I am not one of those people who reflexively think European goods are superior to American ones—you know the kind of people I’m talking about—but boy do I sometimes wonder about the coffee in this country. The average American takes his or her daily caffeine in the form of a tepid, mud-like beverage that delis, diners, and commercial chains have chosen to call “coffee.” Is it? It can’t possibly be. Even the coffee at Starbucks, which is supposed to be something special, more often than not tastes like the business end of a drainpipe. It’s a shame so many people have been duped by words like “venti” and “macchiato.”
This dislike of mine has nothing to do with snobbery. I don’t care about price, brand, origin, or other markers of prestige. I know precisely nothing about the agriculture of coffee beans or the chemistry of brewing. I do know, however, that the proof of the coffee is in the drinking, and the motor oil served at most American establishments is barely potable.
I suspect I’m not alone in this judgment. If not, follow me, dear reader, on a mental trip to the beautiful city of Lviv, in western Ukraine—a place where I found some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. This was after I had tried the product of Vienna’s famous Cafe Hawelka. In fact, to imagine what Lviv is like, picture Vienna, only not as well preserved, with extra grit and grime on the buildings, and with occasional glimpses of drab Soviet architecture.
David Sax says the bacon boom is no accident:
In terms of economic impact, nothing beats bacon. While most food trends tend to trickle down from the gourmet market into the mouths of mass consumers, that wasn’t the case with bacon. Bacon mania was sparked not in the kitchens of fancy restaurants in New York or Chicago, but in the pork industry’s humble marketing offices in Iowa, where people like Joe Leathers engineered a turnaround for an underappreciated cut of pig.
Turnaround? Underappreciated? I honestly don’t understand.
I’ve witnessed the bacon boom, sure, but always figured it was just a fun social trend about a food everybody already knew and loved. You couldn’t turn around bacon’s appeal anymore than you could turn the tide — it’s something which simply is.
Except that apparently I had it all wrong, and until recently most people really did think that God’s Own Pork Product was just for breakfast.
I won’t ask what took everybody so long. It’s just nice to have you all aboard.
So, you’ve come this far. You know which fast food restaurants are a waste of time, and which ones are a better deal than your local Applebee’s. But we’re not through yet. There’s still way too many options! There are so many fast food restaurants on the highway that it can get absolutely bamboozling when it comes to making the perfect choice. If only those interstate signs would provide some instructions to lead you and your road crew to the quality grease. Don’t despair: I’ve been there too, and after trying just about everything out there, it’s very easy to reduce the fast food game down to a simple “yes or no” answer.
1. Little Caesars Pretzel Crust Pizza
Although you can never go wrong with the Little Skeezers Five Dollar Hot n’ Sweaty, an extra dollar gets you way more grease in the form of the new Pretzel Crust pizza. Wendy’s had their chance with their pretzel bun burger, but that was trash. The Pretzel Crust pizza, on the other hand, is a pizza filled with nothing but great ideas. Normally you would have to go to the mall to get a pizza pretzel along with the obligatory trip to Hot Topic, but not anymore. Little Caesars wins this round for taking mall food out of the mall.
That’s what happened to college student James Finan:
James Finan, 21, was spotted “jogging alongside Rte. 378 without any light” around 1:30 Sunday morning, according to a Lower Saucon Township Police Department report. Finan attends nearby DeSales University, where he is a business major.
According to cops, “vehicles were observed to take defensive measures to avoid Finan” as he ran alongside the roadway.
More seriously, did the cops have to arrest the guy? Yes, he was running alongside the road like an idiot, and could have gotten himself hurt or killed. But back in the day a friendly cop would have delivered him back to his dorm to sleep it off. Now Finan has an arrest record.
Striking fear in the hearts of every Walmart protester in the world, German discount chain Aldi is apparently taking over the globe. And they have begun taking over my neighborhood, so I had to investigate.
I’m glad that I Googled the deep secrets of Aldi before heading over to the new store, which opened in a location once occupied by an Office Depot. Bring your own bags or pay for them at the register, so I stuffed several plastic bags from Wegmans (also known as the emergency Puppacita poop bag stash) into my purse. Bring a quarter deposit if you want a shopping cart, a small price to pay to avoid stray carts hitting cars in the parking lot. Make sure you’re paying with a debit card or cash, as they keep prices down by not accepting credit cards. And block off enough time to properly comb through the store.
