Monthly Archives: July 2009

In the News: Obama’s Beer Summit Brew-haha

beer

To alcohol! The cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems. –Homer Simpson

What do you do when a racially charged situation comes to a head? (Ha. Ha.) You pour the parties involved a cold one. I’ve never heard of Beer Diplomacy, but somehow, Obama is making it work. Or is he? There’s been so much fuss over what kind of beer will be served at the Gates-Crowley meeting today, almost to the point of ridiculousness. I can see why domestic brewers are all up in arms about the focus on the foreign beers the three parties picked–Red Stripe, Blue Moon and Budweiser–and I do agree there are better picks out there (me, I wouldn’t touch Bud with an 11-ft. pole, sorry). But I guess we can’t help what we like.

Then again, beer isn’t exactly an American invention. Like the hamburger, hotdog and baseball, beer’s origins can be traced way back before America was even born. Maybe because I was born and raised in Canada (lovingly referred to by some people here as “America’s Hat”) before moving to the States, I don’t see what the big deal is about. After all, if I were in a potentially awkward meeting, I’d want to get as buzzed as quickly as possible on my favorite brew, too, to take the edge off.

From a taste perspective, though, I do see why the great beer debate has been the topic du jour. I have to say these choices are kind of disappointing in general, as there are a lot of great beers out there, both foreign and domestic. I have a special place in my heart for Blue Moon, which I ordered during my first date with my boyfriend, Dr. J, but there are more exciting choices. Not that I claim to be a big beer connoisseur or anything. But if I were trying to diffuse a politically volatile situation, my beer summit would include:

drake's

1. Drake’s Brewing Co. in San Leandro, CA. I’ve only had their award-winning IPAs, but from what I tasted, it’s pretty darn good. Plus, IPAs have a higher alcohol content because they have more hops. These suckers will have you proclaiming your love for everyone in the room after downing three or four bottles if you’re a happy drunk.

lambic

2. Lindeman’s Framboise Lambic, made by Lindeman’s, a company based in a Belgian city I can’t pronounce. It’s a nice, light, raspberry fruit beer. What’s that you say? Fruit beer, is for girls? Beer Advocate magazine gave it an A-minus rating–not too shabby. Real men drink fruit beer, I say.

guinness

3. Guinness. There, I said it. I may be in the minority of women out there who like this brew, revered by generations of drunk frat boys and English pubbers. Add a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson’s Irish whisky and you’ve either got the solution to world peace or a big, knock-down, drag-out brawl. Calories be damned, this is a fun beer.

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4. Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema. This is the ideal summer beer, put out by the good folks at Anderson Valley Brewing out in Boonville, California. It’s crisp and refreshing, although a little hard to come by at your local liquor store. SO worth the search, though!

rogue

5. Rogue Brewery Chocolate Stout. A genius invention from the folks at Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon. Again, most women may not dig stouts all that much, citing heaviness and calorie content, but add chocolate to anything and we’ll come a knockin’. It’s made with imported Dutch bittersweet chocolate, so you get that rich creaminess, but it’s not pure sweetness all the way through, which is nice.

Too bad it’s 11am, otherwise I’d pour myself a cold one. A coffee stout, perhaps? At any rate, I hope this whole Beer Summit thing works out. If beer doesn’t bring people together, I don’t know what will.

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Say yes to the dress? That depends.

I woke up this morning with all things bridal on the brain, which may or may not bode well for my boyfriend, Dr. J, who I imagine will be reading this post. At some point during the early hours, I had a dream (nightmare?) where I was just a few hours away from getting married and I literally didn’t have a thing to wear. (Typical.) There were miles and miles of closets, and I was frantically throwing open each one, pulling dress after dress out, trying them on, then banishing them to an ever-growing pile of taffeta, tulle and lace. Oddly, my prom and homecoming gowns were among the choices, and of course, those didn’t fit. Needless to say, I woke up feeling slightly perturbed and felt compelled to check out bridal gown sites.

As I had my crappy cup of morning coffee–we ran out of the good stuff and are now stuck with some godawful no-name junk–I thought about bridal gowns and the millions of dollars that end up spending on “The Dress.” I considered the success of one of my favorite  TLC shows, “Say Yes to the Dress,” set at Kleinfeld’s in New York, a premier bridal gown purveyor, and, of course, “Bridezillas” crossed my mind (oh, the bitchiness of it all!), although I’m glad to say I’ve never seen an episode, and don’t intend to. There’s better junk TV to waste my time on.

