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

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thomas Pink - The Joie

homas Pink is a world famous shirtmaker based at Jermyn Street in London.  They offer a slightly more relaxed style than their counterparts like Turnbull & Asser or Hilditch & Key.  While leaning more towards mainstream styles, their selection of shirts and fabrics are outstanding.

Having worked in advertising, I'm well aware that the brand is all about setting the image of the company and its products.  And the image that Thomas Pink put forward in this video sums them up well; it's bouge but with attitude and fun.  Have a look:



The lesson here? You can still be bouge at play. Loosened ties with a game of cricket, wearing hats, sporting dress shoes with jeans, champagne with friends, and having no shame in stepping it up a bit for an evening party.  Pink totally captured the joie that is casual bouge.

--A

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bouge Shoes: The Shell Cordovan Difference

Whiskey colored shell cordovan shoes - photo © of the Horween Leather Company.
here is probably nothing worse than sporting a fine dress outfit and pairing it with crap shoes.  If you find a pair of  new "dress shoes" for less than $300, you're likely wearing crap shoes.  I say "likely" because the frugal shopper may actually find a deal or two out there.

The pinnacle of dress shoes are those made with shell cordovan leather.  Cordovan is sometimes used to define a color - a ruddy brownish color bordering on burgandy.  There are lots of shoe manufacturers that offer cordovan colored shoes, sometimes labelled "Cordovan".  There are far fewer manufacturers offering true shell cordovan shoes.  Don't get them confused!  Shell cordovan is a type of leather made from a horse's rump that is extra smooth and durable.  The tanning process can take as long as six months, but the end product is outstanding.  Shell cordovan shoes will outlast any pair of bovine leather shoes nearly ten-fold, while the price of shell cordovan may be about double.  That equates to some serious value.

Alden Shell Cordovan Blutchers
One of my favorite manufacturers of shell cordovan shoes is Alden - one of the last producers of hand made shoes in the US.  Alden sells a variety of genuine shell cordovan shoes in various colors ranging from the natural cordovan color to black, to various shades of brown ("cigar", "ravello", and "whiskey").  Most are offered new between $500 and $700.  With care, these shoes can be worn regularly for 30 years while developing a patina that makes them look even better.  Watch them get made compliments of this documentary by Epaulet!  It's amazing the time and care required to make good shoes.


Of note: These are hand made shoes, but they are not custom made or bespoke.  The shoes are molded from various lasts (the wood form made for each shoe) whereas bespoke shoes have a last carved from a form of each of your feet.  Bespoke shoes, like that of John Lobb or Edward Green can cost twice as much as a pair of Alden shoes.  If you think that's beyond absurd, keep in mind that a perfect fitting shoe will have no tight spots and no wear that may be caused by deviations between the shoe and your foot.  I'll cover this topic in more detail another time.

Alden paste wax helps protect your shoes. 
But don't overpolish!
Proper care of shell cordovan is everything:
  •  Use only paste wax to shine the shoes.  If you use Alden shoes, use their paste wax (at right).  The crap made by Kiwi is not a paste wax.
  • Do not over polish!  Unlike your old pair of dress shoes, shell should only be polished (very lightly - aka very little polish) perhaps every six weeks with regular wear.  If they get scuffed, just use a regular horse hair shoe brush and brush away for five to ten minutes.  Die hards go at it for fifteen.
  • If they get wet, don't panic.  Wipe them off, let them fully dry, and brush.
  • Use shoe trees!  Shoe trees are wooden inserts that go in the shoes immediately after they've been worn.  There are beautiful poplar and cherry shoe trees available, but the best are made from cedar, which absorbs moisture.
If you don't take care of them, or if you buy a pair that were used and mistreated, hope is not lost.  For $145, you can send them back to Alden to be restored.  There's a fellow that bought a super beat up pair of Alden shoes on eBay for $20, and sent them in for restoration.  You can read about it and see before and after pictures.  He ended up with a fabulous pair of shoes for $165 after restoration.

And that's the shell cordovan difference.

--A

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stepping it up - Stickpins!

f you took my advice and are wearing pocket squares on a day-to-day basis, then you might ask how one is supposed to go about "dressing up."  You can wear a tie, of course, but so is everyone else.  My answer is simple - stickpins.

