A Thanksgiving Carol

snoopy“Gaaah!” Jason spat, as soon as we entered our favorite bagel shop last weekend. Over the sound system, Mariah Carey was singing that all she wants for Christmas is me, and I thought Jason was going to spontaneously combust. “More Christmas carols!”

It’s not that Jason doesn’t like Christmas carols. He loves ‘em, and probably has more tolerance for Mariah Carey than I do. But he’s been particularly troubled this year by the proliferation of CEOD (Christmas Early Onset Disorder). I’m not convinced that there’s a War on Christmas out there, but if there were, I’m sure Jason would volunteer for the November offensive, and he’d do it in the name of Thanksgiving.

peanutsPersonally, I think that the under-the-radar nature of Thanksgiving accounts for most of its charm, but Jason strongly believes that Thanksgiving is getting short shrift. He made a convincing case for building a canon of Thanksgiving carols, but while we sat there chewing our bagels, the only food-focused songs we could come up with were “Eat It” by Weird Al and “Come on’a My House” by Rosemary Clooney. I actually like both of those songs, though I have to admit that they’re not the kind of thing you sing around the piano with the whole family.

So I wrote a Thanksgiving carol. Or more accurately, I rewrote the words of “Thanks for the Memories” to turn it into a Thanksgiving carol. If only Bing Crosby were still around to record it! I’ll settle for Adele. Anyway, warm up the old voicebox with some gravy and get ready to give this holiday its due. Here we go:

Thanks for the cranberries,
Grown in a swampy bog, beneath the gray Maine fog.
To harvest them in wader boots must have been a slog.
How lovely they are.

Thanks for the candied yams,
Strange but such a must. A food the color of rust,
Peeping orangely out at us from ‘neath their ‘mallow crust.
How lovely they are.

Many’s the time that we feasted,
And then we feasted some more.
Give the gravy boat another pour.
A turkey thigh. And pumpkin pie. Continue reading

Giving Thanks: Drink Small Saturday

ShopSmallThanksgiving is coming up shortly, and I anticipate its arrival with the same enthusiasm I feel sitting in the gynecologist’s waiting room. (That poor bird with its legs in the air…) What I am looking forward to comes the following weekend: Small Business Saturday. Now, admittedly, this is just a made-up holiday concocted by American Express to make it look like they give a flying fruitcake about small business; however, it brings customers by the Prius-load to my bookstore, all cheerily looking to support local businesses rather than ruthlessly scrabbling for the last Disney Light-Up Frozen Realistic Hair Extension Play-Doh Kit. So, don’t think I’m complaining. Rather, I ask you to raise a small glass of beer with me.

I am assuming most of you know the basics of why one shops local, but I’ll go ahead and preach anyway:

  • 68% of all money spent locally goes back into the community through wages and taxes and change dropped on the ground
  • You support members of your community, not distant CEOs on yachts somewhere in the Caribbean
  • You can be rightfully self-righteous

Continue reading

On the Pleasures of the NYT’s Thanks-O-Matic


Come, Pip, and try the tarte tatin!

The New York Times launched a wacky technical innovation this past week. No, I am not talking about Google Cardboard, that strange little virtual reality contraption that caused Jason to comment, “This story is really sad. Also, my phone screen is really dirty.” I am talking about the Thanksgiving Meal Planner or, as I prefer to call it, the Thanks-O-Matic.

Here’s the way it works: you adjust little sliders at the side of the screen to set variables like number of people attending, how traditional you want the meal to be, how early you’re willing to start the prep work, etc., and then—boom!—the Times shuffles up sixteen recipes in four categories that will meet your needs. You can actually see the recipes flipping and changing as you drag the sliders right or left.

If this sounds a little cheesy, it’s because…it is. Also, I find it almost irresistibly hypnotizing. Of course I started out with a scenario that was somewhere close to accurate, but then I started meddling endlessly with the controls to see what recipes would come up. Just one notch to the right on the experience slider gets you individual Corn Puddings Stuffed with Greens instead of macaroni and cheese! I think I kept doing this until I saw pretty much every possible recipe on offer. I know what you’re thinking: if I was going to look at every recipe anyway, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at them in a list? Au contraire, mon ami! I think there’s something else at work here. Continue reading

Romancing the Rutabaga

smashed rutabagasI read somewhere that while Americans call everyone’s favorite big turnipy-looking root vegetables “rutabagas,” pretty much everyone else in the world calls them “Swedes.” But I also read that the word rutabaga is derived from a Swedish word, so presumably the Swedes don’t call them Swedes, either. I feel like we’ve got sort of a linguistic home field advantage here, guys.

