once again i’m reminded of how different a town feels when you walk it with a local friend who knows you and knows the city.

sometime between lunch and our afternoon dessert we pass by a paan man.  it’s a one man show on the back of his bicycle.


“do you want to try a different paan?”

of course I do.  a whole negotiation dialog is taking place.  while waiting for the special one paan to get prepared, i get to eat two very sweet paans. love it.  would be perfect with tea.

paanman is putting whatever he is putting together, rolling it, while I’m being “coached” for my special paan tasting.  i am to follow very strict instructions:

  • you chew it.  thoroughly and slowly
  • under no circumstances you are to swallow anything.  do you hear me?  swallow NOTHING!  you’ll get very sick if you will
  • whenever you accumulate juices you spit.  you MUST spit.

hold it right there.  i was taught NEVER to spit.  and in the street?  what would my mom say if she saw me spitting in the street?!

in return i get an extra slow explanation for dummies: “don’t swallow any of it.  you’ll get very sick.  spit it out!!!”

people gather to watch.  paan  is ready.  i get yet another warning.  “SPIT!  remember to SPIT!”

i start chewing.  almost instantly juices start to accumulate.  the website says, “In urban areas, chewing paan is generally considered a nuisance because some chewers spit the paan out in public areas. The red stain generated by the combination of ingredients when chewed are known to make a colorful stain on the ground. This is becoming an unwanted eyesore in Indian cities such as Mumbai, although many see it as an integral part of Indian culture.”

now i don’t know about you, but spitting taboo means that i never got any practice.  i have no idea how one creates the momentum to create a nice arch.  thoughts of Dune and the samota chewing and spitting run through my head.  meanwhile the saliva level in my mouth keeps rising.  I’m getting to the point of having no choice.

the fun of paan

“spit” narayanan orders, “spit!”  and i do.  it doesn’t go very far.  i dig into my pocket to get some tissues.  now try laughing, chewing, spiting.  tough.  “people are watching you”, Narayanan informs me.  it doesn’t help.  i laugh harder, which makes spitting harder.

Betle Leaf

the orange drops stain my lips, i can feel it.  and then Narayanan orders, “spit it all out.  enough.”  i obey.  “how do you feel? anything?”  nothing.  we walk another block and then i get a zarda message from my head, it’s about 0.25 meter above my neck.  two minutes later it’s over.  much a chew about nothing.  only now i get to hear Narayanan’s own paan story.  no wonder he was so protective of me.  this one is filed under nice.  happy to try again.

i asked a few Indian friends.  answers vary.  Harry M, not your typical Indian, said “i love it.  in my experience, the one with gulkhand [a sweet preserve of rose petals] is the best.”  and i think; this is the sweet paan.  makes for a great after dinner sweet.

and how come only HM told me about the paan khajur, which if made of dates and it “to die for.”  still hadn’t had a chance to taste one.

got paan?

No more paan for me

researching for this blog, i came across this byte of information, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards the chewing of betel-quid and areca nut to be a known human carcinogen.  The main carcinogenic factor is believed to be areca nut. A recent study found that areca-nut paan with and without tobacco increased oral cancer risk by 9.9 and 8.4 times, respectively. [Source: International Journal of Cancer, Volume 86, Issue 1, pages 128–131, 1 April 2000]

remember that Fall Out Boy song?  “Thanks for the memories.”  paan out.


May 4, 2011

#179 – pizza, my way [part I]

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:42
Tags: ,

I enjoy a good pizza.  thin crust, fresh topping, minimal or better, no cheese.  or if you have to, make it feta or goat.  meat?  DO NOT even think about pepperoni.  or sausage.  and yet, i came a long way; indeed.

skipping the pizza trivia, when and where which pizza was invented, served and why, who was margarita…  most of the answers can be found here  and  here.  both links however, are US-biased.  this link offers some Italian perspective.  and yes, it was indeed invented in Italy, but had its big break in the US.

confession: given my current commitment to pizza, one may find it hard to believe that  it wasn’t until my early 20s that I’ve eaten anything pizza but the pizza edges, i.e. the topless crust.  it took the IDF to get me to eat hard cheese [“yellow cheese” is the Israeli term], melted or not.

pizza my way - 1st 20 years

even today, my first choice of pizza is a cheese-less one.

pizza-ignorant, i made it through life with a very low opinion of this playground of creativity. the pizza selection in Israel of my childhood and teenage years was limited and anything but creative or high quality.  tomato soup with melted cheese and some stuff on it or in it, resting on a thick baked bed summed it up.  not even once i ordered pizza or got one delivered.