My great uncle with a
stickpin. ©Corbisimages.com
Back when occasions for dressing up included wearing a three piece suit to the beach, many gentlemen distinguished themselves with stickpins.  Stickpins are long-ish pins, ranging from 1.5" to 3" long with a small, fingernail-sized ornament at the head.  They were typically worn through the tie and shirt, so as to anchor the tie.  Unlike tie pins and tie bars, they are worn much further up, usually just under the dimple of the tie.  A protective back is worn on the point end so as to not bloody your clothes.  If your pin didn't come with one, these "keepers" can easily be purchased new.

Circa 1890, the wearing of stickpins with a tie was considered the norm regardless of your stature or profession.  The tradition started much earlier with the wearing of pins through ascots, and morphed along with popular neckwear.  Stickpins add a little "bling" to your outfit, but in a refined way that chunky gold necklaces and diamond studs in your ears or nose just can't match....

Stickpins can be confused with ascot pins and women's hat pins, so the buyer must be careful.  Here's how you tell the difference:
  • Stickpins are typically about two to three inches long.  If you find one that is longer than three inches, you could be looking at a ladies hat pin.  If you find one shorter than two inches, you may be looking at an ascot pin.  (Ascot pins may be worn as stickpins, so this is less of a concern.)
  • If you look at a stickpin from the side, you should see the pin portion turn 90 degrees before it reaches the ornament.  If it's straight, you have a woman's hat pin.  Give it to the woman of your choosing, or pass on purchasing it.
Stickpin Collector's Book
The ornaments on stickpins come in a vast array of colors, symbols, figures, and shapes.  Many have gemstones, others are carved from stone, some are gold, some are micromosaics.  There can be griffins, swords, armor, cameos, crecents, crowns, dogs, insects, intaglios, horseshoes, political symbols....or just interesting stones and designs.  There are thousands of opportunities to make a statement about your mood or personality in what you choose to wear.  If you want to read up about them, or get an idea on how much they're worth, I'd suggest you purchase the book Collecting Antique Stickpins: Indentification and Value Guide by Jack Kerins and Elynore Kerins.  ©1995 and published by Schroeder Publishing Company.  I paid a couple bucks for my used (but in nice condition) copy.  Also check out a segment of Antiques Roadshow on a fellow's collection of stickpins.

Some tips on wearing them:  First, if you plan to stick it through your tie, be sure to wear a woven tie!  Woven ties hide the holes that stickpins make, and can handle the stress of being stuck multiple times so long as you're careful.  I've always preferred woven ties, but I'll cover that topic another time.  If you insist on wearing printed ties, or if you don't like the look of the stickpin in your tie, another option is to wear them in your jacket lapel.

You can find stickpins in flea markets, on eBay, in antique stores, etc.  Prices can range from $20 to several hundred dollars.  Know what you're buying - several of the stones can be glass or paste (fine, so long as you pay accordingly) and the pins can range from steel to gold plate to solid gold up to about 18 carats.  Again, I'd suggest you get the book mentioned above and do some reading and research on past eBay items before shelling out more than $40 or so.  But try it out and have fun - it will definitely help you bouge things up a bit and stand out in the crowd.

--A
Assorted Stickpins

Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Word: Helipool

elipool: The concept of traveling in a group by helicopter (versus individually) to save costs.

Inventor: My dear friend H.S.

Context: Conversation about how wealthy kids in Mexico get to and from school by private helicopter (from their family's estates) for safety reasons (avoid kidnappings). H.S.: "You mean they don't.....helipool?" :-)

--A

Saturday, August 7, 2010

On Particle Board

indsight is 20:20 they say. This is particularly true when it comes to the lesson I learned about furniture.

Like most cash-strapped young adults, I needed furniture rather badly when I moved away from home, and price was a most serious consideration. When you walk into a store like Ikea, you're instantly overwhelmed with the amount of decent looking furniture you can buy with your hard-earned scraps. But the picture quickly turns bleak.

You get the boxes home, and they weigh more than your car. They come with instructions in illustration form only, and with a pile of odd, custom hardware labeled L56 and DT205. It takes a few hours to put together; inevitably the veneer gets chipped, and you're either missing parts or you have some left over. And then over a short period of time, the Great Sag begins.