Did you know the average wedding now costs $21,814, according to The Wedding Report, a research firm in Tucscon, Arizona? That’s $6,000 less than last year’s average. I know we’re in a recession, but oof…that’s still a considerable chunk of cheddar. I dread forking over thousands of dollars for a wedding and reception, almost as much as I dread having to give birth.

Granted, I have no real reason to start looking for a gown this very second–or booking venues, or sampling cakes, or giggling with my girlfriends about the bachelorette party, or hiring male strippers (oh wait, I could do that any old time, couldn’t I?) But it really helps to start thinking about ways to avoid the bridal-industrial complex. (Such sites and blogs like Oh Joy! offer a ton of DIY inspiration for the indie bride.)

For example, the dress. Does anyone really need a $5,000 Monique Lhuillier dress? My inner shopaholic says, “Hell yes, bring it!” but my brain and wallet scream, “WTF are you thinking?” I’ll point to my best friend–I’ll call her Edda Kate)–who got married in a $200 dress and she still looked fabulous. She and her hubby, who I shall call Baron Von Heimlich,  just celebrated their fourth anniversary, congrats, guys!

Here’s proof that beautiful dresses by independent designers do exist–and for under $1,000!

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Dreamy confection by Sarah Seven, $515

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This is oh-so-Audrey Hepburn in “Funny Face.” By Dolly Couture, $395

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So very glam-Hollywood! By AmyZ, $425

Of course, however, there’s always that one dress that you just can’t get out of your head. For me, it was this simple yet intricately designed Oscar de la Renta dress from his spring 2008 collection:

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It costs more than my left ovary. And I hope to put that ovary to good use one day…

You know, though, what it all comes down to is not how much you spend on your wedding, but how much it’s worth it for you to throw the best darn event possible to celebrate the love between you and your partner. Whether you rent out Versailles for the day or have a simple backyard ceremony and barbecue, what matters is being with friends and family, the people you love most.

Having a chic dress sure don’t hurt, though.

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How NOT to get into the food business

Want to succeed in the fish business without really trying? Then don’t do what these two geniuses in Miami did:

1) Catch a 5-foot nurse shark, which is totally harmless and might I add totally unpalatable;
2) Transport it via subway as it gasps for air and bleeds all over the place;
2) Tie to to your bike and drag it all over town to various fish markets and restaurants to sell for $20, then later marking it down to $10; and
3) Dump said shark in the street, freaking people out because of its uncanny resemblance to a dead human body, which apparently is a common occurrence in that part of Miami.

I don’t know what’s sadder: the fate of the poor shark or the fact that the story was labeled “breaking news…”

Ah…only in Miami. All that was missing from the story was David Caruso and his CSI “shades of justice.”

(via BuddyTv.com)

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Flights of Fancy

Since I started working as a freelance associate fashion editor and styling assistant, I’ve learned to embrace what at first glance might seem weird, ugly or ridiculous to most people as simply awesome. Take, for example, this web movie by British photographer Nick Knight, who’s known in the fashion world for his experimental and sometimes acid-trippy vision. When I first saw this video last year, initially, I thought, WTF? (And I’m sure you will, too.) But in the end, I thought it was just too cool.

Too often, people deride fashion as being frivolous, excessive and pretentious–and yes, it can be so. But moments like these show that fashion can also be a lot of fun. It’s not just about the conceptual clothes, which were culled from past couture collections by such way-out-there designers as John Galliano, Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen, who are pretty amazing in their ability to push the aesthetic envelope. It’s not about whether these clothes could ever be wearable on the street (although I would LOVE to put on that Q-Tip dress and walk around the city, just to get a rise out of people). In the end, it’s looking at fashion in a fun, provocative way while putting a smile on your face–and letting your imagination fly.

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When Food and Fashion Collide: a Retrospective

What, might you ask, do food and fashion have in common, exactly? Hadley Freeman, contributor to Style.com’s Style File blog, said it best in a 2008 article: “Food is colorful, it’s potentially expensive, and you can be a total snob about it—OF COURSE the fashionable are obsessed with it!”

