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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Iceland: Stunning natural beauty, great fish three times a day, plus no need to tip

I was served a gorgeous piece of oven-baked wild Atlantic Cod on a bed of barley and vegetables at Snjofell Restaurant in the town of Arnarstapi, on Iceland's Snaefellsjokell Peninsula.
At Snaps Bistro in Reykjavik, an appetizer of melt-in-your-mouth Langoustine Tails prepared in garlic butter was one of the most memorable dishes me and my wife had on a one-week vacation in Iceland (langoustine is French for crayfish).


A tourist finds sticker shock everywhere


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- The first thing tourists realize after they learn to spell the name of this cool capital city is how expensive Iceland is.

Icelanders like to call their island nation the biggest small country in the world, but with a population of only 344,000, Iceland welcomes immigration.

Sticker shock is everywhere:

In restaurants, hotels, spas and taxis; at gas stations, if you rent a car; and on guided tours of the ruggedly beautiful main island's volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, fjords, farms and other natural wonders.

One saving grace is that Iceland, unlike other European countries, doesn't have a tipping system, and you won't even find a gratuity added automatically to your check.

Blame it on taxes

Of course, you're inclined not to tip when a two-course dinner for two in a fine-dining restaurant costs $120 or more; or you're charged $9 for a bottle of beer in a casual restaurant; or a taxi ride of just over a mile runs more than $20, and the Icelanders who serve you won't act hurt or disappointed.

The explanation for the high prices are high government taxes all residents and businesses pay.

In return, Icelanders receive free health care and education, and enjoy some of the lowest electric and heating bills in the world, thanks to energy from water, wind and geothermal sources.

The tax on hotel rooms, and restaurant meals and drinks is 11%.

Though prices are high, fine-dining restaurants in Iceland serve topnotch ingredients:

Iceland lands an unusually wide variety of wild fish and other seafood (many of which I was familiar with from occasional visits to The Fish Dock, an Icelandic fish market in Closter, N.J.).

And the lamb and beef served in restaurants come from free-roaming, grass-fed animals raised without harmful antibiotics and growth hormones. Vegetables often are organic.


On a rainy and overcast Saturday, we watched drivers lining up to enter the Costco Wholesale gas station in a Reykjavik suburb that was selling gasoline for 167.9 Icelandic kronas per liter or about $6.25 per gallon, compared to about $7.50 a gallon at most competing stations.

The Costco effect

Most gas stations in and around Reykjavik sell gasoline for 199.9 Icelandic kronas per liter or around $7.50 a gallon, but the May opening of a Costco Wholesale warehouse store and gas station sent a shock wave through the country. 

Costco's lower prices for gasoline (and diesel) fueled speculation among drivers that multinational companies colluded to keep prices artificially high in Iceland, which imports all of its oil.

One tour guide referred to foreign oil companies as "the Mafia."

Me and my wife visited the warehouse on Saturday, when I spoke to the manager, who said Costco has about 84,000 members in Iceland, representing 70% of the households in the entire country.

On Friday, the English-language Reykjavik Grapevine newspaper quoted the CEO of Icelandair as saying the airline has increased cargo flights 40% since July, largely to meet the demand for imported Costco products.

Iceland's strawberry growers say their high-quality fruit can't compete with the low Costco price tag, and they've lowered their prices or stopped picking the fruit in the summer.

The sale of Icelandic tomatoes also had dropped significantly, the newspaper reported. 

The Sunset-brand tomatoes I saw in the Costco outside Reykjavik were hothouse grown in Holland.

And Papco, Iceland's only toilet paper manufacturer, told the newspaper sales have dropped 20% to 30%, forcing the company to lay off six employees.

Papco Assistant CEO Alexander Karason claims Costco is selling its Kirkland Signature toilet paper "below [our] production cost."

The problem may not be Costco's low price, but the small, rough, low-quality toilet paper we encountered at two Reykjavik hotels.

Quoting Arion Bank's research division, The Reykjavik Grapevine also reported food and drink prices fell "by a whopping 1.2% in the first month after the warehouse opened [in May]."