Aldi stores are so minimalist there’s no ’90s soundtrack piped through the store, and you shop in silence through a fraction of the selection of a regular grocery store with mostly store brands. The bag-your-own-groceries model was nothing new to me; in California, a chain called Food-4-Less kept me equipped in $1.99 10-pound bags of potatoes and 10-for-a-buck ramen in college. Food was also displayed in the packing boxes or pallets, but that chain was a full-size grocery store with bakery and meat counters.
Aldi is the compact version. The name brands I did see weren’t offered at much of a discount — the Kraft chipotle mayo I picked up, for example, was slightly more expensive than at Walmart. The store brands were, for the most part, dirt cheap.
One of the products I tried, among a cornucopia of Sunday football snacks, was the faux Cheez-It. Horrible crackers with a weird aftertaste. However, the Chili Cheese Fritos knockoff was very close to the real thing, as my taste buds from 3 a.m. college cuisine remembered.
I confess I was hoping for piles of cheap greens to more economically feed my bunnies, but the produce selection was hit and miss. Four Anjou pears for $1.49 equalled a good find. Baby carrots for 69 cents rocks. A bag of very good grapes from California’s San Joaquin Valley was $2.49. I got one clamshell of baby lettuces, but the bagged salad was the same price as Trader Joe’s ($1.99) with superior selection and quality at the wonderful marvelous fantastic chain owned by Aldi.
In fact, I needed to set aside my deep, abiding love for Trader Joe’s to accurately judge Aldi.
Aldi has extensive stashes of organic and gluten-free products, and some “gourmet” products that I found intriguing, such as the gouda snack sticks for $3.29. Not the richest gouda in the world (try Trader Joe’s double cream gouda, mmm), but a nice change from string cheese. A big bag of faux Chex Mix in the “bold” flavor (when I make this stuff fresh, it’s drowned in Worcestershire sauce) was $1.49. Their fresh meat section did look fresh, and the frozen selection was vast (and creative if slightly scary — a gyro-making kit).
I found myself hunting for the German imports: big jars of Austrian beer mustard and Bavarian sweet mustard for $1.29 each, a tower of doppelkek cookies for $1.99, frozen cinnamon apple or fruits-of-the-forest strudel for $2.49, and a roll of pretzels that you bake like biscuits (complete with the rock salt) for $2.49. In other words, the Cost Plus World Imports grocery section gets walloped on price points.
I hear, too, that the German goodies increase exponentially when the holidays roll around, so much so that they need to reorganize the store to make extra room. Intrigued.
The next day, I drove to a different Aldi to see if products were the same at each store. Since I realized their customer service was so minimal, I accurately predicted that I could put the Puppacita in her tote in the child seat of the cart and no one would raise an eyebrow. This location had beer and wine, random brands at cheap prices — but I love the store that sells Charles Shaw two-buck-chuck, so who am I to judge.
The selections didn’t vary greatly, though I did pick up German dark chocolate for 99 cents and faux Sun Chips for $1.99. The middle of each store had kitchen and home goods, and even some plants. I understand that the “special buys” section rotates frequently and if you see something you like you should buy it. At both locations, I was pleasantly surprised by the low total at the register.
So Aldi is giving supermarkets heartburn wherever it goes. Have you tried this German import and found favorite products?
I was recently inspired by Chris Queen’s articles of Southern recipes to list some of the recipes for food featured in my book, Finding Mr. Righteous. The book is about all the things you’re not supposed to talk about on a first date – sex, politics and exes. But in between dating horror stories and flirting at CPAC, there was some excellent cooking.
1. Chris the Atheist’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chris loved the chocolate chip cookies I made. It’s adapted from the original Nestle Toll House recipe. I must have made dozens of batches during the time I was with him. On the weekends we spent together, I frequently brought a batch. I never wanted to show up empty-handed. My insecurities led me to believe that I wasn’t enough. I had to sweeten the deal.
2 1/4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 stick or 1 cup of butter-flavored Crisco
3/4 cup of light brown sugar
3/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 cup of egg substitute (not Egg Beaters, which have garlic and onion powder)
10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 ounces of milk chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl and with electric mixer, cream Crisco, brown sugar, sugar and vanilla. Once combined, add egg substitute 1/4 cup at a time until thoroughly mixed. Add flour mixture 1 cup at a time until incorporated. Stir in both kinds of chocolate chips.
Use cookie scoop or shape into 1.5 inch balls on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake 9-11 minutes, or until desired doneness. Cool on wire rack. In between baking, store unused dough in refrigerator.
Coffee has a total of 23 NMT genes, which arose primarily via a series of gene duplication events. The collection of duplicated genes is distinct from the ones found in tea and cacao, two other caffeine-producing plants that are more closely related to each other. That suggests that these two lineages evolved the ability to give humans a jolt separately.
