Thursday, December 23, 2010

They'll fight over it when you're dead.

ome time ago, I (ahem) "borrowed" a Herman Miller tote from my company during the dotcom bust.  That was some nine years ago, and since then the canvas has frayed and the bag has begun to look ratty.  It has other uses still, but it's not going to do for client meetings.  Time for a new bag.  I wanted something elegant and timeless, and I also wanted something rugged and strong.  I was looking for the Louis Vuitton steamer trunk - but in a tote.

My first thought was to turn to my trusted source of Swaine Adeney Brigg - maker of fine umbrellas and leather products.  Their briefcases are gorgeous - hand stitched leather of the highest quality.  But there was a problem - price.  A small attaché started at $2,625 - and that just seemed a little high.  So I kept searching.  What I found was a lot of so-called "luxury leathergoods" companies out there that concentrated more on style than on manufacturing.  If you're the type of consumer who is looking for a beautiful bag that will last you three to five years, options abound.  Unfortunately, that's not what I had in mind.

Then, I found it - and in a place that kind of surprised me:  San Antonio, Texas.  100% full grain leather, UV resistant large gauge sail thread, nickel plated hardware, rivets, and devoid of zippers, snaps, buttons and anything else that might fall apart.  The company is the Saddleback Leather Company, and their motto is "They'll fight over it when your dead."  Their site is a joy to read unto itself - it's both informative and humorous - speckled with colorful analogies such as, "A billion dollar submarine with a plastic hatch is soon just a really expensive fish tank."  (Reference about not using breakable parts...)

Backpack configuration
When it arrived, I was not disappointed - it was everything it claimed to be.  You can feel the tank-like construction in your hand - and it's no wonder that it carries a "100-year warranty."  I thought the whole concept of using the strap as a shoulder strap or a backpack sounded a little gimmicky - but I've quickly discovered that I like the backpack configuration a lot - so I use it everyday.  The pigskin lining that is used - the same used on a football - has some amazing durability - it's not going to get punctured with a pen or with loose keys.  The leather is thick and heavy and pristine, and it's the kind that will look better with age.  I just wish I could fast-forward its existence a bit so I can have that patina now!

Yessiree - I'm sold.  If you read the comments coming from other customers, you'll see that quite a few people have become addicted to Saddleback's products.  I'll be buying more as well; there's at least two other bags I want pretty badly.  If you're looking for top-quality leather products, start here!

--A

Madeira - The American Wine (Made in Portugal)

adeira has an interesting history.  The island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco, was settled by the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the settlers were quick to discover it's wine-making potential.  Popularity of "standard wine" (what we think of when we buy wine today) grew and grew until Madeira wines became a prized possession.  The wines were shipped everywhere and quickly made their way into the triangle trade between Europe, the West Indies, and the (then) British Colonies.  This meant that the wine took quite a trip through the blistering heat of the lower latitudes, giving it a "baked" quality that was quite unique.  Around the later half of the 18th century, it was all the rage in the Americas and was deemed the American wine of choice.  Fortification was added, and sea captains passing through the equator would carry large casks of it as ballast in order to add more quality and character to the wine.

Just as the process was really being perfected, two mammoth setbacks occurred with Madeira wine.  The first disease to hit the vines took place in 1851, when Oidium struck.  The crops were devastated and had to be replanted.  That was all well and good until Phylloxera hit in 1872.  The second crisis prompted the consumer public to move on to something else, and the popularity of Madeira died.

When I first tried Madeira, I bought the very inexpensive "Rainwater Madeira" at around $25/bottle.  It was good and I appreciated the qualities of Madeira, though it was not terribly complex.  Intrigued by its properties, I soon discovered older, and then VERY old Madeiras offered for sale, and I thought perhaps it was time to step it up and see what this wine can do.  As a basis, there are four main types of Madeira that are based upon different grapes that yield different levels of sweetness.  From sweet to dry, they are Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, and Sercial.  The 1933 I acquired (see post below) was a Malmsey.

A brownish amber in color, you can tell this has been in the cask for a while.  The nose is of raisin and prune and oak, with a distinct nuttiness reminiscent of a 40 year old tawny port.  On the palette, the complexity is outstanding with raisin and allspice and vanilla and candied orange and on and on.  Every sniff yields something new.  While it's sweet, like a tawny port, it has a mouthwatering acidity to cut right through.

I'm impressed, and now curious to go further back in time - Madeiras can still be bought as old as vintages from the late 18th century.  Outside of the properties of the wine, I can only imagine the historical thrill of drinking a wine that was grown while George Washington was still president.  I hope I have that opportunity - but in the meantime this is a nice way to pass the winter.

