Friday, December 28, 2012

Not All Of It Sucked

One thing I do love is a solid tradition. One thing I hate is year end lists. The popular ones, like top movie lists, never seem to focus on anything that was released before October, anyway. They should really be called Top 10 Movies of the Year From October to December (subheading: Featuring Character Actors Doing Impressions of Defenseless Famous People.) Others seem perfunctory at best. (I mean, a Top list of spirits that only contains one kind of spirit and doesn't have anything new on it?)

But I digress...

Anyway, here's a little something I like to do each year, which I'm realizing is a great exercise in remembering to appreciate life. 2012 in particular was a doozy. I don't even have ten things about it to love (although I did eat, drink, see and hear some fabulous stuff, but that's not the point of this.) I'm not going to say it was bad. It just wasn't... whadya call it? Good. But some of the experiences I had I wouldn't trade for anything, and I'm thinking others will lend themselves to better times.

So it wasn't a total waste... Here we go!

9) The beverage and bartending community: I always knew you were my heroes. Then when communities were truly beaten down, you banded together all your contacts, assets and energy and used your super powers for the greater good. And you still made delicious drinks when we needed them. Not to mention the ladies of LUPEC and events like Speed Rack and Broad Appeal that continue to raise funds for important causes and help us all have a blast doing it. I am in awe of you people.

photo courtesy Gabi Porter

8) Tales of the Cocktail: Why did it take me three years to come back? It's about drinking cocktails, it's about making them. But take the heat and humidity of New Orleans in July, add colleagues and friends from all over the world, plus the character of the city itself and a dash of ancillary mischief, shake (or stir), and you have the greatest five-day bender cocktail of them all. I wouldn't have been able to go at all if it weren't for items 3 and 4 on this list.

7) Picking myself up, dusting off, moving on: Enough said.

6) Going to Jersey to see Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden: Seriously, some of the most fun I had all year.  Sometimes an idea sounds better in a bar at 2am than in reality (although I still think we should produce that Sanford and Son musical someday.) But in this case, reality didn't disappoint. We got the snake, the guillotine, Eddie and enough pyrotechnics to rival Number of The Beast himself. Plus the most I've laughed in a car since... I can't even remember when. What a great show.

5) Bruce didn't get one of those awful fast-acting killer cat diseases: It was a 24-hour nail-biter that scared the crap out of me. His doctors (that wonderful Veterinarian couple who live in the basement apartment and agree to make housecalls, and had to wear those gloves they use to handle birds of prey in order to take blood) prepared me for the worst. He was sick, weak and confused. Then next morning, he just woke up and carried on being the agile, willful, always-hungry, nudgy, sheddy bastard I've known and loved for the past nearly twelve years. However many lives you have left, Brucie. Make them count.

4) New friends: I made some great ones this year, who I think have some pretty serious sticking power. I'm so happy to have met you. You know who you are. (Especially the one who stalked me on Twitter till I tasted his delicious liqueur and wrote about it.)

3) Old friends: Never forgotten. You guys have been amazing. You drive me crazy-go-nuts sometimes, but I probably do that to you too and you're still here. For some reason.

2) My parents: They're on the list every year, and there's a reason for that. They're kind of awesome and put up with a lot. I'm very lucky. And it was their 50th wedding anniversary this year!

I'm still convinced sometimes that I was switched at the hospital. Probably with some other baby who is now a successful physician or lawyer or rocket scientist with three kids and a loving husband. But I like to think they'd rather have me anyway.

1) I met John Taylor!!!! Holy shit. I met John Taylor.

So now what? Surprise me, 2013! Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I'm Fine With Ending Tomorrow

So December 21st, 2012 is almost here. Apparently the Mayans couldn't conceive of a world that lived past that expiration date, so according to their calendar (which, incidentally, could not possibly be synced to ours in any tangible capacity), the apocalypse is tomorrow. Who can blame them? When I was a kid, 12/21/12 was unfathomable. Forever. I never thought I'd get here.

Wow, so I've lived forever. Well, if the world ends tomorrow, I am so OK with it. I've traveled great parts of the world. I've met wonderful people. I've loved. I've lost. And loved again. And lost again. Even last week I ate and drank some pretty fabulous stuff. I've probably lived half of my life expectancy anyway. The rest is just hot flashes, wrinkles and sitting down at reunion concerts.

There's a lot of stuff I'd be happy to have erased from the planet if we really do sink into the primordial ooze tomorrow. Here's a list:

10) David Bowie covers. Hey, I'm actually a huge fan of a cover song when done correctly. The Violent Femmes version of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" is genius in its change of tempo and slight lyrical diversion from Culture Club's (plus Boy George himself has praised its originality.) The English Beat's "Tears of a Clown" takes the Smokey Robinson original, speeds it up, and somehow makes it more melancholy and joyful at the same time while staying completely respectful of the source material. And who doesn't love a heavy metal version of a Bee Gees disco song? But seriously. No one who can improve on David Bowie. There is no way you can capture the bleak desperation of a mid-1970s Berlin studio in the midst of a horrendous coke addiction and make it sound as haunting and poignant as he did. Nothing will sound as spectacular as that guitar crunch of the Ziggy days, or the strangely forgivable Teutonic pop style of a 1980s hit like "China Girl." You can't pull it off. So stop. Stop it right now. Except Bauhaus. You did OK with"Ziggy Stardust." But that's only because Peter Murphy was even skinnier than David Bowie when it was recorded and that lack of nourishment rings true. Bowie is still better though.

