Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Last week Heather and I went to Trader Joe’s wine shop. If you’ve never been, you’re doing yourself a disservice. For decent wine you really can’t beat the prices at Trader Joe’s. They have their own label that goes for about $2.99—three buck chuck as it’s known—but they also have middle of the road stuff and some pretty primo stuff too. Normally we select our wine very carefully. We take the time to come up with a list of options, compare labels, and try to make an educated guess on what wine will bring the greatest amount of joy into our lives. This was not one of those situations. The line at Trader Joe’s was so long that it went most of the length of the store. We decided we would get in line and then pick wines off the shelf as we go. However the line moved pretty fast so we just selected wines somewhat randomly. We were conscious of the type of wine and the cost, but that was about it. Two of them were whites that we enjoyed at a friend’s dinner party, but we also ended up with a red that we saved for later.
We tried the Stonehedge Petit Syrah. The label stood out to me. I think we picked it because we thought it said Stonehenge, like the ancient monument in England. But as it turns out, it’s just a hedge made of stone. I think I was also fooled by the bottle. It’s black with gold etching. It looks kind of mysterious, like it was forged in a volcano or something. It’s misleading—is what I’m saying. Once we finally did try it, I popped the cork and was hit with an intense bouquet. It was really fruity and almost tart. Kind of like a blackberry. I poured it and gave it a few minutes to breathe. Wines have to breathe I’m told. I guess they’ll suffocate or something. I tried it and the berry notes were still there but they were much more subtle than anticipated. They played it very quiet and cool at first. They were the alcoholic equivalent of the guy in West Side Story who tells action to take it easy. That guy was so cool. Anyway, once I was lulled into complacency I was surprised with a pleasant burst of fruitiness with rich tannins and a clean finish.
I’ve read that Petit Syrah goes really well with steak. We did not have steak; we happened to be having ratatouille. (We also ate it while watching the movie Ratatouille. That's a true story.) It was delicious but part of me wanted some protein to complement the wine. I get so spoiled sometimes. A white probably would have gone better with the meal, but it was very good for what it was. Plus the movie Ratatouille complements any red wine.
I guess the moral of the story is to take chances in life—live on the edge. That’s my motto. If we didn’t just pick a wine because we were rushed, we wouldn’t have wound up with a surprising and interesting wine. I encourage you all to do the same. Take a risk. Send your gas bill in a week late. What are they going to do? Shut off your heat? Maybe you can pick a fight with a really big guy. He’ll probably back down and everyone around will be really impressed. Or just go to Atlantic city with the deed to your house and bet it all on red…no black…black’s luckier.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
McDonald’s recently came out with a new line of coffee beverages to meet the ever growing need people have to pump themselves full of caffeine. I suppose the goal is to compete with Starbucks. They market the new line of coffee as McCafe. I am constantly amused by McDonald's marketing. They just take a word and add "Mc" to it and get a new word. It's not a nugget, it's a McNugget. It's not a muffin, it's a McMuffin. I think the McGriddle amuses me the most.
“This bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich is good, but it seems too heathy?”
“What if instead of english muffins, we used Pancakes?”
“I like it but something’s missing.”
“What if we injected the pancake with sugary syrup?”
“Find a way to etch our logo right into the sandwich itself and we got ourselves a hit.”
I haven’t been in a McDonald’s for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, I am not above eating things that are bad for me. If Heather weren’t around I would be living off a steady diet of:
Pizza—if you add pepperoni, all four food groups are represented, right?
Doritos—how many different flavors can they spray on a chip?
Capri Sun—If I can get the straw through that little plastic spout.
What makes McDonald’s (and the other major fast food chains) unappealing to me is their particularly egregious business practices. I’ve seen too many documentary films to stomach fast food. I recently saw Food Inc. at an independent movie theatre and a lot of the imagery of animal abuse and poor working conditions is heartbreaking. Some other good resources are documentaries like Super Size Me and books like Fast Food Nation and Don’t Eat This Book. Above all I just don’t want to hand over my hard earned money to a corporate system that stresses quantity over quality. I'm sure this all reeks of East Coast Liberal Elitism. Well I apologize. I guess it's just the type of media I'm surrounding myself with. If you think I'm annoying, you should spend some time with Heather. She's twice the food snob I am.