--A

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worth waiting for!

oo long since my last post, and after a fun evening at the Four Seasons virtual wine tasting (virtual for those on Twitter....not me!) my next real post will have to wait another day. But here's something to look forward to! I'll be reviewing it quite soon.

--A

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I love the Turks

he Turks don't screw around with anything. If you doubt that, try their coffee. They opted not to bother with the dumb filters and other silly apparatuses and went straight to simmering coffee in a pot. With cardamom. Another shining example is their baths. Borrowed from the Romans or vice versa, they've perfected the art of bathing and even made it a part of their social culture. Beautiful buildings with some of the most magnificent tile inside.

And that's where their ceramics come to play; Turkish pottery is truly some of the most spectacular in the world. From the time of the Ottoman Empire up until the late 18th century, the town of Iznik in the Anatolia area of Turkey produced some of the highest quality ceramics (tiles, plates, vases, etc) for the Ottoman sultans and is today still known as Iznik Ceramics or Iznik Pottery. Before the craft had reached Turkey, blue and white specimens were collected from China and prized greatly. As the craft and technique was perfected, the Iznik pieces quickly matched and then overtook the Chinese competition with more complicated multi-colored designs.


These pieces can still be had....for a price. Below are some examples that have sold at Bonhams for between 9,000 and 42,000....pounds sterling. These however are one-of-a-kind pieces dating form the 15th and 16th centuries. I love the fact that they're even available for sale at all; how amazing is that? These are all plates, but of course there are other forms as well.

Shop in Istanbul...or is it Constantinople?
Aren't they outstanding??  So here's the thing:  Similar items and styles are still being made today in the same area, and for a fraction of the cost.  Still hand-painted, still amazing designs, still the same town.  Shops can be found in Istanbul, and at the NYC Christmas market at Union Square where each year I have bought the same bowl as gifts.  I fully intend to buy a couple items this year for myself!

So if you're shopping for ceramics, either for display or for daily use, don't discount the Turks!  There's other amazing pottery out there, and I'm sure I'll show you more later, but Iznik ceramics are definitely worthy of mention.

--A

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elegance Under Canvas

s I had mentioned before, I'm currently on the warpath for furniture for my new one-bedroom apartment. It's an exciting challenge, and I'm eagerly picking and choosing various pieces to create my own style that will, in the end, mix British Colonial with Arts & Crafts. What will be interesting is to see how this all comes together in a pretty modern space. I like both of these styles quite a bit; the Arts & Crafts furniture represents a solid, almost plain design that's a tad on the heavy side while British Colonial ( / Anglo-Indian) uses the same concept of natural materials while being a bit "lighter" so as to not be too overbearing in a small space.

Cover: Campaign Furniture
Back cover: Collapsed View
In my research of British Colonial furniture, I came across an amazing book entitled, "British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas". I love the title, and I love the book even more. It's out of print and likely sought-after by interior designers, so be prepared to pay a somewhat hefty fee for a copy. British campaign furniture was designed during the days of the British Empire when the military services posted their troops all over the world for relatively long periods of time. The Brits, wanting a little bit of the comforts of home, initially tried bringing some of their own furniture. It was too heavy, too bulky, and quickly warped in the humidity. And thus they began designing furniture made from tropical hardwoods that could be disassembled and reassembled as their posts changed. Relatively small, not overly ornate, and well-engineered, collapsible furniture began to emerge from some well-known british furniture makers. And "British Campaign Furniture" was born. This is the kind of style that would fit equally well on an African safari as it would in the tropics of the Indian subcontinent.  The book exhibits some amazing, museum-quality pieces and has old photos showing use at the time (some really neat ones) and even includes a few of the original drawings of the design and construction.  The text is complete with a history and a listing of various manufacturers.  It's well worth it.

As for me, the concept of getting originals from antique stores and auctions is daunting.  I'm not made of cash, and yet I'm really not a big fan of reproductions.  Places like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have been imitating this style for some time, but with junk materials (see previous post).  So I need to be patient.  But you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I might already own an original!  Yes, that is weird....how would I not know?

Some ten years ago, at an auction (my first, I think) I bought (and likely overpaid for) a game table from Syria.  It has intricate wood and shell inlay, and while I've seen some of the modern versions, this one looked old.  It was missing some inlay here and there and had some cracks on the base where the wood had dried over the years.  It was pretty small, but with a twist and flip of the top it turns from a side table to a card table.  Flip a hinged insert, and a checkers board is revealed.  Open that, and a backgammon board is in view.  The base is hollow and allows for storage of pieces.



I thought nothing of it, until I took it apart for the move. I found what appears to be an interesting sight before me:

Hmmm, looks familiar.  The Brits never occupied Syria, but the French did in the 1920s, and the French had caught on to the rage of campaign furniture (this was not relegated to the British only....they just started it).  The height is about right, the legs come off the base (and are marked so they can be put back on the right sides), the top comes off, and it stores into a pretty compact package.  So maybe - just maybe - I have a head start on this!

