Oomphalicious

When a colleague first introduced me to Oomphatico’s a couple of months back, she called it “Oomphalicious”.  I dined there for the first time with my pal last Wednesday, and I think “oomphalicious” wouldn’t be an unsuitable way to describe some of the food we had :)

We started with pan-fried chilli garlic calamari with lemon mayo and rocket salad.  The calamari came in four broad, lightly scored rolls – two of them with a tinge of orange-pink, two of them a pleasing white – with a small bunch of rocket salad on the side.  Drizzled with lemon juice, the orange-pink calamari (cuttlefish?) turned out to be a tiny tiny bit chewy, with an understated squid taste set off nicely with the lemon and the peppery salad dressing; the rolls of white calamari were just ultra-yummy, tender and tasty with a slight sear of pan-fry.

We shared two mains: the Kurobuta pork belly, slow-roasted and with a vindaloo emulsion on the side, and linguine with fresh clams and mussels in a white wine sauce.  My pal and I agreed that the Kurobuta was over-roasted – or at least the crisped skin was; we couldn’t cut through it with a steak knife – but the pork went very well with the tangy vindaloo.  The linguine was good, not too rich, with generous helpings of clam and mussels.  The white wine complemented the taste of sea in the sauce just right, so one could taste both the wine and the seafood.  My pal finished the sauce’s last dregs.

And then, for dessert, we shared “that expensive chocolate dish”.  (Yup, that’s what it’s called on the menu.)  This was really four miniature desserts: ice-cream stuffed with chocolate chips on a tiny slice of spongy cheesecake; a nutty (too hard) chocolate truffle on a really tasty chocolate chip cookie; chocolate mousse; and lava cake.

The chocolate mousse came in a tall espresso glass, and upon first tasting it my pal exclaimed that they’d put olive oil in it!  Later she remarked that this was an interesting chocolate mousse, which was usually among the most boring of desserts.  The mousse literally engrossed me – I’d scoop some in my mouth, flatten it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and then lave, lave, lave at the particles of mousse, at the oil, turning the taste over and over in my brain as I circulated it in my mouth, figuring it out.  One of the chefs (the restaurant was a little understaffed, but provided excellent service) later explained that the mousse was topped off with olive oil, limoncello and coffee liqueur, and that a more liquid version of this dessert was used as a churro dip at breakfast in Spain.  It was a really fun dish, not least because while we were trying to figure out the strange taste of the mousse my pal thought she tasted soy sauce and sesame seed oil :p

The lava cake was simply delicious!  It was just on the right side of warm, and the substantial but not too thick layer of cake was just crisped enough on the edge, the chocolate liquid and rich and not too sweet, the sprinkling of flakes of salt an absolutely inspired touch.  My pal thought it made the cake taste like peanut butter :)  I’d scoop some of the cake into my mouth, making sure to get a flake or two of salt, and chew, and when a flake of salt – I think using flakes instead of grains was absolute genius, by the way – was encountered and detonated, flavouring the rest of the gooey cake… that was a little bit of pure yummy-ness right there! :)

We talked throughout dinner and after that, on a bench in the shopping centre, and after realising it was late and finding our way out, on the way to her home.  About how motivated we were at work, about how her mum had just undergone an eye operation and was worried she wouldn’t be able to read words on a computer screen, about how weird the idea of olive oil in chocolate mousse was, about what the future could hold and whether or not to seize an opportunity that had presented itself, about a couple of toxic colleagues, about a new boss, about being a new boss, about how chocolate bars were better than smaller packages of chocolate, about a mutual acquaintance’s wedding, about when we last met, about whether she had her shoulder-length hair when we last met.

As usual, when we parted, I felt a sense of loss – there was so much more to talk about – but also a sort of weary joy.

Till next time, dear pal :)

Geneva (again) – a stuffed weekend and unhappy Heathrow

I was just in Geneva again – got back the two Fridays ago – and, apart from some stressful work involving the chaperoning of a couple of important personages, it was a rather fun trip.  (Although, thinking back, I still wish I felt less stressed and more prepared.)