Almost all of that furniture is made of particle board: pulped wood chips that are bonded together with some sort of compressed glue. It weighs a ton. Since there's no grain, there's virtually nothing outside of the furniture's design to keep it from sagging. If you ever move, you'll quickly find that this type of furniture was made to be put together once. If you take it apart and reassemble it, it's extremely shaky. After vacuuming it a couple times, the fake plastic veneer begins to chip.

The price, though, still makes it attractive. But long term, it's like flushing away money. If you have to buy a bookshelf three times, you're paying for one that could have been made from real wood and lasted several lifetimes.

Instead, save your money. Look for real furniture in antique stores, yard sales, junkyards, or at the side of the road. Even if they don't look great, they can be refinished or painted. Couches and chairs can be re upholstered. You're looking for furniture where you like the shape or proportions and the "bones" (aka real wood) are still solid, and then go from there. It takes a little time and some initiative, but you'll be rewarded with furniture that lasts and even still holds some value when your tastes change.

As I mentioned at the start, hindsight is 20:20. I got caught up in the Ikea storm, and I'm now faced with throwing away a ton of crappy, particle board furniture that has sagged or fallen apart. I wish more than anything that I had opted for less pieces of better quality. Had I done that, I would not be faced with the unfortunate task of having to buy ALL my furniture over again. The value of what I have is $0, and I likely paid thousands over the past few years. Never again. If I have to live out of boxes or sit on the floor I'll do that before ever buying particle board again.

--A

Of note: When it comes to bookshelves, plywood construction with a real wood veneer is not a bad option. The shelves will be solid and will last, and the cross-grain construction of the multiple "plys" will prevent sagging or warping. Make sure it's at least 1/2" or thicker. But solid hardwood is still the best choice if you can hold out.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Handbook of Style

'm not the most voracious reader in the world; in fact I read few books at all.  So when I mention a book, take note - something extraordinary is going on here.

 I have a few books on the topic of men's style, and some of them are quite good.  However, this book is *absolutely outstanding* and definitely is worthy of some praise here.  The title is The Handbook of Style - A Man's Guide to Looking Good by the editorial team at Esquire Magazine, published by Hearst Books ©2009.

The first thing you'll note is the book itself - hardcover wrapped in grey cloth with the title embriodered in pink and white fabric in the style of a tag.  It is wonderfully bound.  But what really makes this book excel are a number of factors:

--It's easy to read; it's funny, at times downright hilarious.  Each chapter has the content and then sidebar notes and tips.  You can pretty much open to any page and be sure to have a good time.

--Funny is great, but it's really quite informative too.  I learned all kinds of useful factoids, like how to care for sport coats so they'll last forever, I learned (more) about what to look for in shirts and suits to determine actual quality, I learned about the lingo to use when talking to a barber to communicate what I want, and a myriad of other topics.

--The illustrations are great.  And easy to understand.  From tying various tie knots to bowties to understanding how down coats are constructed, it was beautifully communicated through pictures and illustrations.

--It covers bloody everything.  Well, most everything.  There was one topic I really wanted to find that didn't exist, but no worries.  You're reading Bouge Blog and I'll do the research and give you the scoop.

Some good quotes:
"Before you wash your jean shorts, pretreat them by throwing them away."
"The man who imparts opinions via T-shirt has neither the intelligence to form a cogent opinion nor the good sense to keep it to himself."
 [ On tying a sweater over your shoulders, nicknamed "The Thurston Howell III" ]:  "Why it's good: Surprisingly comfortable (seriously), and if tied loosely, it won't fray your sweater.  Why it's bad: People will think you look like an asshole, and there's a good chance they'll be right.  What you're telling people: 'I'd rather be in Nantucket.'"
Buy this book!  If it's the only one you own on the topic, this is the one to have.  It covers so many topics and styles, and you'll feel like a smarter, more discerning consumer when you read it.

--A

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Pocket Squares

ne day, on a lark, I added a pocket square to my jacket.  The outfit consisted of khackis, a pink striped shirt, dress shoes, and a blue blazer.  The pocket square was bright green (went with the blue jacket) with a pink border, which picked up the shirt color.  This was a silk pocket square, and yet I managed to pull off a two point fold.  The look was fantastic - the pocket square tied the jacket and the shirt together and broke up the large field of blue that was the blazer.  I'll never go back.

