December 2005 Archives

My faucet has been in need of replacement for quite some time now. Whenever I operated the handle, the entire faucet assembly pivoted to reveal the rust and corrosion beneath its loose base plate. Not only did the faucet drip-- despite having replaced the washer-- but rotating the handle had a non-deterministic, non-zero chance of producing a spurt of water through the joints. And don't even get me started on the anemic droolersprayer.

So today we replaced it. And when I say "we", I really mean my thoughtful girlfriend (who bought the faucet as my replacement birthday gift) and my staunch friend and business partner (who, with the gf, did most of the labor). I now have the sparkling new Grohe faucet shown here, which is superior in every way to my old American Standard disaster. It's higher, allowing me to fit my Brita pitcher or stockpot beneath it easily. It emits a more concentrated stream, so water doesn't splatter. As for style, it has some. And the sprayer-- oh my, the sprayer-- actually cuts off all flow from the main faucet and creates a powerful blast of water with which to clean all the nooks and crannies of my cookware.

Ye of lesser faucets, look upon me and weep.

Comment (1) | last by Clay, Dec 31, 8:32 AM

New York bagel: Theories abound for why New York bagels are the best in the world. Is it the water, the air, the attitude? I don't know. But for damn sure the bagels in the Pacific NW are nothing like what a proper bagel should be-- a soft, chewy interior surrounded by a hard, crisp outer shell. I worked at a bagel bakery for years when I was in junior/high school (hard to believe I used to get to work at 7 AM every weekend, even in the summer!) and enjoyed making "sampler" bagels-- a little bit of a bunch of different spreads, each in its own section-- with a salt bagel fresh from the oven. Just stay away from Noah's so-called "New York" bagels. For all their "shmear" and "nosh" lingo, their bagels just ain't right-- and their employees look at you like you're crazy if you ask if they boil their bagels. Hint: it's the essential step just prior to baking.

injera bread: This is somewhat of a cheat, because injera bread-- the spongy, rubbery Ethiopian flatbread-- doesn't have much flavor on its own. But you never eat it alone, anyway-- you eat it with an Ethiopian meal, using it to pick up your food and to soak up the flavors of the various sauces. Injera's spongelike qualities are marvelous, and when used to line a serving platter it becomes a delicious way to finish off the meal.

deviled eggs: Cholestericious. Hold the pickle relish, extra paprika. Piped with a star-point pastry tip for bonus points.

quiche Lorraine: A dear family friend made spectacular quiches once upon a time, and I haven't lost the taste for them. The outer crust must be flaky-tender, and the inner filling cheesy and fluffy. Real Men can have their pork rinds, I'll take the quiche.

macaroni and cheese: Steuffer's frozen? Yes. Kraft's blue box? Absolutely not. Homemade with quality cheddar and oven-baked? Ooooooh, baby. Textbook definition of comfort food.

Atlantic Street Garlic Gulch pizza: They don't call themselves Atlantic Street anymore, but this Seattle pizzaria still makes the best thick-crust pie around. The sourdough crust is actually worth devouring, and the artichoke and sundried tomato topping is smothered with a layer of fresh pesto, all permeated with garlic. The finished pie needs a forklift to transport and just 2 slices (well, 3 for me) is a meal.

Star Tavern sausage pizza: This dive near my New Jersey hometown is always crazy busy with families packed in to savor their extremely thin-crust pizzas with sauce and cheese all the way to the edge. In a world gone crazy with toppings, thicker crusts, and gourmet trappings, Star's back-to-basics approach yields amazing results. They serve sausage the way God intended it-- crumbled onto the pie, not sliced or in pellets. Details matter, people, and Star Tavern gets them all right. Every year when I return home for Thanksgiving, Star Tavern is the one must-go invariant.

garlic bread: It's hard to go wrong with garlic and butter. Add some melted parmesan and you're even less wrong.

