Tuesday, March 27, 2012

...in which our hero defends his honor.

Loitering, as is my wont, on Twitter, I ran into a bit of a misunderstanding with the estimable Alton Brown. With tone difficult to convey with a mere 140 characters, he took to a comment I made in a possibly incorrect way and, almost certainly in the spirit of sharp banter common to all of us Men Of The World™, made a sharp countercomment about the pocket square in my profile picture looking as though it took a half hour to fold.

I replied that his point was valid and that, in the future, I would exhort my valet to fold more quickly. And there the matter would have ended, two Men of The World™ having done whatever the Twitter equivalent is of a manly handshake and hearty laugh, and left it at that.

Then, of course, a miscreant -- whom I decline to name -- had to muddy the waters. In a previous century his comment ("There is no way @JMGIII folded that himself. Looks like the ones that come prefolded with a piece of cardboard attached") would have easily qualified as a blood insult. Alton Brown suggested a pocket square is worn to best effect when it is placed as though one didn't "give a..." Feeling charitable, rather than saying to the miscreant "Sir, you are impertinent and I demand satisfaction, sir!" I explained (to Alton Brown) that the pocket square in question was, in fact, linen, and linen pocket squares are to be folded.

The miscreant, deciding to double down, then added this: "Linens have their place. But it's not in our pocket. Silk for a "don't care" poof [sic] and cotton blend for the Don Draper." (Emphasis mine.)

Cotton blend...egad.

Still feeling the milk of human kindness sloshing generously within me, I offered both the miscreant and the estimable Alton Brown this tutorial, from Alan Flusser, who is "my" tailor of choice. (Not that he, himself, cuts and sews any of my anythings, but you get the idea.) Wherein Mr. Flusser explains that cotton, linen and silk all have their place and that the casual stuff-it-with-sprezzatura which Alton Brown espouses is, in fact, correct with silk but not so much with linen, which benefits from the 4 point fold:

"The multi-pointed and the triangle effect are certainly the most elegant and are for use with handkerchiefs of linen or cotton with hand-rolled edges. Silk handkerchiefs look better with the puffed method. The square end (or TV fold), a popular style in the 1940s and `50s, seems a little staid today. Yet whatever method is chosen, the placing of the handkerchief must not appear overly studied. The material should show above the pocket no more than an inch to an inch and a half. " --Alan Flusser, Clothes and the Man (emphasis mine)

At any rate, I decided to include these photos that Alton B. may see the wisdom of folding linen pocket squares thus, and also that any passing, random Twitter miscreant may see that I do -- as if it needed to be proven! -- fold my own pocket squares.

"Cardboard" indeed.
The sheer impudence of the man.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Home decor and bar stuff!

OK, first off, I want to say this is NOT "our" look. I'm not against it, although I suspect my beloved would stand at our doorway, athwart my path, with a santoku to her own throat rather than allow it in her home.

But no matter.

If your décor is of the Mid Century modern with a certain "Jet Set" vibe thereto, what with vintage airline glassware, reproduction Pan Am destination posters, etc., AND you don't have an overdose of space -- in case we're talking about, say, your pied-a-terre Downtown -- this is the piece you want. But, at $4300, you might wait for it to go on Clearance.

Still, the distressed alumin(i)um panels, rivets, flush hardware, etc. does recall the glam days of air travel. Do not be fooled by the depiction above as a work area, complete with a Golden Pagan Idol with software Mac computer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Speaking of brunch.

Much has been written about my favorite adult beverage: The Bloody Mary.

When I consider the purchase of a given book of cocktails, I invariably flip ahead to the page containing the Bloody Mary and peruse the recipe. 99% of all cocktail tomes fail this in a spectacularly miserable fashion. The thing of it is that any book which lists "lemon" (as opposed to "lime") as the primary citrus component is wrong.

Mind you, I still buy some of those books because it has other, compelling reasons to compensate for the abysmal Bloody Mary recipe, and I am thinking specifically of David Wondrich's otherwise stellar Esquire Drinks. But, so far, the only cocktail book I have found in current circulation with the proper recipe is the Williams-Sonoma Bar Guide which is as good as it gets if your cocktail/bar book collection may not exceed "one." (Photo to follow, the image upload thingy is not cooperating.) But the best published recipe is from The Official Preppy Handbook.

Here is the correct recipe (and let's not have any more of this again) which I have riffed from the aformentioned, and is as follows:

1 oz vodka (plain, "peppered" if you must; for this drink I prefer Finlandia)
3 oz tomato juice* (V-8 or Clamato are acceptable, again, if you absolutely must)
1 oz lime juice (save the wedge)
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins® for me, thanks)
3 drops hot sauce (Tabasco®, ideally!)
3 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1 three-fingered pinch of salt

1- Add lime juice and salt to cocktail pitcher, stir to dissolve -- this step is key.
2- Add cracked (to chill rapidly) ice and remaining ingredients, stir vigorously
3- Strain into an highball glass over FRESH uncracked (to control dilution) ice
4- Garnish with lime wedge and a rib of celery (a celery stalk is the whole thing!)

