Sunday, May 30, 2010


“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing—whatever you want to call it—is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”

—James Beard, Beard on Food

Iced Coffee

For me summer cuisine is not just about grilled meats and slices of watermelon—beverages are often at the forefront of my summer experience. Hot days beg for crisp white wines, cool cucumber lemonade, refreshing iced tea, and, of course, on sweltering mornings there’s nothing quite like a glass of iced coffee. Now that summer is upon us, I’ve made my first batch of iced coffee for the season, and it’s perfect. What could be better than a chilled glass of dark, robust coffee?

Being a coffee connoisseur for many years I’d like to believe that I’ve learned a thing or two about making iced coffee. For me it all starts with the coffee. I opt for darker roasts in general, but I think they hold up particularly well for iced coffee—the flavors of dark coffee simply burst through the coolness. I like to make a large pot and immediately place it in the fridge to cool down. If you’ve ever experienced the burned taste of coffee that sits on the hot plate for too long then you know that you don’t want that bitterness transferring to your batch of iced coffee. I let it cool down in the fridge and then pour it into another container for storage. I also tend to make my iced coffee a little bit stronger than normal for more intense flavor.

I recently was turned on to the idea of coffee ice cubes from a friend’s Facebook status, and I finally put this genius concept into practice. From the pot of cooled coffee I filled up an ice tray and let it freeze. Coffee cubes eliminate the wateriness that often plagues most glasses of iced coffees as regular ice cubes melt in the drink. It’s the perfect way to keep your iced coffee tasting like coffee, not like water.

You can see a little coffee iceberg sticking out of the glass here:

Now, I’m a black coffee drinker, but sometimes I like a little milk in my iced coffee and I understand the need for sugar. When I first started drinking coffee I was about 12 years old and my “coffee” was actually half milk, half coffee, and several scoops of sugar. It took me nine years to go completely black, but like they say, once you go black you never go back. However, if you do like a little sugar in your coffee then I recommend making a simple syrup. Simple syrup is, well, pretty simple—just one part sugar and one part water. For example, take a cup of water and a cup of sugar and combine it in a sauce pan. Bring it to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. After the syrup cools, pour it into a storage container and use as needed. It’s also nice to have around for summer cocktails like mojitos and margaritas.

Here's to summer, sunshine, and iced coffee. Enjoy!

Strawberry Fields Forever

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quote of the Week: Comfort Food

Hurley: Wanna fry?

Sayid: No, thank you.

Hurley: You know, maybe if you ate more comfort food, you wouldn’t have to go around shooting people.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Song of the Week: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Quote of the Week: Remorse

"It's a very strange thing," he said. "This drink tastes exactly like remorse. It has the taste of it and yet it takes it away."

--David Bourne on absinthe in Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If You Could Have a ____ with Anyone, Who Would it Be?

Last night while I neared the end of Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits I began to ponder what it would be like to meet him. I would be walking down the streets of New York City with no particular destination in mind, and then he would appear—just standing on the sidewalk. “Tony!” I would call out as though we were old friends, running up to him to introduce himself. He would look to me and smile. After becoming enamored by my charming personality he would of course accept my offer to grab a pint at some local dive. I would select something like Guinness—rich, dark and smooth, savoring every sip as we chatted about life, traveling, and food. Because if there’s anyone I’d like to have a beer with, it’s Anthony Bourdain.

So this whole fantasy got me thinking—well, yes, I’d like to sit down and have a beer with Bourdain, but what if it was a cup of tea? a glass of wine? a mug of coffee? a taste of sake? a classic cocktail? And that got my mind and stomach rolling in a whole new direction.
Let’s start with tea. First, I think I need to break this down into two varieties—green and black. Both types of tea evoke different experiences and hence different ideal companions. 
Green tea I associate with Asia and Buddhism, and therefore my childhood. When I was in third grade my teacher had the class select the three people, alive or dead, who we wanted to meet—Buddha was definitely on my list, so let’s leave him there with our beverage of choice as green tea. Or if he’s not available I’ll go with Isabella Stewart Gardener, so long as we drink the tea during one her wacky Japanese tea ceremonies in Boston during the Gilded Age.
For black tea it’s George Orwell all the way. Ever since I read his essay “A Nice Cup of Tea” I’ve always associated Orwell with this drink. We would sit in and English garden and follow his eleven points for making the perfect cup, carrying on a nice chat about whatever someone like Orwell likes to talk about.
Wine is also an easy choice—Ernest Hemingway. Hem and me would sit in the heat of a Spanish summer and quaff red wine from wine skins with abandon. It would be very The Sun Also Rises, sans the whole impotency thing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald should be on this list somewhere, but what would we drink? Probably anything.
My cocktail of choice is a martini made with Bombay Sapphire gin served slightly dry, straight up, and with olives. There’s only one companion for a drink like that—Humphrey Bogart. Well, either Bogie or Blair Waldorf, depending on the topic of conversation and whether or not fictional characters are allowed.

