Cutting the Cheese: Getting to Know Your Cheese Knives + Giveaway

Thursday, April 29, 2010

-Cutting the cheese has never been easier.-

I enjoy good cheese knives, they add style to any cheese plate and give your a guests a chance to use an intriguing and often endearingly new kitchen tool. Still, knowing what knife does what is key to figuring out what you plan to serve and how to best assist your guests in consuming the spoiled milky goodness served before them.

Soft Cheese Knife
The name of this cheese knife can be a bit misleading as it works wonderfully on soft, semi-soft, and some semi-hard cheeses as well. The design of the knife is created for maximum efficiency and little stress. The blade is extremely thin and often cut with wide holes to prevent the cheese from sticking. This allows the knife to easily slice through tacky and sticky soft cheeses like Camambert, Brie, almost all blue cheeses, and slightly firmer cheeses like Appenzeller. In a pinch it also does a fine job of cutting the rinds off of firm and hard cheeses. The tines at the end allow you to skewer and serve slices of cheese with deft precision.

Hard Cheese Knife
Stout and heavy for its size this knife is also known as a Parmesan knife. It's designed not for clean slices but cutting through the cracks and crystals of hard cheeses to wedge off snackable chunks. The knife has a reliable heft to it and encourages a bit of roughness when breaking apart a good wedge of Piave or Sea Hive.

Cheese Spreader
Overlooked and under-appreciated the cheese spreader is one I love for its simplicity in design and use. Those super runny cheeses like Epoisses, Robiola, and soft cheeses like Brillat-Savarin require a good cheese spreading knife. It easily controls and spreads softer cheeses across bread and crackers where other cheese knives would fail miserably. A butter knife is essentially the same thing, so if you have one you're good to go.

Cheese Plane
The most unique of the cheese knives, the cheese plane is great for creating thin, delicate slices of hard cheeses for cheese plates, sandwiches, and snacks. Whereas a hard cheese knife cuts off good snacking chunks, the plane creates perfect thin slices using a lowered micro-serrated blade. Look for one with a handle that won't slip out of your hand and a good thick blade that's well sharpened; be warned that a cheap one will go dull quickly. Perfect for Parmesan and Cheddars.

There are also cheese slicers which do a fine job of cutting apart cheese as well, but I find it's best to have one of those if you're only planning to serve lots of cheese a lot of the time. I consume a lot, but I have yet to find a real need for one (though sometimes I can see slicing clean wedges of Pecorino Romano much easier with it).

Of course, cheese knives aren't necessary or mandatory. They're tools that simply make cheese service easier for yourself and your guests, add aesthetic value, and are more fun to use than a regular knife. If you serve and eat a lot of cheese then it might give your cheese plates a little extra flair and set you apart as a dedicated student to the art of cheese.

Knowing the fun of having a wicked cheese knife I can't not give the rest of you the opportunity to have a great knife of your own. I'm offering one of Crate and Barrel's soft cheese knives to a lucky reader. It's a sharp blade with a stylish design and the one I use most often. To win, simply leave a comment about what cheese you would serve with it. Please, only one comment per person. No shipping outside of the United States. Contest ends on May 4th and the winner will be announced on May 5th.

Too Much. No More.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

-Even so, I'll never toss this cookbook. Too many good memories.-

"Oooh, wow. Amaretto. I cannot do this stuff anymore. The day I turned 21 ruined it forever for me." The Bev-Mo employee bagged the bottle and turned her face away. The offending liquor obviously brought her back to unpleasant memories that involved almond-flavored vomit and a friend holding her hair back in the kind of dive bar bathroom we all celebrated a 21st birthday in.

"That's how I feel about Midori. Ugh," I said. The thought of drinking the Dayglow drink, on it's own or in a cocktail, revolted me. I swear, I gagged a little in the store.

"Oh see," chimed in roommate, "that's Jack Daniel's to me." His normally composed close-shave complexion soured before a small shiver shot through him and caused his teeth to clench.

I think everyone has one of those liquors that they just can't do anymore. Some booze-trauma inflicted due to one of your top three hangovers ever, or simply from just drinking way too much of it over the years.