And if etymology is not enough to tempt you into cooking up some rutabagas, then you should know that they are also rich in vitamin C and zinc. So while your co-workers are nursing their dreary colds, you can munch on your rutabaga leftovers, feeling pleasantly superior.

not a good ideaThe question, as always, is how to cook them. You can, of course, cut them up and roast them with some herbs, the tried and true method for root vegetables of all kinds. But because they taste a little like cabbage and because sour cream just seems like the sort of food any respectable Swede would like, I decided to go a different route, which I’ve outlined below. At the very least, I figured it might top Jason’s culinary experiment of the week, which involved post-Halloween candy corn and breakfast cereal. I’ll leave you to be the judge.

Smashed Sour Cream and Onion Rutabagas Continue reading

How to Run a Successful Beer Tasting: Step 1) Invite Poets

The Royalty

The Royalty / Fallen Soldiers

According to the experts, when you run a beer tasting you should always begin with the lightest beer with the lowest abv; however, when you’re tasting only imperial IPAs, this might mean you start at 8%. My friends Kate and Orie came over to help Ben and I taste a mixed sixer of double IPAs so I wouldn’t end up with an article on alcohol poisoning instead.

We had some pizza while we did our stretches and a few warm-up sips of a Brooklyn East IPA — overall a very responsible preamble. We also did a little research, by which I mean we talked at our phones and accepted Wiki definitions as good enough. Turns out Imperial just refers to any beer that has extra bunches of hops or malt, resulting in extra bunches of alcohol. It originated when the British had to brew their stout extra forte to make the journey to the royal Russian court. Basically, big and bold beers, regardless of style.

We start out with Hopmouth, a double IPA from Arcadia Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At 8%, Hopmouth was dangerously smooth — sessionable, even. Overall it was good, quite drinkable, but not our favorite.

Brooklyn Brewing’s Brooklyn Blast, at 8.4%, is up next. (Side note: this name is embarrassingly hard for me to say even without alcohol, transposing my Ls and Rs like I was Long Duck Dong in the spectacularly un-PC Sixteen Candles.) Kate takes a sip and trills, “it’s the tips of the hairs on the back of a bee! A ferocious honeysuckle meringue!” (Side note 2: I should also mention that Kate and Orie are musicians, poets, artists, beautiful people with shiny, twisty minds.) Continue reading

Lesser-Known Gourds: A Puzzle


Now this is man who understands gourds.

In our household, we have an inside joke that goes, “Pumpkin! (Groan!) The most common kind of gourd!” I guess you kind of had to be there.

‘Tis the season for jack-o-lanterns, but leave those groan-worthy pumpkins behind, because this is our ode to less common gourds. Can you name each member of the Cucurbitaceae family described below? These aren’t easy, but pay attention to the contextual clues and use your…well, you know, and you’ll do just fine.

  1. You might not think it while you’re using it to scrub off your dead skin, but this spongy vegetable is actually a gourd.
  2. You can eat the seeds of this gourd, and even use them to make a Mexican sweet similar to peanut brittle, but Adam didn’t use it as impromptu clothing as the name might lead you to believe.
  3. These squashes look a little like flying saucers, but they’re named for the kind of vessel in which you might bake a small cake.
  4. A lumpy green gourd native to Mesoamerica, it’s also called a mirliton when it pops up in Cajun cuisine.
  5. These gourds are often dried to make utensils, leading to the nickname “the bottle gourd.” The name also sounds similar to a character from The Tempest.
  6. This type of melon is good to eat, and though it can be harvested all summer long, it gets its name from its ability to be stored a long time, maybe even until Christmas.
  7. This squash is very popular in Japan, and its nutty flesh can be eaten many different ways, but it sounds more like a popular Thai dish.
  8. That commercial pumpkin pie mix you buy probably contains not pumpkin but rather this relative, named for its curved slender top portion.

Don’t click continue or scroll down until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Boston Beers: Home Away from Home

Step 4

Step 4

Before I left for my trip to Boston last week, I put some serious time and energy into developing a
To Do List:
1) Hang with old friends
2) Drink good beer
3) Combine steps 1 and 2
4) Repeat steps 1-3
I don’t suppose I need to brag about how successful I was accomplishing this.

I had five days and about four times as many places I wanted to see (trans: beers I wanted to drink). Say what you will about Boston, but they do their beer up damn fine. What’s most impressive is the diversity of brews made there.