For sake I’d like to be in beautiful Kyoto with Iron Chef Morimoto. We might not be able to communicate much, but we would sip on our Japanese rice wine as he prepared clean and fresh traditional sushi.
Then there’s coffee, but I just can’t seem to decide…There’s no individual who particularly screams coffee for me right now, so I’ll have to keep pondering that one.
We’ve all got those people in the world we’d like to meet, but under what circumstances and over what drinks? The people on the list don’t have to be ones you admire the most or even find particularly interesting—they should just be the people you feel most suited to consume a particular beverage with. So, if you could sit down and have a ____ with anyone, who would it be?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Food and Community

We all live in communities of some sort—we have our neighborhoods, work environments, families, and friends. Beyond the people we see on a regular basis we also exist in what Benedict Anderson termed “imagined communities.” These communities spread out much further than our immediate circles and encompass other aspects of our lives. For example, we can be connected to people we don’t know through our religious community—creating bonds with strangers through a belief system. The nation we live in is also an imagined community. A man in California has perhaps never met a woman in New York, and yet they both identify themselves as Americans, bound together by imaginings of what it means to exist in this nation.

Food plays a vital role in strengthening such communities—whether it’s dining with a coworker or new friend to build connections, eating hot dogs at baseball games across the country to establish cultural norms, drinking sake during a Buddhist feast or consuming bread and wine at communion as part of religious ceremonies, or simply munching on popcorn in a theater filled with other popcorn-eating strangers.

Food strengthens the bond of both immediate and imagined communities through the processes of obtaining, cooking, eating, and even talking about food.

In the past we would have gathered or hunted food together, while today we go to the grocery store. We may make the shopping trip by ourselves or with another person, but during the actual process of obtaining food—squeezing the plums, selecting a prime steak, or determining which frozen pizza is best—we are surrounded by the extended members of our local neighborhood community. All these various individuals brought together by the sole purpose of procuring food. As woman in Florida reaches for her favorite brand of ketchup, so does a teenager in China. Although these individuals may never meet, their imaginings of what ketchup is links them together.

Cooking food also serves as a bonding experience when it is a collective effort. One person washes the vegetables, another chops, and another opens a bottle of wine. Cooking is often not an individual experience, but one to share with others to serve the needs of more than one person. At a potluck, even though the food is cooked by different people in separate homes, the purpose of cooking revolves around the need to feed various members of a community.

And, of course, eating is one of the most common activities that bind a community together. At the barbeque we gather around, drink beer, and look at pieces of meat. At a family dinner we reconnect over a homey dish that reminds us of the past. At a fancy restaurant we relish in the decadent food and splendid service. But ultimately, all these occurrences bring people together in the name of food. In a city people may come together to enjoy the superb sandwich spot, across the nation we frequent similar diners, and around the world we consume the same products—each experience strengthening various levels of our imagined communities.

Breaking bread with strangers can alleviate a potentially awkward situation. Food lends itself to conversation—everyone eats, and it seems that these days more and more people are interested in food. Whether one is concerned about where his or her food comes from, a proponent of vegetarianism, a lover of fast food, or a die-hard gourmand, everyone has something to say about food. Today we even spend time simply watching other people cook food, strengthening a larger imagined community not through traditional means but through television. And then, of course, there’s me (and many others)—writing about food and attempting to offer new ways to look at one of the most common human experiences.

Much of our lives revolve around food, so it’s no wonder it plays such a strong role in strengthening communities. Whether in procuring, cooking, eating, or talking about food, we need it to survive—not just physically but in our communities as well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Quote of the Week: Hungry Lips

“Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips.”