Against my better judgement, I wanted to try McDonald’s line of premium coffee drinks just to see how they measured up. I wouldn’t let myself do it though. I figured if I caved and spent the buck or two on the drink, McDonald’s would just use it to euthanize a kitten or bludgeon a panda to death with a giant Big Mac. It’s an irrational assumption but it seems like something they might try.
While scanning through my weekend circulars, I came across an ad for McCafe with several coupons for drinks including a free latte or mocha and a free iced latte or mocha. I logically worked through this new development and came to the conclusion that if I used the coupon and got the drink, my conscience would be clear. I wouldn’t be giving McDonald’s my money; if anything, they would lose money. Not much, but some. I ran this theory by Heather (she’s more contemptuous of fast food than I am) and my logic checked out. QED.
After work, I strolled into the nearest McDonald’s (1st ave. and 69th st. Manhattan) and stood in line. The place was particularly chaotic. I felt the urge to walk out but if I did that I probably wouldn’t come back. You only have one chance to win me over McDonald’s; make it count. I finally got to the front of the line to the surly lady taking orders. I can’t say I blame her. I can’t imagine she’s making much more than minimum wage. It didn’t help her mood any that I’m just some punk coming in with a coupon, but I didn’t care. I’ve been waiting fifteen minutes for my iced latte and I’ll be damned if I’m not getting it. So I order.
I’ve worked with automatic espresso machines before but I found the one they used to be very strange. Not only does it spit out the espresso shot, it also spits out the milk. The lady just filled my cup with ice and pressed a button and out came my latte—perfectly measured and ready to go. It even spit out the little bit of froth that comes on top. McDonald’s fascinates me. They will take lattes and cappuccinos, which are traditionally craft beverages, and streamline the process to the push of a button. It represents the good and bad of America.
The lady handed me my free beverage. I thanked her and bid her good day. Then I tried my drink. It was fine. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it was fine. It was on a par with something you would get a Dunkin Donuts. The thing that took away from the experience was the fact that I was drinking through a regular McDonald’s straw—the kind with the circumference of a dime that are designed to bring sugary soda and shamrock shakes from the cup to your face in record time. I tried to sip slowly and analyze objectively but the straw made it hard.
The whole experience was pretty much what I would expect from McDonalds. I give them a lot of credit for their ad campaign but as a coffee consumer in their key demographic, I don’t want to go out for coffee to a place that reeks of burgers and fries. I still have another coupon for a free hot beverage, but I’ll probably just let it expire. I’d rather spend my money at a smaller place with a more skilled staff that knows a thing or two about crafting a decent beverage.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Last week, Heather and I went to Studio Square for the second time. Studio square is a huge beer garden in Long Island City with indoor and outdoor seating, a large contingent of German and Domestic beers, and an area where you can get food like sausages, burgers and sushi. The first time we went was a little crowded because it was on a Friday so this was the first time that we got to spread out and enjoy ourselves. On our first visit to this beer garden it seemed like there were lots of good places to sit, but when we would go to sit down, someone would inform us that the seats were taken. Damn it! High school all over again. Rather than assert ourselves and sit down anyway, (at one point there was a man saving an entire picnic table) we decided to piss, moan and write a scathing blog about it. Take that, guy in backwards mets cap who will never read this blog. Revenge tastes pretty sweet.
We did finally find a place to drink our beer. They have this area that’s about as high as a bar but there’s a fire pit in the center. This was really cool at times but I thought that if the wrong gust of wind came by, I would lose my eyebrows. We only stayed for one round so my eyebrows stayed intact. This past trip was much better. Heather and I are more of a low key weeknight crowd. We easily got a burger, sausage, beer, sangria and table.
The beer at Studio Square comes in unique measurements. They have pitchers—which are not that unusual—but they also serve beer by the liter and half liter. I found this strange because we don’t really use the metric system in the United States. I would say that beer by the liter would go over big in England, but do you know how they measure beer over there? By the pint. I hope the irony is not lost on the good people at Studio Square. I ordered a liter of Racer 5 IPA and man was this thing huge. It was served in a cartoonish large glass that puts a 22-ouncer from Fridays to shame. It costs thirteen dollars, but it’s a buck cheaper than getting two half liters. Heather said I looked ridiculous holding this mammoth beer but I didn’t care. I have so few pleasures in life. I wish it were socially acceptable to carry a liter of beer everywhere I go. I know that’s a thing that alcoholics say but hear me out. I don’t want to drink massive amounts of beer all day. I just want to have it as a crazy prop.