Of course, there are limits. Apparently, these fashionistas didn’t get the memo:

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Mad hatters at the Royal Ascot Ladies’ Day 2008 and 2009, where high-society types can afford to look ridiculous.
(credits clockwise from top left: via Telegraph.co.uk; via Dailymail.co.uk; via EatMeDaily.com; via Telegraph.co.uk; Adrian Dennis/AFP)

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That ice cream cone dress gives me fripples just by looking at it.
Jeremy Scott’s Fall 2006 runway show, via KillingDenouement.wordpress.com

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Here’s egg on your runway…Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada’s fall 09 collection was surreal, to say the least (Getty Images, via Zimbio.com)

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A hilariously clever hamburger dress by Joy Kampia O’Shell

I hear your snickering. Go on, laugh out loud. Get it out of your system. Are you good? Ok. Now how about fashion made out of food? Get ready to be amazed (and in one instance, grossed out)

bread_dress

Technically you can’t wear this dress. But damn, ain’t it cool? Leave it to Jean-Paul Gaultier to pull off something truly beautiful with his 2004 “Pain Couture” exhibit at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in New York City.

cloris_leachman_ad

Several cabbages were harmed in the making of this (admittedly beautiful) dress for a PETA ad.

meat_dress

So what would be the perfect foil to PETA’s cabbage dress? The infamous meat dress, created by Montreal artist Jana Sterbak. Naturally. The work, titled “Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic,” was made of 50 pounds of salted skirt steak and when it was displayed at the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1991, it set off a huge hullabaloo–not to mention onlookers’ gag reflexes . This image burned an indelible mark on my young brain when I first read about it while growing up in Toronto–I think I was 11 at the time. I guess you could say the steaks were high for this artist? What a surefire way to sear your art into the collective memory. That’s a rare moment I’ll never forget.

All right, all right, I’ll stop. (Just couldn’t help myself.) But I hope we’ve all learned our lesson here. Food and fashion do go together–albeit in weird and wonderful ways.

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Test Kitchen: A16 Food + Wine review

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Welcome to my first cookbook review! While I definitely don’t fancy myself a cooking expert (up until yesterday, I wasn’t quite sure what “deglaze” meant), like many kitchen-curious foodies out there, I rather enjoy planning and executing unnecessarily complicated menus for my friends and family and will go to great lengths to pull it off–including forking over $18 for a ball of fresh-off-the plane imported cheese. Oh yes. Believe it. I get excited about my foods, man.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was planning on giving A16: Food + Wine a go this weekend, and I’m happy to report that the meal turned out wonderfully.

The Menu:

Burrata with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Crostini
Bruschetta with Ricotta and Peperonata
Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema and Pecorino Tartufo
Monday Meatballs (accompanied by Aglianico, an Italian red wine)
Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram and Oregano
Honey Panna Cotta with Panzanella of Blackberries and Buckwheat Cookies

The Occasion: Prepared for my boyfriend, Dr. J (names have been changed to protect the innocent), my little sister, the Little Sybarite, and her boyfriend, John Matrix, in celebration of Dr. J’s political science dissertation, which is pretty much finished after years of hard work.

The Experience: While the menu sounds pretty darn complicated and required some ingredients that you just can’t find at Safeway, it’s definitely doable, if you know where to get your ingredients and take the time to actually read the recipes and learn about what Campania cuisine is all about.Don’t let the fancy Italian words fool you: These recipes, like most of the recipes in the book, are quite easy to put together–it’s the prep time that really bogs you down. Some recipes had a lot of different parts to it; take, for example, the panna cotta. You make three parts separately, the panna cotta (a creamy, pudding-like dessert), the cookies and the panzanella, which is essentially blackberries soaked in sugar, lime and basil.

Nate Appleman, A16’s chef, is a big believer in slow food–taking your time and really getting to the essence of food. No Rachel Ray shortcuts here. Of course, I didn’t fully grasp that concept–I had to make a couple of concessions, such as using canned cannellini beans instead of soaking dried beans overnight and boiling them for two hours straight, because I didn’t shop for ingredients the day before, nor did I start prep work until the morning of the dinner. Big mistake.