Coffee’s NMTs also exhibited evidence of positive evolutionary selection, indicating that caffeine biosynthesis may serve an adaptive purpose only in coffee. The function of its convergent evolution in the other drinks was not explored.
Obviously God, nature, the Universe or somebody wants us to be happy in the morning.
The science is settled, so go on and have another cup.
Most writers, truth be told, write to eat. It’s not an easy way to make a living. But it’s a living.
In his new collection of essays, But Enough About You, Christopher Buckley goes in a slightly different direction. He eats to write. Or at least eats and then spends a fair amount of time writing about it.
The book, which features writing from the last two decades, is divided into several sections. There are general essays (funny), funny essays (funny), travel essays (he doesn’t go hungry or thirsty whilst on the road). He also includes pieces on statecraft, criticism, obituaries and several more categories that could be labeled “other” or “miscellaneous.”
But what stands out is that Buckley doesn’t seem to miss many meals, and he certainly never misses a chance to describe one.
“We dined that night by candlelight, with bats flitting overhead, on roasted sweetwater langoustines, Zambezi bream, and rabbit pot stickers,” he writes about his first night in Zambia. I have no idea what any of those foods are; nor, I’m certain, do 99 percent of Zambians. His first breakfast in Hanoi would feed most Vietnamese for a month: two bowls of pho, followed by “a plate of fried rice with bok choy and chili sauce. Then had at the croissants.”
Even his days as mate on a small boat involve food and drink. Buckley recounts how he once dumped four steaks in the Atlantic while barbequing at sea; two remained edible after they were fished out.
10. Arby’s Jalapeño Poppers
Jalapeno poppers would appear to be a fine choice to side with your Arby’s meal; under ideal circumstances they could make for a decent sandwich topping. However, a more appropriate title for these little green bastards would be jalapeño exploders, because they burst open upon the first bite, searing the inside of your mouth. The spiciness is understated, but how can you taste anything when your taste buds have been burned by fried cheese? The jalapeño poppers should come with a warning that says “WARNING, WAIT AT LEAST 20 MINUTES BEFORE EATING. LIQUID CHEESE WILL SCAR AND BURN YOUR FACE.”
9. The Taco Bell Cantina Menu
If you spend more than 4 dollars on a single item at Taco Bell, you’re doing it wrong. Taco Bell should not be creating conventional food. They should stick to folding random objects in half and calling them tacos. The Cantina Menu should be banned. The idea of Taco Bell disguising their greasy brand of tacos as something gourmet is totally disgusting. Their Cantina Burrito was the only Taco Bell item that could be described as inedible. Most Taco Bell menu items are meant to be humorous; this tries to turn Taco Bell into something that isn’t funny or appetizing.
A few days ago, I shared with you a list of ten decadent Southern classic recipes. The problem with so much Southern cuisine is that many dishes are so heavy and fattening. Sure, our ancestors ate such unhealthy meals and lived to pass them on, but our desk-job, technology-dependent lifestyles can’t offer us the same guarantees as did a lifetime of toiling on the farm or at the mill.
So this week, I’m sharing a list of lighter recipes for Southern classics. I’m following the same format as my earlier list, roughly mimicking the courses of a meal. Some of these recipes are healthier alternatives to the ones featured in the first list, while others are new ideas for good-for-you Southern fare. Enjoy!
10. Corn Maque Choux Chicken Pasta
A good cook can take classic delicacies and make them work, but a great cook can elevate them and create something new and special.
Elizabeth Cauvel, one of my favorite competitors on this season of MasterChef (and, like me, a University of Georgia alum), recently took the New Orleans classic Corn Maque Choux – a corn- and pepper-based dish — and added chicken and pasta to create a flavorful, yet still light (even with the heavy cream in the recipe, it’s lighter than just about anything deep fried), fusion of Cajun and Italian styles. This dish can be a substitute for a salad, or a great starter or side.
Ingredients for the poached chicken
3 cups water
2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
Ingredients for the pasta
3 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 and ½ red bell peppers, diced small
3 ears of fresh corn, boiled then kernels cut off
1 jalapeno, diced small, with or without seeds to your taste (seeds make it spicier)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. paprika
½ cup dry white wine
1/3 cup reserved chicken poaching liquid
leaves of fresh thyme picked from 10-12 sprigs
pinch dried oregano
½ pint of heavy cream
salt and pepper
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
¾ lb. rigatoni
Poach the chicken: bring water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the juice in the water then just drop the lemon halves in. Bring down to medium heat, add chicken, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from poaching liquid (reserving the liquid) and cool until you can touch it, then pull the meat from the bones. Set aside.