In Hebrew we call it "to open a table" - לפתוח שולחן

what was my favorite food then?  funny, i can’t remember ever going out of my way for any food.  agnostic?  Falafel was Devora’s, middle-eastern salads were great, gefilte fish was for old people, and pasta was better known as noodles, macaroni and spaghetti.  everything was simple and i ate more vegetables and salads than i do today.  much more.  as a student [post army service in Israel] vegetable pies and quiches were the hit of the day and i was creative about making my own salad dressings from scratch. yes, salads ruled.  onion soup was big too.  from scratch.  6 large onions per batch, lots of tears, and don’t forget the toast with the melted cheese on top.  croutons are for salad.  i used white wine for the onion soup much more than drank it. if  you could just get it delivered every Friday, I’d be HAPPY.  this blog, from which the above open table photo is borrowed, offers good insight to the middle-east food of my childhood.  my Ashkenazi heritage took care of the Eastern-European flavors and foods.

i had my pizza AHA moment when i volunteered in a Toronto Italian restaurant [see #176 – Bettolona, NYC. Eat, Drink, ENJOY].  for his birthday, Mario, the chef-owner, had a pizza party for friends at the restaurant after closing.  the only food offered was pizzas – thin crust pizzas, with toppings like I’ve never seen before.  tuna chunks, eggs, pickles, chickpeas… practically anything and everything edible found in the kitchen was converted to a pizza topping.  when i questioned it, Mario said that this is the real spirit of pizza making.  not a bath of melted cheese.  apparently when it comes to pizza, a good crust and a good mix of toppings that live in peace and harmony is all it takes.  thin crust of course.  forget Chicago.

when MohamedA offered to introduce me to Mediterranean pizza in the neighborhood, i agreed without hesitation.  good marketing is selling you something you have thought you needed.  feeding you [off the menu] Middle-Eastern pizza, with the spices, herbs and flavors you grew up on, is getting you addicted to the taste of home.  in Via Mia’s case it’s much more than that.  since that lunch, i keep coming back, again, and again, and again. initiating one friend after another, savoring the flavors, enjoying and sharing Mohamed’s warm and generous hospitality, in addition to the great pizzas.  often, VERY often.  so when you tease me and call me the owner, i laugh and take it as a compliment.  ’cause while i don’t own the place, i do own an abundant curiosity and respect to experimenting with food, commitment to quality and ever improving, with no show off.  who imagined that I’ll  find it in a hole-in-the-wall pizza place.  this is pizza MY WAY – Via Mia Pizza on El Camino.

from pita to pizza

for months now I’ve been initiating one friend after another, sharing these great pizzas and Mohamed’s warm and generous hospitality.  if i haven’t taken you there yet i either owe you an apology,  or hmm, maybe you are not around?  regardless and to make it clear, this is your invitation.  just say when.


April 7, 2011

#176 – Bettolona, NYC. Eat, Drink, ENJOY

The king sent me there.  and i didn’t even know i knew a king.  but as far as Sando, owner/manager of Bettolona is concerned, i do.

when Andreas gave me the lay of the land, he pointed out Bettolona as his favorite and the best place nearby, recommending the food and the owner’s warm and welcoming attitude he did well.  all proved to be very much true.

