Great Decisions at the Westfield Library - "Children"

Tonight we have the next to final session of this year's Great Decision series of Foreign Policy talks in the Westfield Library. From all the topics that the Foreign Policy Association has collected for this year's "Great Decisions", the topic of children (early death, medical issues, education, exploitation and abuse) is - for me -conceptually the most difficult to grasp, to understand and to formulate a policy to resolve.
We had two speakers tonight, that were in my opinion, both slightly off topic. One person pretty much gave a marketing presentation of UNICEF with a somewhat limited perspective and a clear intention to stay politically correct and to not truly speak what she was thinking. This limited the ability to have an open fact- based discussion. The other person talked very specifically about problems with the foster care system in Romania. I'm not trying to downplay this issue, but in the grand scheme of things, with millions of children dying every year, widespread lack of adequate health care and exploitation and abuse, this is a different magnitude of problem. It is a very specific issues and not at the heart of the topic.

Overall, this was probably the weakest session in the series so far. I went away with the sense that this a very serious problem, but the evening has not helped me to better understand the issues or potential solutions for them. But then the topic is not really that suitable for the type of discussion and speaker coverage that worked quite well with other topics, like war crimes.

Conceptually, death, suffering and exploitation of children all over the world is not so much a problem per se, but a symptom of other underlying problems, poverty the most important one. Based on that, there are really only two strategies to resolve the issue at the root. Solve the poverty issue, or reduce the amount of children born into poverty. The latter is particularly true as too many children in a family is often one additional factor that contributes to poverty. Solving the poverty issue is not easy and many smart people are working on strategies. Reducing the number of children born into poverty should be easier. It is called family planning. I believe we should encourage the countries suffering from the problems discussed above to seriously engage in family planning support and education. Besides some religious reservations - which we as rational people should be able to overcome for the purpose of a worthy goal - there is no reason not to focus on this. It certainly is not the one and only solution, but it could give a us a good start.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


In NY with our friends from Germany - South Street Sea Port and Tabla

This entry is a bit out of the norm as it is not about Westfield directly. But even if live in Westfield and like it very much, New York is close and exciting. Some old friends of ours from Germany are currently on vacation in Manhatten. So we took an early train to NY and spent a day there. Unfortunately in Manhattan it was even chillier than in Westfield, only marginally warming up over the course of the day.
This was the first time for our friends in Manhattan so we played tourist and guide. The world trade center site, battery park and than south street sea port. I haven't been to the latter one in a while, so I was amazed how touristy it had gotten, not in a negative sense. It just isn't very authentic. OK, you can argue it is good that we have it so the tourists go there instead of ruining the neighborhoods that the locals really like to go.
For Lunch we went to Harbour Lights. The cool thing about this place is the great view on the East River and the bridges in the north (remember B-M-W). And despite the weather being somewhat unstable we sat outside. Service was very attentive, friendly and mostly efficient. We had a few small plates for brunch and nobody minded that we didn't have the $30 plus main entrees that were also on the menu. The food is above average, good quality, good display but not particularly innovative. For the price level I had expected a little more, but then again it is a touristy place in NY.
After a stop in the east village and a few places around there were you have fewer tourists, we finally went up to Madison Square Park for Dinner at Tabla.
My wife is a coupon freak and she had a $25 off coupon. This was only valid in the dinning room not at the bar. Yes $25-off sounds pretty good on the first thought. But relative to potentially $350 for the a party 4 (including wine) it wouldn't have been that significant. A bit surprised by the fact that they had only a prix fix menu, and shocked by the starting price of $64 a person (and at least for my taste the somewhat uninteresting menu selections) we were contemplating an exit strategy.
So after getting over the embarrassment of having to ask the wait staff to reseat us into the bar (which they did in an absolutely professional fashion) we felt a lot more comfortable downstairs in the Breadbar. The good thing is you can order a variety of small plates, larger plate, indian breads and chutneys and then share them across the table. The food is excellent, innovative around the concept of Indian fusion, good display. The only thing: When ordering plates to share, after having been there a few times you have pretty much tasted everything on the menu and it might start to get a bit boring. But then, most of it is worth having it a couple of times

In addition, we discovered a very drinkable, exciting and rather unusual new wine I didn't have before. Conundrum is a rather untypical blend of Savignon-Blanc, Muscat, Chardonnay and a few others. I find it effective to characterize a wine by comparing it to a celebrity, e.g. actor, as describing flavors and smells with words is not always adequate. So this one would go as "Famke Janssen", yes the one from X-Man, James Bond and Star Trek-TNG. Mysterious, individualistic, somewhat bold but still elegant. Do I have to say more?