9) Hair removal. I have no idea how I grow hair as quickly as I do. I've made the joke that I was switched at birth with an Irish Catholic family. But now I'm realizing it was wookies. Shaving, waxing, depilatories, lasers - hell, I don't even think NASA has the technology to make my lower back hair disappear for more than 48 hours. Too much information? I don't care anymore. We're all going to die tomorrow anyway.

8) Bar and restaurant narcissism. Oh, good for you! You have a table at that place that doesn't take reservations and costs more for dinner than I make in a week! Fuck you. I'm going to eat at the place I know for a fact will be delicious, at a time when grown New York City adults, not octogenarian Floridians, eat the last meal of the day. Plus I am pretty sure I can return for something I truly crave. If I want bacon, I'll eat bacon. Not an icy gas that approximates the flavors of bacon. That goes for cocktails too. I'm broke. I just want to drink somewhere fun and dependable where I know I will have a good drink and enjoy it. If I am smooshed in with fifty other people, can't hang my coat anywhere, and paying $16 for the privilege of drinking yet another Manhattan riff? Trust me. I am not having fun.

7) Second round job interviews when the employer has no intention of hiring me. You made the decision the moment I walked in your door. Probably had someone younger and more affordable in mind in the first place. Stop wasting my time.

6) Debt. I pretty much don't have a dime to my name anymore and honestly, no intention or ability to pay this all back. Go on. Take me. It's all Monopoly money at this point. OK, maybe leave some of the booze in case I'm only mortally wounded first.

5) Brooklyn neighborhoods on their own axis, with no direct subway lines from anywhere useful. Since the earth is shifting, can't we just line everything up so transportation works all over the city? D train, I'm talking to you.

4) At least that ten minute trailer for Les Miserables will go away now. Whether or not we all die. I dreamed a dream actors like you would stop singing. While we're at it. Hey, Hugh? We're not buying it. Any of it. Notable mention: Gwyneth Paltrow, who must not only stop singing, but pretending she can cook too.

3) emails. You're right, and I appreciate what you do and stand for. Congress is a mess. No one is listening to each other. No one is getting anything accomplished. Health care is ridiculously expensive. People who thrive on negative attention will continue to say terrible things about women, homosexuals and immigrants. We all know our system is broken. You don't have to keep pointing that out. Every. Other. Hour.

2) Using your child's image for your Facebook profile picture. If my father had done that when I was three I would have been mortified. I know you think it's cute. Some of your kids are actually, kind of adorable. But I'm friends with YOU, not your infant son or daughter. That's just creepy. Especially when you post stuff about drinking or politics. Your dog? Even a decades younger version of yourself? Well, if you must.

1) Speaking of... doing terrible things to and in front of children. I know I haven't said much about what happened last week. But if the world ends and people don't shoot children in front of other children anymore that would be great. Because this can't continue. Those horrific images will never wash away. I mean, I am forever damaged merely from being accosted by a mime in Paris when I was 15. I can't begin to comprehend what it would have been like to see my best friend and teacher murdered in front of me before I turn 8, and have to trust someone to convince me to enter a class room again. Make new friends. Swing on a tire in a playground. Have conversations. I can't. I just can't. That would be a great thing to stop happening. Yes, please.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I'm pretty serious when it comes to New Year's resolutions. 

Which is why I'm sorry to announce that this year, I didn't entirely stick to mine. 

Sort of. 

For those of you who've known me for a while, you might remember that 2011 was a huge year for me, wherein I stuck to everything I set out to do: I lost nearly forty pounds. I revived my writing career. I completed a graduate marketing certification I never really wanted to start in the first place. 

I had spent so much time and energy pushing myself in those twelve months that by the time the year was over and I didn't have to write a stupid marketing paper every week,  my newly skinny-er ass self needed a project. 

So with a little prompting from my brother-once-removed, my resolution for 2012 was to write an entire book in a year. At least get it all written out with room for revisions.  

It's about resolutions. 

The goal was to write a collection of twelve short stories about people with, well, a goal. Some of them are your garden variety resolutions, but others are more complex and figurative. After a few of the stories came out, the book began to fall into a structure where I realized I could connect the characters with one larger narrative. By March I knew I was writing a novel. I wanted to write a little of it everyday, even for just a few minutes. 

However, by June, I was starting to worry. I was making the time to write, but the stories weren't coming to me as quickly as they had been. I found myself getting stuck, or re-writing the same story several times before I could make peace with its voice, plot and style. I became severely self-critical. I was falling behind on the schedule I'd set for myself.  

Then after a few strings of bad luck this year on several fronts (no need to go into what happened, but it's been a whole lotta no fun, with plenty of anxiety to fill the voids left by Good Times and Prosperity), I was feeling less motivated to write. And I was beating myself up over it. 

Many of you know I'm not a religious person. An astrologer told me years ago that my biggest problem in life is lack of faith, but she didn't mean that in a religious sense. She meant myself. I give up too easily. Or conversely, I hold on to things because I want them to work so badly, I refuse to give in to them when they don't. And you thought Tom and Jerry liked to have at each other? 

