Friday, May 26, 2017

Trump brings his 'America First' campaign to heart of Europe, shaking other leaders

Cartoons by Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Tribune, above, and R.J. Matson of Roll Call, below, comment on President Trump's visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel, where he failed to advance the Mideast peace process.
For more political cartoons, go to Cagle.com.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J. 

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

"A stern lecture. A white-knuckled handshake. Jostling at the group picture. President Trump's day with NATO leaders had its moments."

This is how The New York Times' "Top Stories" email summed up Trump's confrontational meeting with European leaders at a new NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium:

"President Trump on Thursday punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe, declining to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge and lashing out at fellow members for what he called their 'chronic underpayments' to the alliance.
"On a tense day when Mr. Trump brought the 'America first' themes of his presidential campaign to the very heart of Europe, he left European leaders visibly unsettled, with some openly lamenting divisions with the United States on trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.
"The discord was palpable even in the body language. When Mr. Trump greeted Emmanuel Macron, France’s new president, the two leaders, jaws clenched, grabbed each other’s hands in an extended grip that turned Mr. Trump’s knuckles white. When the leaders lined up to pose for the traditional photograph of leaders at NATO headquarters, Mr. Trump appeared to push aside the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, to get to his assigned place in the front."

The Record

Page 1 of The Record reported Trump's son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner "has caught the attention of federal investigators for his contacts with Russian officials" (1A).

But news of Trump's meeting with NATO leaders and related stories are relegated to 9A and 10A.

French kissing

Food Editor Esther Davidowitz developed a convenient case of amnesia in a bid to promote a new French bakery in Elmwood Park.

On Tuesday, Davidowitz plastered the front of Better Living with a photo and story about a couple of transplanted French pastry chefs who say they are bringing "a little taste of Paris to New Jersey."

Of course, in a January story in Better Living, Davidowitz described Balthazar in Englewood as "the highly venerated French bakery." 

In fact, she quoted Armel Joly, a Parisian who lives in River Edge and owns a French restaurant in Manhattan, on Balthazar's signature baguette:

"Their [Bathazar's] baguettes are the closest thing we have to a French baguette from Paris."

Conveniently, there was no mention in Tuesday's story of Balthazar providing "a little taste of Paris" since its retail store opened in late November 2002.

Fast food

In today's Better Living tab, Davidowitz explores a food phenomena that is the polar opposite of a high-quality baguette: low-quality hot-dog joints in North Jersey.

Diets high in such processed meats as hot dogs have been linked with cancer, especially colorectal cancer, but that doesn't concern Davidowitz.

This latest "food crawl" is among the scraps Gannett editors at The Record have been throwing to readers since November, when the weekly restaurant review was eliminated in an economy move.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

From Hackensack to Mexico City, we can't resist the allure of tortillas, moles & salsas

For Mexican-inspired food at home, I poached wild-caught shrimp from Whole Foods Market in the store's 365 Everyday Value Thick & Chunky Salsa.
For sophisticated Mexican food out, I ordered Alambre de Camarones or Veracruz-style grilled wild jumbo shrimp served with achiote rice and salsa verde picante at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant in Hackensack.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

A photo-filled cover story on "modern Mexican" food had my mouth watering as I recalled great meals in Mexico City and Veracruz, and right here at home in northern New Jersey.

"Mexican cuisine has made the leap to the global stage of fine dining," Julia Moskin of The New York Times reported in last week's Food section.

I've always been a big fan of the food in Mexico, which I explored on vacations starting in the 1970s, for its French and Spanish influences, abundant seafood, complex sauces or moles, and spicy salsas.

On a family vacation to Mexico City in 2008, we enjoyed casual taquerias, and fine-dining restaurants for breakfast and dinner, and visited the enormous produce and seafood market, La Central de Abasto.

Mexican in the Garden State

For tacos in New Jersey, we started going to Brenda Lee in the city of Passaic, but Taqueria Los Gueros opened fast-casual restaurants in Englewood and other towns, and does a better job of sanitation.

The city of Passaic also has Mexican wholesale warehouses that are open to the public.

We've also been loyal to Rosa Mexicano, a fine-dining restaurant in Hackensack where just about everything is made from scratch.