For me, that drink is Midori. However, mine doesn't stem from retching. I've always had a hardy, alcohol tolerant liver. I consider it my superpower. (That and my uncanny ability to attract stupid people and rabid preying mantises.) In fact, I have never had a hangover in my entire life. That super tolerance, however, is what led to the problem.

When I discovered Midori I loved the neon flavor, the radiator coolant color that made drinks glow, and that tangy melon taste that gave it any cocktail a radical zing. It became my best friend and Midori focused cocktails became common in my apartment. Green Dragons, Jade Slippers, or simple Midori Sours were flung in frosted glasses to guests. My drinking two or seven of these in a single night wasn't exactly uncommon.

Then one day I just stopped drinking it. Midori began to repulse me. "No more!" my brain and stomach cried. They were full and had tasted it too much. To this day, eight years later, I still won't drink Midori. I just can do it anymore. I've tasted it in every way possible yet it no longer surprises or entices. Rather, it's like rebound lover, wonderful at first but then you realize you're bored and tired of it. You need something a bit more serious.

Of course, this doesn't just apply to alcohol. I feel the same way about potatoes.

I can hear the collective gasp. Potatoes, that ever perfect food? Could someone really shun them?

Shunning them would be a bit harsh. I still eat them when served and I enjoy fries and gnocchi, but you will rarely ever see a potato in my home. Yet, you will notice a cookbook on my shelf dedicated solely to the myriad number of ways to prepare potatoes. It is stained, dog eared, torn and beaten, which only demonstrates the love and trials it's seen in the kitchen. This was my tome and without it I would have been relegated to more ramen than any human should have to consume.

Why this book? Potatoes are cheap. When you're in college, potatoes are a fiscal boon. Scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato leek soup, homemade fries with bacon; it's all good and easily affordable. But after four years of potatoes you just hit a point where you no longer get excited for them. If they're served to me I'll eat them and every so often I'll suddenly crave a good baked potato, but they're no longer a staple of my usual diet and I can't say I miss them all that much.

Of course, this sort of thing could be said of any food or drink. Too much of a good thing can be bad. A special food in too much quantity stops being special and it loses that luster that once made it so appealing. Eventually, you just don't want it anymore. The food becomes too familiar; how can a food surprise you when you know it's intricacies so well?

The best resolution is a good long break. Maybe not years like it has been for me with Midori, but a few months need to go by before you dip your toe in the water. Someday I'll be ready for a Midori Sour once more. Till then it's Aviations, bourbon, and good tequila all the way.

Cheese Profile: Mimolette

Thursday, April 22, 2010

-This cheese takes names and shows you what she's made of.-

Mimolette will never be queen of the prom. It is content to be a runner-up to the ever more loved Parmesan who, you just know, will win the popular vote. Still, it takes pride in the honor of being nominated. It shows that sweet Mimolette did something right to get there.

The thing is you can't compare Mimolette to Parmesan as so many are wont to do. Often people pass it off as an cadmium-colored copy that looks more like a stunted cantaloupe than a good cheese. I can't lie to you, when you compare it to Parmesan it's no match in the creamy and nutty departments. No contest.

But that's the thing; Mimiolette isn't Parmesan. It's Mimolette, a traditional French cheese that most often originates from the city of Lille. You have to judge it on its own merits.

The bright orange color comes from the addition of annatto giving the cheese spicy notes reminiscent of nutmeg and pepper. The flavor becomes bolder and evolves with age by sweetly adopting hazelnut flavors. Oily, strong, and salty it gains respect for what is it. A cheese with flash and bang. Who cares if Mimolette isn't prom queen on prom night? She leaves the room standing tall, and as time goes by she garners admiration by her own merits.

The moonscape rind, one of its most distinguishing and charming features, is actually caused by cheese mites. Intentionally added as they aerate the cheese and help it develop it's robust savory flavor. How many cheeses can boast that?