--A

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Code Words for Junk

was out shopping for furniture today. It was a dizzying experience; so many options and styles and shapes. I know exactly the kind of "look" I want for my new place, but you don't want to overdo it and have the whole thing look like one of those living room "sets" you get from Macy's. Each piece has to contribute to the theme while being somewhat unique on it's own. For some reason, the hardest item for me to find is a pair of bookshelves. Too wide, too tall, ugly finish, made of crap. Which brings me the the main topic of this post....

Not that long ago, manufacturers of ...well, anything.... we're pretty good about "calling a spade a spade" as they say. They didn't care; nobody read the labels. Fast-forward to today, and everyone is reading the label. And thus, things like rayon are becoming viscose. Here's that and some others I've recently come across:

VISCOSE: aka rayon. This is essentially a synthetic cloth that will melt, not burn. Like plastic....that you wear.

MDF: They used to label things as "fiberboard" and now they use this. It stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. No, consumers were not wondering about what the density of the fiberboard is, so we can accurately conclude that this is a coverup.

NATURAL FLAVORS:  ...come from natural products, but in ingredient-form they are far from natural.  While IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) has made amazing progress in making things like cement taste like chocolate, I'd much prefer to just eat chocolate.
 
ENGINEERED WOOD:  I have a lot of respect for engineers; it took a lot to get to where they are.  But there's nothing they need to do to improve on wood.  Wood comes from trees that are cut down and sawed into boards.  No engineering is required.

ESSENCE:  ...shouldn't really be an ingredient for anything, because it's nothing.  So when I saw that black truffle oil contained "the essence of truffles" I was made instantly aware that a truffle had not been within 100 yards of this oil.....

VENEER:  In itself, veneer isn't all that bad if you don't mind chipping it from time to time thru daily use.  On the other hand, if it needs veneer it's probably crap underneath.  The type of wood is frequently used in the description, a la "..tropical wood veneers".  Tropical wood over what?

RENEWABLE:  Isn't describing library books.  It describes fast-growing trees that don't provide as much wood strength as the slower grown wood.  It's pretty much "farmed wood", which is still better than MDF by the way....

FRUCTOSE / GLUCOSE / DEXTROSE / etc:  equals SUGAR / SUGAR / SUGAR / etc.



--A

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Art of Shopping: Snotty Salespeople

ou go into a retail store, perhaps a high-end one like Bergdorff's or Prada. It's a beautiful store with nice products...and sometimes cold, snotty salespeople. Some stores are downright intimidating, with everything locked behind glass and no prices. Other stores like Harry Winston here in NYC have locked doors; you can't even get in without pushing a buzzer and being looked over (aka "sized up") by security or the salespeople.

Whatever. We are the consumer public and we have every right to oogle over anything we want whether we tend to purchase or not.

Pre-shop: Before shopping at some high end stores, dress for the occasion. Wear your nicest clothes, but in a way that makes it look like you always wear them. The casual jacket with jeans and dress shoes is good for guys. Maybe one or two items - the shoes or shirt or cufflinks - is a step above "nice"; a little indicator that you wear high-end clothes on weekends and that's perfectly natural.

First impression: First and foremost: Just because a store is ultra swanky doesn't mean that the salespeople are mean or snotty. And since we're all gentlemen here, you don't want to come off as a douchebag if you're being treated well. So step one is to size up the situation as quickly as possible. Here's some signs that you're in for some rough treatment:
  • You aren't greeted when you walk in. It's not because they don't see you....they're standing in a corner glaring at you.
  • The security guard follows you around the store like a KGB minder.
  • The first interaction comes when you touch a garment or take something off a hangar. The salesperson runs over (literally) asks if you need help, and then hovers when you say no.
  • There's other people in the store being helped. There's available staff, and you're NOT being helped.
  • You're being talked down to.  The salespeople ask you stupid questions ("Do you know what kind of weave that is?") or give you useless factoids ("That lapel was hand-picked in Milan...") to try to make you feel intimidated.
These are a few of the more non-subjective ways you can tell you're dealing with snotty people. There's other things like "looks" or the vibe or whatever. Be careful not to misinterpret those.