A guilty pleasure is asking repeatedly for more of the delicious corn tortillas made in the dining room, because almost everything tastes better wrapped in one of them.

Here are links reporting on great Mexican meals here and in Mexico:




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pope and Europeans lecture the president on importance of saving our environment

In this photo from Getty Images, everyone but President Trump looks like they just heard about a death in the family. Of course, as usual, Trump is behaving inappropriately after meeting Pope Francis in Rome.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

After their meeting today in Rome, Pope Francis gave climate-denying President Trump an encyclical urging action to slow climate change.

And at the G-7 summit in Sicily the president plans to attend later, worried European leaders are expected to push back against Trump's threat to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

The pope also appeared to refer disdainfully to how heavy the 70-year-old president is from stuffing his face with ice cream, fried chicken and Diet Coke.

As he shook the hand of first lady Melania Trump, the pope glanced at Trump, who dwarfed Francis, and asked, "What do you give him to eat, potica?" referring to a high-calorie Slovenian cake.  

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Pope Francis called those who build barriers "not Christian," referring to the then-GOP candidate's desire to build a wall on our southern border.

Trump said the comments were "disgraceful."


At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, President Trump says, "Impressive! How did you get Mexico to pay for it?" The cartoon is from Nate Beeler of The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump lurches to next disaster in Rome; Christie slams critics, claims a great job

Cartoonist John Cole of The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., lampoons President Trump for sharing classified Israeli intelligence on ISIS in an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials. Speaking to reporters on Monday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nearby, Trump claimed he "never mentioned the word ... Israel." Netanyahu had a stricken look on his face.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In February, President Trump abandoned the bedrock principle that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come from establishing two states for two people, but still wanted to reach "the ultimate deal."

This week, he failed miserably to advance the peace process one bit despite separate meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I've heard it's one of the toughest deals in the world," Trump said of Mideast peace before leaving Israel for Rome. "But I'm sure we're going to get there eventually."

What a miserable failure. The liar, con man and tax dodger -- who rode a wave of racism and misogyny to victory on Nov. 8 -- proves once again he's all talk, no action.

Still, USA Today's dated report in The Record of Woodland Park raves Trump "became the first sitting president to pray at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Monday" (1A).

Big deal.


In February, President Trump destroyed the Palestinians' hope for their own state. In this AFP photo from Trump's meeting today with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president grins and bears it. Trump looks constipated.



Christie bluster

The Record's front-page report on Governor Christie's 90-minute press conference on Monday is quite a contrast to the one Salvador Rizzo filed for Observer.com.

Bob Jordan of Gannett's Asbury Park Press focused on the so-called controversy over the bond issue Christie authorized for the $300 million renovation of the State House (1A).

Rizzo, who worked at The Record until March, had a different take:
"For old times' sake, Christie gave one last stem-winder news conference, going on and on about this and that for nearly an hour and a half. He bantered. He snapped at reporters. He critiqued all his predecessors over the last four decades and all the candidates hoping to succeed him" in January.
"He dared the assembled press to write nice things about New Jersey's recent upsurge in jobs.... He disclosed his thoughts about President Trump's Twitter account. I'm trying to encourage him [Trump] not to tweet."
Christie also said he would have never hired Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who was fired for lying about his ties to Russia during the campaign, or even let him the White House.

In response, Preet Bharara, another former U.S. attorney, tweeted in a reference to the Bridgegate trial convictions of two of Christie's former aides:

"Yes, we all know that Chris Christie is great at spotting & screening out problematic top staff."

'Crappy column'

Rizzo also reported Christie slammed his news media critics, including political Columnist Charles Stile, Rizzo's former colleague at The Record:

Christie took questions from Stile "without cutting him off for once or complaining about his crappy column."

That surprised me, because Stile was Christie's chief booster at The Record for all of his first term (2010-14), and stuck with him way up until the shocking revelations about the GOP thug at last year's Bridgegate trial.

In fact, Stile's column on Monday's front page seemed to echo Christie as the reporter tried to destroy the candidacy of Jim Johnson of Montclair, one of the Democrats seeking to succeed the governor.