On a guided tour of the Snaefellsjokell Peninsula and National Park, we drove through one of Iceland's many lava fields, evidence of an explosive volcanic past.
We also hiked down to a black sand volcanic beach, above and below.

On another tour two days earlier, we got a teasing glimpse of one of Iceland's glaciers. The country claims to have the largest glacier in Europe.
Iceland also boasts that the Gullfoss Waterfall, above and below, outdoes Niagara Falls in the United States "in wildness and fury."



Coming soon: 
Green cars are scarce in Iceland
Dining out in Reykjavik
Hotels and tours

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Costco rotisserie chicken makes great dog food, besto pesto + other blasts from past

The ingredients list for the Kirkland Signature Seasoned Rotisserie Chicken at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro, above and below, includes salt, sodium phosphate, modified food starch, potato dextrin, carrageenan, sugar, dextrose and "spice extractives." The label is silent on all of the harmful human antibiotics used to raise the birds.


-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

Editor's note: The Sasson Report will return at the end of August. Meanwhile, please enjoy some of my most popular posts -- and don't miss the comments section.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

When I started blogging in 2009, I had no idea a post on a rotisserie chicken would get so much attention.

I started Do You Really Know What You're Eating? to continue the work I did as a food writer on a local daily newspaper.

As a blogger, I was able to expand that beat to include food shopping, which newspapers avoid covering lest they alienate one chain or another that pays them hundreds of thousands of dollars to run full-page ads.

I've also reported on the industrial-farm system for raising poultry and meat, especially the heavy reliance on harmful human antibiotics and growth hormones.

Bird isn't the word

As a member of Costco Wholesale, I love the quality of most of the products sold under the house or private label, Kirkland Signature, but not the seasoned rotisserie chicken.

My post on that low-quality bird, first published on Dec. 5, 2012, has been read more than 97,000 times, according to the internal counter on Google's Blogger platform.

See: Maggie the Labrador loves Costco chicken

A post comparing Costco's Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto with the pesto sold by Trader Joe's has had nearly 29,000 hits:

See: Who has the besto pesto?

After I bought a Tesla Model S in 2015, my most popular post on another blog, Shocking Car News, discussed how the media generally ignore the environmental benefit of green cars.

See: We'll be choking on these cars for years to come

By the way, if you are in the market for a Model S or Model X, using my unique referral code will get you a $1,000 credit on an all-electric vehicle, and free electricity for life at Tesla's nationwide network of Superchargers.

On The Sasson Report, which incorporates those blogs as well as Eye on The Record, a post on President Trump is the most popular so far.

See: Trump sounds heavily sedated

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I am looking forward to a vacation from all of the lies, insanity of Trump presidency

Cartoonists Milt Priggee, above, and Dave Granlund, below, on President Trump's endorsement of white supremacist groups.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

After the nuclear confrontation with North Korea, the deaths in Charlottesville, Va.; President Trump's defense of white nationalist groups, and the exit of the despicable Steve Bannon, our European vacation couldn't come at a better time.

As far as I know, our destination isn't among the countries Trump has trashed, and I'll be able to watch the news in a language that is totally foreign to me.

Coverage of Trump's failing presidency has been scathing:

On Tuesday, The New York Times Editorial Board thundered:

"Mr. Trump makes a spectacle of himself"

President Trump "simply can't help himself -- especially when cornered," The Times said, adding: 

"Given one more chance to forcefully condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists whose rally in Charlottesville, Va., end in violence and a counterprotester's death, Mr. Trump angrily insisted, as he had suggested on Saturday, that both sides were equally to blame -- a false equivalency that not just his critics but also an increasing number of his supporters have urged him to abandon."

Times Columnist Paul Krugman angrily labeled the president as "Un-American" after Trump's first statements blamed both sides for what happened.

'No place in America'

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican, scolded Trump on Twitter, the president's favorite forum:

"Mr. President, there is only one side: AGAINST white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites & KKK. They have no place in America or GOP."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post's Fact Checker examined Trump's claim about the U.S. nuclear arsenal:

"As part of his saber-rattling with North Korea ..., President Trump said: 'My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.'"