Cougar Gold cheese: I debated putting this on the list at all, because it's rare that I eat cheese as a food unto itself. But in that category, Cougar Gold from the Washington State University Creamery is in a class by itself. A white, sharp cheddar cheese with a dry, crumbly texture and nutty flavor, Cougar Gold gets even better as it ages in its vacuum-sealed can (as one of mine in the back of the fridge has been doing for about five years now. Mmmmmm). And if you want a killer cheddar cheese soup or mac and cheese, this is the stuff.

Comments (4) | last by dana, Jan 7, 12:46 AM

caramelized onions: There are very few things in the kitchen that smell as good as sauteeing garlic and caramelizing onions. It's amazing what a difference a little heat can make, transforming the harsh, sometimes bitter bulb into a sweet, nutty ambrosia. Caramelized onions have a lot of applications, but I like them best as a topping for grilled meats-- sausage, burgers, or especially steak. Trader Joe's used to offer small jars of caramelized red onions that made for a convenient and sinfully sweet steak relish, but Seattle stores stopped carrying it a couple of years ago. I immediately called the Trader Joe's near my parents in New Jersey and ordered a case. I ferry a few jars back with me every Thanksgiving, and will be very sad when they finally run out.

Trader Joe's Indian Relish: Crack in a jar. I'm sure this this tomato-based condiment has a zillion uses, but it never stays around long enough for me to discover them. A jar of this stuff with a bag of pita chips and I'm a very happy camper. Dip, munch, repeat.

saag: As a kid, few things would make me look forward to dinner more than when my mother would tell me creamed spinach was involved. Most kids hate spinach-- I still hate creamed corn, though I love all other forms of the kernel-- but for me it was always a comfort food. Too much Popeye, perhaps. But it wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered India's take on the dish and went completely over the moon. My childhood, boil-in-bag creamed spinach was loose and runny, but saag is tight, dense, infinitely creamier and spiced with typical Indian goodness. I could eat bowls of the stuff and come back for more.

baked sweet potato: Say what you want about the Lone Star chain of steak houses, but I will forever be in its debt for opening my eyes to the true way of the sweet potato. In my family, "sweet potatoes" meant a cloyingly sweet pureed casserole topped with melted marshmallows-- far too sweet to be a side dish, but not really a dessert either. I hated the stuff. Later I learned that whole sweet potatoes, oven-roasted and served simply, were divine on their own. But at Lone Star they top them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and they're something else again. I know, it sounds like I'm coming full circle on the sweetness issue, but served this way a sweet potato is sweet and savory, capable of holding its own beside a steak without sending you to the dentist to have molten marshmallow extracted from your molars.

fresh pineapple: The canned stuff is Stepford pineapple, suited only for topping a Boboli or adding tang to Mongolian stir-fry. The real thing, cut into spears or bit-sized chunks, is worth the effort required to extract it.

cilantro: Thanks to the lottery of genetics, for some poor souls cilantro tastes like soap. These sad misfortunate Untasteables should be pitied, for they can never know the sublime joy of cilantro mayonnaise, the fresh kick of a cilantro salsa, or the aromatic zest of cilantro-infused stew. Having cilantro on hand at all times was a major reason for starting my herb garden this year. Ironically, cilantro was already out of season at the time. But someday...

Greek salad: And I mean Greek salad. In Crete last summer, the Greek salads were a revelation. Yes, the feta was tangy and the locally-pressed olive oil was fruity and native oregano unexpectedly delightful. But the tomatoes-- oh, the tomatoes!-- were the true stars. A great Greek salad starts and ends with them, and Crete has them in abundance.

home fries / hash browns with Tabasco: First, let's get the definitions straight. Hash browns are shredded potatoes fried in butter on a griddle into a flat, crisp patty-like mound (if that's not an oxymoron). Home fries are cubed, previously-cooked boiled potatoes fried on a griddle or in a pan, often with onions and peppers. The consistency of the two are completely different. I've long enjoyed home fries, but it wasn't until a trip to Vegas that I had my first taste of hash browns. Hungry at 3 AM, we went to the Barbary Coast for their $1.99 steak and eggs. When they arrived, accompanying them on the plate was a side of hash browns. A friend immediately doused his with Tabasco. Intrigued, I followed suit. I haven't looked back. Greasy spoon breakfasts for me are now all about the crisp, tender hash browns and Tabasco.

gazpacho: There is a vast chasm of crushed expectations between bad and good gazpacho. When made well-- thick and chunky, fresh and lively, not swimming in an ocean of lifeless canned tomato juice-- gazpacho is one of the most wonderful things to eat in the summer. I got turned on to it in Barcelona, and a good bowl of gazpacho always makes me think of that spectacular city.