OPTIONS: Using celery salt in lieu of regular, adding freshly--and finely--grated horseradish, and/or rimming the glass with seasoned salt. * We'll discuss making your own, fresh, tomato juice at a later date.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, Brunch. How I love thee.

As reported previously, the invention of "brunch" was a success. Sleeping in, having a late-ish breakfast with champagne and bloody marys is always brilliant. Combine that with people whom we like showing up, people whom we dislike miles and miles away, the food being exactly what I like (and exactly what those people whom we like have always enjoyed).

Bloody Mary by the pitcher -- kindly note, dear Internet, this pitcher is already one Bloody Mary short of full -- and champagne and fresh-squeezed orange juice from the tree outside (that's kind of the point of living in FL, yes?)
and assorted espresso-based fluids (the above is a mocha cappuccino) establish the proper perspective.

Now, to facilitate casual brunching AND maximize the crust:interior ratio, I cut the challah forFrench toast into stick-like segments. (This was a trial run.) The trick is to get the outside good and golden brown, leaving the interior -- stay with me on this -- pretty raw. Then, place the whole batch on a baking sheet and cook in a low-and-slow oven. This minimizes your stove time and makes sure all of the pieces emerge hot at one time. The same applies to bacon. On the griddle, low-and-slow, to eliminate any curling. Take it to almost crisp, and finish off the batch of eleventy frillion rashers in the oven, again saving time and freeing up the griddle. Champagne California Champenoise. This is key.

I had a bit more to drink than was prudent and therefore I completely forgot didn't get a chance to take a photo of the scrambled eggs but I make them pretty much the way GR does in this video. I used a somewhat lower temperature and added the butter in bits for better emulsification (I also omitted that whole "fry-up" from the procedure) but otherwise it's the same thing. I'm not a big fan of following recipes, but I rather like following a recipe's concept, adjusting things to my own taste. Hence the variations I used. If you like scrambled eggs, this is the way to go. In fact, the only improvement possble is the over-the-top Haute Anglaise use of a double boiler.

Since the food and drink were pretty low-effort affairs, I get to flop down in a chair and catch up with the aforementioned people whom we like. The weird thing is that some of these people whom we like live maybe 25 minutes away by car. Yet we see them once a year (if that) as opposed to others who live 72 states away and whom we see 2x-3x a year. Anyway, I wish I would have taken more photos, but suffice it to say the mood-ameliorating effects of vodka made my efforts at being photo-diligent, er, wane sharply.

So be grateful for what you got.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Start now.

With various weddings, and the awards season and gala season in our scope, etc. I came to the conclusion the time had come (the Walrus said) to wax eloquent on the matter of men's formalwear.

Speaking technically, the tuxedo (or, more accurately "evening suit") is actually semi-formal; formal being the white-tie-and-tails ensemble. The definition of formal implies adhering to the form. The question then surges: "How does a civilized man adhere to form with the maximum of style and individuality?"
The first thing to be addressed is what makes an acceptable tuxedo (and its rakish brother, the dinner jacket) and what makes an unacceptable tuxedo. A tuxedo, at its core, is basically a black suit, and all the elements of fit and construction and workmanship and fabric quality apply thereto. There are important distinctions, howe'er.

JACKET: A tuxedo, if single breasted ONLY has one button. If double breasted, it can have 6 buttons (any two of the lower four can be buttoned) or 4 (the lower two are buttoned). The lapel may NOT be notched, as in the usual single breasted suit but they may be "shawl-ed" and obviously may always be peaked. These lapel characteristics are in force regardless of whether or not the jacket is single- or double-breasted.

A jacket with double besom pockets is slightly dressier as is a jacket with ribbed silk lapels, or fabric covered (the same fabric as is used on the lapels) buttons. None of these elements, however are, strictly speaking, necessary.

TROUSERS: The trousers really should be forward pleated (although, again, this is not strictly mandatory) and should taper gradually from knee to ankle (say, 21" to 17"). There should be one silk stripe along the outseam, matching the silk on the lapel. There should be either adjustable side tabs on the outside of the waistband and/or suspender buttons on the inside of the waistband. A tuxedo's trousers are NEVER cuffed.

FABRIC: Black tropical-weight wool is the safest of the widely available choices. Linen and cotton can be rather whimsical choices and heavier weights of wool are okay if the weather (and climate control) lean towards the nippy. Ideally, one could get a tuxedo in midnight blue, which looks black under artificial light (black often looks like a really dark green…I dunno why) but this is almost exclusively the province of custom tailors. If you truly must, go to Savile Row, Edgar Pomeroy or Alan Flusser.