In a large pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 6-8 minutes, until getting soft.
Add the corn, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, paprika, oregano, and thyme. Stir it around and cook it all together for 4-5 minutes. Add the white wine and reserved poaching liquid and turn the heat up to high. Cook until the liquid reduces by half and you can no longer taste raw wine (the alcohol taste must be gone).
Add the heavy cream to the corn mixture. It will be quite liquidy at this point but you just keep the heat on high and reduce it until it’s thickened. Taste it and adjust seasoning.
Boil the rigatoni in salted water. When they’re about 2 minutes shy of al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta directly into the sauce (it’s ok if the pasta is dripping; you want some cooking liquid). Stir the pasta into the sauce and add a ladleful of pasta cooking water. The sauce should still be on high. Stir the pasta around, letting it finish cooking in the sauce. The pasta water will cook out and you may need to add more until the pasta is perfectly al dente.
Stir in chicken. Serve in shallow bowls with fresh cilantro on top. Enjoy!
If there’s one thing we Southerners have mastered, it’s food. Some of the best cuisine in the world is from Dixie, and I think it’s time we celebrate it. Here’s a list of ten of the most decadent classic Southern dishes. My hope is that you’ll read these recipes and be inspired to cook — and if you’re not familiar with Southern cuisine, maybe you’ll try something new.
Instead of a typical countdown list format, I’ve structured this list much in the way a meal may arrive at a restaurant table — starters, sides, main courses, and desserts. Enjoy!
10. Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese is a staple in Southern refrigerators — a simple, versatile recipe. Creamy and smooth, yet with an appealing sharpness, pimento cheese is perfect on a sandwich (with or without bacon) or with crackers. The famed Varsity restaurant in Atlanta and Athens serves it on a chili dog, and Lisa De Pasquale and I recently discovered how good it is on a hamburger.
Maybe I’m biased, but my mom, Marcia Queen, makes the best pimento cheese I’ve ever tasted. You won’t find her name in any cookbooks that I know of, so here’s an exclusive recipe.
2 cups softened sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 oz can diced pimentos, drained
1/2 cup mayo
1 block softened cream cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Mix and enjoy.
Because this experience is so rare, not only did I visit TellTheBell.com to answer their customer-service survey — something I never do — but I just came in from the mailbox (yes, the snail-mail box) where I placed this letter, and put up the red flag for the postman. I share it with you now, as I would a visit to a fine museum, an inspiring concert, or a thrilling spectator sport.
Taco Bell 022872, 11829 Abrams Rd., Dallas, TX 75243
To the Manager,
I had such an experience at your restaurant drive-through yesterday, I had to take a moment to let you know. Over the years, I have worked in customer service, in restaurants, in sales and in customer-service training. My family frequently visits Taco Bell and other fast-food places.
But yesterday was far and away the finest drive-through experience I have had…even better than Chik-fil-A, which was the previous standard-bearer.
Laquiata H. (as her name appears on my receipt), greeted me through the speaker with a clear and cheerful voice. She immediately let me know that she was ready to serve when I was ready to order, no hurry. This little touch I found immediately endearing and comforting. Drive-throughs always feel rushed, menus are complicated and, if you don’t have perfect vision, difficult to read. (BTW, the small type on yours meant that we had to read the choices aloud to my wife in the passenger seat, inevitably fouling your speed stats.)
Laquiata was an island of peace and happiness in a hectic day. When we got to the window, she greeted us with a smile. When she handed us our food, she repeated the order clearly to eliminate errors. That little gesture made me feel like she really cared about us, and wanted us to have a terrific experience.
I don’t know if you realize how extraordinary this is in your industry. I have come to loathe drive-throughs, with their squawk boxes, fast-talking, inarticulate automatons, and frequent errors. Most folks in this line of work seem more concerned with getting rid of you, than with serving you.
Please convey my gratitude to Laquiata, and the support team that made it possible for her to be the voice and face of joyful welcome.
She singled-handedly turned a commodity into a work of art.
One of the things that makes America great is folks like Laquiata, who bring this attitude to work each day.
Capitalism, after all, isn’t about prices, and markets, and margins, and finance.
It’s about people, and beauty, and emotion, and excellence, and human need, and joy, and love and liberty.
All of that other stuff is just mechanism.
This is heart.