The Post awarded Four Pinocchios to Trump, saying, "No, President Trump, you did not modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal in six month." 


In this cartoon from Ingrid Rice, hate groups crawl out from under a rock resembling Trump's head, likely the one he'll want added to Mount Rushmore.


New media

On Friday, The Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia published an investigation, based on interviews with participants:

How the Charlottesville disaster unfolded

The news media also have been busy interviewing people who voted for Trump to see if they still have his back.

That's a colossal waste of time. Who cares?

The voters they should be interviewing are the millions of Democrats who stayed home last Nov. 8, either because they believed polls predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton or swallowed GOP propaganda about the Democratic candidate.

These non-voting Democrats should be ashamed of themselves in view of the Trump scourge that has been visited on us. 

Charlottesville also introduced new and old phrases framing the violence.

"Antifa" is short for anti-fascists and "emulates historic anti-fascist actors in Europe," The Associated Press reported.

The "alt-right movement," supported by Bannon, "has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism, populism and anti-Semiticism," The AP said.

"It emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States."

The Record

At my local daily newspaper, The Record of Woodland Park, the lead story today is the departure of Bannon, the adviser who was the inspiration for Trump's attempts to ban all Muslim immigration to the United States.

The clunky headline:


"BANNON GONE AT WHITE HOUSE"

Any good copy editor knows using "at White House" is totally unnecessary in a Bannon headline, but I guess the Gannett editor couldn't figure out a better head for what is supposed to be the premier page of the paper.

Also on Page 1 today is a teaser promising a recap of "the week that was" in Sunday's paper. 

"COMING SUNDAY"

"From 'fire and fury' to exit of key Trump adviser Steve Bannon, we recap the week that was."

But why wait? Newspapers traditionally consider today as the last day of the week; why isn't the recap running today in the print edition?


Cartoonist Sean Delonas, formerly of the New York Post, invokes Trump's blaming "both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., comments that generated a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.


Robert E. Lee

The focus of the protests and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Va., was removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a slaveholder who was the top Confederate general during the Civil War.

One historian justified the removal of Lee monuments, noting the general committed what he called armed treason against the United States.

But at The Record, Columnist Mike Kelly had a better idea than writing about Lee or protester Heather Heyer, the woman killed by a car during violent clashes with Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis; or Trump's mixed messages about the hate groups that have been emboldened by his election.

Kelly's front page column on Thursday was about a New Jersey monument totally unrelated to the controversy over the removal of Confederate statues in New Orleans, Charlottesville and other cities.

This monument was erected by the U.S. government in 1910 to memorialize 2,436 Confederate soldiers captured at the bloody Gettysburg battle who died of dysentery, typhoid, malaria and malnutrition in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Readers searching for the "nut graph" -- journalism jargon for the paragraph that provides context for the column -- came upon this on the continuation page:

"An 85-foot granite obelisk offers a nuanced twist on the national debate over whether to tear down Confederate monuments."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Eating In + Eating Out: How to re-invent the lobster roll, clubby lunch on 101st floor

When I ran out of leftover fresh lobster salad, I made a Lobster Roll Plus: Lobster salad dressed with Dijon mustard and non-fat Greek yogurt, instead of mayonnaise and butter; smoked wild sockeye salmon and hard boiled egg -- all on a toasted whole-grain roll spread with pesto and a yogurt sauce.
I had plenty of leftover fresh lobster salad for our first Lobster Roll, which I split with my wife. I spread basil pesto on the toasted halves of a whole-grain roll, piled lobster on organic spring mix; and topped it with homemade tzatziki, a non-fat Greek yogurt sauce with shredded cucumber, garlic, extra-virgin olive, lemon juice and dill.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Who doesn't love lobster? Especially now during the August bounty, when retail prices drop, then dip some more.

The lobster roll? 

Not so much, because I can do without all of that saturated fat in the mayonnaise-and-butter dressing, and I'm no fan of stuffing lobster salad in a pedestrian hot dog bun.

In fact, I'm happy with a splash of fresh lemon juice over the meat from a whole lobster.