Mimolette is a strong-arm flavor that can make any mac-n-cheese dish become a savory bomb to unsuspecting diners. Furthermore, it's a cheese that has the ability to match up perfectly with hoppy, amber colored beers.

So give Mimolette a hand, take her for a twirl, you may just end up voting for the underdog in this race.

-Cheese mite nibbled for your enjoyment.-

Two Stories About Melomakarona

Monday, April 19, 2010

-It looks like this.-

-Story One-

"So, yeah, I don't think I did this right. I've Googled the image results on these and they're very different from what I'm looking at. Night and day over here."

This is the first time I would have killed for a picture along with the original recipe. I was making melomakarona, a Greek pastry that's supposedly much easier to make than it is to pronounce. I realized that something wasn't right when the cookies, though tasting amazing having been loaded with orange juice and cognac, didn't look right. They were like little shortbread coins, buttery and dense, but it seemed they wouldn't be able to hold much of the honey syrup they were to be soaked with without collapsing into mush.

The recipe came from a co-worker of mine, a Greek woman whose husband is a Greek chef (the god of barbecuing, in the Greek Pantheon). The recipe had been scribbled down for me, translated from Greek into English. It had never occurred to me that things could have been lost in translation. It was blind faith in the kitchen.

"It sounds like you overworked the dough. It should be really shaggy and kinda sticky," she said matteroffactly.

"Oookay. Yeah. I have a solid uniform ball of dough." The directions did not mention anything about overworking. Just that the flour should be slowly sifted in. "Alright, well, then they came out as little shortbread-like coins."

"Coins? That's way too small. They should be kinda cakey and maybe half the size of a twinkie."

I looked at the picture she had drawn me to illustrate the shape of the melomakarona. The were the length of my thumb and were to have ridges after being pressed against the side of a cheese grater. "Cake like? The size of twinkie? I went by your picture."

"The picture is the shape and look, not the size or texture," she replied.

"When are cookies cake-like?" I rebuffed.

"Madeleines. And melomakarona."

I sighed internally. God damn it. The instructions, once again, didn't make any note of this. "Ah well, they taste great this way. They're my fauxmelomakarona."

"That is a mouthful," she laughed.

"Yeah. Mouth full of cookies."

-Syrup or not, correct or not, these are super tasty.-

-Story Two-

Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit! I was barely over the speed limit!

I was losing it. Passing police officers on the road when I've done nothing wrong puts me into a full blown panic attack; post-traumatic stress due to overeager cops looking for speeders in Kern County, California. ("Over 200,000 speeding tickets cited last year!" says a billboard along the freeway. These cops have nothing else to do in the middle of nowhere.) Being pulled over nearly causes me to stroke-out and throw-up when I see those epileptic lights flash behind my car.

I rolled down my window and met the officer's face. He was wearing shades like Eric Estrada did back in the show CHiPs, and had a moustache like Tom Selleck. If I weren't terrified and pulled along the side of the road I would have assumed he was going to bust out a boom box and rip his shirt off.

Instead, I got, "License and registration?" I handed them over meekly, far too scared to speak. "Did you know you were speeding?"

I forced my voice to rise, "No. I mean, maybe? I don't think so."

"You were going 45 in a 40," he said. I could see my license reflected in his shades. I probably looked much better in that photo than I did at that moment, and that's saying something.

"Isn't that, kinda, the safe buffer-zone?"

The city is beginning to crack down on that he explained, and that the limit is technically the limit. Stupid economy encouraging cops to ticket more for breaking the speeding buffer zone.

He poked his head down. "What's that over on the other seat?" I looked over to my right where a plate of freshly made baklava and the plate of fauxmelomakarona sat.

"Oh these? They're desserts for a potluck." I looked at him and paused. It was a pause where every possible consequence and scenario that could ever happen played out in my head. "Greek baklava and melomakarona; cookies with cognac and orange."

"Never heard of them," he said.

I looked at my reflection in his shdaes and tried to see past them to meet his eyes with mine. "They're quite good." Another pause.

"Are they?"

Another pause.

"Yes. Would you like to try one?"