This is real.
10. Jack in the Box
J-Box takes the term “fast food” quite literally. When they say that all of their food is made to order, what it means is that your burger is thrown on the grill before you’ve finished ordering food and will be assembled long before you pull up to the window. But although their punctual burgers are tasty, the tacos are truly unique. They arrive in a food truck sleeve and are served in a very crunchy shell overflowing with jalapenos and queso. Utter perfection.
J-Box would get a higher spot on the list if only their chicken game wasn’t so lackluster.
I recently had the incredible privilege of interviewing my all-time favorite MasterChef contestant, Season 3′s Top 5 finalist Monti Carlo. (Yes, Monti’s my favorite even though Season 4′s Jessie hails from my hometown.) She’s a really cool lady and a true inspiration. She dished on her days on MasterChef, the joys of motherhood, and her new show Make My Food Famous, which debuts this weekend on FYI.
1. What can you tell us about the new show?
I’m so stoked to be hosting Make My Food Famous! It’s a competitive cooking show filmed in some of the best restaurants in the country. Three home cooks get to battle it out in a professional kitchen to get their original recipe on a renowned chef’s menu. The pilot airs this Sunday August 31st on A&E’s FYI Network at 10PM ET/PT, though you should check your local listings since air times are subject to change. It was shot in Manhattan Beach, California, at Michelin-starred chef David LeFevre’s incredible MB Post.
Chef LeFevre has worked with some of modern cuisine’s culinary giants like Ferran Adria and Charlie Trotter. To impress this man enough to showcase your creation on his menu is an almost impossible feat. To do it as a home cook is a near miracle. The show isn’t just for foodies and culinary enthusiasts. It’s also for people that get a kick out of watching someone hustle to make their dreams come true. It is truly inspirational!
52 Things, 52 weeks is a blog where the author describes herself as “Entertainment attorney. IP nerd. Foodie. Coffee lover. Mac enthusiast. Yoga addict. Insomniac. Shutterbug. World traveler.” After reading my recent post, she decides this is the week she will try eating out alone:
Normally when I do something outside of my comfort zone on this blog it involves jumping out of a plane, walking on fire, or plunging into an ice-cold lake. While this week’s post seems mundane by comparison, it actually made me really uncomfortable to think about it. When I saw an article asking “Are You Ashamed to Eat Out Alone?” I decided it was time to mark this one off of the list.
Yes, I’ve grabbed a quick bite here and there by myself before. I have a favorite lunch spot back home that I sneak off to each time I visit and I’ve spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours studying alone at coffee shops. But I have never gone to a nice restaurant and enjoyed an entire meal alone.
I set up a few ground rules:
How adventurous! Maybe next time, she should take along a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking just to complete the evening.
image illustration via shutterstock / CandyBox Images
Chris Knox reports on the wee tiny corners Fred Franzia may cut from time to time to keep his Charles Shaw Wine so cheap:
A few things to keep in mind about his vineyards: one is that they are located in what is known as the Central Valley in the California wine world which is notoriously flat and quite hot producing massive yields of overripe grapes. The other thing is that Fred Franzia is no dummy – he planted those vineyards in such a way as the rows run north-south, giving the vines maximum sun exposure and he made the rows as long as he possibly could, minimizing the number of turns his tractors would need to make. And third, these aren’t hand-picked vineyards…they are all machine harvested. And that means these large tractors with huge claws go down the rows of vineyards grabbing the grapes and depositing them in its huge receptacle. And it not only grabs ripe grapes, but unripe and down right rotten ones as well and throws them all together. Add to that leaves, stems and any rodents, birds, or insects that may have made those vines their home – they all get thrown into the bin as well. And guess what? You think there’s going to be any sorting when that truck arrives at the winery (or should I say processing facility)? Nope. Everything, and I do mean everything (including all those unripe grapes, rotten grapes, leaves, stems, birds, rodents, and insects) gets tossed into the crusher and transferred to large tanks to ferment. So think about all the animal blood and parts that may have made their way into your wine next time you crack open that bottle of Two Buck Chuck! Hardly even seems worth the $2 does it?
If you were to taste that wine right after it was made, I guarantee you it would be undrinkable. They will then manipulate the finished wine in whatever way necessary, including adding sugar or unfermented grape juice if needed to make the wine palatable.
I need a drink.
Updated: “This blog post contained un-sourced claims about Two Buck Chuck and its proprietor, Bronco Wines. It has been removed from the site in accordance with our blogger terms.”
Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.”