Crap. I guess I really am a Gemini

Well, here we are with less than two weeks left in the year. I didn't finish writing the book. 

And that's... OK. I completed enough of it that I'd be forever tormented if I didn't finish the whole thing. Which is why I'm finally telling you. I'm going to finish the book, just not the way and when I thought I would. That's the trouble with resolutions sometimes, after all. 

Give me till Easter. 

2013 has some pretty rockin' resolutions too. But I can't tell you about them yet. Better I just do them. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Fetal Position: In a Glass!

Last month, when the outcome of the election was still looking quite precarious, a friend of mine tweeted: "The fetal position is very underrated."

Luckily, for whatever reason, may that be the reality of climate change, Governor Chris Christie, or hey, overall common sense prevailing (for once), the election turned out OK.

December is now in full swing. We're decking the halls, we're donning our gay apparel, in the age of bespoke everything, I'm willing to bet some hipster crafter somewhere is attempting to make little dreidels out of clay and selling them for $19.99 a pop once they're dry and ready. Thanksgiving came early this year, and I've already attended three holiday themed parties. Wasn't it just a few days ago we were in the pointy hats shooting streamers and hoping for better times?

I'm so over it already. Yeah, Mayan Calendar, do your thing. Screw it. I met John Taylor. The rest is just gravy, as far as I'm concerned. Come. And. Get. Me.

It's been quite a while since I've made up a new cocktail. Today, I was thinking about that fetal position comment, and about how nice it would be to just curl up into one for the rest of the day.

Instead, I decided it would be far more useful to create (a metaphorical) one you can drink! My idea was to combine all the most comforting ingredients I could think of in one glass. The boozy equivalent of a hug. So, ladies and germs, for you, a wee gifty:

The Fetal Position

1 1/2 oz straight rye
1/2 oz Sorel hibiscus liqueur
1/2 oz Calvados or other apple brandy
1/2 oz lemon juice
bar spoon good maple syrup
1 egg white
Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters Black Mission Fig
brandied cherries (optional, but you know you want them)

Combine first six ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well to combine. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Add a few drops of the bitters and swirl with a toothpick. Add the cherries. Yeah. Just let 'em sink to the bottom along with your hopes and dreams.

You'll feel better in a minute. Ready to conquer the world again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Champagne Taste-Off

There's quite a lot to that saying about appreciating what you have.

Just as the ground beneath New York City's collective feet finally rumbled back into action and it was time to get out there and support beloved downtown businesses who had been shuttered due to Sandy, I got good and sick. For me, this is thankfully a rare occurrence. But when it happens, it happens real good. In the beginning, they called Hurricane Sandy the Frankenstorm. Well, this was the Frankenplague - sore throat turned to sinusitis turned to bronchitis. By Election Day, lying down felt like drowning. We take the ease of breathing in and out far too much for granted. The raspy cough that felt like my chest was awash in Pop Rocks lasted nearly two weeks.

I think my senses are still trying to regenerate. Most troubling for me is that my taste buds are not nearly as sharp as they were before I got sick. Flavors feel pixillated. I ate ramen with so much chili oil, it burned my lips as I slurped and left a pink ring around them for the day, but I barely tasted the heat on my tongue. I felt the need to add so much salt to my bowl of chickpea and spinach stew that I could be sold with a PRE-BRINED label. Last Saturday night, I  couldn't taste the acid in the tomato sauce on my pizza, which made me want to cry. Then there was the Champagne.

Last Monday, Executive Wine Seminars, or EWS, put together a blind tasting of 13 non-vintage releases. I was excited by the prospect, not only to taste that many bubblys side by side, but to have the opportunity once and for all settle the score between what are known as Grower Producers (think of them as the indie rockers of the big bad Champagne world, they do everything themselves) vs. the Big Guys (meaning, the big name, iconic, corporate Champagne houses who outsource most of their grapes and mass produce their wine.) Those of us in the know have championed the grower producers for their finesse, flavor structure, individual style and for the most part, approachable price range. Corporate Champagne has the stigma of appeasing the masses, often sacrificing structure for bold, standout flavors at a huge markup. Many wine snobs say they detect in them a syrupy finish due to what are probably high amounts of dosage (sugar mixed with wine that according to law is allowed to be added to Champagnes after secondary fermentation to bring up sweetness levels) and really frothy bubbles. I'm sorry, "mousse."

We knew which wines we were drinking, but not the order in which they were being poured. Each one was covered in a brown paper bag with a number written on it. Years ago, this worked beautifully for the 2005 vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape. In a blind tasting, we all favored the smaller producers. The wines who had received high scores from all the famous reviewers, like Robert Parker, and drove herds of people to snatch them up for triple their worth without even tasting them for themselves, left everyone at our tasting cold, without knowing which ones they were till the end. It made me happy. Score for the underdogs which were being sold at a more appropriate price point.

Robert Millman (a former colleague at Morrell) and Howard Kaplan, who run the tastings for EWS, have a motto: "We take wine seriously, but not too seriously." This isn't necessarily true of the people who take part in the tastings, but like the choices in their lineups, it's a fun mixed bag. Old, young, male, female and in the words of Rudy Ray Moore as Dolomite - "...uptown, downtown, crowned and renowned." (The part where we relay, delay, mislay and parlay comes later.) We taste the wines in small groups, write notes, then discuss.