In summary the bread bar is pretty cool. Nevertheless, if you want to enjoy the dinning room, go there for lunch. At $25 a person a much better deal.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Photoshow in Clark

After a somewhat rough week at work, I'm glad it is Friday. Our typical routine is to go to the Power Yoga at the Westfield YMCA. However, this Friday is different as there is an opening of a photo show at Skulski Gallery at the Polish Cultural Foundation in Clark.
I'm not that familiar with the Polish Cultural Foundation, but the Skulski Art Gallery that they host, is something special and we will check out what other exhibits it will have in the future. This is another of these hidden gems in NJ, that most people don't even know is there.

Tonight there was an opening of a photo show by John Wyatt with samples from his tattoo book "Under My Skin". In addition to the black and white picture being pretty impressive, for most of the pictures there was some text telling the story of the person(s) on the photo in their own words. You could clearly see these tattooed people are typically have a strong character, are independent personalities, and are people with a strong sense of the value of freedom. They are individualist that don't care too much about what other people think.

As I also like to think very much to think for myself and as I do value my freedom pretty much above everything else, I felt pretty moved and affected by these pictures. The artist was there and my wife - who is also a photographer could have an expert talk while I enjoyed the pictures and the polish beer.

Not having had dinner before, we were pretty hungry when we left the show around 9:30. Hungry for a burger we went to the Outback Steakhouse in Springfield at 22. I haven't been to Outback that often but I generally liked their burgers.

I wasn't disappointed this time either, truly enjoying the Hickory Burger. And yes, I do like mayo on my burger. But I made the same mistake now for the third time, ordering the burger with fries (i.e. "Aussie Chips"). Isn't it a weird feeling when you remember you made the same mistake before. ("Experience is the ability to recognize a mistake when you make it again").

I just don't like the fries there. They are not bad, but they don't have the crispness, texture and taste that I associate with real good fries and that would make it worth eating them. My Philosophy on fries is: "They are unhealthy, so if I eat them at least I want to maximize the pleasure that I get out of the experience. Eating fries that you don't really fully enjoy is just plain stupid". I hope next time at Outback I will remember.

As much as I don't like the fries there, I absolutely love the "Blue Cheese Bacon Chopped" salad. You can get it as a side for around $4 or with an entree for less than $3. It is an almost perfect salad combination. It blends a creamy, crispy and somewhat firm but also chewy texture, with a taste that it is difficult to describe but that will make you addicted. All the components of the salad are in perfect harmony and what you taste is more than the sum of the parts. The inventor of this salad it true culinary genius. Just having a good soup and that salad makes for very nice meal.

At this particular Outback location, the service is friendly, fast and attentive, the atmosphere is nice and lively but not too crowed and noisy. A good place also to have a drink after a movie across the street.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Saturday Morning - YMCA and Croissants

On Saturday I usually get up quite early (like at 5:45 AM) to go to the YMCA for an early while it still fairly quiet there. So I usually arrive there by 6:15 and I'm done with my routine (cardio and weight training) around 7:50.

This is good timing, as at 8:00 AM Bovella's Pastry Shop in Westfield opens. Now, I'm not actually such a big fan of sweet pastry items. But we both love Croissants. A well-made fresh, still warm, buttery croissant with cup of really good coffee is one of the great things in life. So when we moved to Westfield about 6 years ago the one of the first things we checked out was the bakeries and grocery stores to see if anybody had good croissants (which unfortunately typically are not easy to come by in America). You can imagine how glad we were when we found a good and pretty authentic interpretation of "The Croissant" at Bovella's, an reasonably priced, too.