I pretty much ran around town Saturday morning, frantically searching for the perfect ingredients and calling around for missing ingredients, while also balancing cost. After springing for that $18 ball of burrata, I was a little more conscious of how expensive this meal was getting.

Actually cooking the recipes was pretty easy, in retrospect–directions were simple and clear, and there were no ambiguities. Also, there are some great general tips on how to create food: I found the section on Meatballs 101 particularly enlightening. You also get a great backgrounder on authentic, southern Italian cuisine, and for anyone whose Italian cuisine lexicon is pretty much limited to words like “veal parmigiana,” “Fettuccine Alfredo” and “lasagna,” it’s refreshing to expand your knowledge. Also, there are lots of pretty pictures. Those help. Did I also mention the recipes are nothing short of amazingly delicious?

The Result:

feast

Clockwise from top left: Bruschetta with Ricotta and Peperonata, a bell pepper-based condiment; Burrata with Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Crostini (yes, this is a $9 chunk of imported burrata, an incredible mozzarella-style ball stuffed with ricotta and cream; worth every penny. Although you can get American-made burrata for less than $5 at a specialty store, as I sheepishly discovered after the fact); Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema (a hummus-like cream) and Pecorino Tartufo (a fancy sheep’s milk-based cheese with truffle bits); Braised Cannellini Beans with Garlic, Marjoram and Oregano; Monday Meatballs; and Honey Panna Cotta with Panzanella of Blackberries and Buckwheat Cookies

Everyone left the table full and happy.

Best suited for: The intermediate home chef. If you’re just learning to boil water, then you might want to start off with one of the simpler recipes that don’t require fifteen different steps to create (like the burrata with sea salt and crostini). But these recipes are probably best suited for someone who’s comfortable in the kitchen and have the patience to do the prep required. Also, a general understanding of cooking terms help, like “sweating” (cooking veggies over low heat so they release their juices without browning too much) or “deglazing” (which, as I learned, means adding liquid to a hot pan and scraping up the bits and pieces in the pan left behind by other ingredients). All in all, this puppy has earned a permanent place on my cookbook shelf.

Overall Rating: A for Awesome.

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Sweatin’ to the munchies

a16

Richard Simmons would probably have a conniption if he knew what I was up to at the gym–reading food magazines and watching Food Network while cycling half-heartedly on the stationary bike.

The way I see it, imagining the possibility of creating fantastically high-fat, decadent goodies is a great motivator for me to keep cycling–after all, the more calories I burn, the more delicious food I can eat without feeling guilty. I may not end up losing a ton of weight, but at least I don’t gain much extra, either. So you see, I always end up maintaining the status quo. (If you think my workout logic is twisted, just wait ’til you hear what goes through my head when I’m shopping.)

Tonight, though, I hit a new low: I brought a whole damn cookbook to the gym with me. But this wasn’t any old cookbook. It was “A16: Food + Wine,” which was published last year by the geniuses at A16, the chic southern Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood. Even though I haven’t had the pleasure of eating there yet, I do have the great honor of knowing Kate Leahy, who co-wrote the book with chef Nate Appleman and sommelier Shelley Lindgren.

I’ve had the book for a while now, and haven’t had a lot of time to actually try most of the recipes. But I was recently inspired to read it again a couple of weeks after Kate, who I’ve known since my Northwestern J-school days, came to visit and took me to A16’s sister restaurant, SPQR, in the Fillmore. The former specializes in the cuisine of Campania, while the latter’s bag is Roman cuisine.

The food was fresh and delicious, and the conversation flowed like the crisp, fragrant wines that somehow kept filling our glasses. We enjoyed corn fritters with pancetta, honey and black pepper; fried brussels sprouts and grilled octopus with olives and celery; and house-made sorbets.

The staff was friendly and the atmosphere was warm and fuzzy (although I think the three glasses of wine and champagne I had at the Ferry Building helped make things seem warmer and fuzzier than they really were). It was one of those seminal food moments that really made you feel happy, thankful and blessed that you could afford to eat good food–and have great friends to share that food with.

To that end, I hope to take some of that inspiration and attempt some of these gorgeous recipes this weekend for those nearest and dearest to my heart. You’ll be sure to hear about it when I do.

Hm. Better hit the gym for twice as long tomorrow. This weekend is going to be a culinary bender.

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