SHIRT: Two choices, really. Pleated-front shirt with turn down collar (either some manifestation of spread or straight) and wing collar shirt with a piqué front. In the latter case, the tie may, or may not, properly go behind the wings of the wing collar, as the collar is properly so damned stiff one has no choice. The shirt ideally should be insanely white. A band (or buttondown, or tab, etc.) collar is, as we used to say back at school, "bad wrong." A good choice is Charles Tyrwhitt and the most old-school choice is Brooks Brothers'.

TIES: A tuxedo is ALWAYS worn with a bow tie. No long ties, no black 'n' gold buttons/studs in lieu of a tie. The tie should be was wide as the outer corners of your eyes and should "flare" between 1.5" and 2" (3.75 - 5 cm). It should be black and it should match the facings of the lapel. The tie can be non-black if the rest of the outfit is pretty classical and if the event allows some for some stylish variance. Some patterns of blackwatch, of TINY black and white houndstooth are quite smart -- and therefore, my personal choice -- when the event is not that strict.

VEST/CUMMERBUND - With a double breasted jacket neither is necessary, although a viable (and often visible) option. A cummerbund should always match the bow tie, and should always have a ticket pocket. A vest may or may not match the tie.

JEWELS - This means cufflinks and studs, which ought match and be rather simple. Flat gold discs--with monogrammed cufflinks, ideally--are best. Sterling silver or platinum can also prove a nice touch, if a bit "cooler." Onyx or mother of pearl are also acceptable if a bit less classical. The links should NOT be swivel backed. A pocket watch (to match stud/link set) is also ultra-dressy, and works best with a vest, although in some cases the trousers have a pocket to accomodate such a timepiece.

Any wristwatch should be small, discreet and plain gold or silver with a glossy black leather (think reptile) strap.

SHOES - Patent leather, capless oxfords are the safest choice. Opera pumps (available in--in increasing levels of formality--alligator, matte calf, etc.) are for the ultra snappy dresser.

Oh, and a white linen pocket square is an absolute must. The choice of folds is yours.


Tiki Month is dead, long live Tiki Month!

The highly estimable Doug, voted by someone as One Of The Twenty Most Important People With Both Liquor AND A Blog Who Still Bothers To Blog On A Semi Regular Basis, in the process of expounding on matters Tiki thought it'd be a good idea to riff on the cocktail known as a Dr. Funk as a "gateway cocktail" to get people turned on to absinthe/pastis/Herbsaint/Pernod/et al.

This post is not about the Dr. Funk or Tiki.

Rather it is about absinthe/pastis/Herbsaint/Pernod/et al.

Of which Doug is admittedly not a fan and which I vehemently dislike.

I can, in the proper context, have a spot of ouzo or a smallish tumbler of pastis. More than that and even Bruce Banner would be impressed. I don't like licorice.

Scratch that.

I @#$%ing hate licorice. Sometimes in a food recipe you'll see the chef calling for fennel/tarragon/star anise/etc. extolling the "lovely licorice flavor" while I suffer the torments of the damned.

So, it didn't come to me as the remotest surprise that Doug's 'speriment of luring people to Absintheville via the Dr. Funk didn't quite pan out as hoped. Turns out a LOT of people don't like licorice, especially in their cocktails. ("The kindest comment I got from this group of Absinthe virgins was, 'It tastes like Good 'n' Plenty,'" notes Doug.) Which leads me to the real point of this entry. There is something of a disconnect between a lot of the cocktail geeks out there and people whom we'll tag as cocktail-friendly. And one of the main points of divergence between these two groups is in the matter of absinthe, etc.

I won't take this opportunity to rail against the retro-hipsters doing that whole La Belle Age trip, flogging tiny 3oz coupe glasses, etched ornately and riddled with gilding; something which aggravates me more than taxes and collectivism combined. But I could at the drop of a hat. (Google up "The League" and "Poser's Demise" and you'll get an idea.)

Doug also swerved into another divergence when he noted that "It took me a while to understand that what I thought of as 'sweet' drinks on my menu weren’t all that sweet to them." In the cocktailosphere, the weight of opinion is pretty overwhelmingly for dry over sweet (I tend to agree, incidentally) but what us cocktail geeks call "sweet" as Doug noted, most regular guests would call "regular."

We can sit here and argue the average palate has been rendered overly saccharine by HFCS, sodas, etc., by neon slushies passing off as cocktails, etc. But that still leaves us with the problem that normal people really don't hew to the same level of dryness. This was a Lesson Learned The Hard Way™, so I now feature more of what we call "sweet" drinks because, that's what people enjoy.

And that's kinda the point. Too many cocktail geeks think of cocktailery as a "showing off" thing rather than a "hospitality" thing.

But, even being the tropical sort of guy that I am (stand by for my treatise on the Daiquiri and Mojito) I am now kinda craving a Manhattan (perfect Bourbon Manhattan, straight up).

This endeth the rant.