Amsterdam french fries: I suppose I should say "Belgian frites" but my exposure to them was in Amsterdam. When most people talk about getting turned on to something new during their post-collegiate backpacking trips in Amsterdam, if food's involved at all it's probably a brownie. But for me Amsterdam was defined by its frites stalls, where paper cones are filled with twice-fried potatoes and topped with your choice of a dizzying array of sauces-- mayo, ketchup, vinegar, peanut sauce, curry, and things I couldn't translate from Dutch and couldn't quite identify on my palate either. Simply the most spectacular fries I've ever had, and I got a couple of cones every day I was there.

potato knish with spicy brown mustard: Forget hot dogs, knishes are THE New York City street food in my book. The street knishes themselves are really nothing special when you get right down to it-- mashed potatoes in a breaded shell. But when the vendor slices them open lengthwise, like a sandwich, and slathers the inside with spicy brown mustard, it becomes transcendent. Upgrade the knish into a homemade delicacy with onions, pepper, and other herb/spice goodness... oy! I'm kvelling.

dry seared broccoli: First tasted at a Seattle restaurant called Bandoleone and not-quite-duplicated many times at home since then, dry seared broccoli is the best way I've found to enjoy one of my favorite cooked vegetables. The broccoli is seared in a pan and cooked along with peppercorns, red peppers, and garlic, then served in a chili-lime olive oil pan sauce. The description can't do the finished dish justice, but it's super-easy to toss together your own version at home and see for yourself. I could make an entire meal out of just this dish, it's that good.

Caesar salad: Fresh, real Caesar dressing, with anchovies and everything-- is absolutely essential. Add crisp Romaine, zesty croutons, and a sprinkling of parmesan, and that's all I need in a salad. Toss in a chicken breast, perhaps grilled with a nice garlic rub, and now you're really talking. Whole Foods used to sell their spectacular house Caesar dressing (I haven't yet tried their new bottled brand to see if it's the same stuff), and for a while it, and Costco romaine hearts, were a staple of my diet.

fresh-squeezed orange juice: When people ask me why I don't drink alcohol, my answer is that I just prefer juice. Orange juice is my lifeblood-- I go through it like paparazzi in Britney Spears' dumpster. Freshly squeezed OJ, preferably brimming with pulp, is the Dom Perignon of fruit juice.

Comments (3) | last by harlan, Jan 2, 5:34 PM

Fifty best In my world, anyway. In an essay about blood sausage, Vogue food writer Jeffery Steingarten mentioned that his first taste of the boudin noir bumped frozen Milky Way bars off his list of the hundred best foods in the world. Which got me to thinking. I've never tried blood sausage, and my culinary horizons are considerably less far-flung than Mr. Steingarten's. But lists are like farts-- anyone can make them and they compel comment. 100 foods seemed rather excessive to me, so I cut it in half to 50.

My list represents only my own experience. I tried to stay within the realm of "foods" as opposed to "dishes" or "preparations", but on occasion I could not help myself. When generic foods are listed, take it as a given that "good" is the implied prefix. The same soup made in one kitchen might be repulsive, but in another sublime. I'm assuming the latter.

To preserve my own sanity, I decided to categorize items rather than attempt to sort them in some kind of numerical priority order, and to post the list in segments by category. And of course, I reserve the right to modify the list as omissions occur to me.