Dealing with it:  You are the customer and everything should be done to please you.  Don't be intimidated.  If you're holding something and someone comes running over, don't put it back as if you're going to get in trouble.  Take it off the hangar and really examine it.  Look at the stitching on the arm.  Examine the liner.  Grunt, as if displeased with the item.  Then, jump in with some pointed questions:  "Are these genuine mother-of-pearl buttons?"  (...because you only wear those, and nothing short of that will do.)  "Is this liner viscose?" (they almost all are) "...oh.  Do you have any jackets lined with silk?  I tend not to choose products with synthetic materials."  Put it back, and don't be too picky about straightening everything out. As you continue to look around, make it seem that you're not impressed. The lights are too bright, the texture of the clothing isn't quite right....and what's that displeasing smell? If the salespeople are some distance away, pick off an imaginary spot of lint and toss it on the floor. If you're looking at something in a glass case, squint and then wipe a spot off with your hand or sleeve. Ask to look at things in the case. Never be surprised at the prices they tell you. You'd totally buy that $10,000 watch if the weight wasn't off, or if the hands were black instead gold. The white dial is nice but you wanted porcelain and not steel. The jacket lapels are too narrow. The weight of the fabric is too thin; you needed winter weight not summer weight. Shirts should be single stitched and not double stitched, so that's all wrong. You're a discerning customer and they just don't have what you want.

"We can have that done for you." Many high end stores will customize things for you, sometimes at a cost and sometimes for free. If your goal was to just look around and have fun, you need to be able to deal with that. Time is a good first argument. Can they have that done for you today? Probably not. Well, you're busy and you need to walk out with it. For clothing, you really prefer to go bespoke (a term meaning that the garment was designed and built specifically for you) if they need to make those kinds of alterations. They offer bespoke services? That's nice, but you already have a tailor that you're happy with who has your trust and your measurements on-hand. You're in this store because you needed an item in a pinch.....but they just can't deliver. You'll try the place next door.

Final thoughts: Don't be rude. You have too much class for that. The idea here is to appear knowledgeable and discerning; you are the one asserting control of the conversation in order to ascertain if their products meet your standards, and you're simply letting them know that. Perhaps you'll call on them later when the new line comes out....when is that again?

--A

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Magnificence: Magnanni

few years ago I was trying to prepare for an interview when I had a sudden epiphany that suits sucked for interviews. While they represent maturity, class, elegance, and sophistication, they also represent a certain anonymity - homogeneous nothingness where one candidate blends in with the next. So two days before I ran over to Rothman's to find some sort of non-suit alternative interview-ware. I found an excellent Hickey Freeman jacket and a sweet pair of Canali pants (a combination to which the salesman found time to heckle me for) when I realized that I had no appropriate shoes for the outfit. I ran upstairs (the store was closing) and grabbed the first pair of tolerable shoes that caught my eye.

Unfortunately for me, I seem to have good taste in shoes - it wasn't until checkout that I found out they cost more than the sum of the rest of the order. Ack. I bit my lip and took them home. I had never heard of Magnanni, but I liked the style and they were incredibly light and comfortable shoes. What I think had caught my eye was the subtle variations in color in the leather, which is called the "grain" of the leather. This is typical of "aniline leather" where the leather is not dyed with a color, and therefore is not of uniform color.  The "imperfections" of the leather comes through, adding a roughness or rawness to come through, almost like a patina.

The interview didn't really pan out, but the shoes sure did.  Nearly five years later I just got them resoled and they have at least another five years left in them.  They are still as comfortable as ever, and along the way, I learned a little bit about Italian shoes and what sets them apart from British and American shoes.  There is much speculation and mis-information on the topic, so I thought I'd share the info.


Essentially, it comes down to differences in what each country needed for their circumstances.  The Brits, in their horrid climate conditions (rain, cold), required a shoe that would stand up to the elements.  So British styled shoes were built within an inch of their lives with stiffer leather and heavier, thicker soles where the sole was both stitched and glued to the rest of the shoe (known as welted construction).  The physical size of the shoe was larger to accommodate these changes.  On the other hand, Italians, with their warm, sunny climate wore slimmer and trimmer clothes so as not to overheat.  This style required a smaller, lighter, slimmer shoe; nobody wants to wear Bobo shoes with a slim fitting outfit.  They used a thin sole that was glued (not sitched) to the body of the shoe.  It was more about style than construction.  American style shoes attempted to balance the two, with a slimmer stlye than the Brits but with better construction than the Italians.  ...And there you have it.

So which is better?  Neither.  Both have their uses - just look out the window to figure out which is more appropriate for the day.  You choose your outfit for the weather, and your shoe choice should be no different.  And if someone tries to tell you that one is better than the other, you now have solid proof that they're clueless in the style department.

As for Magnanni - I don't know if all their shoes are this wonderful.  This pair was at the top end of their price point, and they've held up amazingly well.  I love them and hope very much they continue to deliver.

Update, Jan 19, 2012:  As the commenter below kindly pointed out, Magnanni shoes are from Spain, not Italy.  Thank you for this correction!