Assorted Pocket Squares
As guys, we've always been screwed on methods in which we can project any sort of personality.  There's the tie, but few people wear them anymore, particularly to work.  There's cufflinks, but they're rarely noticed and the themes available today are a bit lame.  (Dice?  Knots?  C'mon.)

Pocket squares (also known as "pochettes" or "handkerchiefs") are perfect; there's not just the variety of colors and styles, but there's also a ton of way to fold them to suit your feeling for the day.  If you work at a bank or need to go ultra-conservative, choose a crisp white cotton square and a flat fold.  In a sea of suits, you'll stand out - in a good way.  If you want to have some fun, pick something with a bold pattern and go with the reverse puff or the dandy.

Among other benefits, pocket squares are really quite inexpensive.  Sure, you can drop a couple hundred at Hermes, but with the way they're folded nobody will ever know.  For about $20 you can find a good selection at Andrew's Ties.  A few more bucks at Brooks Bothers will get you one of theirs.  The best place to find them is perhaps at sales or outlet malls.  These poor stores stock these items in the hope that someone fashionable still exists on the planet.  When they find out they're hopes are dashed, they discount the hell out of them.

There's even more unconventional, and cheaper ways of obtaining good pocket squares.  Look for used fabrics that are solids or have small prints.  You'll need about 13 to 18 inches of fabric (depending on the weight), square, to pull it off.  Take it home, find some matching thread, hand roll the edges, and sew.  When sewing, the goal is to sew the bottom of the rolled edge to the flat part of the fabric.  The best bet is to buy a pocket square, take it home, and keep it with you to observe how it was sewn.  Once you get going, you can pull one off in a little over an hour.

As I mentioned above, there are tons of ways to fold pocket squares.  It takes some practice, but after a while you won't need to reference anything, and you'll be able to quickly fold the styles you like.  There's lots of guides and even YouTube videos on the topic.  Here's a few I found:
Some tips before you get started:
  • Be ever so careful when ironing silk pocket squares.  It can be done, but you'd best believe in your iron's low temp setting.  Don't steam.
  • Never ever ever buy the "Shirt, Tie, and Pocket Square Combo Packs".  It's like advertising that you have no style.  Ties and pocket squares should never match, so this is a huge faux pas.
  • Don't be afraid to mix and match patterns.  This will give your outfit some interest.
  • Colors don't have to match perfectly.  The distance between your pocket square and the shirt (or tie) gives you some flexibility in color palate; if it looks close it will work.  You want to match minor colors of the pocket square to the shirt or tie, and major colors to the jacket.
Enjoy them!  Once you get going you'll never turn back.

--A

Barbour Outerwear

hen it comes to outerwear, few companies match the quality of J. Barbour & Sons.  It makes perfect sense, really - the Brits have to deal with crappy weather day in and day out.  They chase foxes through the briar.  They fish for cod in rough seas.  They will not tolerate a flimsy coat.

My Barbour Paisley Sapper Jacket
If you go to their site, you'll see some elegant looking crests on the top left of the page.  These are royal warrants, the British version of endorsements from the royal families.  The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales have all decided that Barbour is their manufacturer choice for "waterproof and protective clothing".

Barbour, founded in 1894, is perhaps best known for their waxed cotton jackets - hard as they may try to extend their product line.  A waxed cotton jacket is just that; a multi-layered cotton jacket that is coated with an oily, waxy substance that repels water, wind, and keeps the cotton from getting shredded by thorns.  There are a wide variety of styles to choose from.  I ended up with the limited edition paisley "Sapper" jacket (left) which I found last-minute from The Welsh Farmhouse Company in the UK.  They won't do international orders online; you have to call.  They were wonderful to work with.

The zippers on all their jackets are left-handed, so that takes some getting used to.  Perhaps it has something to do with which side of the road they drive on....who knows.  Everything is double-stitched, they employ brass grommets and zippers, and there's a zip-in hood if the situation dictates.  The collar is made from a warm courduroy, and the lining.....ah the lining.  A beautiful paisely lining that is a departure from their standard (but nice) tartan plaid.