We’ve only been to one other beer garden in New York called Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. This was not a great experience for us. There was a distinct lack of organization in this place. It took us a really long time to even get a beer because the line was so long. (Thank God there was a line at all.) We really wanted to get food too but the only way to get food was to get a table and have waiter service. We talked to a waitress and she said that there was a big table about to leave, but what she meant was that they were going to pay and stay for a really long time. There was no way we were getting a table. Why can’t we just line up somewhere and get the food. There seemed to be a window that was fully capable of dispensing food. In my opinion, the sign of a bad business is when the customer has a pocketful of money he’s willing to throw at an establishment and can’t for one reason or another. Heather e-mailed the place to complain and got no response so to hell with them I say. I’d rather go to Studio Square and not switch trains.
Monday, August 10, 2009
About a year and a half ago a woman in my office recommended the book, Julie & Julia. It was a great book, especially as I had just moved to NY and the book described the trials and tribulations of cooking really fancy food in a tiny Queens kitchen, and having meltdowns as her worried husband made her Gimlets. Let’s just say I identified. It also tied in the world of Julia Child, a woman who I have only a vague recollection of cooking on PBS, and my mother talking in a garbled voice about her “impeccably clean” kitchen, a reference that Julia apparently made often after she received a letter about how she didn’t behave sanitarily enough while cooking. I think the idea of Julia Child is amazing, even if I don’t remember a lot of her show. She was not the tiny, perfectly coifed idea of a home cook that they present on the Food Network today. She was a somewhat homely but passionate cook, who really loved food in a way I don’t think any current TV chef does.
And on top of that, she was a spy during World War II, which is a fact that just makes every “Iron Chef” look like an absolute poser. Oh your so tough, you can cook with a surprise ingredient, but are you a fucking SPY???? I didn’t think so. Shut up and sit down Bobby Flay. While I’m on the subject of the Food Network, I don’t believe Giada eats any of that food, the skinny bitch. And I know it’s not an original thought, but Rachel Ray is really annoying. Paula Deen can be a bit much, but I admire her copious use of butter. I miss Emeril with his insane enthusiasm and his girth betraying that he really ate the food… but this is all a blog for another day. The point is that Julia Child could take any one of them in a knife fight, I’m pretty sure of it. Admit it, we would all love to see Julia “Throwdown” Bobby Flay to the ground and yell “I’ll cut you, bitch!” I think he has it coming.
I took my mother to see the movie Julie and Julia over the weekend, and there was the perfect generational gap there, me from Julie’s generation, her from Julia’s (or at least from a generation that watched Julia’s show. She is much younger then Julia herself, who died a few years back in her 90’s.) I endured the occasional nudge from my mother as Julie lay spread eagle on her kitchen floor sobbing over a dropped chicken, not that I have ever overreacted to a cooking incident. I enjoyed the film, the shots of France, the interpretation of the life of Julia Child, and the near pornographic shots of the food. Will, with his academic idea of a story arc and his library of Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, kept asking who the villain was, what was the great adversity that needed to be overcome, and what were the stakes. Apparently boys don’t find “personal accomplishment” to be a satisfying cinematic climax. He would no doubt prefer a movie about the hypothetical Flay/Child knife fight. Side note: Never flay a child. You’ll go to jail. As with the book Julie and Julia though, I found the story to be wholly satisfying because I identified with it. Both of the main characters set out to find something that they loved to do because it fulfilled them, and it turned out to be something that changed their lives entirely for the better.
I’d be lying if I said that “Epicurette in New York” wasn’t partly influenced by the book Julie & Julia. I have a lot in common with the Julie in the book, and not just in our apartment locations. Early in the book, Julie is on a subway platform and spots a homeless person losing her shit. “The only two reasons I hadn't joined right in with the loon... were 1) I’d be embarrassed and 2) I didn’t want to get my cute vintage suit and dirtier than it already was. Performance anxiety and a dry-cleaning bill; those were the only things keeping me from stark raving lunacy” I've had that day, and from that moment on I knew this character and I would get along. From the book I learned two things. 1) Food writing doesn’t just have to be restaurant reviews and tips on recipes, itcan be really funny, and 2) It is infinitely funnier when something doesn’t go as planned. Perhaps it is the book that gave me the courage to write about my self taught cooking, despite the fact that sometimes my muffins don’t rise, and I may or may not have exploded a dish or two. Literally.