--A

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can a colander be cool?

hy not? If you search around hard enough there are lots of simple treasures to be had. When I searched for a new colander, I began by looking at some antique ones. I found a few colanders that were from the 18th and 19th centuries that were stunning - stoneware beauty that would last another couple hundred years for sure. But the shape was wrong for practical use, and I wanted to practically use them. I kept on.

At last I found what I was looking for - a simple colander with the traditional shape and enamel over steel construction.....all with an added "extra" to make it special. The designer was the Homer Laughlin China Company - the same one from the 1880s - but they had licensed their design to a production company in Thailand.


During the 1930s, when the more affluent crowd was snatching up the last of the Fairyland line, the average Joe was buying Homer Laughlin's "Fiestaware" - simple porcelain dishes in nice shapes and a variety of outlandish colors.  It was relatively cheap, fun, and took some of the sting out of what was probably some pretty meager meals.  The company went strong until the late fifties when, due to cheap imports, it moved it's dinnerware operations over to the food service industry and stopped catering to consumers.  Under consolidated management in early 2000, the company took a risk after looking at the new interest from collectors.  They began to license their designs to companies that were interested in the "look" of their china; offsetting risk to the production companies.  It worked, and their revived "Fiesta" line came back.  My colander is from this line; which was limited and is now out of production again.  You can find some really neat pieces of the original Fiestaware on eBay and in antique shops and flea markets.  It's fun and it doesn't cost a fortune.

Beyond the fun colors, the new production had some of the same lines as the originals that everyone knows and loves. On my colander, the detail was added to the scalloped handles, and the chrome finish suits their myriad of colors quite well.  What I wasn't quite prepared for was the physical size of the one I got - large enough to strain pasta for ten.  I believe there are smaller versions out there, and I'll keep an eye out for those.

While trolling aroung and reading about this, I found a video from Homer Laughlin's archives of some original footage of how the pottery was made.  It's really quite cool, despite the horrific music.  When I get my main computer back from the dead, I'll strip out the music entirely or replace it with something more appropriate.  For now, just mute the sound and enjoy.




--A

Thursday, September 23, 2010

China, and a trip to Fairyland

hina (the kind you buy and eat on) is a wonderful thing. When entertaining friends, it lends a certain specialness to the evening and shows your guests that you care about their experience in your home. A lot of people I know dismiss the concept of owning or using china as too "bougie" as if it's some ostentatious or shallow display of materialism. My guy friends have conjured up visions of frilly white plates with pale painted bunny rabbits as their immortal definition of what china is.

Let me put that all to rest right now.

There are hordes of china manufacturers and patterns available, and for sure choosing one of them as your pattern can be daunting.  On the other hand, you chose your tie in a sea of ties, you chose your suit, your car, your home.  Your china is another expression of your personality.  You might even own more than one pattern; you might inherit some from your parents or relatives.

I love mine, but there is one particular pattern that is the most stunning I've ever seen in my life.  I'm not sure you'd serve food on this, but if you did it would be certain to be a decadent meal no matter what you put on it.


The manufacturer is Wedgwood - a company that has been around as long as many of the oldest china companies.  The pattern is "Fairyland Lustre", which unfortunately for our budgets was not so long lived.  It was designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones and was released between 1915 and 1931 to a grateful consumer base who was looking for something to take their minds off the war.  Fanciful, bold, and decorated with birds, insects, fairies, goblins, etc this collection is absolutely breathtaking....as are the prices.  Large bowls sell for around $5000 to 6,000, plates for $1,200 to $3,500, large vases from $5,000 to over $20,000.  I'll be lucky to own a few pieces in my lifetime.

In researching the topic, I learned a few key things.  First, collectors seem to significanly devalue pieces that have defects or repairs or damage.  They're real picky about those three things, and if the item has one of those - no matter how subtle - the price is very significantly diminished.  This makes it so that a few pieces may be attainable for those of us who are not incredibly wealthy.  Second, you need to know how to spot fakes and determine if repairs were made.  One way of determining this is to tap the item (such as a bowl) with your fingernail.  If you don't hear a distinct ring, there's a good chance the item was repaired.  Look for bold and sharp colors; if the color is muted or if something looks a little blurry, you might be looking at a fake.

Are you now as enamoured with this as I am?  It's breathtaking.  If you're like some of my friends, I encourage you to rethink your preconceptions about what china is.  If you look hard enough, you'll find some wonderful things out there.

--A

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A simple concept, a complex mess.

he telephone. It started in the late 1870s with a host of brilliant minds working to conquer a dream: the ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell established one of the first widely respected patents for just such a device.  His device took the speaker's voice, converted the sound waves to electrical impulses which were sent via copper wire some distance before being reconverted back to sound.