The headline was damning:

"Johnson's 
liberal vision
overlooks
sacrifices" 

Of course, the only ones who would have to sacrifice anything would be millionaires, whom Christie has shielded from a tax surcharge since 2010.

Stile also labeled Johnson's proposals, including a minimum wage of $15, "utopia."

Monday, May 22, 2017

At a spring fling for auto writers, you could hear the death rattle of the big gas engine

The 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle, above, was one of the environmentally conscious cars available to drive last week at the International Motor Press Association's Spring Brake in Bear Mountain State Park.
And Toyota's luxury division brought the 2018 Lexus LC 500h, a lightning-fast gas-electric hybrid with a sticker price of $100,225, and a V-6 gasoline engine paired with an electric motor instead of the V-8 in the non-hybrid version.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

BEAR MOUNTAIN, N.Y. -- I was very happy driving only gas-electric hybrids and a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle at an annual event where other auto writers tear up park roads in far more powerful cars.

I had to laugh when I saw one of those graying lead foots hang out the back end of a 503-horsepower Mercedes-Benz AMG C63 S Cabriolet by turning and stomping on the accelerator in Bear Mountain State Park. 

After 2-plus years of effortless and near-silent driving in an all-electric Tesla Model S, I can't tell you how tired I am of loud cars and motorcycles, and fellow writers in their 50s, 60s and 70s who still haven't grown up.

The International Motor Press Association or IMPA calls itself the nation's oldest organization of "automotive journalists and public relations professionals."

IMPA's spring driving event, Spring Brake, is misnamed, because many members get carried away, and spend more time speeding than braking.

As an IMPA email sent out a day before the event last Thursday observed:

"Every year, several ... members contribute involuntarily to local and state treasuries. Mind the speed limits, please."






The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid with a 25-mile range in EV mode (battery and electric motor), but as often happens at IMPA events, the car's handlers didn't plug it in to charge the battery, so I had to drive it in gas-electric mode. Still, the Prius is tight, quiet and gets 54 mpg.
A pad on the console of the Toyota Prius Prime charges your cellphone. Below, two more views of the Lexus LC 500h.




The push-button transmission controls inside the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle, which is available for lease only. When you use the turn signal on this and other Hondas, a great safety feature shows you the lane you're merging into on the back-up camera screen.

Sound of silence

The heat (90-plus degrees) prompted me to leave the event early, but in the 4 hours or so I was there, I was able to drive only environmentally responsible cars.

I might have been able to drive all-electric cars, but Chevrolet was the only manufacturer to show up with one, the Bolt EV, which I drove in late January during the auto show in Washington, D.C.

Hyundai brought the Ionic hybrid, not the Ionic EV; Honda offered the unusually quiet hydrogen fuel-cell version of the Clarity, not the EV; Chrysler brought a hybrid version of its Pacifica minivan; and Ford offered its quiet Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid.

Toyota and Lexus don't have pure electric vehicles yet, but did bring hybrids both mild and wild.

Nissan and BMW didn't bother bringing their EVs.

Still, I could hear the death rattle of the big, powerful gasoline engine the industry is so fond of -- despite all the premature deaths caused every year by auto emissions.

On Thursday, the Lexus LC 500h was the first hybrid I drove, and I was taken aback when I pushed the start/stop button, and heard nothing.

Like all Toyota hybrids the word "Ready" lit up on the instrument panel, indicating I could drive off silently, using the battery and electric motor.

When I depressed the accelerator pedal, the noisy gasoline engine kicked in.



Breathtaking scenery from an overlook at Bear Mountain State Park, above and below.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hypocrite Trump sounds heavily sedated in Saudi Arabia speech to Muslim leaders

In this photo from Stephen Crowley of The New York Times, President Trump doesn't look too happy after he received a gold medal from a Saudi Arabian official on Saturday. Trump had to bow so the official could put the chain around his neck. First lady Melania Trump, left, and daughter Ivanka Trump went without head scarves.



-- HACKENSACK, N.J.
Editor's note: This post has been updated with a photo of President Trump touching a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia -- an image that has become an Internet meme or sensation.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

President Trump has tried twice to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States, arguing that is the only way to keep terrorists out.

During the 2016 campaign, he claimed thousands of Arab residents of New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks on America, and he also said "Islam hates us."