Wax Thornproof Dressing
If you are fortunate to purchase one of their fine waxed cotton jackets (sorry, the model I got is sold out), be sure to pick up a tin of the Wax Thornproof Dressing (at right).  This will allow you, with some patience, to re-waterproof your jacket when necessary.  Another tip:  It will be necessary to do this when you least want to send your coat back to Barbour for a few weeks.  To apply, warm up the jacket either in the sun or using a blowdryer.  Warm up the tin of wax in some warm to hot water.  Dip a damp rag into the warm wax (not too much!) and apply to the coat in a small circular fashion.  Take your time and be thorough - your dryness depends on it!

The Brits prefer to wear their jackets into the ground.  If the jacket gets holes, they send it in to be patched, and these patches are part of the Barbour wearing culture.....like jeans with holes in them.  I plan to take care of mine as best I can, and I'll consider patches on an as-needed basis.

--A

The spectacular Barbour Paisley Sapper jacket lining!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Re-learning How to Shave

ure, I did Gillette.  Then, after getting tired of paying $4.00 per replacement cartidge and being forced to upgrade handles again and again, I moved onto the disposable ones.  The trick was to find disposable blades that didn't have the fake aloe goo in the pad.  They became harder and harder to find, and eventually, it was time to bouge it up a bit.

For Christmas last year, I finally asked for a "real razor" from Lee's Razors.  These are the "safety razors" that Gillette killed off in the 1970s with their less complicated product line.  (Which they've since destroyed with their 2, 3, 4, and now 5 blade razors).  It's what our fathers used to use, and their fathers, etc for a lot of years.  As the gentleman in MiN Soho said, "Men have been shaving for a long time, and they had it pretty well figured out before Gillette came along."

The concept is simple enough.  A simple metal razor, double sided, that takes a single, double sided razor blade.  The blade has a guard, so as to be safer than the scary-looking "straight razor".  To change the bade, you unscrew the handle, take off the top, slide out the old blade and add a new one.  The handle and guard, being made of steel, last forever.  The blades, at about $0.15 to $0.25 per are cheap to replace.

Selecting the handle and guard parts are wholly based on personal preference.  There are ones with short handles, ones with long handles, ones with wide or narrow heads.  To choose one, it's best to go down to a store (like MiN) and handle them in person.  I ended up with the Merkur 33C made in Germany (retail price $30.00).  Next, you'll need blades.  I've tried blades from three manufacturers:  Merkur, Wilkinson, and Personna.  I liked the Merkur blades the best - they lasted the longest and provided what I thought was a closer shave.

Next, you need to make a hard choice about shaving cream.  If you go anywhere near the spray can crap like Barbasol, you're doing your skin a great disservice.  You might as well be shaving with vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  That stuff is all industrial chemicals.  Instead, you should choose between "brushless" (comes in a tube or a bowl, and you smear it on your face, or hard shaving soaps that require a bush and are like a hockey puck.  That puck will last you a very, very long time, so don't bother making a decision based on price.  If you're going the brushless route, try Kiehls "Close Shaver's Squadron" cream in a tube.  It's a good product with a very faint and pleasant smell, and it works quite well.

If you choose the hard shaving soaps, you're in for a treat; there's a hoard of them available in plenty of variety.  You also get the pleasure of shopping for a shaving brush, a topic that I'll leave for a separate post.

Technique:  This is where it all comes together.  The first time I tried shaving with this new combo, I got rid of all the hair as well as a few layers of skin.  You can't treat this like shaving with a disposable, there's an actual art to getting this right.  If you DO get it right though, you'll be rewarded with the best shave ever.  Here's a few simple tips that I learned after the first go at it.  They're simple, and if you mind these you'll be just fine.  For additional help, take a look at the Shave Den online community.
  1. Make sure your face is fully wetted (soaked) with warm water.  It takes about two minutes for hair to fully absorb water.  After a shower is fine.
  2. Lather up with shaving cream.  Brushless or otherwise is fine.
  3. Use the widest angle you can.  This means keeping the razor at a constant angle as far away from 90 degrees as possible, while the blade still touches your face.
  4. Do not press on the razor!  Let the weight of the razor be your guide on how much pressure should be applied.
  5. If you don't get all the hair in the first pass (as is typical) then lather up and do it again.
This requires some time and patience in the morning, perhaps as much as 15 minutes.  But like winding your watch in the morning, it's a lovely routine to use to get your day started.  Give it a try!