Comment (1) | last by Danielle, Dec 29, 10:10 AM

Whole Foods (or more popularly, Whole Paycheck) Market is a wondrous place. For a foodie, walking through a Whole Foods elicits the same slack-jawed astonishment and effervescent glee as a child entering the Chocolate Room at the Wonka factory. New wonders await around every turn, all organic, natural, and priced for people who can afford to care. Organic? For $8.00 a pound, those chicken breasts had better be orgasmic. But anyplace that lets you grind your own peanut butter, almond butter, or peanut/chocolate butter and offers real maple syrup and olive oil in the bulk foods section gets a silver star in my book.

The bulk foods aisle is like something out of a science fiction film. Row after row of lucite canisters line the shelves, each offering up some exotic grain, dried whoozit or yogurt-covered whatzit. In fact, last night while searching for some bulk Soylent Green (every bit as good as the brand-name stuff, no matter what the rumors say about what goes into it), I stopped short. I'd never really thought about it before, but I'd just assumed that QUADRATRITICALE, the favored grain of tribbles, was a construct of David Gerrold's imagination. But there in front of me was a grain-filled canister labeled TRITICALE. It was like a clueless M*A*S*H viewer learning, years later, that while there was no 4077th unit, there were in fact mobile army surgical hospitals in Korea.

I gave the canister a raised eyebrow any Vulcan would have been proud of and moved on to the $6.99/lb hot food bar.

Comments (5) | last by Ellen Beeman, Dec 25, 11:49 AM

Apprenturd

As I watched tonight's Apprentice finale, even before the live boardroom began, I found myself convinced that Trump was going to hire both Rebecca and Randall. In a season where he's fired multiple people at once on more than one occasion, hiring two apprentices would have been a fitting end. When Randall asked the other players to stand if they thought he should be the one and only apprentice, it was clear he thought it might go that way too. So I was a little disappointed when Trump hired just Randall. But when he called Randall back to ask if he thought he should hire Rebecca also, I smiled knowingly.

Then Randall's head turned 360 degrees as he began projectile vomitting and speaking in tongues.

Maybe something went on behind the scenes that we don't know about, because he and Rebecca worked closely together for much of the season and seemed to be on great terms. So I can't for the life of me understand why Randall would display a complete lack of class and grace, stabbing a blazing hot dagger into her back on live television. Trump wanted to hire them both, and all Randall had to do was be a mensch, smile a huge grin, and embrace his former partner in a celebratory hug of their mutual good fortune. Instead he chose to puff up and hog the limelight for himself. Not content to merely achieve his own goal, he had to ensure that his rival was utterly squashed in the process.

Trump talks a good game about leadership, but then let Randall make that key decision for him. If Trump doesn't cowboy up and extend an offer-- and an apology-- to Rebecca, he and Randall certainly deserve each other.

Comments (8) | last by supun liyanage, Jan 9, 7:18 PM

A number of readers have emailed to ask about my thoughts on the Survivor finale. I'm touched.

Steph screwed herself 6 ways to Sunday by betraying three people she had an alliance with. THREE! That's 3 of the 4 votes her opponent needed to win. Add to that the sure knowledge that members of Danni's old alliance would vote for Danni, and that gave Steph no path to victory.

Rafe was an idiot for letting Danni out of her promise. Had he gone to the finals, he would have won. And he's also an idiot for believing that both Steph and Danni were better choices to take to the final three than Lydia. I don't care what promises you've made-- when you get to that point in the game, it's time to put on your "I want to win a million dollars" hat.

This was also the first Survivor final challenge that I thought was poorly designed. Danni's height gave her a clear advantage. I can't recall a past endurance challenge that gave someone an inherent advantage because of their size or weight. Strength and physical condition, sure. But the essence of the final challenge has always been, "Who wants it more?" This one was just "Whose body is best constructed to lean most easily?" Once it devolved to that, Danni was a shoo-in.