At this point it was a risky game. Two conversations. The one we were having about cookies, and the one we weren't having about me giving him cookies and not getting a ticket. Or, I hoped this was the case, and that I wasn't about to go to jail for bribing an officer of the law.

"Sure." I unwrapped the plate and handed him one. I thought of giving him two, but it felt too eager. He bit into it. I couldn't see his eyes and he didn't smile. His look, circa 1980, was impossible to read.

"Look," he said handing me my identification, "I'll give you a warning this time. You were only a few miles over and most people assume that's okay because for a long time it was. Don't go over anymore because the next guy won't give you a warning."

"Yes officer," I smiled.

And so I got out of a ticket with baked goods.

Pomegranate Caramels with Toasted Almonds and Kosher Salt

Friday, April 16, 2010

-This demure bowl of candy contains striking, super sour caramel that'll make anyone swoon. Photo by Elise Bauer.-

Do you ever come across a recipe that, once you see it, you realize that you immediately have to make it right then and there. That's generally how I feel about most of Matt's recipes. Of course, it's not just the recipes themselves, but the striking photographs - portals to his kitchen studio - and his writing that, if you met Matt, can immediately recognize as his voice and personality in print.

Now, given, most of the times I don't make the recipes I fawn over. Either it's a matter of time, ingredients, cost, or sloth; but this time the stars were all aligned. Assuming that one of those stars is a bottle of pomegranate molasses. The recipe in question was for fruit flavored caramels. The fruit called for were blood oranges. Lots of them. Blood oranges I did not have.

But blood oranges are kind of like pomegranates. Sorta. Kinda. Think about it. The taste is fruity and vibrant, as scarlet as their juice. Both are bold flavors reminiscent of berries. So, yeah, they can be interchangeable. In a pinch. When you need them to be.

In this case I did. And it worked out wonderfully. The caramels are surprisingly sour. Each bite causes you to suck on your teeth both from the tartness and from the candy sticking to the roof of your mouth and between your teeth. The salt sweeps your off your feet and makes the sour more sour, the sweet more sweet. The toasted almonds give a crunchy contrast, a warm nuttiness that balances out the sweetnsour(nsalty).

Pomegranate Caramels with Toasted Almonds and Kosher Salt

1/4 cup of pomegranate molasses
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of packed light brown sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of almonds
2 teaspoons of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Place almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Place in a bowl to cool.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper and set aside.

Place pomegranate molasses in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.

Remove from heat and stir in sugars, butter, and cream. Return to high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat to medium and let boil until a candy thermometer reads 248 F. This only took me about 5 minutes, but my electric burner is possessed.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Scatter almonds on bottom of parchment paper. Pour caramel over almonds. Let sit until cool and firm, about 2 hours. Remove from baking dish and sprinkle salt flakes over top. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Wrap in squares of wax paper or candy wrappers.

-A good sharp knife to cut the chewy goodness.-

The Generational Recipe Shift

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

-Who the hell is Governor Smylie?-

I've been going through my grandmother's recipe cards again, putzing through and looking for something that screams Old Americana nostalgia like a nifty casserole or a recipe that's so funky and uncool that it's cool again - a horrid jello salad with marshmallows in it would adequately fulfill this want. I think making that would be so deliciously retro it would revert time and space and the dish would become inherently cool again, like my dad's old clothes from 1960 that I enjoy wearing every so often. (Bell-bottoms and leather vests with fringe are so back in style.) Sidecar cocktails and women's magazine chop suey recipes are the platform shoes and luncheon gloves of way-back-when.

Still, there is one category of recipe which vexes me, the company made recipe. Recipes clipped from the back of a box of Vox (lard) or XLNT (chili beans) or other product that no longer exists. The problem is that the recipes aren't clear so I have no idea what the actual ingredient is. The instructions may simply read "Stir in (X-Ingredient)." However, since the company that made X-ingredient no longer exists I'm left with the words that haunted me throughout college and high school calculus courses: solve for X.