--A

Merkur 33C Razor, Merkur blades, amd Dr. Harris & Co hard shaving cream.

Quest for the Ultimate Vacuum

ears ago, say 1990-something, a friend of mine paid a ton of money for a state-of-the-art vacuum made by Electrolux.  It looked a lot like this one on the left.  It had a handle with on/off and power controls, a powered arm, and a powered head for floors with a separate one for couches and pillows and such.

It lasted YEARS, and proved to be a generally decent vacuum.  But in it's last few years, an electrical short in the hose would disable the vacuum for minutes at a time.  The replacement hose was no longer available, and it was time for a new vacuum.  So which one to get?

The new version of the old vacuum.
 Electrolux was a good name in vacuum cleaners until it's brand was sold off.  The original vacuum company continued under Aerus with it's new brand "Lux".  At right is a photo of one of the current Lux vacuums, retailing at over $1000.  Do you notice much of a difference?  Nope, neither do I.  It's essentially the same design and engineering as the one from the 1990s.  With the modern advances in vaccum technology, this is a vitual dinosaur.  This will not do.

So the quest was on.  Bagless or bags?  Upright or canister?  Power brush or floor cleaner?  The brands were just as overwhelming as the options with Hoover, Dirt Devil, Panasonic, Dyson, Bissell, Oreck, etc.  There were new robotic ones too like Roomba.  It had to be narrowed down.  I started with two decisions: canister style vac with power brush.

I scoured around and found an interesting YouTube video on Miele vacuums made by a crazy guy (Jerry Rubin) from a company called KillDirt in NJ.  He tested a few vacuums with a particle analyzer to measure how much crap was being spewed through the exhaust vent.  The results were stunning.  Then he proceeded to open each vac and look at the amount of dust behind the bag.  Why would this matter?  Because if the vacuum bag doesn't capture the dust, then there's nothing else to do the job.  His notes on how the filters are made and who they're made by was fascinating as well.  This system of old worked out well, so why change?
Miele S5 Earth - The Final Choice

That's all well and good, but there's also the question of whether the Miele vacuums will last.  They're light, their plastic, they sound like they'd fall apart in a year or two.  There were lots of good ratings from Amazon customers, but they typically add their reviews early after their purchase, so you're not getting the 10-year read on how well the product will hold up.

Back to YouTube, and a 4.5 minute video on Miele's  vacuum testing regimen (complete with relaxing, ambient music) which, if nothing else, proves that Germans know a lot about how to build machines to break machines.  It was really impressive (and relaxing).  I was sold.  Now it was down to the model, which is really more of a personal preference and based upon individual needs.  I chose the Miele Earth, and purchased it from KillDirt in NJ.  I have not yet been disappointed.

--A

Monday, August 2, 2010

What the hell happened?

 don't know why it happened.  Really, I don't.  My parents aren't like this.  My sister's not like this.  We grew up being frugal: used cars, brought lunch to school, rarely went out for dinner.  Mom used coupons at the grocery store.  Our house was comfortable but small. Didn't have a TV until I was almost through with high school.  My clothes were sourced from Marshall's.

And yet, through all of that I've somehow ended up being fascinated, drawn to, perhaps even obsessed with the best everyday items one can find.

There are a lot of people in the world who equate quality with expense.  As near as I can tell, this is most typically associated with people that obtain a lot of money in a very rapid fashion, and they want to show it off.  Like the Swarovski crystal toilet.  Did you look at it? The base is metal, and we're all quite aware that decent toilets are porcelain over cast iron (circa 1920s).  So this toilet is not the *best* toilet, regardless of it's exorbitant cost.

In defining "best" there's also the consideration of craftsmanship.  I'm disgusted with all the mass market consumer goods out there, designed in the US and Europe and then manufactured in a plant full of underpaid workers who are just trying to make it through another grueling work day.  With more and more goods being produced in this manner, it's no wonder that the few holdout craftsmen are sought after.  From the umbrella makers in England to the handmade shoes of Alden to the hand-cut, hand tailored suits made in the back alleys of Turin - there are still people out there that care about their product and take pride in their trade.

Perhaps it's just that - fascination and envy of people who are talented with their hands - that draws me to desire, appreciate, and at times even covet some of the best and most wonderful things humanity has made for itself.

--A