It'd be easy to say, as Judd did, that Danni skated below the radar. But she didn't. In fact, she brilliantly orchestrated the fracture of the opposing alliance, managing not only to get Judd voted out but to get Stephanie to take the fall for it! She played Rafe like a Steinway, using his moral conflict to keep both herself and her weakest opposition in the game. The final five players to be voted out (including Steph) have only themselves to blame for not bidding on the immunity challenge advantage and letting Danni get it. They should have pooled their money to give it to someone-- anyone-- from their own alliance rather than letting Danni pick it up. Had she not gotten that advantage, she'd have been voted out that very night. Instead, she won the game.

Much though I'd have liked to have seen Stephanie win, Danni was the better player.

Comments (5) | last by RichM, Dec 16, 4:49 PM

As this season of The Amazing Race comes to a close tonight, I take solace in the certainty that if there is a God, not even He would be rooting for the Weavers to win.

Comments (4) | last by Lou Wainwright, Dec 15, 6:06 PM

5. The Devil Went Down to Georgia can be performed quite effectively on piano.
4. Somewhere along the line our culture went horribly awry, choosing to try to embarrass people on their birthdays rather than celebrate them.
3. Soduku was invented by an American, not a Japanese, and first published in the United States, not Japan.
2. Seattle's smoking ban did nothing to eliminate drunken idiots.
1. The good vibe of your birthday celebration at a dueling piano bar can be shattered as easily as your girlfriend's rear car window, and stolen as quickly as your gift-wrapped birthday present and her leather jacket.

Comments (8) | last by dana, Dec 13, 11:10 AM

Mayan Masochism

Stephanie's capacity to shoot herself in the foot on Survivor is truly astounding. Maybe she was just completely unable to convince Lydia to vote her way, and so Cindy was doomed anyway. But after Judd, Cindy was Stephanie's strongest ally. Now Stephanie stands alone against Rafe, Danni, and Lydia who-- unbeknownst to Steph-- have been conspiring together for quite a while. Rafe's done a good job of hopping from one side to the other, and Danni and Lydia's survival this far is miraculous. If Danni were to make it to the end, she'd be a shoo-in. Outnumbered after the merge and the last remaining member of a doomed tribe, how could you not vote for her? Lydia's only there because nobody thinks she's a threat, which is precisely how Vescepia won in the Marquesas. Hopefully the jury won't reward her for being the worst-performing player.

Cindy's decision tonight-- whether to keep the car she won or give it up to give each of the other four players a car instead-- was a very interesting one. Like Rafe, I think I would have given up the car. If it'd been cash, no way. But a) I don't have a need to drive in a new car, b) you have to pay taxes on the car (although if you sold the car, you'd undoubtedly make a nice profit) c) giving up the car would have been tantamount to winning immunity that week, because nobody who's just been given a car could vote off their benefactor if there was any other viable alternative, d) giving four people new cars would feel really good, and e) at the live wrap-up, do you really think Pontiac would miss the opportunity for a little more great PR by giving Cindy her own car after she generously gave one up? She could well have had the best of both worlds. But if you really wanted a new car, I can't imagine deciding to give it up even under those circumstances.

Comments (2) | last by Stephen Glenn, Dec 12, 2:30 PM

In buildings with subterranean parking garages, the parking levels are often prefixed with a P in the elevator (P3, P4, etc). I laughed out loud at the new Lincoln Square in Bellevue this evening, where the first such button in the elevator is P0. Apparently, the building was designed by programmers.

Curious, I pushed the button for P0 but it wouldn't activate. I parked on P1, and saw ramps to P2 and higher, but couldn't see any way to get to P0. So not only was the construction team led by a programmer, but it apparently had no testers.

The only thing more perfect would have been if the building was for a software company.

Comment (1) | last by Mark, Dec 8, 9:35 AM

Majority Rules

I know we've been down this road before, or something very much like it, but bear with me. An article in USA Today reports that retailers are putting "Christmas" back into the holiday season after a backlash from consumers at generic holiday messages. Unfortunately, in a capitalist society, money talks-- and there are a lot of Christian dollars getting spent in December. But two quotes from the article deserve special mention.

Chains also may be responding to a push by groups such as The Catholic League and American Family Association (AFA) against a generic "winter holiday."