100 years later, the device and its infrastructure had changed little.  More wires, more phones, same concept.

Then the dawn of the intenet age came, and VoIP was born.  It was attempting to take the same concept but send it over internet cables in order to bypass the toll-taking phone providers.  It was sorta cool - it worked and now anyone with internet had a phone.

Step forward to today, and VoIP is all the rage.  But frankly, I'm not certain why.  I had two important business calls last week with a firm that has remote offices everywhere, and people had to dial in.  The most critical person to the conversation was calling in from a VoIP phone.  What should have been a 10 minute conversation turned into 45 minutes of "what?" and "can you repeat that?" and people constantly hanging up and dialing back in.  It was eventually discovered that it was the VoIP line that was messed up; everyone on their mobile or hard lines could be heard quite well.

In the push to upgrade and update and push the proverbial "technology envelope" we may have lost sight of the original goal: The ability to have a real-time conversation with someone at a great distance.  This goal was not achieved last week.  We all would have been better off if it had been 1960, or even 1940.  Time would have been saved; money and resources would have been greatly reduced.

If you think about the clearest phone conversations you've ever had, my guess is that those over copper wire and wired phones were likely the best.  Second would have been copper wire with wireless handsets.  Then cell phones.  And lastly, VoIP.  Unfortunately for us, that was the order in which the technology was released, meaning that we're all headed backwards toward lousier phone conversations.

So if you're ever offered the choice (unfortunately that too is going away) choose copper and wired phones.  Among other things, copper is an element (Cu), it's beautiful, and it allows for magnificent conversation.  With some minor enhancements, you can even use the magnificent old telephones (such as the one pictured above) in your home today.  Newer does not make better.

--A

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's cameras, then there's cameras. Part 1.

ave you recently invested in the latest digital camera? Hope so, because the one you picked up last year is SO yesterday. Nevermind the fact that you never did figure out all the functions, your friends are sick of your 4GB photos you send them, and all of your shots have that "digital lag" that always seem to miss the "Kodak Moment" by fractions of a second (or more).

But they're cheap, so nobody really thinks twice about going out and getting a new one.  Long term, however, this is an incredible waste of money.  The money you saved by not processing film is gone as soon as you want to print a picture thanks to printer companies who have refined the art of money making on consumer cyclicals.  Yeah, there's a reason why that new awesome printer costs 40 bucks.

So in typical Bouge Boy fashion, let me present you with the alternative, and then a comparison.

Your CameraMy Camera
You bought your camera in 2008, and it was the cat's meow. 10 Megapixel goodness, "Active Child Mode", 4X Wide Angle Zoom (whatever the hell that means), "lens-shift VR technology", "Face Priority", Li-Ion Battery, in-camera red eye fix, etc. You paid $300 for yours new.I bought my camera used in 2008. It was built circa 1940. It has no modes. It has no zoom, unless I want to run forward while looking through the viewfinder. It prioritizes whatever face I point it at. There's no battery. There are no megapixels; it uses film. I paid $25 for mine.
Your lens is a tessar design produced by Nikkor in Japan using the latest in materials and technology.My lens is also a tessar design produced by Schneider-Kreuznach in Germany using higher quality glass that was available pre-EPA laws.
Your camera weighs about 0.28 pounds.My camera weighs about 0.75 pounds
Your camera can hold hundreds of shots before reloading.My camera can hold either 9 or 12 shots without reloading.
You rely on frequent backups to keep your images safe.My negatives are in a book. The book will not crash.
Your battery will last a couple days with heavy use.Thanks to spring technology, my battery will last until I'm personally loaded into a box.
Your camera will likely work for three to five years and be obsolete in 10.My camera has been working reliably for 70 some years and has at least another 70 more left in it.
You find it difficult to take pictures in low light or bright sun.I love taking pictures in low light or bright sun.
At a rate of a new camera every three years purchased at $200 each time, you will spend $1000 in the next 15 years.Did I mention that I paid $25 for mine?
Game over if your camera comes into substantial contact with water.I can soak my camera for three days and be ready to take more pictures.
Your camera fits nicely in your pocket.My camera fits nicely in my hands.
Your camera looks really cool.....todayMy camera is choc-full of joie everyday.

Done with yours yet? Check out eBay for older, manually wound cameras like the Zeiss Ikon or an old Agfa camera or a Yashica. Some of the cameras made by Ensign are a favorite of mine. The one pictured for comparison is a Franka "Rolfix". 6x6cm negative or 6x9cm negative. It's awesome.

--A

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cooking Bouge

ooking is an important part of life, it's what provides nourishment for our body and gives us the energy to work so that we may shop for wonderful things.  And thus, the cookware we choose is equally important.  You can buy cookware that will last you a few years, or you can buy cookware that lasts a lifetime.  The price differential is about double.  Personally, I prefer to be set for life.