And don't forget how the New York billionaire belittled the parents of a slain Muslim soldier after the father denounced Trump.

Yet, in a major speech to leaders of Saudi Arabia and about 50 other Muslim countries today, Trump sounded as if he was heavily sedated as he made nice with the Islamic world.

He never used the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," which he repeated during the divisive 2016 presidential campaign and attacked his opponent for refusing to use it.

Today's speech was greeted with polite applause, but the Saudis didn't indicate they are ready for the first time to commit military forces to fight ISIS.

I listened to Trump's uncharacteristic monotone in Saudi Arabia on WNYC-FM, New York and New Jersey public radio.

A disgrace

Trump is such a hypocrite and liar. And he is a disgrace to the office of president.

The illegitimate president, who is the laughing stock of most of the country and the rest of the world, is going to Israel next to undoubtedly destroy any hope Palestinians have of establishing their own state.

Many Jews in Bergen County and other parts of New Jersey share with the evil Trump the belief that Barack Obama is a Muslim, but you won't get any of them to admit that's the reason they voted for the madman. 


In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, President Trump, right, the Saudi king and Egypt's president placed their hands on an illuminated world globe at the opening of an anti-terrorism monitoring center called the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (photo from the Saudi Press Agency). Trump, who was described as "exhausted," then left for Israel.


The Record

Today's front page is dominated by another medical-miracle story from Staff Writer Lindy Washburn, one of the few veterans who survived a major layoff of editors and reporters at the end of March (1A).

The Record prefers to publish this kind of gee-whiz medical story occasionally instead of covering the obesity epidemic or heart disease -- the No. 1 killer in the United States.

Also on the front page today, Columnist Mike Kelly visits Allendale, the Bergen County town where fired FBI Director James Comey grew up (1A).

Kelly begins the column with one of the brain teasers he prefers to straight reporting:

"Hometowns speak to us in strange ways."

The only legitimate story on Page 1 today is about Trump's crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Staff Writer Monsy Alvarado reports the head of immigration enforcement in New Jersey says his officers "are focusing on those who have committed serious crimes or have deportation orders against them."

Facebook critics

On the Facebook page of NorthJersey.com, all of the reader "reviews" discuss the decline of the newspaper, not the ascendancy of the website:

In an April 7 comment, Robert Kroncke of Hasbrouck Heights could have been referring to today's front page when he wrote:

"Important current events and the front page has an article about TICKS and LIME!!! You can't make this ____ UP."

That April 7 comment is the most recent, so Editor Richard Green must be shit-canning most of the critiques of the Woodland Park daily, whose decline has accelerated since Gannett took over.

Trump coverage

Green led Saturday's paper with a New York Times report on Comey agreeing to testify in public before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

That followed revelations that Trump told Russian leaders in the Oval Office Comey is a "nut job," and that dismissing him meant the pressure of the FBI's Russia probe has been "taken off," The Times said.

Today, Green relegates to Page 2A Trump's attempt to reverse two weeks of bad news over the Comey firing by leaving the country for nine days.


Food Editor Esther Davidowtiz.

Giving orders

On Saturday's Better Living cover, Food Editor Esther Davidowitz reports on North Jersey coffee shops under another headline that seems to "order" readers to follow her advice:

"MUST-STOP COFFEE SHOPS"

A glaring omission is Aroma Espresso Bar at Garden State Plaza in Paramus -- the only New Jersey outpost of a chain based in Israel.

In Better Living today, the First Course feature reads like advertising:

One item Davidowitz and Staff Writer Sofia F. Gottfried are pushing are the prawns served for $32 each at Oceanaire Seafood Room, an expensive seafood restaurant in Hackensack.

"Heck, each weighs almost 8 ounces," they shout.

Except, if you remove the inedible head, they weigh a couple of ounces less.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Eating Out + Eating In: Bangkok Garden, plus shopping for fish at the Super H Mart

At Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant in Hackensack, a celebratory dinner for three included a whole fish, top left; wide rice noodles with shrimp and egg, bottom left; and a soft-shell crab special.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Sad to say, but fans of Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles in Hackensack will have to console themselves by visiting its longtime competitor, Bangkok Garden, only a block away.