The AFA cited 10 retailers (Kroger, Dell, Target, OfficeMax, Walgreens, Sears, Staples, Lowe's, J.C. Penney and Best Buy) for omitting Christmas in ads. It urges shoppers to go where Christmas is recognized.

It's not enough that the entire country gets Christmas off as a holiday, the White House has a giant Christmas tree on its lawn, and we're tortured for weeks with tales of grandma getting run over by a reindeer and mommy kissing Santa Claus, but all major retailers have to genuflect too? Yes, please only go where Christmas is recognized, because the holiday is in real danger of getting marginalized and suppressed in America. What's truly astounding is that The Catholic League and AFA have nothing better to do with their time, like, oh I don't know, improving people's lives or making sure no prepubescent boys are getting taken advantage of by trusted priests.

Ads for Dillard's department stores say: "Discover Christmas. Discover Dillard's." But the regional chain says that is not a political statement. "We do not believe it is our place as a retailer to politicize the season," says spokeswoman Julie Bull. "The sentiment expressed certainly applies to the other holidays celebrated this time of year, as well."

No, clearly it does not. That's what celebrants of Christmas never seem to understand. Christmas is not a generic stand-in for all winter holidays-- it's specific to Christianity. Your message to "discover Christmas" does not speak to Jews, Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christians. The sentiment expressed by a sign saying "Whites welcomed!" does not certainly apply to other races as well. The fact that the vast majority of your customers celebrate Christmas does not change the fact that by singling that holiday out, you risk alienating the minority who don't.

Happy holidays.

Comments (14) | last by Rebecca, Dec 26, 10:17 PM

Cure Worse Than the Disease

My roof has never leaked, but when I bought the house the inspector said the roof had about five more years on it. That was eleven years ago. I decided it would be better to replace the roof now, before it deteriorated enough to let water seep through. Near the end of the summer I hired a roofer, but it took us quite a while to schedule the actual date, which wound up being today.

The first snow of the season.

And not just a light dusting, but a fairly heavy blanketing considering the temperature's still above freezing. Everyone was buzzing about the weather beforehand, but apparently that buzz never reached the roofer. While I was out driving someone to the airport, they arrived and began tearing up my old roof. Then the snow came. I don't know how long they kept tearing up after the snow began, but by the time they switched to covering the roof with tarps, it had been snowing a while. Long enough so that once the snow started to melt, it leaked through the light fixtures in two first floor rooms.

While the roofers were at lunch.

When they returned I sent them into the attic crawlspace to mop up any standing water that wasn't over a light fixture and put down some more tarps to prevent it from happening again. But meanwhile, some of my insulation has gotten wet, and rain and snow are supposed to continue until Monday or Tuesday. If they install the roof tomorrow, I'm worried that water will get trapped and I'll get a mold problem. And if they don't, I'm worried that water will seep in through the tarps.

So I'm trying to look on the bright side. Maybe the water will short out the electrical system and the house will burn down before I have to deal with any of this.

Comments (2) | last by Peter, Dec 7, 3:45 PM

Steph, what were you thinking? Forget the question of whether or not Judd's been lying to you. Think it through. You're perceived as the force behind Jamie's elimination, when Judd wasn't informed of the change in the groupmind beforehand. When Cindy's kept in the dark about Judd's elimination, who do you think she's going to blame? And how quickly do you think the other players-- already unhappy about you getting a second chance at Survivor-- will jump at the opportunity to vote you out?

Ignoring that, sometimes you just have to trust. If Judd has been genuine with you-- and he's taken you along on two good rewards, for Pete's sake-- then he's your strongest ally. And he's a strong player. With both of you in the game together, you have a power base. Without him, you're dangling in the wind. Even if he was going to cut your throat, he'd have waited until there were only 4 players left to do it. Doing it sooner just makes no sense. But turning on him preemptively, you cut your own throat.

Oh, and Judd? Way to show some class, "man".

Comments (5) | last by Travis Eberle, Dec 8, 1:59 AM