What was really interesting about this Champagne tasting, apart from the selection, was the huge difference in opinion between the tasters, divided among gender and generation, possibly where we lived too. It was immediately decided that the drier bubblys had to be the growers. Any detection of fruit or sweetness in the finish meant dosage, surely only the big guys do that. But can't that also be attributed to which grapes are used? More Pinot Meunier/Pinot Noir often makes a drier, toastier product. Chardonnay can have inherent caramel apple flavors, nothing wrong with that. Just depends on what's done with them.

The men were definitely going for the drier wines, which to me (and my Mom, who happened to be seated next to me) didn't taste like much. The same wine that an older gentleman in the group said had flavors of "ginger beer and rice pudding" to me tasted super acidic and gassy. Mom said it was even "crying out for Zantac." The women were responding more to the wines that had stronger backbone- fruit, toast, nuts, spice and citrus zing, hitting all parts of the tongue. The men seemed happier when it was more about just the toastiness and yeast. The younger people in the group liked the wines that seemed more edgy and spicy. One of the women brought her poodle to the tasting. By the way, he yapped when that guy said that thing about the rice pudding.

I love Champagne, but so many of these fell flat for me. It could have been palate fatigue, and we were eating very strong cheese on the side, which didn't match with any of them too well. Maybe it had been so long since I had to evaluate wine this way that I was a little rusty. But something seemed off. Many of these were wines I'd tasted before, but they weren't making me happy anymore. Champagne is about celebration and living the good life. But I noticed a lot of subjective opinions were being dismissed as amateur. We were forming ourselves into tribes, and any second there would be war. It felt like all the Champagne fun was deflating as carbonation died in our warming glasses.

Reveal the wines already.

Here was the lineup:
1. Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Brute Cuvée Reserve
2. Veuve Cliquot Brut Yellow Label
3. Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition
4. Louis Roederer Brut Premier
5. Ployez-Jacquemart Extra Quality Brut
6. Jean Lallement Brut
7. Boillinger Brut Special Cuvée
8. Marc Hébrart brut Cuvée de Réserve
9. G.H. Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge
10. A. Margaine Le Brut
11. Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition
12. Pol Roger Brute Reserve
13. Laurent-Perrier Brut

The big winners? #3: Mumm #2: Roger #1: Laurent-Perrier

WTF? None of the growers in the crowd favorites?

Something is definitely wrong here.

Here's my theory, and yes, I am admitting my tasting capabilities are not up to their usual snuff: First of all, one of the things we say we love about grower Champagnes is subtlety and structure. So when going up against a père gros of a bubbly, they could easily have gotten lost. The other is, well, gasp!, maybe some of those famous labels are popular for a reason? When I was coming up in the retail wine world, I was very pleased to have the folks at L-P take us out for the holidays where they showcased the major players of their portfolio with really excellent Italian food. Hey, no one was complaining!

Still, on the rare occasions I buy Champagne, I almost always go for one of the lesser known labels and probably still will.

I don't know, maybe we need a rematch?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Hope it tastes amazing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh, Sandy.

At first, the notion of the Halloween "Frankenstorm," a hybrid of tropical storm, hurricane and Nor'easter, with wind, rain and even a freak snow storm, was somewhat of a joke. But not funny as in ha ha. As it pushed ever closer to the Tri-State Area by the weekend, the news agencies quit their Frankenstorm coverage, and focused on Sandy - a colossal, slow-moving hurricane that had the potential to be one of the most powerful to hit the East Coast since... well, since the last time the news agencies hyped a major storm a year ago with Irene. Except this one was different. Sandy was badass. Hitting at the full moon and highest tides, lusty and gusty, she wasn't taking any prisoners. Sure, people still made the jokes. But we got it. Take precautions. This one is for real.

You could physically see it coming.

SUNDAY October 28th: My dear friend Stephanie, who is moving back to Texas in a matter of days, came to stay with me once the precautionary MTA shutdown was announced. We were supposed to have a farewell wine dinner with my parents and friends that night. Instead I went into Manhattan earlier to see them, and they generously sent me home with a ration of short ribs and some excellent vino. While the ribs slowly baked to deliciousness, we had time to visit Tim at Jakewalk, who introduced me to my first Palo Cortado sherry. 

They were open for drinks, but no food. Like the MTA, many restaurants and bars were starting their own shutdowns, with only a handful of brave businesses, like our friends at Ward III in Tribeca, willing to ride it out for the duration using whatever supplies and resources would be available. 

The ribs came out perfectly. The wine was delicious. The Riders of the Storm would begin this ordeal all classy like and civilized, and rather cozy. By bedtime, the wind had picked up, but still no rain. 

MONDAY October 29th: Awoke to a spritzy rain and stronger wind, but nothing too dramatic. Last-minute rations could still be obtained by businesses that were still open (most with dedicated staff who were driven in by managers.) We watched Steve McQueen in his seductive prime in the Cincinatti Kid and made fresh popcorn made with the popper I still had dating back to freshman year at NYU. 