This is the second of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out this excerpt from Pierre Comtois’s yesterday: The Future That Used To Be. More author interviews will be coming soon too. Also check out some of Michael’s great articles on wine and culture at PJ Lifestyle:World’s First High 5 Discovered in Obscure French Film, 6 Things We Love and Hate about The New California Wine.
Here’s the beginning of his new story for your consideration:
They walked into my bar like they owned the place, the Major and this gangly female friend of his he calls “the Loon.”
The Major says to me, “According to the Internet, you make the best tropical drinks in the state. Do you make your Dark’n'Stormies with the proper Bermudian ingredients?”
He’s a bit formal, this guy. I didn’t know his name yet, but I already had him pegged as retired military. Too young for Vietnam, too old for Gulf War II. Hint of a southern accent, more Kentucky than Texas.
So I said to him, “Absolutely proper. Everything at Coco Rico’s is authentic. You want Mai Tais–mine are just like the Royal Hawaiian. Singapore Sling? You don’t have to go to Raffles. Dark’n'Stormy? I’m pouring Gosling’s Rum and their spicy ginger beer. Lime optional.”
“Sounds perfect.” He pulled out a stool for his friend and politely held her coat and bag while she climbed up. “We’ll have two Dark’n'Stormies,” he said. “No, make that three. Mix one up for yourself. I have a pretty good story to tell and you may want to listen in if you’re not too busy.”
I asked, “Are you one of those book clubs?” I was thinking those clubs fill a lot of seats, but with light drinkers.
Then I heard this sound, like: “Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh.” It was his lady friend laughing like she thinks my question is the funniest thing she ever heard. “We’re just here for conversation. But because he tends to do most of the talking, well, that makes it a story doesn’t it?”
I guess I must’ve looked at her funny, because he said to me, “You heard her laugh. She sounds like a lunatic. That’s why all her friends call her “the Loon,” and you should too.”
“I’ll do that,” I said, serving their drinks.
The Major said his name was Brayden Collins but I should call him the Major. I told them both they could call me Coco.
Then we lifted our glasses and toasted, “To new friends!” We’d barely had time to swallow when the Loon said to the Major, “Now for that story. You’ve been out of touch for nearly nine months, and–ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh–I’m bursting with curiosity.”
The Major, always the gentleman, got right to it. “As the Loon knows, but you, Coco, certainly do not, I’ve been working on a desalination project in Bermuda for the last couple of years. That’s where I acquired my taste for Dark’n'Stormies, specifically, on the patio of the Coral Beach Club. It’s a beautiful old place. Clay tennis courts and a salt-water pool, set on a cliff above the pink sand beach and transparent water. Magical spot. The restaurant on the terrace is wonderful. Waiters in Bermuda shorts and knee socks, cheeky parrots in enormous brass cages.
“In any case, about six months ago I lunched there and then went down to the beach to relax. It’s a private beach and there are rows of turquoise chaises and yellow-and-white striped beach umbrellas, carefully lined up like an Army tent camp–except for the bright colors. It was crowded that day, hard to find a seat, and a lot of conversations going on. Children playing noisily and their parents not paying much mind as they were trying to relax themselves.
“In front of me was a nice group. Tall Indian fellow with his wife, clean-shaven and obviously brainy, talking quietly with a friend about their dinner plans. Seems they’d come to this part of the island on their yacht, over from Tucker’s Town, and were looking forward to some special event. I got the impression they were long-time members of the club.
“I was trying to nap, not successfully, when suddenly I heard this fellow–I might as well tell you his name even though I didn’t know it at the time. It’s Singh, Vinod Singh. And this Mr. Singh is looking back toward the club and saying, ‘Oh, oh, what’s going on over there? Oh-oh, this looks like trouble.’
“His wife and friend began looking too and Mr. Singh said, ‘Look at those children climbing up the cliffs. The sand is not stable and they should not be there.’
“They watched some more and talked it over. ‘Where are the parents?’ continued Mr. Singh. ‘Someone has to do something.’
“He walked across the beach and told the children to get down off the cliff.
“He might as well have assassinated an archduke, considering what happened next. The children’s mother–I assumed it was the mother because of her behavior, and of course I confirmed it later–the children’s mother was after him like a swarm of hornets. ‘How dare you talk to my children. You’ve got no right… Who do you think you are?’
“Of course it was all laced with profanity and a level of physical aggression that was surprising. This woman, Maude Rafferty-Fehr is her name, as I found out later, was young and trim. And she was wearing quite elaborate beach clothing with built-in sun and insect protection. And of course there was the Roger Federer hat…”
“The what? asked the Loon.