My love story with Italian restaurants is longer than the ones i have with any other cuisine, Chinese included.

it started years ago, when i lived in Toronto.  there was that Italian restaurant, not far from the office where my bookkeeper and i had our lunches there now and then; dinner when she had to work late…  my expense reports  BTW, were always on time then – she managed to get a lot done in one day/month.  with time, i introduced other friends to the restaurant; all were happy with many returns.  eventually, i became a regular.  at first i was offered Sambuca on the house, which was politely yet always rejected.  Anise and I don’t meet. then it was desserts, “you must try this dish i made today”…  eventually, i stopped looking @ the menu and asked Mario – the chef/owner – to surprise me. disappointment was never present.  the game changer was, how predictable, a cup of cappuccino.  one evening, i asked to make my own.  “do you know how to use the machine?” was the skeptical question.  “of course i do” was my confident answer. pause, hesitation and “OK, but be careful.”

in an Italian restaurant, where all the staff is male, a gal behind the bar was a very unusual sight.  i had 4 pairs of eyes carefully watching me making that test cup.

i passed, nothing exploded, i didn’t burn myself.  there was a silent respect in the air.  only now, years later, i am ready to admit that it wasn’t my best cappuccino.  one needs to know a machine, the pressure of the steam…  first cup with a new machine can hardly ever be a good one.  two weeks later, i asked to volunteer in the kitchen, one evening a week.  i didn’t mind doing any and all dirty jobs, but Mario had to answer all my questions – that was the deal.  i went through evenings in which for 4 hours i cleaned shrimps.  other evenings were devoted to peeling and mincing garlic.  DO NOT RUB your eyes after such evening, unless you have a very good reason to cry and some sins to pay for.

being part of the kitchen scene, being a part of the flow of a restaurant evening, helping when a party required 40 servings of Chicken Parmigiana pronto was an amazing learning experience that completely changed my view of food making, efficiency, stress…  Conducting this orchestrated performance is no easy task.  in this world, deadlines and processes are measured in minutes, not in man weeks; you cannot delay launch time, a bug in your delivered product may easily be beyond fixing…  ever.  and you may lose more than one customer…

the immortal Swedish chef / Muppet show

i hold great respect for the chefs/managers who manage to schmooze with customers, never revealing the stress of “do i have enough chicken breast tonight to accommodate all these light eaters?”, “the couple in table 4 is having a fight, what can i do to make them happy?” “we may have half-cooked too much pasta tonight”, “i need another 4-people table NOW”, “i have to visit that one @ table 6 again – she is friends with the king”…

While taking my MBA, i convinced the school to offer us a business plan writing course.  i had to “recruit” enough students who’d commit to taking the class, convince the president of the school [Thank you Lyn] it should be part of the curriculum…  it was fun.  the business plan that my team wrote was for a restaurant.  P. said she wanted to open a restaurant and we went along with it.  the idea we finally agreed on was cool, still is; a noodle restaurant that offers noodle dishes of the world.  Fusion yet basic food in a bowl.  we were a fusion-ed team alright; one Thai, two Chinese, one Israeli.  i even created two dishes for our proof of concept testing/tasting dinner, one of them was to be the “house dessert” as i named it “noodles nest” as was the name of the restaurant to be.  My friend Vivian designed our logo pro bono.  it was an amazing learning experience.  nothing else would convince me as strongly that doing it right, with the quality and style that I’d want my restaurant to be, is as close to slavery as a business can be.  so many factors compute into becoming a success that it’s a gamble, and a very expensive one too.  more so when it’s your first restaurant.  the success rate of 2nd restaurant owners is dramatically higher.  sounds like any start-up land, doesn’t it?  i wonder if the success rate is similar, pretty sure the payoff in technology is greater than that of the food industry.

Enjoying Bettolona - Silvano's amazing cookbook, cappuccino & tiramisu

all these memories and insights run though my mind as i enjoy the food, the atmosphere and Sando’s company @ Bettolona.   Training last under Silvano from Da Silvano, the strong commitment to quality, simplicity, using the freshest ingredients and diversity is all present.  the menu offers something for everyone; and it’s something good.  i love the fact that they do not follow the trend of small portions that get lost in monster-size plates.  i hate it, and the small tables in most restaurants hate it too.  so normal size plates, great.  the portions though are tastefully generous.  in two of the meals i had, i ended up taking home part of my meal.