But when making lobster salad, I've come up with a delicious dressing I also use on canned fish salad (tuna, salmon and sardines), and Alaskan King Crab legs:

Dijon mustard, non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh lemon juice, Organic No-Salt Seasoning (from Costco Wholesale) and cumin, all to taste.

I also add diced sweet peppers and shallots or scallions; and fresh mint, basil and oregano from my garden.

To make the sandwiches, I sliced and toasted Whole-Grain Burger Buns from Balthazar Bakery at 214 S. Dean St. in Englewood.

The Basil Pesto also came from Costco.

To make the lobster salad last Sunday, I picked up three live lobsters from ShopRite, Forest Avenue and Route 4 in Paramus, for $5.99 a pound with a store card. 

This Sunday, the price dips to $5.77 a pound at the Paramus store and other ShopRites.

They are called "new shell" lobsters, because they shed their old shells in order to grow, the ShopRite fishmonger said.

We enjoyed the same low prices on lobster last August: Coaxing sweet lobster out of their shells


Where the lobsters are in the Paramus ShopRite.
Last Sunday, I cooked the three 1.5-pound lobsters in boiling water in a large covered pot for 14 minutes, as the ShopRite cooking guide suggested, and the new shells cracked easily.
The lobsters, which weighed a total of 4.5 pounds, yielded 1 pound of lobster salad, above, including the portion I had for dinner, below.


Lunch on the 101st floor

The fine-dining restaurant on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center is likely the only one in Manhattan where you have to pay a hefty cover charge to get in.

One Dine, as the restaurant is called, isn't a club.

Instead, it is part of One World Observatory, and you can't eat there unless you pay for admission to the venue on the highest floors of the skyscraper, which tops out at 1,776 feet.

On Tuesday, an overcast day with rain in the early afternoon, that was $34 for adults and $32 for seniors. I had to buy tickets in advance for a specific day and time.

There are two other food options, One Mix with "handcrafted" small plates and cocktails; and One Cafe with soup, salads and sandwiches eaten standing up at high tables.

The restaurant, bar and cafe seem like an afterthought.

One Dine doesn't come close to the size or the grandeur of Windows on the World, the fine-dining restaurant on the 107th floor of the original World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. 

I had lunch at One Dine on Tuesday with my wife and son, and we enjoyed our food, which is priced on par with other fine-dining restaurants in the city.

However, One Dine wasn't taking part in Manhattan's Summer Restaurant Week promotion (3-course lunches for $29, plus tax and tip).

Plus, an 18% gratuity is automatically added to all One Dine bills.


I loved a lunch special at One Dine on Tuesday, this wonderful Seafood Bouillabaisse (shrimp, bay scallops and swordfish) with Summer Vegetables ($32), but the swordfish was hard to detect. When I asked a server, she said it was a small piece of swordfish that probably "cooked away."
My wife enjoyed the OWO Burger with Applewood Smoked Bacon, America Cheese, OWO Sauce and Fries ($26). My son's Steak & Frites came with Sauce Bearnaise and Oven-Dried Tomatoes ($28).
My wife and son shared an appetizer of Spiced Chicken Wings with Hawaiian Pineapple Glaze ($16), but we sent back the first batch when she found blood near the bone of one of the wings.
One Dine on an overcast day. On Tuesday, we saw Robin Roberts, anchor of ABC's Good Morning America, seated at table with a half-dozen other people, enjoying a long lunch with champagne and wine.
The dining room of Windows on the World in photos by Wayne Eastep, above, and New York Magazine, below.


If you go ...

We took an express bus to midtown Manhattan from northern New Jersey, where we live, then switched to the subway (E train to the last stop, World Trade Center).

The subway is connected to the incredible World Trade Center Transportation Hub, capped by the "Oculus," and you can enter the skyscraper without going outside, which I don't recommend.

You have to see the building from the street to really appreciate the experience of racing to the top in a high-speed elevator, and emerging on the observatory floors.

One of the best parts are movie-like images with sound on three sides of the elevator's interior that change rapidly, showing lower Manhattan from the 1500s (ground floor) to the present (102nd floor).