“The Roger Federer hat. The tennis player. Has his own logo. RF. It was pink, by the way. I found out later…’
“Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, ak-ak, ak-akh, ahhhhh. Ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa,” the Loon hooted. “Nobody wears a Roger Federer hat except, ahhhhhh-ha-ha-haa, aaahhh-ha-ha-ha, his wife and, ak-ak, ak-akh, his mother.”
“Hmf. I suppose not. I’d never seen one before.” The Major continued, “I found out later she’s Swiss, or at least married to one. And they play tennis. So I suppose it’s possible she’d wear something like that. Anyway she kept after him in this manner–like a terrier or a mosquito–without letting up for quite some time. I decided to go in for a bit of snorkeling and I followed a school of angelfish around for a half-hour at least.
“I came back to my chaise and thought the stratagem had worked. Peace and quiet. Wonderful. Mr. Singh was relaxing, trying to read. I was pleased to see it was the latest Brad Thor thriller.
“Imagine my disappointment, then, as I noticed a man with his teeth and his fists clenched like worn-out disk brakes, looking down at Mr. Singh through thick lenses and struggling to breathe through a scraggly blondish moustache.
“‘I don’t like the way you were talking to my wife,’ he said, clearly trying to start a fight.
“Mr. Singh did not take the bait: ‘It isn’t safe to climb on the cliffs. It’s against the rules of the club and all I did was to ask the boys to come down. It was for their own safety.’
“Well, if Roger Federer was bad, her husband was worse by far. He was a jackal-piranha to her terrier-mosquito. ‘Damn the rules,’ he screamed. ‘You have no right to talk to my children or my wife.”
“Julius Fehr, that’s his name: Doctor Fehr was trembling with anger and still standing over Mr. Singh who remained seated and spoke in a calm and logical tone that was infuriating in its own way.
“The two went at it back and forth, until somehow Mr. Singh managed to escape. He gained a standing position without making physical contact with Dr. Fehr. And this small triumph must have somehow clouded his judgment because, at this point, he opened a new line of argument.”
“Always a mistake,” agreed the Loon. “Unless you can strike a lethal blow, the defense should always stay on defense. Otherwise you open yourself up to a new line of attack.”
image via shutterstock / DeliriumTrigger
Maybe you’ve never considered spending your hard-earned vacation time in Cleveland. It’s certainly understandable because many people only know the city as the “Mistake by the Lake” or the home of the burning Cuyahoga River. But things have changed on the North Coast, and you might be surprised at all the cultural attractions the city on the shores of Lake Erie has to offer — great food, museums, theater, and more. The RTA buses run between most Cleveland locations and Uber just announced that they’re starting service in Cleveland, which will make getting around even easier.
Here are the Top 10 Things to Do in Cleveland:
10. Little Italy
Historic Little Italy is on Cleveland’s East Side, located on “Murray Hill” not far from Case Western Reserve University. It features charming restaurants and bakeries, art galleries, and frequent festivals and art shows. Our favorite restaurant there is Trattoria on the Hill. If you go, try the Shrimp & Gnocchi Trattoria, which features their gnocchi served in Trattoria’s homemade cream sauce with mushrooms, scallions, and a hint of cayenne pepper. If you’re not in the mood for pasta, try the Spinach & Prosciutto Pizza with black olives, white garlic sauce, and feta cheese.
For dessert, stroll down Mayfield Road to Presti’s Bakery for a cannoli or a delicious gelato.
The Feast of the Assumption is the biggest event of the year in Little Italy. Held in August to commemorate Mary being taken to heaven, the festival is an unusual combination of Catholic religious ceremonies, carnival rides, fireworks, lots of incredible Italian food, and heavy, heavy drinking.
They’re coming to Minnesota, natch:
Self-serve beer stations are up and running in Target Field, so Minnesota Twins fans and those who attend the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities next week can decide what they want and even how much they want of it.
The machines, called DraftServ, are a partnership between concessionaire Delaware North and Anheuser-Busch.
My first (and only) experience with beer vending machines was as a 15-year-old on a monthlong summer tour of West Germany, where I and a gang of fellow 15-year-old boys spotted one in a train station in Köln. Dropped a 1DM coin in the slot, pushed a button, and out popped a can of staggeringly bad beer — and that was by the standards of a (relatively) inexperienced drinker.
Let’s hope Twins fans get a better selection.