We would take storm update breaks during movie-watching. The wind was picking up. Reports of a flooded Battery Park and rising waters in Alphabet City. Texts and Facebook/Twitter posts from friends who were warned Con Ed might be shutting off their power downtown. An evacuated Red Hook was also reportedly flooding badly, as was the Gowanus. In Cobble Hill, the lights barely flickered. As the chili simmered, we watched Beautiful Girls to satisfy our rom com cravings.

A last call to my parents, who still hadn't quite taken the threat of an outage too seriously. I got them to fill the bathtub, gather the flashlights and few candles they had. I guess if things got dire, they would finally consume the bouillon cubes they'd kept since the Nixon administration and moved with at least three times. I scolded them for not preparing better. 

The wind would lash, the lights would flicker more often, the cable and wi-fi went out but we still had power. We listened to music. Busted out the Kosherland (land me on the Milk/Meat pass, bitch!). Got bored of that and learned Gin Rummy all over again, killing two of my Scotches that were down to a few fingers each - the Cadenhead's Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 23 year and Longmorn 12 Year. The lights stayed on as Neko Case's angel-throated voice played in the background. We were up drinking Scotch and playing cards till 3:30 like a couple of biddies. 

TUESDAY October 30th: Spritzy out, but the worst of it is over. Subways are flooded and won't be back up for days, schools are closed till further notice. Downtown south of 34th St. is in total darkness. A few blocks north, lights are on, businesses are regrouping. South of that it's like the stark aftermath of a modern visigoth invasion, people desperate for more supplies and device-charging stations. Widespread damage in CT and NJ. Governor Christie concerned, authoritative and brilliant in his press conference. Mayor Bloomberg and his hardworking sign translator up next (as was the obligatory statement in what passed for Spanish.) The striking images  and blackout theories were hitting the interwebs. The news agencies shifted from "weather experts" out in the elements to aftermath, cleanup and "devastation." (You could play a drinking game based on that word in the media this week.) The horrendous true stories of freak storm-related accidents were streaming in. Sandy was a mean one. 

In Cobble Hill, Tuesday is the new Saturday, and cabin fever has set in. Everyone is out for a stroll looking for food, drink and community. We meet up with Emily at the Waterfront Ale house on Atlantic. The wonderful Mary holding down the fort behind the bar till their chef Ralph arrives to fire up the kitchen. Neighborhood families and friends were filling up the place. Hours later, food is finally served. Best pulled pork sandwich ever. 

We go home to nap and recharge, then set out again. Jeff's at Char No. 4, and Julia joins our little group. We sit at the window watching Smith Street de-Sandyfy. Texts from Jason, who is in the blackout zone, and wants to join the fun, not to mention camp out with power and hot water. We head down the street to Clover Club, where proprietor Julie Reiner herself is bussing tables and pitching in. A quick hello to Caitlin of Becoming Brooklyn at the bar. Jason and Julia's husband, Nick, join us at our table up front. Time for some Harvest Punch. 

We go back to my place and play more Kosherland, ushering in Halloween with Jason's playlist, bust out the cards for Feudal Wars. More fun and late night storm-induced silliness.

No word from my parents all day, which is odd. These are people who would borrow a cell phone on a normal day to tell me about a play they'd just seen or a good piece of steak. I begin to worry a little and regret scolding them so harshly. 

A little after 2 am, I receive a text from a man I'd been seeing for a while who has become a good friend. We had heard the terrible story of a young woman and her boyfriend who were killed by a fallen tree in Ditmas Park while walking their dog in the storm. It turns out my friend had gotten to know Jessie Streich-Kest over the past few months, and just learned she had been the one in the accident. My friend had likely been the last one to text her,  even warning her to be careful of the trees. 

The world can be a cruel place elsewhere when you're having fun. 

WEDNESDAY, October 31st: With Flatbush Avenue and all routes into Manhattan at a standstill, looks like my storm refugees are around another day. We go down to Lobo to see Janell and get some breakfast. It's busy and chaotic. None of the staff has had a chance to eat or get coffee since they can't tie up the kitchen who need to churn out grub for customers. I ran out to get Janell a bacon, egg and cheese and coffee for anyone who wanted it. Rude, impatient customers are giving people a hard time. Come on. Really? Everyone needs to work at least one day in a service industry and understand what it's like. Especially in the event of natural distasters and holidays.

I finally hear from my dad in the afternoon, after he purchased a new cell phone that worked. Hard to stay in touch since service is spotty and he doesn't yet have the hang of it, but we can communicate eventually. At this point, I had terrible images of them cramped on the floor with food poisoning, so happy to hear they are alive and well and made dinner reservations for days to come.

It's not exactly a zombie apocalypse outside, but the streets are teaming with slow-moving walkers. Because Halloween wasn't canceled in Cobble Hill after all. Trick or treat!

THURSDAY, November 1st: Subway service is running at a limited capacity for free. No trains into Manhattan, but within Brooklyn and shuttle buses doing the rest. Finally have some time to myself to work out, eat healthier food, do some writing.

I keep thinking about my friend who lost someone in the storm. Everyone who has been bucking up under the circumstances. People rushing to help others, donate, volunteer, clean up. While some things don't make sense (they couldn't postpone the NY Marathon and leave streets open to the buses, cars and pedestrians that are already backed up as it is???), it's been heartening to see this city come together so beautifully and so quickly.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to live where I do, in a zone that was hardly affected and rife with community spirit and hardworking local staffers everywhere. I was so happy to have a comfortable home where friends could stay, and plenty of supplies for eating, drinking and entertainment. Life is good, y'all. Things have been a whole lot worse.