The Internet is also only so useful when hunting down something that hasn't been sold in stores since 1971. No one seems to be cataloging ingredients and food stuffs that were or weren't in vogue over 60 years ago. I'm left to rely on my own cooking knowledge to figure out what the most likely ingredient X was.

There's always a bit of a generational recipe shift when trying to translate these cards. Sometimes the recipe is straightforward enough and I can pound out the dish easy enough. Other times my grandmother, having committed the recipe to memory or having been familiar with it, wrote it out in shorthand leaving gaps for me to puzzle out. Missing baking times, cooking temperatures, or order of ingredients are common, creating sudoku-style recipes where I have to fill in the blanks based on the information given.

And, at times, isn't a lot of inforamtion given. Also, games of sudoku don't run the risk of burning or making your kitchen smell of failure. In some cases it's simply a type of dish I'm completely unaware of and, therefore, have no inkling as to what the final product should be.

But it's not all bad. I can trace out the history of culinary America, or a short period of it, through this box. History on note cards stained with love, time, and marinara. They reflect a time where convenience cooking is held in high regard. Sliced white bread. The intoxicating newness of frozen peas for a "Fresh Pea Soup." Canned corn that makes for a zesty "Southwest Salad," just be sure to add a few lashings of lime juice. And, lo' and behold, the glory and miracle that is the microwave which goes hand in hand with the frozen dinner.

The microwave also figures greatly into reheating. Recipes you can prepare ahead of time - effectively, homemade frozen dinners - are the rage for the new working mom. The novelty of it all! Gather up the kids and we'll all watch an episode of I Love Lucy! I hear Joan Crawford will be guest starring in tonight's episode!

It's amusing to say the least. But what's even better is when the card is noted as "old fashioned" and refers to some dish popular in the 1920's like a bully old appetizer of mushrooms stuffed with crab and cheese or big bowl roman punch.

-My mom and uncle say they hated this dish most of all. I, however, am quite curious to try it.-

I find it interesting to follow the food fads of the time. Curry powder was making a resurgence, indeed curry as the dish itself was huge. In fact there's a whole section dedicated to curry in the recipe catalog such as Hawaiian Turkey with Curry Sauce and Governor Smylie's Lamb Curry (using Smylie's brand prune chutney, of course). Lots of stuffed mushrooms for all those neighborhood parties. I don't judge this based solely on the box, but rather that many of these recipes are clipped from magazines and newspapers and glued to note cards.

Another big fad was Chinese food. It was HUGE in the 50's. Indeed every woman had their own unique recipe for chop suey. My grandmother has no less than five recipes in this box.

(Incidentally, chop suey when translated to Cantonese means "odds and ends." As Jennifer 8. Lee related in her book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Americans in the 50's whet crazy for what they thought was the national dish of China. However, this would be like someone from China coming to the U.S. and asking for our national dish which they heard was called "leftovers." (There is much more to that story but you should read her book to get it.))

As adventurous eating turned to the many new Chinese restaurants popping up in the U.S. - dishes that were altered for American tastes using what ingredients were available - people wanted to cook these dishes at home. Pizza, curries, even miso soups are in this box. Of course, it helps that my grandmother was an avid traveler. In fact, she was one of the first Americans to set foot in China when the borders were re-opened to foreigners. When she came back she brought with her not only jade and ivory, but a taste for authentic Chinese cuisine. A cuisine, I imagine, that must have been hard to reproduce at the time.

There's also a huge section of recipes for "Liver / Kidney," the third biggest section next to "Salads" and "Grilled Meat." I assume this is one based out of poverty and of a time when people simply ate more offal before pre-packaged cuts of meat became so widely available and people were able to simply pick up mass produced choice cuts. Over time became separated from the odds-and-ends cuts of meat. Today the populous at large is disgusted by the food their grandparents happily grew up eating.

Anyways, it's an interesting topic to look at. How food and recipes have changed and stayed the same over the years. The food fads and trends (1980's goat cheese salad anyone?). I'll probably delve into the rhetoric of recipes sooner or later too after more research. Stay tuned.