That little barley grain is just the cutest

That little barley grain is just the cutest

We started off the trip with a visit to Redbones, which is a rib place for most people, but a beer bar for me. (Also, hush puppies that’ll give you a glimpse of the deep fryer that is heaven.) My first pick had to be a Jack D’Or from Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. Pretty Things isn’t your typical brewery, in that they don’t have a brewery. They’re gypsies. They get up at 3am and brew in other brewers’ breweries before the generous owners need to open up and use their own equipment.

More importantly, they make beers no one else is brewing. Jack D’Or, their flagship beer, is what they call a Saison Americain…which is not really a thing, but it is now. Pretty Things abhors “styles” the way cats abhor vacuums. They like to let the beer speak for itself, and Jack D’Or says, “Mais oui! Je suis delicieuse!” So, what is it then? I’d say a sort of hoppy saison with spicy notes and a bitter backbone coated in gold. Continue reading

Thinking Outside the Stalk: Salt and Vinegar Broccoli

broccoli sandwichMost people, when faced with a head of broccoli, will hack it up and throw it in a pan, sautéing it or steaming it and doing very little else to it. Nothing wrong with that; I have eaten broccoli in exactly this manner hundreds, maybe thousands of times and been perfectly happy. But there’s also nothing wrong with giving your broccoli the royal treatment every once in a while.

I find it hard to think of anything more royal than a good salt and vinegar potato chip. What’s more, dear reader, is that potato is not the only vegetable to take kindly to these flavors. Broccoli, with its cabbage-y overtones, is an ideal candidate. I actually first learned this at No. 7 in Brooklyn, when I tried their trademark double-decker broccoli tacos. They take a hard taco shell and a soft one, paste them together with black bean hummus, fill them with finely chopped broccoli treated with shallot vinegar and top the whole thing with feta cheese. Holy-brocc-oly! It was better than a salt and vinegar potato chip, and that, I recognize, is a bold statement.

You can certainly try to replicate those tacos, but once you have a mess of salt and vinegar broccoli, why stop there? Use it on a sandwich with ricotta cheese and fresh tomatoes. Scoop it on top of a baked potato with some cheddar cheese. Mix it with some hot sauce and use it as a garnish for a quesadilla or burrito. I did all of these things with great results, but I surely did not exhaust all of the possibilities. Seize the broccoli, seize the day and come up with your uses.

Salt and Vinegar Broccoli Continue reading

What to Drink If You’re a Knight in Shining Armor


A fist pump for mead!

You can only watch so many rounds of the Armed Combat League Championships before you start thirsting for a flagon of mead. At least, that was my experience at my first (yes, first!) medieval festival last weekend. This was a totally free one (yes, free!) staged annually at Fort Tryon Park surrounding the reconstructed-monastery-turned-museum, the Cloisters. I cannot express how awesome it is that the city parks department actually goes to great lengths to put on a massive celebration for teenaged enthusiasts of swordplay, accomplished players of the lute and harp, and people who enjoy dressing their dogs up as princesses.

mead lineI did, however, think that the location in a public park would put a definite damper on my mead game. So imagine my surprise, when, after wending my way past armored contenders whacking each other with blunted axes, some slightly long-in-the-tooth Celtic dancers and a juggling performance by Joey the Jester, I came upon a special cordoned-off drinking area, where you could buy a ten-dollar beer or a glass of mead for eight. I think you already know, dear reader, which booth had the longer line.

If you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, this might well have been your favorite part of the festival. Continue reading

Beer Mythrepresented: Turn Down the Frosty Glass

My teeth hurt just looking at this.

My teeth hurt just looking at this.

As a Beer Snob, I am contractually obligated to violently dispel any myths about beer that I hear or see being propagated by the ignorant. (They’ll take away my BS membership card if I don’t.) This is why I am the one in your party of bar-goers who loudly asks the bartender for a pint glass that isn’t frosted, thank you, I like to be able to taste my beer. [Pushes up glasses.] I don’t know why that always makes you blush.

Beyond the idea that beer must be ice cold, there are an astonishing number of misconceptions about my favorite beverage in regards to taste. The belief that a beer’s color directly relates to its taste is a big one. First of all, lagers are not all light-colored, and ales are not all dark. Then there’s the feeling that very dark beers are thick, strong, and heavy. I still am unclear as to what “heavy” means in this context. I’ve asked before, only to be met with unhelpful glares. Dark beers are so often light or sweet that I hate for them to get a bad rap. They are typically very serious and insightful beers, though, so perhaps that’s where the rumor started. Continue reading