Please consider donating to the Jessie Streich-Kest Fund in her memory by following this link

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

28 Years Later

They were the biggest band in the world. And for a while, I didn't care.

Then suddenly I did.

And I "cared" more than was humanly necessary.

On October 16th, 2012, I finally met the man whose image plastered my bedroom walls (and ceiling), dropped in on my dreams, thrilled my fantasies and much later, peppered my otherwise boozy Twitter feed. John Taylor, bass player for Duran Duran.

Now, I know waiting on line for hours in a book store to meet an aging rock star sounds silly. Haven't I grown up already?

The answer is yes, and sometimes I think maybe even too much.

We forget sometimes before the Internet and YouTube, nostalgia couldn't be instantly gratified. When I was thirteen, before my family even got a cable subscription or owned a VCR, seeing an image or hearing a piece of music still had a fatalistic thrill, because I never knew when it would come on again. I'd wait for hours to hear/see it again, transfixed and shutting out the rest of the world when my patience finally paid off. The first time I saw a Duran Duran video, and caught a glimpse of that cute skinny guy with the square chin and bleached bangs, I felt as though I'd just found something I'd never known I'd lost. Or maybe I lost something I didn't know I had. Either way, something within me changed, and never really changed back after all these years. I had to keep seeing and hearing. When I read more about this person who presented himself, despite his vast fame, style and riches as a highly articulate, artsy, thoughtful and slightly dorky man with a love of F. Scott Fitzgerald (because of him I'd read This Side of Paradise by age 14) and a James Bond obsession, the crush was in full effect. He was different than the others. I liked different. BONUS, I found out we share a birthday! And we're both only children.

Clearly, thousands (possibly millions?) of other people felt the same way I did. Today I even met another fan only two people in front of me on the line who shares the same birthday. Also born in 1971, which means on the very exact day as me. Drat. So much for being different.

So in the midst of a massive world tour with the band, JT somehow found the time to write a book (he's actually an excellent writer, judging by his blog posts.) Part of the book-signing junket would be in my city for one day, in the middle of a busy week. My thirteen year old self would have punched me in the throat with her slave bracelets if I hadn't found a way to go. Wasn't the time I saw him on Lafayette Street a few years back, or the Twitter conversation where he actually Tweeted me back enough of an encounter?

Bitch, please. My only fear was that no matter how early I got there (no thanks to the MTA), I'd be turned away.

Or worse, simultaneously sneeze and puke if I got within a few feet of him. When I heard the excited screams of the crowd (almost entirely women. Guess the gays have better day jobs.), and caught a glimpse of that familiar smiling face, the scarf, the spiky brown hair, walking toward his place at the signing table, this got very real for me. I actually had to steady myself and take a few deep breaths. I began to question if I could keep my cool. Then I got too cold. Then too warm. Shivery sweats at the mere sight of him, knowing he was in the same room? As Kate Winslet would say, "Gather..."

The line snaked through the stacks of books -  past Self Help, past Spirituality, past Nutrition, past Cincuenta Sombras de Grey, Fifty Shades of Grey in Spanish (how many Spanish words are there for "manhood"?) We turned the corner. And there he was...

But I did OK.

I even made him smile once.

I did a lot of smiling too. I'm still smiling.

"Gemini Girl." Sigh.

Hell, maybe there's a reason I've had a little, ahem, extra free time lately. At the age of thirteen, I couldn't have fathomed the kinds of responsibilities I would have (or even, not have) at the age of 41. As this election season has proven, the world is indeed a volatile, scary place (am I just a "binder" to you?) Nothing has turned out the way I thought it would. In some ways, maybe that's a good thing. I like knowing the girl in me still is still kicking around.

Special thanks to Nicole for waiting in line with me and talking me down. And making sure I don't have lipstick on my teeth.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Camp Whiskey Back In Session!

Fall is here and it's time to get back in the groove! Sorry for the long silence. September was all about tending the coals and now that it's October, time to get things fired up!

Can't think of a better way to start than meeting up with the Camp Whiskey folks again. After a short late summer break, Jeff, Gary and Jonathan have assembled a roster of impressive drams fall!

On a schvitzy October night (competing with the Presidential Campaign Debates on full blast upstairs), we gathered in the basement bar of the Counting Room in Williamsburg for this week's theme - New Malts on the Block. On offer was a mini tour of new Scottish offerings from Benromach Organic, the latest edition of Compass Box Flaming Heart, Kilchoman 2006 Vintage, Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or and Highland Park Thor.

Benromach Organic is "interesting" in a that's-the-kindest-thing-to-say about it sort of way. It's a certified organic single malt. Which is tricky if you consider that not only do all the ingredients and production methods have to comply with certified organic guidelines, but so does the wood it ages in. Most single malts are aged in previously used barrels, most commonly sherry or Bourbon. To be absolutely sure of the source material, Benromach used completely new, unused American oak barrels, a.k.a. virgin oak, from a "green" forest, meaning one that complies with environmental re-forestation initiatives so as not to deplete all the trees.