Related Post: For the Modern Woman of 1965

-Authentic Chinese cuisine!-

This post was originally on my old other blog, The Rhetoric of Rhubarb. I've edited it and reposted it for the Vanilla Garlic audience. Furthermore, I yellowed the pictures a bit for a more old-time feel. I really like this post and hope you enjoy it. I would love to hear any comments you might have.

Apparently, We're All Idiots

Friday, April 9, 2010

I know that the art of cooking is lost on most people these days. We're all in a rush to get to soccer games and meetings. Putting together a meal in a busy time frame can be hard and sometimes it's easier to go with fast food or pre-packaged. I think we can all admit that frozen puff pastry is simply the quickest alternative for the busiest of home bakers (not that homemade isn't delightful when you find that glorious free afternoon after bending spacetime itself in order to relax).

This leads up to the ease of home cooking gadgets. No one will snub the glory of the stand mixer or blender, or, in my home, the ice cream machine. They've become such standard tools that we write out our recipes under the assumption that home cooks have them (and though this thought could segment to another post all together, stay with me on this one for a while longer).

These devices and items are supposed to aid the cook. They reduce stress, labor, and the amount of time needed to preform certain culinary tasks - whipping egg whites into stiff, glossy peaks only take three minutes in the Kitchen-Aid as opposed to the arm numbing task of whipping them by hand.

Convenience foods have their place as well. Phyllo dough supposedly take 5 years to learn to make correctly. However, when was the last time you had five years, when a five minute drive to the local market will do just fine?

But there's a point where convenience and efficiency crosses a line into stupidity and handicapping the average human being's ability to feed themselves. Sadly, modern marketing has pounced upon this notion and made it it's mission to convince you that you're an incapable twit who is easily vexed by the simplest tasks.

I recently saw some commercial for a fruit drink of some kind. A woman is sitting at her desk, bites into a peach, and the juice gets all over her. Then the narrator states, "Take the difficulty out of eating your fruit," and plugs the drink.

Difficulty? Eating fruit is difficult now? (Minus certain exceptions like coconut, of course.) How sad is that? That our society is so out of touch with how to eat food - never mind cooking it - that we're told that fresh food, even something as simple as eating a peach, is too difficult, bothersome, and trying for the everyday person.

We're talking about eating. The basic act of giving our bodies fuel. Is it THAT hard? We have to be instructed to easier methods?

With a peach I can just bite it. The juice container is tchnically heavier and I have to struggle with twisting a cap off it. I mean if we're gonna talk about how much work eating either one of these products is, the juice is a loser due to the cap acting as an extra step between picking it up and it being in my mouth.

From this commerical we can establish two things:

1. This woman is an idiot, and as she represents the average consumer, the company says we're idiots too.

2. Possible solutions. Cut up the peach. Eat it over a plate or napkin. There are plenty, tastier, more logical options than buying fruit juice and tossing yet another container into the trash.

As for the cooking, wow. I have no words. Actually, no, I have many.

One infomercial for some specialty pizza cooking oven thingy blew me away. The narrator prompted, "Do you have problems heating your frozen pizza and ensuring a crispy crust and melting texture?" Then it cut to a black and white video of a woman attempting to cram a frozen pizza the size of a Goodyear into a toaster. Her over-dramatized frustration was meant to connect with, apparently, my own everyday experiences of trying to fit whole pizzas into toasters (and that's nothing to say about my plight every time I try shoving bagels into zippo lighters).

People, seriously, if this is a major issue in your life then a fancy pizza cooker isn't going solve the massive intellectual bankruptcy that obviously hinders you on a daily basis.

Take the lady in this infomerical for the Egg Genie, a device that hard boils your eggs because you didn't graduate high school.

I understand not knowing how to boil an egg if you haven't cooked before, but this woman is all kinds of incompetent. Not only can she not figure out how to cook an egg through trial and error (i.e. "This egg is not done, I should boil the others longer."), she is also incapable of consulting a cookbook or the internet for help, or asking anyone on the street for advice on how to hard boil an egg. This is total ineptitude on a cosmic level. Where are her keepers and why have they let her alone to play with a stove!? Moving a pot of water is even a struggle for her, especially without her pillow padded helmet on. No, the modern adult needs a safety device for cooking a fucking egg.