All-Clad is the manufacturer of choice when it comes to solid performance; both in the way it performs in the kitchen and in how long it lasts.  With proper care (which requires little more effort than reading this blog), this cookware will last several generations.  The savvy shopper can even take the most disgusting looking All-Clad cookware from eBay or consignment shops and easily restore it for daily use.  In short, this is an investment that will truly pay off.  Even as you head to the nursing home to be fed dinner at 4pm by the cook staff, you can be assured that your All-Clad dishes can be sold and fetch a good price.  Here's the scoop:

Founded in 1960, All-Clad is the last true American cookware company remaining, with American workers forging American steel in southwestern Pennsylvania.  With it's bonded aluminum and steel, it offers superior even cooking across all areas of the pan.  Careful attention is applied both to the composition of the metal as well as the construction, and no corners are cut.  All-Clad today provides several lines of cookware, from their original and classic stainless steel (aluminum core, polished stainless exterior) to MC2 (solid aluminum core with brushed steel exterior) to LTD to LTD2 to Copper Core and more.  They even offer new non-stick surfaces as well which, despite my loathing of the concept, offer far better staying power for the nonstick surface than all other nonstick pans I've tried.  I've chosen the MC2 because I like the non-fussy exterior that develops a patina of sorts over time.


For those used to the convenience of nonstick, you'll be instantly impressed with how well the All-Clad stainless pans clean up.  Soak them for about 15 mins and wash with soap and water and a non-abrasive scrubber and you'll quickly find that they gleam as if they're new without that classic "elbow grease" required for similar pans.

Like other pan manufacturers, All-Clad provides "sets" of pans for purchase.  You can also buy them individually.  I'd steer clear of the sets; while they cost less per pan, you'll quickly find that these sets come with items you'd never use, thus losing your price advantage that sets offer.  Instead, buy one or two pans to get you started and then add to your collection based on need.  Cleaning requires soap and water, nothing else.  Make sure the soap is the creamy stuff like that which you'd use on your hands, and a non-abrasive scrubber.  When cooking, make certain to use wooden utensils for stirring.  If after cleaning your pan you see bluish water marks, you can either forget about it or gently apply a powder cleanser (like Bartender's Keep) to the pan to remove it.  Use a sponge and clean in circles, following the "grain" of the metal.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.  I doubt you'll be disappointed!

--A

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bourbon Season

s gin season winds down, bourbon season approaches us.  I kicked off my bourbon extravaganza at Char No. 4, a fantastic restaurant in the Carrol Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn that has an unparalleled collection of bourbons on hand to try.  Samples may be ordered in small quantities so as to try any number of their 150 whiskeys on hand.  Our samples  were paired with good company and a great dinner, and then interrupted quite suddenly when the frat boys found address.  Despite that, it was an excellent evening, and among the bourbons sampled, Makers 46 took top prize.  It was rustic and smooth, and the barrel wood really came through.  This is a new bourbon for the Makers Mark brand, and they put together a fine sipping experience.



Inspired by the evening, I stopped by my local package store and picked up a bottle of Maker's 46 as well as a bottle of Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve Bourbon.  The latter was about $6 less than the $36 Maker's 46.  My friend S.G. was visiting from out of town, and kindly contributed Prichard's to the mix.

The Prichard's is a bit more "old school" and rustic compared to the other two.  There's woodiness and earthiness to it, and it's a bit more unrefined - in a good way.  The Hirsch is almost the opposite:  Smooth, very refined, with a lot more complexity in the palette.  Maker's 46, as shown above, is right about in the middle.

I'll keep trying more; a show of kindness to you, dear reader, to make sure you know the very best in bourbons for this upcoming season of brown spirits.  It's a difficult task, but I'm up for it!

--A

A Worthwhile Trip

as up on 57th St today for a meeting with someone.  At its conclusion, I took a detour over to Worth & Worth (57th St @ 6th Ave), arguably New York's most famous hat store.  As a matter of personal preference, I like it more than JJ's (J.J. Hat Center - 5th Ave @ 32nd St), though both are fully respectable.  Worth & Worth predominantly sells hats, but they can also make custom suits and shirts, and they are the only place in New York where I've found M. Talarico full-stick umbrellas for sale.

The salesmen at Worth & Worth have always been great; friendly, very knowledgeable, and excited about their products.  I had a wonderful conversation about panama hats and felt fedoras, and while I didn't make a purchase today, I felt that I had left with more knowledge than when I arrived.  For example, I learned that some of the straw used in panama hats will darken with age, while others may not.  This adds a lot of interest and texture to the hats.  I also learned that the stiffness of felt hats is due to the amount of felt used to make it.  More felt = stiffer brim. Learned about making hat adjustments and blocking, which was fascinating!