So how does it taste? In a word, "interesting." It's very thick, almost chalky, but also manages to have an almost oily feel. There's a pungent smokey flavor mixed with bitter chocolate. But that's about it. Short finish. Sedate. Guess that virgin oak needs a few more times round the block to show some gusto, nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean? Weird, considering new barrels should impart more robust, not subtle flavors. It's a malt that would definitely benefit from more experience and flavor integration, which I hope they work on, to match quality with the humanitarian message.

Flaming Heart 2012, on the other hand, is a prime example of what is produced with time and experience. This is John Glazer's fourth go at blending a selection of single malts and letting them get to know each other as they spend time in the appropriate barrel where they achieve a precise, flavor-driven dram. It's a pleasure to sip, at once smokey, sweet, floral and spicey, with none of the flavors too loud or pointy, and no artificial colors or fancy filtering. Last night happened to be Flaming Heart Night around Williamsburg, as there was also, from what I hear, a rip-snorting great time at Noorman's Kil for its official release. Cheers, Glazer et al! Well done.

Kilchoman 2006 Vintage Release. Another "interesting" one. Kilchoman is the first new distillery on Islay (btw, the name of the island is not pronounced "iz-lay" or "eye-lay," though at least that's close. It's "eye-lah," rhymes with "sky-la") in something like 124 years. They're taking cues from American cousins by growing their own grain, doing their own floor malting, etc. Seems like they're on the right track, but also, much like a few American whiskies who are excited to greet their public, this five year old tastes very young. It's super peppery, not just in the vegetal sense, but also the chili sense. And oddly, kind of garlicky, almost like an Asian garlic chili pepper sauce. Then it's just smokey. Do we drink this or pour it into a bowl of ramen? Mmmmm. Ramen...

Well, after some salty ramen, one might want to drink Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or. Not exactly sure why this was considered one of the newbies, though it seemed new to many of the campers who hadn't yet tried it. This product is an example of the sort of board meeting discussion they can have at (parent company) Moet Hennessy in which people say things like, "We have access to some of zee best Sauternes casks. What eez zee harm in aging all zat extra Glenmoran-jjjie in it, non?"

Answer: "Zer eez no harm."

Although it's a very sweet expression. This time tasting it, I detected more of a balanced acidity, much like the nuances of, well, a good Sauternes - ripe and dried apricots, orange peel, ripe peach, dates, vanilla and caramel. It's a pleasant treat once in a while. Just try not to think about all that extra caramel color they add to it.

Finally, we tasted the Highland Park Thor (God of Thundah!!). This is the first of their "Valhalla" series, named for Nordic gods. The distillery is the most northern in Scotland, on the isle of Orkney, where they no doubt saw some Viking action back in the day. Essentially, this is Highland Park 16 in very fancy packaging (that wooden ship skeleton that holds it is fastened by magnets and looks just as impressive open as it does closed.) I've always been a huge fan of Highland Park, which in my opinion is one of the few single malts that is consistently smooth and complex throughout its range, without getting too hot in the older vintages. The 16 was previously only available as a duty free release. So hey, dress it up in armor, bump up the price by $100 a pop and...

Honestly, I can't get too mad at it. It's quite delicious, with tropical flavors of coconut and banana bread in the fore, vanilla, macadamia nuts and figs in the middle and a salty, sweet barbecue smoke to finish it out. If I could afford a bottle... face it, it looks awesome. Glad to know it's beautiful on the inside too.

Looking forward to seeing the campers again in a couple of weeks! Until then, drink responsibly, kids.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Team MollieDan in the Catskills


Well, I finally got out into the country for a bit. Last weekend, my parents and I drove out to Fleischmanns, New York in the Catskills for the wedding of my cousin Mollie Lief and Dan Abramson. We knew this would be a great event, as the Liefs know how to throw a party, Mollie was always an outgoing and clever kid, and Dan is a happy addition to the family. Writes for, no less!

The wedding was indeed beautiful, delicious (fried chicken, pie and ice cream cake? Why don't more people do this????) and entertaining. The setting on Judd Hill in the cloudless sky was breathtaking. Even the porta-potties were classy!

The trick was getting there. And staying there. Luckily the drive up and back was mostly uneventful. We stayed at the River Run Bed and Breakfast. Not such a bad place on a budget. The Four Seasons it ain't. But you get a bed, you get breakfast, plus a big porch to hang out on.

The innkeeper, Ben Fenton, has turned the living room into not only a place to hang out, read and watch movies, but also a mini museum of family memorabilia. His great grandparents ran a beauty parlor back in the day. I referred to the room as the "Beauty Parlor Parlor."

Various antique hair dryers and metal "permanent wave" curlers (thats them hanging from that metal stand, look closely among the flora and fauna.)

Great dinner our first night at the Peekamoose restaurant in Big Indian, the next town over. Well chosen wine list (if a little lacking in local producers) and way above average seasonal comfort dishes. Had a roast chicken with corn that was essentially the food equivalent of a warm hug. Loved this tree lamp in the main dining room.

Speaking of, I was worried with all the gluttonous imbibery and whatnot, and a lot of sitting, I would go way off my game over the course of the weekend. But luckily there was time for some vigorous hilly walking near River Run on both days to balance some of the damage.

Of course the main reason to come to Fleischmanns was Team MollieDan! As I said, the Liefs know how to put on a show.