First, Wondee's founders, Chef Wandee Suwangbutra and husband Tom, retired and handed over the kitchen to Air-Arisa Katengamkam, a young woman who trained by the chef's side.

The transition in 2015 was unannounced, but the quality of the food remained high, and customers noticed the dining room was spruced up with fresh paint and a new wooden floor to replace the worn, torn-in-places dark-blue carpet.

I had always been loyal to Wondee's, a BYO at 296 Main St. in Hackensack that had tastier food and lower prices than its rival on the next block.

Still, by last summer, Wondee's was on the ropes, a year or so shy of its 20th anniversary. 

In March, I visited Chef Arisa after lunch at Bangkok Garden, which was busy, and found her and a woman server alone in a restaurant without any customers.

Then, Wondee's closed for the chef's maternity leave, and now has reopened.

Yet, the dining room can only be described as shabby, at least judging from what I saw when I looked into the restaurant's plate-glass window on Main Street recently.




Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant's dining room is decorated elaborately. The restaurant, which says it was the first Thai place to open in Bergen County, also has a liquor license.

Bangkok Garden

We had a big dinner at Bangkok Garden to celebrate a birthday and Mother's Day, but made sure to do so the night before that big holiday.

Both my wife and son loved the food:

Two Won Ton Soups ($4.50 each), Green Papaya Salad ($8.95), a shrimp appetizer called Tod Mun Goong ($8.95); a Jumbo Soft-Shell Crab, deep fried and served over Bok Choy with a homemade Chili Sauce ($18.95); Siam Noodles with Shrimp ($11.95), and a deep-fried whole Striped Bass with Chili Pepper and Garlic Sauce ($26.95).

I also enjoyed the meal, but recall sauces were a little too sweet for me.


Tod Mun Goong, an appetizer special, was described as shrimp kneaded with egg, white ground pepper and light soy sauce, then breaded and deep-fried. The "light plum sauce" was a little too sweet.
When I ordered the Green Papaya Salad, the waitress asked how spicy we wanted it. Be cautious. "Medium" was about as spicy as I can take. Other choices are "mild" and "hot."
Bangkok Garden's Won Ton Soup is served with chicken, not the sliced pork my son and wife remember from Wondee's.
Bangkok Garden's dishes appear in vivid color on this dining-room screen, and we ordered one of them, Pad Sea-Eyew Beef, for a fourth family member who stayed home.
   
Details

Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, 261 Main St., Hackensack; 1-201-487-2620. Liquor license. Open 7 days. See website  for hours. Metered parking on street and behind restaurant in municipal lot off State Street.

Closed

Penang Malaysian & Thai Cuisine in Lodi has closed. We enjoyed the food on two visits.



An enormous fish head was on display last Sunday in the seafood department of the Super H Mart in Ridgefield.
Live Crawfish were offered at $4.99 a pound. 
I've never heard of Mud Fish, which were a pricey $19.99 a pound.
The Super H Mart rolls out carts filled with ice to accommodate all of the fresh fish the Korean market offers.
Last Sunday in Ridgefield, fresh wild Red Snapper were only $3.99 a pound. The week before, red snapper were going for $5.99 a pound at the H Mart in Englewood (25 Lafayette Ave). 
At home we seasoned the cleaned red snapper, stuffed minced garlic into the cavity and added fresh lemon juice. We wrapped up three fish and vegetables individually in aluminum foil, and roasted three of them for about an hour at 400 degrees.
Don't miss the tender "cheek" just below the eye.
In addition to fresh and frozen fish, the Super H Mart offers a wide selection of prepared seafood and sliced raw fish or sashimi, above and below.
Meat eaters also are well served with shelves of marinated beef, pork and chicken, above and below.

On weekends, you can find more free samples of Korean food in Ridgefield than at other, smaller H Marts in Bergen County, above and below.

Outside the store, I picked up a large seedless watermelon from Texas that turned out to be perfectly sweet ($8.99).

Details

Super H Mart, 321 Broad Ave., Ridgefield; 1-201-943-9600. Open 7 days. H Mart is short for "Han Ah Reum" or "One Arm Full of Groceries."

Website: One Arm Full of Groceries