So if you are in the area and can spare the time, I'd highly recommend a visit.  The store is beautiful and you're sure to have some fun.

--A

Monday, August 16, 2010

Johnston & Murphy - No Endorsement


used to have a sort of deep-found respect for Johnston & Murphy.  They've been around forever (some 150 years) and they've always made a good product.  As of late, they've even put out some more contemporary styles.  While they do make some articles of clothing, they've always been known more for their shoes, particularly leather dress shoes.  Their higher end dress shoes cost a few bucks more than typical shoes found in department stores, but they don't have any crazy shell cordovan available.

I picked up a pair of "boat shoes" (aka topsiders) from them.  Wore them for most of the summer, and then I noticed this (at left).

Well that's just great - a crack in the sole that extends the width of the shoe.  It's not shallow either, it cracked all the way through the sole!  Thanks Johnston & Murphy, for quickly revealing to me that your customers pay for a brand name instead of quality.

What this means for you?  Buy your boat shoes elsewhere - consider Sperry for an example.  Yes, they cost less than the J&M version shown here, but on the other hand, I've never seen one with a crack in it.  I mentioned it before and I'll mention it again:  It's not about the price - price does not denote quality.  It's about the actual product, and in this case it's....not so good.

--A

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cocktail Mixers: Tonic

p until a short time ago, I too equated cocktail mixers with Schwepps, Vintage Tonic, and Canada Dry.  It's what the grocery store had.  I found them all equally syrupy, so I opted for the diet versions (when available).  They nearly all exploded on opening, despite being careful not to shake the plastic bottles.  It would spray everywhere, and the non-diet versions left a residue as sticky as epoxy.  It was disgusting, but I knew of nothing else.

Then an article came along about new mixers and artisanal tonics.  It may have been in GQ; I forget.  But I began reading about a few companies who had begun to take an interest in making real tonic.  This means real quinine, balanced with some kind of natural sweetener (not corn syrup), with the perfect amount of carbonation added.  The two mentioned were Q Tonic and Fever-Tree.  Later on, I found Stirrings in the grocery store.  To save you the trouble, I dutifully tried all three with various gins to see what the deal was.

Fever-Tree:  Thus far, my favorite of the lineup.  Crisp, balanced, not overly sweet, and the bitterness of the quinine came through.  Carbonation was good with large, tingly bubbles.  I've only had the regular tonic to date, but there is a "Naturally Light" version available as well.  Fever-Tree is based in the UK, the same nation responsible for the concept of the gin and tonic.  A handful of UK servicemen based in India decided to add sugar and gin to their medicine (quinine wards off malaria) at cocktail hour.  A perfect idea indeed.  Fever-Tree also produces other cocktail mixers from ginger ale to ginger beer to lemonade.

Ingredients:  Spring Water, Cane Sugar, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Natural Quinine


Q Tonic:   My least favorite of the three, but still hands down better than any of that mass market nonsense.  I couldn't quite figure out what I didn't like about it; I just knew it was quite different.  Then I saw the ingredients and realized that they had sweetened it with agave instead of sugar.  Q Tonic is an American brand, born in Brooklyn (home of yours truly) by Jordan Silbert.  Give it a try - it's most certainly unique; there's in fact nothing else like it!

Ingredients:  Triple-purified water, organic agave (sweetener), Peruvian quinine (hand-picked in the Andes Mountains), lemon juice extract, Natural Flavors


Stirrings:  Last but far from least.  Stirrings is a close #2 in this competition and could easily rank top depending on what I'm in the mood for.  Like Fever-Tree, it is perfectly balanced, has a wonderful flavor, and will make your day.  What I found interesting though was that the Stirrings had much smaller, tighter bubbles in the carbonation.  To compare it to champagnes, it's like the bubbles in Crystal versus those found in Moet & Chandon.  Stirrings is also an American brand with its roots in Nantucket.

Ingredients:  Triple-Filtered carbonated water, cane sugar, citirc acid, cinhona bark extract (Source of Quinine)


All of these are better than what you can find in a typical grocery store.  Somebody actually took the time to formulate these recipes, and then they bottled them in glass bottles.  Glass is the best choice for a lot of reasons; among other things it won't eat away at the plastic container.

So the next time you run across these in whatever holy place you found yourself, pick some up and give it a try.  I got mine from Amazon after trying them all.   They have a fair price and offer free super-saver shipping for it.  Only once has a single bottle been delivered in an exploded state; it's been packed pretty well.  You'll be amazed at how much better your top-shelf alcohol will taste with these mixers.

--A