“so, what’s with the king?”  i asked  Sando in my last dinner there.  his answer demonstrates why he manages to create such a great atmosphere for the restaurant.  being a good people reader is key to knowing how to reach out to them, how to communicate with them.  “he always walks in with class and style, polite and friendly, yet maintains distance, smiles but…”  i couldn’t help laughing.  if you know the king, i think you’d agree with this description.  i, on the other hand, got no title, but more than enough attention, royal or not is arguable.

trying to characterize the clientele, i realized it’s practically impossible.  the diner featured in the the photos above was a photographer’s joy, but in no way a typical patron.  students, professionals, all the way to over dressed heavily old-fashioned jeweled patrons who enjoyed  the a concert in the Manhattan School of Music 3 blocks away; all shared the joy of eating.  having dinner served at 10:30 is nother pleasure i painfully miss in the valley.  and sometimes, in San Francisco too.

bottom line?  great restaurant, even if the location is a bit out of your way.  take #1, get off @ 125th street, and walk 3 minutes.  you can do it.

my last dinner before leaving the city

salad, pasta, dessert @ Bettolona

Swedish chef from:  thank you.


December 31, 2005

#92 – Food Politics, written: Dec. 31, 2005

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,life matters,Opinionated,reading material — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 22:26
Tags: ,

Food Politics – Interesting concept, isn’t it? One Marion Nestle, doctor from NYU, wrote a book titled exactly that, Food Politics. As I add soymilk to my morning coffee (ran out of cow milk with the previous cup), I can’t help wondering about what’s REALLY better, soymilk or the “made by a cow” one? No worry, this is not intended to be a nutrition session. I enjoy both. However, truth to be told, the coffee tastes better with cow’s product.
So, what is “food politics” and why should one care about it? Food companies, just like the cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, or any other commodity manufacturers, routinely place their need to make money over the considerations of public health, OUR HEALTH specifically.
The disconcerting thing is that much of what the food companies do in order to create a favorable sales environment for their (fat/cholesterol/sugar/food additives) products – lobbying, marketing, engaging the services of renowned nutrition experts – is conducted behind the scene, away from our hungry consuming eyes and bellies.
This goes to the extreme that the political system and the nutrition experts that some of us religiously follow, are harnessed to encourage us to eat more of THEIR “preferred friends’” products, whether or not healthy. The author, Marion Nestle (talking about promoting Food…) shares her experience chairing a USDA committee dealing with nutritious recommendations, in which on her first day on the job, was told by the big Kahuna that she can recommend anything, as long as her recommendations will say nothing about avoiding beef. The cow farmers have a very active bullish like lobby; one that believes that what is good for the National Cattlemen’ s association is moooooooch more important than our health. The cigarette companies lost the battle, the food guys however, are still feeding of our malnutrition.
And if you care for a big, cholesterol (& fat, & sugar) rich meal, here’s the place to go.

Out for Lunch

True, real people’s lunches cannot compete with the millennia long lunches of the staff of the Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy, but it doesn’t mean that real people cannot have experiences in their on little galaxy. The Deli lunch in New York is what made places such as 2nd Avenue Deli, Carnegie Deli, Katz’s Deli, Stage Deli and others the landmarks that they are – must visit spots that make many diners, Jews and non-Jews alike, very cholesterol-happy.
On a recent Saturday, I was guided to another local “institution”, Harold’s NY Deli !
Cheesecakes and chocolate cakes  – one foot high and 40 pounds heavy, 19-ounce pastrami sandwiches, matzo balls (kneidalach) the size of oranges and two-pound super-size éclairs–food for giant appetites.

We shared a roast beef sandwich for lunch, and managed to consume only half of it, the other half provided great sandwiches for another two days. Two weeks later, having to share this amazing experience, I brought my parents in. The three of us shared one sandwich and one potato pancake (Latke) the size of a frying pan. One order, 3 diners, and we had a problem finishing our meal. Admitting to the enormous size of their dishes, one is encouraged to share, with no extra charge. The scary thing though, is how many diners don’t.

America XXXXL.

@ Herolds

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