See: YouTube video


Details

One World Observatory at One World Trade Center, 285 Fulton St., New York, N.Y.; 1-844-696-1776. 

Web site: See Forever (if it's not raining)



The transportation hub, which connects the PATH commuter railroad to the New York City subway system, also is a shopping mall with restaurants. At 800,000 square feet, the structure is only the third largest transportation center in the city, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Oculus, as seen from One World Observatory, was designed to resemble a dove (a symbol of peace) spreading its wings.
The mighty Hudson River.
An odd-looking apartment tower in lower Manhattan.
The Statue of Liberty, left, and Ellis Island.
The Jersey City waterfront.
The official Port Authority photo of One World Trade Center.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Demolition under way to kick start biggest renewal project in downtown Hackensack

About half of the building that once housed Rainbow Castle Preschool on Main Street in Hackensack has been knocked down. What will replace it isn't known.
The Home Discount Center across the street has gone out of business.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The Rainbow Castle Preschool building damaged by a pile-driving rig working on Hackensack's biggest downtown renewal project is coming down.

Once the site is cleared, work is expected to resume on the 14-story apartment and retail building at Main and Mercer streets, still basically a big hole with steel beams protruding from the ground.

City officials ordered an evacuation of the preschool building in late July 2016, and also halted work on the project next door.



The Rainbow Castle Preschool building at 142-48 Main St., Hackensack, in January 2017.
When completed, 150-70 Main St. will have 382 apartments and 7,500 square feet of new retail space on Main and Mercer streets, according to Alkova Cos., the developer. The building was expected to be completed in 24 months to 30 months, but now is more than a year behind schedule.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gannett, ignoring Trump-Putin love affair, tells readers: We will always have football

To drive home the point that President Trump's Twitter tirades have spared only Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, political satirist Bill Maher posted this doctored vacation photo of the Terrible Twins on his HBO show Friday night.
Maher also urges Republicans to adopt the troll as the symbol of the party that can't get anything done. He said trolls are "people who get off on provoking other people who are trying to have a adult conversation."

Trump doesn't blame 'white supremacists'
 for violence, death in Virginia


-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

On Friday, the United States and North Korea appeared to be on the brink of nuclear war.

But in northern New Jersey, Gannett editors at The Record of Woodland Park just managed to squeeze a story on the "crisis" onto Saturday's front page.

More than half of Page 1 was devoted to "FOOTBALL FRENZY" -- the kickoff of the NFL's pre-season.

To drive home Editor-cum-Hatchet Man Richard A. Green's priorities, a huge swath of the Local news front today discusses how MetLife Stadium is changed from Giants' blue to Jets' green in less than 24 hours.

The main headline appears aimed at stadium staff, not readers:


"You have less than 24 hours
 to flip MetLife Stadium."

"GO."

How's that?

There is news supposedly related to President Trump at the top of the same page, but readers might be confused by contradictory information in the first and sixth paragraphs (1L).

In the lead paragraph, Jose Estrada Lopez of Fairview is identified as a Guatemalan immigrant "ordered deported under the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigrants."

But just five paragraphs later, readers are told Estrada Lopez has been fighting to stay in the country "for nearly four years" -- meaning he was a target of President Obama's crackdown on illegals, not Trump's.

Trump-Putin

The New York Times reported:

"The U.S.-Russia relationship took a baffling turn when Mr. Trump thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the U.S. Embassy to slash personnel, a move made in retaliation for sanctions imposed because of Russia's election meddling.

"I'm very thankful he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," The Times quoted Trump as saying.

How bizarre. 

Instead of coming down on Putin, Trump attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for failing to pass a health care repeal bill.

See related posts:




Charlottesville

This afternoon, the White House condemned "white supremacists" for inciting the violence that led to one death in Charlottesville, Va.

The statement, attributed to an unnamed spokesman, was issued more than 36 hours after the protests began, The Times reported. 

It was not attributed directly to the president, who "often uses Twitter to comment directly on controversial topics," the newspaper said, or to trash McConnell and others.

The White House was under siege after racist Trump blamed "many sides" for the violence.