Maple syrup place cards.

The couple take their first dance. Luckily this was all under a tent. Did I mention, cloudless sky? I got a tad pink during the ceremony, which was not. (Oh well, stripes are still in fashion this season...) But I also got a little verklempt. I remember when Mollie was born in 1983. I remember swimming with her in our family pool in CT when she was a child, and playing hide and seek at night. I remember her bat mitzvah and the purple Doc Martens she bought with some of her loot. I've seen her at all stages of her life, and she's always been the coolest.

Yes, I'm now old enough to be living a life insurance commercial without the need for time lapse photography.

Hava Negila!

Cousins Jude and Felix (mom and pop of the bride.)

Myself and the happy, beautiful bride.

More of the fourth generation Liefs: cousins Eli and Karenna.

Pre-sunset chuppa. Loved the purple wildflowers there and on the tables.

Well, that was enough country air for this city slicker. It was good to be home again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Camp Whiskey

"Hello Muddah,
Hello Fadduh.
Here I am at
Camp Granada.
Camp is very
And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining."

Well, it didn't stop raining last night, but that didn't keep us from having fun at Camp Whiskey! Camp Whiskey is a new tasting group founded by "head counselors" Char No. 4's Jeff Galli, The Whiskey Shop's Jonathan Wingo and brown spirits enthusiast Gary He. Each week, the campers gather in a commercial space in Brooklyn TBD and taste a selection of whiskies with a particular theme. Last night was a roundup of experimental selections from American craft distilleries Corsair, Kings County, Smooth Ambler, Balcones and Charbay. As you can see in the picture, many of these are samples that are not yet on the market, or examples of items that aren't available here. This is the shizzle, whiskey geeks!

The tasting is very well organized, and the counselors make sure we're well hydrated as we taste through the selections (so no visit to the infirmary is necessary.) Each whiskey is presented with background information and we taste them together as a group. What I found refreshing is that unlike most group tastings I've attended, we weren't called upon to yell out our thoughts on the dram or exclaim the flavors we detected. Instead, we were given time to reflect on what we were experiencing and ask questions.

Last night, we had the great fortune to hear Derek Bell from Corsair and Dave Smith from St. George speak to us via phone about their projects. The speaker phone was a little muffled, so to keep the distillers from sounding like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, Jonathan rigged up a plastic trash can to the phone as an amplifier. Science in full effect!

There was also a very special guest camper, Nicole Austin, master blender from Kings County, presenting the latest batches of unaged corn whiskey and Bourbon. She spoke about the perils of aging whiskey in an un-temperature controlled environment in Brooklyn. The fluctuating conditions make it difficult to age a spirit for long stretches since too much time can result in "over-cooking" as extremes of weather beat down on the barrels. She also discussed the size of the barrels (5 gallons) and how that affects the flavor and aging process (larger the barrel, the more the whiskey needs time to age, but also the more room it has to develop complexities.) Since Bourbon must be aged in new charred white oak, the most cost effective process must be in place. Therefore, medium-sized barrels make sense here.

Of course, there is always the guy in the crowd who asks the question, "Isn't Bourbon always from Kentucky?"

Nicole: "It can be made anywhere in the US as long as it follows the rules."

He: "Alaska?"

She: "Anywhere in the US."

He: "Hawaii?"

She: "Anywhere. In. The. US."


Unlike many corporate whiskies, Kings County is not a uniform product that will taste the same from bottle to bottle, batch to batch. Having tasted the unaged corn whiskey a few years ago, the newer batches are less "moonshine-y" and more sippable. However, personally, I do think the aged Bourbon could use a little time to whack out some it its kinks. Am curious to try it again as the product develops at the distillery.

In all it was a fascinating lineup. The Corsair selection (and these guys really like to push boundaries) included the Wormwood Wit, 12 grain Bourbon, Mocha Porter, Cherry Wood, Rasputin and Amarillo. Corsair's signature flavor is very hoppy and cereal-y. The 12 grain was especially so, using the required amount of corn for Bourbon and then 11 other grains, which made it taste like old kasha. Also, the Mocha Porter did indeed taste like mocha, but if it were made with Quik and Nescafe instead of richer chocolate and coffee. My favorite of these was the Wormwood Wit, which had a pleasant anise, Asian spice (ginger, lemongrass, cardamom) and tart cherry flavor that balanced nicely with the hops.

St. George offerings were the new Bourbon and the Port Barrel, which is actually the very same distillate given a Port finish. I liked both. The Port was a little heavy and masked the whiskey too much, but I can see wanting to drink it at the end of a meal with or for dessert.

The Balcones and Charbay both tasted familiar and distinct, in a good way. Balcones Baby Blue is a corn whiskey from the blue variety, consistently tastes of sweet spices and pretzels. Charbay Hopped American Whiskey really tastes like what it is, an IPA beer with a sophisticated, spirited kick.

But my favorite of the night was the Smooth Ambler Triple Malt. It didn't seem too gimicky or ongepotchket, just simple flavors of cereal, subtle oak, citrus peel and maple. After tasting so many hot and hoppy expressions, this was very satisfying.

In all, I was well impressed at the group and the leadership and I'm very excited to go back to camp again soon. Especially since what they give us to drink sure beats bug juice!