I mean, Christ, we were trusted with Easy Bake Ovens as children! We could have burned ourselves! Parent supervision be damned, because that cakelette wasn't going to bake itself! Today moving a 2 quart pot of water is a trial, and we haven't even gotten to the knives or burners yet. At this rate we'll soon convince ourselves that eating and drinking all together is a trying inconvenience. Just pump a nutrient rich slurry directly into my stomach and get it over with.

So people, hard boil your eggs without devices. Eat your peaches and let that sticky juice dribble down your arms and onto a smartly laid out plate. Prove to the world your pregnant mom didn't do lines longer than the one outside the Matterhorn ride. We're capable of cooking and eating, no matter what TV says.

We're not idiots.

How to Play the Wine Glass

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

-A simple trick that's entertaining and fun. Also, Roommate needs to moisturize his hands more often.-

During my vacation in Mexico at Food Blogger Camp we all took our dinners together, gathering around at the restaurant tables and gabbing away about the day's excursions, lessons, and arguing over who had the worst bug bites (I was usually the winner of that delightful game). At one point during the conversation I absentmindedly began twirling my finger over the rim of my wine glass, slowly watching the Chardonnay inside ripple and jump with sonic excitement before it suddenly went still and the glass rang with a crystal clear tone. The conversation came to an unintended halt and all eyes fell upon me.

"Oh!" I gasped, and pulled my hands away from the table securing them firmly in each other's grip on my lap. "Bad habit. Don't even know I'm doing it," I apologized. I went a little red and encouraged the conversation to continue about, oh, probably tacos or Google search optimization. You know, food blogger stuff.

"How did you do that?" Lori asked.

A short lesson later eight wine glasses were being played at the table. A chorus of wine strummed rings in (dis)harmony rang through the restaurant, much to our amusement and joy, but not so to those around us as we drowned out conversation and, undoubtedly, ruptured an ear drum or two.

I figured, then, that I would share with you how to play the wine glass. It's shockingly easy to do, though if you're looking for perfect pitch and chord that's another thing entirely, requiring a good ear and lots of patience. Plus, it makes for a neat little trick that usually entertains people at the dinner table. At least, for a moment.

How to Play a Wine Glass
1. Choose your wine glass. It should be light and thing, not some heavy goblet. Avoid stemless, you want a wine glass with a stem to hold onto and if you would the bowl of it you'll prevent the glass from vibrating.

2. Fill the wine glass with water about halfway.

3. Wet the print of your pointer finger and shake off the excess.

4. Hold the stem of the wine glass with your other hand, and with the wetted finger begin running it around the rim of the wine glass. You will need to exert some pressure and you may worry that the bowl might shatter underneath your finger; it won't, so don't worry. Run it around the glass with a medium speed. Eventually, you will find the right pressure and speed. If you see the water ripple you're just about there.

5. Eventually, you'll feel it out and get a ringing sound. To alter the pitch alter the amount of water. The more water you add the deeper the tone. The more you take out, the higher.

Keep practicing and soon you might be able to, I dunno, play the theme to the Harry Potter films or something.

-You'll have to pardon my video. I took it on my point and shoot camera so that sound isn't great but you should be able to get the gist of it.-

Straight, Gay, and Bourbon

Saturday, April 3, 2010

-A shot of straight Bourbon.-

I'm my father's son, and as such I appreciate a good Bourbon. One that's well blended, has a slow heat that slips into you, and preferably one that's velvet with vanilla flavor. I take it over the rocks, though when mixed with a bit of sparkling wine, bitters, and orange peel it makes for a delightful cocktail to pair with a fatty piece of slow cooked pork.

Yet whenever I order bourbon at the bar it causes my friends to cast shocked stares as if I had just told them my newest hobby involved silicone fists and rohypnol. I normally pour wine or Amaretto sours for guests, so having a glass of something hard seems somewhat out of character to them, which is strange since in my head I'm Gatsby and my jaunty parties are all about bright lights and bourbon.