The only free weekend we had, we rented a car and drove all the way to Tasch, from which we took a train to Zermatt, from which we took another train to snow-capped Gornergrat.  The thing I remember about Gornergrat, along with the snow and some unexplained swathes of bluish-green water that looked vaguely reminiscent of sulphur pools I saw in New Zealand, was an absolutely giant Saint Bernard – it was sitting there, tongue lolling, with another less impressive specimen, and would have made for a scary sight, except that like all Saint Bernards it looked utterly benign (if more or less ignorant of your presence) and bereft of ill will.  I think if I got lost in the Swiss Alps and one of these trudged up to me with whiskey in the keg attached to its collar, I would be quite assured :)  On the way back from Tasch, we had dinner at a great Italian restaurant at Montreux.  (I’ll try to find out and post its name.)  Now, I’m not a salad fan but the seafood salad – with an appetising vinaigrette and generous portions of grilled littleneck clams, octopus and squid – was absolutely delicious.

Speaking of Italian food, if you are ever in the old town part of Geneva – that’s across the bridge from Gare Cornavin – you may wish to try the seafood (fruits de mer) spaghetti at the Spaghetti Factory.  It’s good too :)

And so after about 10 days, the work was over, and a colleague and I made our way back home via Heathrow.  Okay.  (I’m taking deep breaths now as I gather myself to talk about this objectively.)  I don’t know if you know this, but if you’re flying SQ and you fly back to Singapore via Heathrow, you have to claim your baggage and then check it back in.  In other words, you have to go through immigration so that you are in the London side of the airport for a good half hour to an hour and then check yourself and your luggage back in.  And go through snaking queues leading up to metal detector gantries and the most un-chipper security personnel I’ve ever seen.  Not a happy experience.  The 13-hour plane ride back was comfortable – I was lucky enough to be on a flight that was about 75% full, and I was the only passenger on my set of three sets next to the window; I think that says something about the economy, no? – but I really wouldn’t want to fly through Heathrow again, ever.

P/S.  Oh don’t think I did not take photographs – I did, but I stupidly updated the software in my phone without making back-ups.  Sigh.

Geneva – prawn buffets, mushroom cappuccino and other observations

I am in Geneva because of work – day after day, the meetings remain lengthy and tedious; sometimes it feels like the participants are pedantically and often petulantly discussing obscure ways of preparing honey-baked ham or some other matter of similar significance, instead of trying to come up with concrete ways to address major labour issues – but given the food I’ve eaten, I could well be in Geneva on one of those culinary escapades.  I don’t quite keep track of the days via the meals I have anymore, but there have nevertheless been memorable meals. 

Twice last week my colleagues and I girded ourselves for gambas à gogo i.e. prawn buffet.  The star of the show: steamed prawns stir-fried in garlic butter, served on large shallow trays in their juices and bits of garlic, as many prawns as you can peel and eat.  Yours truly is a classic spoiled peasant princeling – back in Singapore my dear mum and brother would peel my prawns for me; I don’t even like to have to pull the tail off prawns that have been otherwise de-shelled – but after an awkward start I was proficient enough to chow down the succulent, garlic-infused pink commas one after another.  And “chow down” are appropriate words – the way we Singaporeans tuck into good prawns is vastly different from the dignified pace the Swiss shell and bite and chew their prawns and daintily mop up the juices with bread.  We are messier, and we eat more, much more.  I think I peeled more prawns at those two sittings than I ever have – admittedly, this would not be that inconceivable or impressive an achievement – and I just wished that I had photographic proof of those decimated trays and heaps of shells to show my folks.  My colleague thinks that every time we come to Geneva for the prawn buffet we severely deplete the local prawn supply and cause a serious price hike, and if you see one of those photos, you may agree.

Oh right, I said we did this twice last week!  The first time, on Monday, we had the gambas à gogo at le Furet.  The first few trays of prawns were good, but there wasn’t much gravy to mop up with the shoestring fries (also free flow).  The second time, Thursday I believe, we went to Le Corail Rose, which I thought had more consistently succulent prawns, more and yummier garlic gravy (which carried the taste of prawn in spades, while le Furet’s was merely salty) and chunkier fries (also free flow).  And, in anticipation of the massacre, Le Corail Rose provides lobster-bibs, decorated with a drawn-on bow, so you look neat and formal while you rip into the doomed crustaceans.*

I like prawns done any number of ways, and I like mushrooms in its many forms and regardless of how it is prepared too.  We were in Annecy, a French town about 75 minutes via bus from Geneva, at a charming restaurant and served by a very capable (and very busy) waitress whose command of English was limited.  We ordered a lunch set that came with mushroom soup, and when she repeated our order she said something very like “cappuccino”.  She got it wrong, we thought, but when we pointed to the text for mushroom soup on the menu to clarify, she nodded curtly, said something very like “cappuccino” again, briskly collected our menus and left.  She came back after a while bearing six cappuccino cups – those glasses that are held up with a metal “ear” so that you don’t burn yourself if the contents are too hot – of vaguely cappuccino-coloured stuff, topped with vaguely cappuccino-like foam.  A colleague sniffed it and said it smelled savoury. 

I know now, after doing a bit of Googling, a bit more about mushroom soup done cappuccino-style.  But at the time, I was new to this unfamiliar way of doing soup.  We were given soup spoons, so I dug past the foam and tried a spoonful, and found that the soup was delicious, thick with mushrooms.  There was a small stick of dough fritter, very light, almost crumbly, studded with toasted sesame seeds on its top side, and that was the next thing I dunked into the mushroom cappuccino, about two inches of it, which I then bit off.  That bite of fritter – sesame seeds, deep-fried flour, the crispness of the fritter, suffused with mushroom soup – tasted like a little piece of the best pie in the world.  Then the soup cooled enough to be drunk like cappuccino, and that capped a very satisfying first course to what turned out to be an otherwise ordinary meal.

Geneva’s not an interesting place in the usual way towns or cities are interesting.  There is a fairly long shopping-dedicated street, and restaurants galore of course, especially if you know where to look, but it’s not an interesting and dynamic place in the fashion of a Shanghai, say, or a San Francisco even.  But it is interesting in other ways.  For example: The Swiss have extremely well-behaved dogs.  They bring these dogs – I’ve seen boxers, pugs, huskies/marlamutes, chihuahuas (one was shivering like mad in the icy wind), various types of spaniels, pekingese, dachshunds – to the shopping centre and up the bus and tie these dogs to something near the supermarket entrance when they go inside for groceries, and I’ve never ever seen one misbehave in the slightest.  Another example: Sirens are an enigmatic staple of the Geneva night.  I have seen maybe one car accident – my memory is hazy on this regard – in my whole time in Geneva, but I hear many sirens every single night.  (They are common in the daytime too.)  Do that many fires break out?  (Haven’t seen any telltale smoke.)  Do that many people get injured on the nearby ski slopes?  (Mmm… possible.  Near those ski resorts, you see many people in casts.)  Do that many cats need to be rescued?  (I have seen maybe one cat all this while – it’s uncanny, the contrast with the number of dogs I’ve seen.)

P/S.  I brought way too many clothes to Geneva, but one of these pieces of apparel was a sweater – I was going to say it was ill-fitting, but because of my sideways expansion it’s become almost well-tailored – given to me by a pal just before I went to San Diego for an exchange programme while I was in university.  (That’s… *counting*… 8 (!) years ago now.)  I’d forgotten about it, I think; I am well-insulated and rarely wear sweaters in Singapore, so I hadn’t worn it in a while.  It felt oddly comforting to wear it.

*Incidentally, you know there’s this dish called “drunken prawns”, yes?  The better-known version of the dish is essentially prawns – fresh as fresh can be – steamed with a strong dash of liquor; I’ve seen whiskey used for this, and shaoxing jiu.  I’ve also seen the not-so-well-known version of “drunken prawns”.  This was at one of those seafood places at East Coast Parkway, where these prawns – once again fresh as fresh can be, indeed still leaping and flopping all over one another – were shaken in a transparent lidded pot with some wine (whiskey I believe) and soy sauce – until they were drunk – and then peeled and eaten while they were still shuddering in one’s fingers.  I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself, folks, and I’ve since seen it more than once – my dear dad and bro are both big fans.  (Another account of someone savouring this dish can be found in this article by an author who had to research Chinese food for his books, about halfway down the page.)

Homesick?

I think I must be, despite the great company of my colleagues.  I woke up one day humming a fragment of a song, and later in the day I found myself singing out loud in my head the lyrics.  They go like this.

景色依旧良辰不在,人儿几时回来。 [The scenery is as it was, but the good times are past; when will he come back?]

I don’t think I consciously meant to remember the rest of the song; at least, I don’t remember trying to recall the rest of the lyrics as actively as I sometimes did when I genuinely wanted to remember a song; but, all through the day, at odd moments, I would catch my mind turning these lyrics over and over; the sense was that there was more to look for.

Then today, I found myself singing another part of the song.

我有诉不尽的悲凄,寄托在梦里带给你,[I have uncountable sorrows, which I entrust to dreams to bring to you.]
虽然千山万水隔离,但愿在梦里相依。[Although mountains and seas separate us, I hope we can lean against each other in dreams.]

And immediately I realised (maybe it was an after-the-fact rationalisation; it occurred too quickly for me to tell the difference; our minds are mysterious things) that I had been singing that song because of the line “although mountains and seas separate us”, because that vast immutable distance from a certain bedrock of familiarity was what I had been feeling through all those colourless meetings, even though the meals have been uniformly good to excellent and despite the great company.*,** 

I prescribed a call back home for my homesickness, and I am happy to report that it’s abated, a bit :)

*Ok, not totally colourless – the meetings have been enlivened by a brusque Indian who breaks iron-clad protocol at his will and stands out like a caveman would in genteel society. 

**A recent “fruits of the sea” pasta – mussels, squid and shrimp tossed together with al dente spaghetti in olive oil and white wine – and the second prawn buffet in a week were particular highlights.  A galling episode occurred after the pasta meal: we went to a restaurant in the Old Town part of Geneva for warm chocolate cake – we had heard from a colleague who was stationed here that it was good, the warm chocolate cake – but when we ordered, the proprietess of the establishment (known for its roast chicken, which smelled delicious) told us that she had many customers and could not serve us if we didn’t order anything else.  The thing is, this was at 9-something pm, by which time all reasonable folk would have had their dinner, don’t you think?!***

***Ah well, it was really her perogative.  And the restaurant was crowded.  *grudgingly, still fuming a bit*  I guess in these times she would have an added reason to squeeze as much profit out of her operations as she can, and that’s what she did.

Geneva – food and other memorabilia

It is coming to the end of my sixth day in Geneva – I’m here for about three weeks on a work trip – and I find myself  marking each day by the meals I have, especially dinner, easily the highlight of each day, possibly because each day is work and then dinner and then back to one’s hotel room.  On my first day here, my colleague – who’s been to Geneva many times – introduced me to Upper Crust, which specialises in ready-made subway sandwiches with generous fillings.  For dinner, we had beef pho at one of Geneva’s ubiquitous Chinese/Vietnamese restaurants; the pho turned out to be marvellous fortification against the chilly evening wind.  On the second day, a colleague who works in Geneva and her husband hosted us for dinner at their apartment, and her husband made some baked (roast?) chicken and summer veggie soup with sausages that really hit the spot on a cold damp night.  On the third day, this colleague herself made us some chicken rice for dinner!  The rice was painstaking studded with ginger and chicken skin, and the chicken itself was presented resting on a bed of bean sprouts and lettuce, ringed by tomato slices.  The meal was accompanied by a light stew of braised straw mushrooms and eggs and a clear soup that went very well with the chicken, fully up to the standard of professional hawkers in Singapore :)  On the fourth day, this dear colleague and her husband brought us to a different Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant, where I again had beef pho, which turned out to come in a beefier, tastier stock.  On the fifth day, we went to a restaurant whose 梅菜扣肉 (essentially pork belly braised with preserved mustard cabbage) my Geneva veteran of a colleague kept raving about.  Together with that, we had stir-fried pak choi and Sichuan chicken and white rice, and it was like a slice of home, it was.  The stir-fried pak choi was some of the best I ever had, the Sichuan chicken tasty and the pork belly was just a little too lean, but still mouthwateringly yummy.  If you’ve tasted preserved mustard cabbage, you’ll know how it combines a delicate sourish taste with a tender juiciness that makes it extremely appetising, and this dish really just demanded the rice to finish it with.  What a wonderful meal we had!  And today, just this evening, we went to an Italian restaurant near our hotel – another recommendation from that Geneva veteran – and I had a very good spaghetti aglio followed by some homemade tiramisu, which was of just the right texture and brimming with coffee liqueur.  The Italian restaurant comes highly recommended by me: the pizzas that my colleagues had came from a wood stove and were simply delicious, with just enough crust, not too much cheese and generous portions of ingredients; the music got my colleagues and I listening and commenting in an almost synchronised manner about how listenable it was; the service was superb; and certainly not least – I am still burping up coffee fumes :)

Geneva has been memorable because of the food I’ve had, and also because I’ve inhaled more second-hand smoke here in the past few days than I have in the last year in Singapore, because the buses and trams here are so punctual and technically advanced and I like the way they stop at every stop and don’t open their doors until a passenger presses a button to alight or enter the bus, because I saw a distinguished gentleman whose thin face was dominated by a moustache of fearsome bushiness bristling sideways past his ears, because the sky here is so calm most days – it’s been milder than I would expect here apart from a couple of gray chilly drizzle-pocked days; on the first day I think I could have gotten a tan from the sunshine streaming in through my hotel room window – that jet trails often linger and linger, because sirens – of the police and the ambulance types – are frequent day and night beyond all plausible explanation and lastly, at least for these six days, because my colleagues and I had to look all around the area near our hotel and then cross the river to the shopping district before we came by seemingly the only place in Geneva that sold Rolex watches, a place with a door lady (yes, a lady whose only job was to ask if you were visiting their store – which was the sort of place that makes me feel that I should use a more exclusive word than ‘store’ and that sadly but understandably that more exclusive word is beyond my limited peasant vocabulary – and open the door for you if you were so doing) and snotty saleswomen.

Oh, and today Joseph Stiglitz gave what to me was an eye-opening and scintillating talk at a session of the International Labour Organisation Governing Body.  Man, you should have seen the staid old assembly hall hoppin’ like a rock concert venue before U2 took the stage.  I took some notes, so should be able to relate some of the topics he touched on in a later post :)

Kuriya send-off

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to have dinner at Kuriya (basement of Raffles City Shopping Centre, next to Din Tai Feng) with a few colleagues, sort of a send-off gathering for one of them, a really popular humble smart gentlemanly type, who would be gone to another altogether different environment for a year.  It’s not a stretch to say that all of us will miss him.

What with all the comfortable company and conversation, just about the least important part of the gathering was the food, which turned out to be generally good to excellent.  The grilled pork belly with spring onion was juicy with marination, its layers of fat and meat distinct and succulent, with just enough charred bits on the edges.  I thought the soft shell crab hand roll and the quite exquisitely presented sushi balls on bamboo were dishes we could try on a return trip too :)

Christmas

I’ve talked about how I always enjoy Christmas – it brings back fond memories.  This last Christmas evening was no exception. I found out a dear friend was pregnant; 12 of us got together and ate hor fun, fried rice, fried bee hoon, sushi, ham, sausages, salad, sotong balls, fish fingers and assorted drinks, and we shared a log cake from Awfully Chocolate, which was left in the open in a hotel room i.e. unchilled for a few hours and turned out to be yummy but a tad dry; and we talked and joked and goggled at Open Season, Transformers and part of the hilarious Hot Fuzz – it was amazing how silent we were at some portions of the spectacular Transformers.

Also, earlier in the day, when I picked up the log cake from the Awfully Chocolate branch at Sembawang Hills Estate, I also tried some hei ice-cream, the dark chocolate ice-cream that Awfully Chocolate sells.  It was absolutely delicious – like premium dark chocolate made cloyingly smooth, almost liquid, the rich creaminess of the ice-cream superbly offsetting the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  Sore-throat-inducing, if one over-indulges :p

The lady who served me was incredibly chirpy and polite and full of Christmas cheer, even though she was working alone in the store on Christmas day.  I hope she had as good a Christmas as I did.

Strong coffee…

is one of the things that Vietnam is known for.  And I was fortunate enough to have just had a taste of it a few hours ago, in a Trung Nguyen Coffee outlet within walking distance of my hotel*.  I tried the Legendee coffee, which is made through a process that supposedly mimics a civet’s gut.  The steeping process took about 15 minutes, as hot water seeped through the coffee powder over the distinctive Vietnamese metal filter.  The resultant coffee was thickly black, with no iota of transparency whatsoever.  I poured this half-cup into a glass of ice, and sipped gingerly.  The aroma was bracing, and the taste combined a jolt of acidity with a strong, cloying bitterness, and a welcome lingering sweetness that remained long after the cup was finished. 

*By the way, I’m writing this entry in the lobby of the very well-appointed Sofitel Plaza Saigon, via the free wireless connection.  The service here is excellent, and the rates lower than many comparable hotels.  Perhaps worth trying when you’re here.  And, as I finish this post, I’m still burping up whiffs of Legendee, and licking the remains of it from around my molars.  Yummers.

Of tests and a short quest for lychee

Last week, I made a couple of testing presentations and took the GMAT.  I’m happy to report that, all in all, the results were satisfactory.

Last week, I had two great meals.  One was with a pal on Wednesday evening, at Coffee Club.  I had tried the tiger prawn aglio olio a month or so before, and had enjoyed it, and it turned out that she had tried the same thing on a separate occasion and liked it too.  So we both ordered that, and it was disappointing – the pasta was not warm enough, so the bite of the chilli and the tartness of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the onion slices were all muted; someone was over-enthusiastic with the oil; even the prawns themselves were mere crunch, with barely a hint of the taste of sea.

We also ordered the same drink – my pal had enjoyed the rambutan drink when she tried it here the other time, she said, so I joined her in ordering it.  When the pink, smoothie-like drink came, she was a bit puzzled – she remembered that it was white.  Then she tasted it, tentatively, and said she thought it was the drink she had liked.  It was only later, when she reviewed the menu, that she realised that she had previously tried the lychee drink.

We finished the night with dessert at the Canele outlet at the basement of the Paragon.  I was quite amazed that we could get seats.  We had a slice of Le Royale and a strawberry tart.  The latter was frankly rubbish – stale pastry, over-glazed strawberries – but I was told that the Robertson Quay outlet has higher standards.  The company that evening, as always, made up for the food.

Strangely enough, I had a lychee drink – something with soda and lychee syrup and mint leaves and a single lychee, likely from a can – at TCC a couple of evenings later, after a stomach-busting Japanese a la carte buffet at Minori, during which I had sushi (ordinary), sashimi (generously sliced and above average for a buffet), maki (ordinary), temaki (ordinary), soba (yuk), yakitori (varied; one pork belly skewer was excellent – succulent and layered in texture – but another had been left  to grill for too long and was nearly petrified) and tempura (unremarkable), and smelled the most amazing pork belly soup I’ve smelled, an appetite-stirring combination of miso and rich pork juices.  I found the combination of lychee and mint weird and nearly overly sweet.

Plato in a joke

In Sun with Moon*, and afterwards at the Borders** Bistro downstairs, I had the conversation I have come to expect with two good friends – thoughtful, opinionated, passionate academia-related stuff. As usual, I came away from our session thinking about teaching and doing research at a university for a living.

This time, we talked about what the teaching and research were for. About how schools sometimes focus their research more on theory – i.e. aiming to unearth a more complete picture of the world – or application i.e. aiming to solve problems.

About what to teach one’s students – how to pick among focused, immediately applicable skills (how to write an “inverse pyramid”-style news story, for example), less immediately applicable “life skills” (say, how to think and write clearly) and probably ultimately useless skills (case in point: do we need to know, really, how to do differential equations if we don’t end up teaching others how to do differential equations?).

About the differences between education in polytechnics and that in universities.

About how that distinction may get complicated again, if we talk about the teaching of professions – in which case the value-add in universities may be teaching would-be doctors how to think about doctoring, for example.

At the beginning of our conversation, I mentioned that I had read that, after his student complained about not gaining anything from being at his school, a Greek philosopher had given the student a penny and expelled him. Impressed, one friend asked which book I had read. Here is what I read, and from where:

In the fourth century BC, the great Athenian philosopher Plato established a school (the Academy) at which mathematics was a key portion of the curriculum. It was taught with the utmost rigor of which the times were capable, and it dealt with idealized shapes on which idealized operations were performed.

One student, who was put to stern mental exercise over the Platonic conception of mathematics, kept searching in vain for some application to the various forms of artisanry for which he knew mathematical concepts were useful.

Finally he said to Plato, ‘But, master, to what practical use can these theorems be put? What can be gained from them?’

The old philosopher glared at the inquiring student, turned to a slave, and said, ‘Give this young man a penny that he might feel he has gained something from my teachings and then expel him.’

– Joke 142 of Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor

Here’s Joke 137 from the same book. I do hope my friends won’t turn out to be too much like the good Professor Krumpelmayer:

‘I have brought a frog,’ said Professor Krumpelmayer, beaming at his class in elementary zoology, ‘fresh from the pond, in order that we might study its outer appearance and later dissect it.’

He carefully unwrapped the package he carried and inside was a neatly prepared ham sandwich.

The good professor looked at it with astonishment. ‘Odd,’ he said, ‘I distinctly remember having eaten my lunch.’

And here is Joke 156, about the utter uselessness of it all. Maybe.

Finkelstein had made a huge killing at the races and Moskowitz, quite understandably, was envious.

‘How did you do it, Finkelstein?’ he demanded.

‘Easy,’ said Finkelstein. ‘It was a dream.’

‘A dream?’

‘Yes. I had figured out a three-horse parlay, but I wasn’t sure about the third horse. Then the night before, I dreamed an angel was standing over the head of my bed and kept saying, “Blessings on you, Finkelstein. Seven times seven blessings on you.” When I woke up, I realized that seven times seven is forty-eight and that horse number forty-eight was Heavenly Dream. I made Heavenly Dream the third horse in my parlay and I just cleaned up; I simply cleaned up.’

Moskowitz said, ‘But, Finkelstein, seven times seven is forty-nine.’

And Finkelstein said, ‘So you be the mathematician.’

Or the person who learned the right math. Or taught it.

*One friend had the wafu ramen, which came with red dates. The other had a pork don. Both dishes got enthusiastically positive reviews from their tasters.

**I’d have added a link for you to subscribe to the Borders newsletter, which delivers some pretty good discount vouchers to your email address. Thing is, one has to print them out. And that’s tree slaughter. Anti-greenery is not cool.