Since then I go there on a regular basis Saturday or Sunday in the morning to satisfy my craving. Sometimes, when I arrive there at 8:15 shortly after they open at 8:00 they are already out of them. I guess there must be a few other croissant connoisseurs in Westfield.

Anyhow, Bovella's just recently remodeled there store and I had been there since. I was concerned that with the new management they might have also changed their portfolio of products and in particular was hoping that they hadn't made any changes to the croissants. So when I went there in the morning I was actually a bit excited, but I can report things didn't change the croissants are still great. I got 8 of them, still warm fresh from the oven. Mmh.

Isn't that a great start into the weekend?

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Gelatto in Westfield

This was the Friday when Spring finally arrived in NJ after a Winter that wasn't that cold but it was certainly far too long. Today, finally the sun came out and it seemed like the overture to a very nice weekend.
We already had plans for a dinner at home so my wife and I decided instead to just walk into downtown Westfield, enjoy the weather and check out the stores and the people. We love to be in Westfield to just hang out, watch other people and may be by coincidence meet other people that we know.
If we weren't going for dinner, at least we wanted to have something refreshing to start the warm season. As it turns out Planet Smoothie is closing right when their busy season supposedly starts. (The location is still on the web site). I don't know what the background is for the store closing, but I was always wondering if Westfield has a large enough customer base to sustain such a place in particular during the cold season when the demand for smoothie is naturally lower.

Still, I'm really sad to see them close as I liked to get a smoothie there once in a while and there is no alternative close by. Personally, I like Jamba Juice better but still Plant Smoothie had a good selection, good quality and usually pretty good service. (I'm not too hopeful for a Jamba Juice arriving in Westfield pretty soon, I guess we will rather get another bank. ;-)).

With smoothies not an option we refocused on Gelatto where we actually have now two options in Westfield. Again, the same question arises: In particular with the current retail rent inflation that Westfield is seeing, can it sustain two Gelatto places? I certainly wish the answer to be yes. We checked out both "Hi-5 Candy & Ice Café" and The Chocolate Bar (formerly La Crema). The prices are roughly the same but subjectively I feel the portions are bit larger at the chocolate bar and at least when we were there they had a larger selection of flavors.

So we I got a cappuccino at Hi 5 (which compared very well against Starbucks and is reasonably priced) and my wife got the gelatto at the chocolate bar. We had bought the gelatto there frequently when it was still La Crema and we were actually pretty excited as we remembered it to be quite good and really really creamy. Today, it was good but not as special as we remembered. Maybe, we need to try different flavors next time. The summer is hopefully long enough to compare the two places a little more. Maybe we should do a flavor to flavor contest.

And I certainly hope Westfield has a large enough revenue potential to sustain both place. I also look forward to Hi 5 living up to its promise to become a true European style Ice Café.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Great Decisions: Mexico

It is Monday night and this is my third blog entry. If you have read so far, you may think this is all about the Westfield Library, because once again I'm writing about an event there. I promise, there will be other topics covered here, one today, as this entry is really a double feature.

Again, Monday night is foreign policy night with Great Decisions from the Foreign Policy Association. (More on this program in my entry from 2007-04-12.) The way the program is structured in Westfield, we typically have a speaker from this region that is an expert in the subject matter at hand. Unfortunately, the speaker scheduled for "Mexico" today canceled on short notice.

So instead of a speaker we watched the respective video from "Great Decisions - TV" which is airing on PBS as an accompanying TV program for the Great Decisions series. The program is a bit stiff and not particularly exciting because it is all interviews and some of speakers come across as a little bit too self-important. Still they make some good points and seemingly are truly experts in their field. You can watch some additional interviews at the site but not the actual program which you would have to buy on DVD.

Nevertheless, I still like the format with the expert speaker a lot more. If for nothing else, the speaker is there to answer questions and provide perspective. So with "Mexico" only being covered in a fairly short video the evening was more a discussion, which had its own appeal. The interaction between the participants was high quality. People tried to stay with the facts, were oriented towards solutions and didn't argue along the typical partisan lines. I really enjoy this type of interaction, so I'm glad we have that in Westfield. In summary, a lot of new insights about this more and more important neighbour to the south.