Now I'm the first to admit that I'm not the manliest man; I detest watching televised sports outside the Olympics and can't barbecue worth a damn. Yet, come on people, give me some credit. I'm an Eagle Scout for Christ's sake. I don't like to get my hands dirty, but I can change the oil in my car, use a jigsaw, grout a tub, and have killed so many slugs in my garden with my bare hands I now fear a slowly growing slimy uprising may be on the way. The fact that I can make an awesome cupcake, know how to foxtrot, and have two cats is incidental.

Bourbon is often seen as a man's drink. This, or a snifter of Cognac, is something to be enjoyed with the boys or after a day of duck hunting in the overcast and swamp. However, being gay, I'm expected to drink something that comes in a martini glass and more than likely matches the color of my shirt. Stereotypically it is assumed that gays can't drink hard liquor straight.

It's not like me to get on a subject like this on the blog, if I ever even have (most of the Internet thinks I'm married to Elise Bauer for God sakes) but recently I met a friend at a restaurant and we ordered our drinks and what happened got me thinking. The waiter brought my friend, a dead ringer of the Brawny Man with flannel shirt and all, my scotch, and gave me his lemon drop.

My friend, barrel chested and mustachioed, looked the part of a bourbon sipping. His look had a swagger and he gave off a pheromone of masculinity that one could only assume was fueled by strong liquor with a heated kick. My slender 30 inch waist and slim jeans equaled a sugared rim. All this to the waiter, at least. It may have been an accident, it might not have been. But seriously, can a boy in a cute t-shirt get some whiskey up in this place?

In the public consciousness bourbon, scotch, good sipping tequila and the like are such masculine drinks. The musky scent, reminiscent of sweat and labor. The burly color is anything but reserved. Electric liquor that stands out at your meal and takes charge. It's a drink to put hair on yer' chest. Ladies, stick to your wine spritzers.

Even the way we serve types of alcohol seems to encourage this gender divide of the spirits. Dark liquors get served in stout whiskey glasses shaped for the calloused hand of a working man. A strong glass for a strong drink. It's very unlike the dainty martini glass; one female friend of mine argues that martini glasses were invented as a curse for women, "It forces you to gingerly walk with feminine steps to prevent spilling. (Oh, and it's shaped like a vagina.)"

Since gay men seem to at times blur the lines when it comes to mannerisms of gender - some more than others - appreciating a hard drink becomes unlikely unless it's somewhat fruity (pun slightly intended). We get grouped in with the women who get the bartender blow off (pun not intended). Yet no one seems to fight it. I can't recall ever seeing someone order a scotch at the local gay bar.

The last time I asked for whiskey at a club in San Francisco the bartender's reaction was unexpected, "Wow." He looked at me then began to dig through the cabinet practically crawling into it, every so often peeping back to see if I was still there and not a hallucination. He came back up with a musty bottle, "I don't think we've ever even opened this." The man actually blew dust off it.

So it's not just me. We've sort of placed the stigma on ourselves. Which is fine. Part of the culture, I guess. One with too much Midori and maraschino cherries. Not that I don't love a good cocktail, my current favorite being gin and creme de violette muddled with some blackberries - it's a rather eclectic drink, the cocktail equivalent of Jackson Pollock's "Number 1, 1950." With a good slice of chocolate or a balanced cheese plate I want something stronger on the rocks.

It might be all in my head. My roommate appreciates red wine and vodka straight (though I heckle that that's not manly, that's WASP-ish). My friend Kate and her husband Ken appreciate good scotch as much as anyone. My friend Shawn, so on fire you can see him from space, adores dark, hoppy beers. I love my bourbon and tequila. Yet I doubt any one of us will turn down an expertly made chocolate martini.

Sure, I may love cocktails and have the occasional ballet tickets. But, sometimes, damn it, I like a single malt as much as the next guy.

Any comments, ideas, experiences or theories on the matter are more than welcome. I would love to hear what people have to say about this.

-For something supposedly so masculine it is quite pretty.-

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