10. Americans are all obese.
From the messy buildup in the fat folds of Mama June’s neck (affectionately known to her children as “neck crud”) to Honey’s proclivity for bathing in mayonnaise, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo embodies the myth that everyone in America weighs a minimum of 300 pounds. One of the best episodes involves Mama June dumping a 5 pound bag of sugar into 2 gallons of lemon juice in order to make homemade lemonade. For the record, 64% of Americans are not obese. But with shows like HHere Comes Honey Boo Boo, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, Shedding for the Wedding, Thintervention, Dance Your A** Off, Celebrity Fit Club, I Used To Be Fat, and Ruby, we’re just a bunch of big, fat Americans.
As the only coffee drinker here at Casa Verde, my Keurig K75 has been a godsend. I used to buy nothing but Starbucks’ Komodo blend, which I still love — but the consistency wasn’t there. The first cup was great, the second cup so-so, the third cup pretty much dead-cold. Making things worse, a one-pound bag would go stale before I could finish half of it. So I was getting one great cup of coffee a day, for maybe two weeks out of the month. The other cups… not so good.
Even the best K-Cups probably aren’t on par with your grind-it-right-before-brewing bean of choice. But my second K-Cup mug is better than my second drip mug, and the third one K-Cup is far superior. And now most afternoons I have a fourth cup, because why the heck not — it hasn’t been sitting there all day and there’s no extra mess to clean up.
And honestly, after a year I might actually prefer Barista Prima’s Italian roast K-Cup to most any other coffee I’ve ever had. It’s a real ass-kicker first thing in the morning. So, be choosey and you can do all right drinking Keurig.
The problem is that Keurig is trying to take away some of your choices by adding what amounts to DRM to future brewers:
At a Keurig tasting event in New York last week, an employee showed me how it worked. Or, rather, he showed me that it worked. Keurig isn’t saying much about the mechanism itself, presumably in the hopes of obscuring it from aspiring coffee pirates.
When the Keurig employee tried to use an old-model pod, one without a new ink marker on the foil top, the brewer wouldn’t run. “Oops!” read a message on the touchscreen display, explaining that the machine only works with specially designed pods and directing the user to a Keurig website and helpline. The employee wouldn’t elaborate on how it worked, except to say that the ink is proprietary and inspired by counterfeiting technology used by the US Mint. Ian Tinkler, Keurig’s vice president of brewer engineering, went into a bit more detail, explaining that an infrared light shines on the ink marking and registers the wavelength of the light reflected back.
My second-favorite K-Cup is Marley Coffee’s “One Love,” which isn’t blessed with the Keurig label because they use their own (better) filter system. Presumably Marley would have to start ponying up and towing the line to work in the new brewers.
I’m sure Keurig’s secret Masonic coffee handshake will be reversed-engineered or cracked within days or, at the most, within weeks, and I could go back to my Marley on the weekends. And I understand a company wanting to protect its business model. But I’d rather they charged more for their brewers (and engineered sturdier brewers) than to pull this kind of pointless malarkey.
The whole affair just looks tired and sad, which is the exact opposite of what a good cup of coffee is supposed to achieve.
When Lena Dunham can mock you effectively, you’ve hit rock bottom.
Time to sober up, bud.
-Your Friendly Neighborhood VodkaPundit
thumbnail photo via shutterstock / PAN Photo Agency
With so many things to worry about—millions of chronically unemployed Americans, the Iranian bomb, veterans going untreated, unparalleled government snooping—you’d think you could relax from time to time with, say, a nice California cabernet that helps you conjure up a feeling of temporary well-being as you savor a meal with family or friends.
Sorry to inform you, but that pleasure may no longer be available to you. According to a new book, The New California Wine (TNCW) by Jon Bonné, the California wines you’ve been enjoying are actually “a ubiquity of oaky, uninspired bottles,” that have fallen into “a stupor,” and those who make them and like them are “stuck in a self-satisfied funk.”
Who knew? I felt particularly humiliated because I had come to California wines relatively late in my drinking career. To my euro-centric palate, California wine always seemed too young and brash and fruity. Until, that is, I actually visited Napa Valley about 15 years ago.
My wife Ellie and I were having lunch outside at Tra Vigne, and we ordered a half-bottle of Shafer Firebreak. That’s a Super Tuscan blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese—but California style, which means that the fruit is amplified. In the sunshine, with my beautiful wife, amidst the vines, eating short ribs… it felt like a seduction. From that moment forward, California started to make a lot of sense.
Now I’m thinking: Why, oh why, does Jon Bonné want to take that away from me? And it was my friend Pat, of all people, who’d suggested I read his book.