When I read Julie Powell’s book I didn’t pity her or laugh at her when the dishes went awry, I laughed with her as a fellow combatant of young women vs their kitchens and their ingredients. Watching the movie, I discovered a kinship with Julia as well. The entire reason Julia went to cooking school is that she loved to eat so much. When trying to discover what she thought she may like to do, creating food was a natural choice for her because she loved to eat it so very much. This is a concept I understand intimately. Moving to NY we had no money (not much has changed) and I walked past so many restaurants with such amazing food. I could pout about my misfortune, or I could do something about it, and so cooking became something that improved my life as well. Maybe I was a junior staff member doing administrative work, but at night, at home, I could create something wonderful, and then enjoy it. I could taste it, smell it, share it with loved ones, and so created my own sense of accomplishment. No, it’s not a story that includes explosions and a dastardly villain twisting a long thin mustache, but it’s my story, and so it makes me happy. By the packed theatre this weekend, I think there are other people with similar stories, and I bet it makes them happy too.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The mojito has made it’s way into the mainstream of drink society and I couldn’t be happier. There are fewer things better than chilling out on a hot summer day with your favorite gal and a tall mojito. The sweetness of the sugar (1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup,) the dynamic interplay of the rum and lime (2 oz and 1/2 oz respectively,) and the vibrancy of the fresh mint (eight to ten leaves muddled and a sprig for garnish,) the effervescence of the club soda (fill to top of mojito or pilsner glass and stir.) The drink originated in Cuba and gained popularity in the United States with the film remake of Miami Vice. Actually I don’t think anyone cares about Miami Vice. I don’t know exactly what made the mojito popular in the U.S. I guess the real question is what took so long.
A little while ago, Heather and I were at at a monthly event at the club SOB’s called Basement Bhangra where they play Bhangra music and give you a crash course in Indian dancing and then turn you loose with your new found skills on a dance floor filled with strobe lights and lasers. The hook here is free mojitos early in the night to get things going. What ends up happening is that I forget most of what I learned and just start acting like a spaz. Heather too. We do this until the crowd get too big and invades our personal space. Dance clubs aren’t very big on personal space I’ve noticed. We get there early enough to avoid the large cover charge and head straight for the bar where we proceed to say things like, “Where’s my mojito?” and “Give it to me.”
What they gave us was a blue frozen concoction that was reminiscent of a Blue Raspberry Slurpee you would find at the 7-Eleven. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway because brevity is not my strong suit—we were a little disappointed. We tried it and it seemed to be sugar, ice, and peppermint schnapps (or some other mouthwash tasting liqueur) mixed in a blender with some blue food coloring. Come to think of it, maybe it was blue because they actually used Scope. I suppose there could have been rum in there but there was so much mint that I couldn’t tell. When the bartender came around again, we asked for a mojito. When he saw that our plastic cups were mostly full we looked him in the eye and said, “a real mojito.” He nodded, flashed us a knowing smile and made our drinks. They were carefully crafted and well balanced. As I enjoyed my drink I glanced down at my blue monstrosity and wondered how the former could be confused for the latter.
As with anything that gains popularity in the United States, I’ve seen a few mass marketing attempts. There are mixes that have the lime, mint, and sugar in it. There are mixes that even include the rum. Orbit has a line of gum called mint mojito (a bit redundant considering that a mojito already has mint.) At the restaurant where I am employed, they serve a virgin sparkling mojito with ginger. It’s pretty good but when you take the rum out, it has no balls. It’s more of a sparkling lime-aid.
If you ever get the opportunity, gentle reader, to whip up a pitcher of mojitos for a party or small gathering, you will be the hit of said party. I’ve done it before and it goes over well. Sometimes when I’m drinking a mojito, I look at all the leaves and lime floating around and I imagine that it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon—that somewhere in space, on a distant planet, there’s a river that flows with mojito and all somebody had to do was go dunk my glass into it’s ever-flowing mojito waters and bring it to me. God bless you space river. Of course this thought usually occurs to me by mojito number three or four.