But the evening wasn't over. However, my time for today is so I will continue with this tomorrow.

The Westfield Diner - A Brief Review

This is part two of my entry for Monday 2007-04-16.

While I was at the Library for "Great Decisions - Mexico", my wife went to the movies with a friend and unfortunately here, the starter of our car died. So I had to pick them up a little later that night and as we were all pretty hungry, we were looking for a place to eat late in Westfield. The Westfield Diner came to mind.

I had been thereon weekend for breakfast 6 years ago shortly after we moved to Westfield and somehow never returned to it thereafter. This was not because I didn't like it or anything was bad, it just never happened and if you don't go to a particular restaurant once in a while it is almost like it doesn't exist for you. I guess my point is, at the time the Westfield Diner offered normal diner food with effective service, but nothing too special, nothing that compelled me to come back.

Anyhow, yesterday night we had a good reason to come back. We were hungry and it is was the only place in town that was open. And I'm glad we had that opportunity. The food was actually pretty good (for a diner, I'm not comparing it to the Stagehouse in Scotch Plains), the service was not only effective but also friendly and attentive. The Greek specialities are actually pretty appealing and you get good portions for dinner with soup, salad and desert. And there were a few guests: I really don't like to be the only party in a restaurant. I guess there are quite a few reason to come back for a casual dinner soon, especially when it is later at night.

My next reason to go there will be the pasta night they have on Wednesday where they have a good selection of pasta specialities that are not on the menu during the rest of the week.

Again, if you look for good diner food later in the evening (till midnight during the week, till 1:00 AM during the weekend) check out the Westfield Diner.

Maybe, I need recheck the other Diner in Westfield, too.

Signing off - The Westfield blogger.


From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

Friday evening and we are once again in the Westfield Library. Tonight, we have Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman (former US Marine) talk about his book "FROM BAGHDAD WITH LOVE: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava". More on the book can be found on amazon including some pictures of Lava.
And this is another good illustration for the point that I made in my previous blog entry about Westfield and the fact that we do have a great cultural program in this town.
Jay Kopelman spoke for more than an hour about the war in Iraq, his role as a soldier in it and about the dog named Lava. He didn't just read from his book but he actually told a story, a story that was convincing, engaging, at times sad but about everything else credible and thought-provoking. I really appreciated his honesty and straight answers not catering to any political agenda in particular.
I haven't read the book, yet, but from what I understand now, the dog is just a discussion starter and it is really about so much more, in particular the role that our country should or should not play involving itself in the world. And there are facts and thoughts that are rarely heard in our culture of media hype and polarization.
Certainly an evening that gave me a lot of food for thought.

Signing off - The Westfield Blogger


Let's Start a blog about Westfield NJ

This evening I had somewhat of an epiphany. Ok, you can argue what an epiphany really is. But I certainly had an - what I would call - an AHA moment.
As every Monday evening for the last few months I was at the Westfield Library for "Great Decisions". Great decision is a truly enlightening and very educational program on foreign policy offered by the Foreign Policy Association. This time it was about "War Crimes". The lecturer, Prof. Mark David Welton, was not only very knowledge about the topic but also was able to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic in about an hour. And most importantly and IMHO quite impressive, he was able to do this without using PowerPoint slides while still by interesting and engaging.
I certainly learned a lot about War crimes, the legalities around them and history of law of armed conflict. My opinion on the topic will be a lot more refined and my thinking a bit more differentiated.
Despite the somewhat grave topic, I really felt good about the event, about the evening and the fact that I was able to broaden my own intellectual horizon. And for some reason, I had this aha feeling, that I was actually quite lucky to live in town like Westfield where I have access to this type of event. And this is not the only good thing about this town. This appreciation for the town of Westfield caused me to start this blog to share some of my thoughts and experiences in Westfield and around it.

If you are interested - even remotely - in foreign policy, and everyone should be, I would really recommend the "Great Decisions" program. It is very factual and certainly non-partisan. Nevertheless, the facts are sometimes just partisan. There are not always two sides to a topic. And you get an opportunity to look beyond the headlines and the oversimplified news stories.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger