Saturday, December 31, 2011

Caring & Repairing: A Recipe for Longevity

ne of the requisites for owning nice things is caring for them.  Just because something is quality doesn't mean it never needs your attention - in fact, it may require a little bit more maintenance than the items you're used to discarding.  Leather needs to be treated, silver needs to be polished, and even the finest knives in the world need to be sharpened and honed.  The point is this: quality items that receive proper care should last a lifetime, if not more.

Shoes are one of the best examples of this:  properly constructed shoes will find the bin if you don't keep them polished (in the case of dress shoes) or otherwise maintained.  I have an excellent pair of chukkas (a style of half boot) from the Vintage Shoe Company (highly recommended!) that require some leather treatment every three months or so.  The product I found was actually recommended by another favorite: the Saddleback Leather Company.  It's called Chamberlain's Leather Milk and they're also based in Texas.  Of their five types of treatment products, I chose #1 (called....#1) because it's both a cleanser & conditioner in one.  Perhaps #4 is more suitable for my chukkas, but I'm pretty happy with the results thus far.

The subject of care, though, was foremost on my mind today when I went to reach for my flashlight in my Barbour jacket, only to discover that it was in a "secret" pocket located between the lining and the exterior.  In short, my inside pocket that I use nearly every day had a hole in it.  I fished out the flashlight, and sewed it up immediately when I got home.  Small tears become large tears if not addressed quickly.  Basic sewing skills come in handy for situations like this, or when buttons fall off.  If you're a dude, at least learn how to resew buttons and learn a whip stitch.  You don't need to know how to make a bespoke suit (although that's not a bad skill to have), just the basics.

Other Things
Silver needs to be polished if it begins looking dull or dark.  Don't use Brasso - use polish intended for silver.  Brasso will take off way more metal than required for a shine; it's chemically too harsh.  If you're talking about dinnerware, only hand wash these items with a sponge and some liquid hand soap.  No dishwasher!  And be sure to do it shortly after the meal as any salt from the food could make for some pitting.

Quality kitchen knives need to be sharpened properly, and honed often.  Honing is all about keeping the edge straight, while sharpening removes metal to make the edge narrower (aka: sharper).  There's some good videos on how to use a honing steel - just be sure your honing steel is harder than your knives.  Steel hardness is measured in Rockwell units.  If you're using knives out of the US or Europe, a typical honing steel will probably be fine.  Knives made in Japan or anything made from SG10 alloy (you'll know this if you buy this, since it'll be all over the packaging) tend to be considerably harder and may require a ceramic version of the honing steel.

When it comes to sharpening the knives, don't bother with electric grinders or V-shaped apparatuses.  They'll grind the blade, yes, but it'll leave an edge that will quite soon need to be done again.  Grind enough, and you'll be left without a knife.  Instead, use a real wet stone, preferably one that uses water instead of oil, and is at least 1000 grit.  The higher the grit number, the finer the stone.  The finer the stone, the longer the sharpening will take, but the smoother the edge will be.  Between the two at left, the 1000/6000 combo is probably the better choice, as 300 grit will be very, very coarse (like remove-a-chip-from-a-blade course).

Butcher blocks, if you're lucky enough to have space for one, need to be oiled regularly with mineral oil to keep from drying out.  All-Clad pans should be washed gently with soap, then washed again with a sponge and some cleanser to keep shining and polished.  The Barbour waxed jackets should be re-proofed yearly.  The list goes on.  It may seem tiring just reading about all of it, but on a day-to-day basis it's really quite simple.  For me, watching a show or a movie while polishing a pair of shoes or some metal odds & ends is quite relaxing.  After a few years of good care these items begin to develop character and personality that's you, and they become your favorite things.

So take the time to care for your quality purchases, and you'll be richly rewarded.  Fail in this endeavor, and you may have been better off with mass-market (disposable) items.

--A

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas in a Glass

hey call it Root. Created by the same team that made Hendrick's Gin, it's founded on some of the same organic, natural ingredients that Hendrick's uses. It also comes with some historical interest. Cut to educational video:




I first had this a few weeks back when I was out with some friends at Imperial No. Nine. I think it was cocktail #4 (that's how they name them) and it was Root mixed with Port (likely Ruby Port) mixed with chocolate bitters. I had seen Root in my local liqueur store a week prior, but was too loaded up already to pick it up. Well, the cocktail at Imperial was amazing, so it had to be done.

Like any new spirit I find, I try it straight first in order to get a sense of what it is. Like what they mention in the video, this isn't some root beer flavored whatever, but it's all the essences of root beer with a kind of adult sensibility about it. Sweet, but not too sweet. Spicy. Like gingerbread or galangal but with sassafras.

The ginger essences made me want to mix it with ginger ale, and so I did. 2 jigger shots of Root with 6 oz. of ginger ale. NO, not Schweppes or Canada Dry - real ginger ale, like the unfiltered variety from Bruce Cost. Cloudy, spicy, with chunks of ginger in each bottle, this is the best ginger ale around.

I wanted some of those Ginger chunks to make it in the drink, so I shook the ginger ale gently to stir it up off the bottom. As long as the shaking isn't vigorous, the bottle won't explode on opening.

I ended up with a sparkling, spicy, amazing cocktail that tastes like the holidays. It really is Christmas in a glass. If you can't find Root, the next best thing is the same recipe with Pimm's No. 1, but look hard because it's absolutely amazing with Root!

--A

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Step Aside, Heinz - Real Ketchup Has Arrived

'm not sure if you've noticed, but we're going through a really amazing period of time where small batch and handcrafted options are becoming available. After years of corporate takeovers where companies swallow companies in order to dominate the market with crappier products, small business owners are rescuing the public by taking a single, simple product (like ketchup) and making it the best it can be. That's the case with Sir Kensington's. They make one product: ketchup, and they put they're all into it. They aren't worried about their cosmetics and pharmaceutical divisions; they're not investing profits back into a new jet engine business.

It makes sense.  You go through the effort of making a decent burger - combining antibiotic-free, free range, grass-fed beef with local pork and lamb along with your secret mixture of spices.  You toasted your bakery-fresh bun perfectly, and kept your burger from a terrible fate of being overdone.  You've got the fixin's right, the perfect beer, and some amazing and hungry friends.  It's about to be the best burger experience ever...until inevitably someone pulls that high fructose corn syrup crap-ketchup out of the fridge and slathers it all over your masterpiece.  Fail.

Before we get into the flavor differences, let's take a hard look at the ingredients list and do some comparing:

Heinz KetchupSir Kensignton's Ketchup
Tomato concentrate from red
ripe tomatoes
Tomatoes
Distilled vinegarCider vinegar
High fructose corn syrupTomato paste
SaltRaw sugar
SpiceOnion
Onion powderHoney
"Natural Flavoring"Jalapeños
Olive oil
Cilantro
Lime juice concentrate
Green bell pepper
Salt
Agave nectar
Spices*
*On Sir Kensington's comparison, other ingredients like allspice and cayenne pepper and dijon mustard are also listed.

Now, as you might be able to tell from the ingredient list, the difference in taste is startling. Heinz still tastes like what we think of when we imagine ketchup - a tradition that sunk in since we grew up on it. Sir Kensington's, on the other hand, is bursting with tomato flavors, not unlike a perfect ragu. It's got a sweetness to it, but it's balanced well with the mouth-watering acidity imbued by the cider vinegar and lime, with a small but noticeable kick from the jalapeño. It's the best damned ketchup I've ever tasted.

You might then ask, "So how many have you tasted?" A great and worthy question from this discerning audience. Not many. I've of course had the no-name version of Heinz which tastes a lot like Heinz. No surprise there, it's engineered to be its cheaper replacement. I've also had Katchie Ketchup from the Katchie Farm here in New York. Flavored with chili powder and coriander and Worcestershire sauce among other things, the flavor was good. But the consistency was a tad on the soupy side, which made it harder to adhere to our favorite foods as a condiment.

So hats off to the Sir Kensington's team for rescuing us from the drudgery of another mass-market, over-engineered product. May your product grace our shelves forever.

--A

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Traveling Basics

Not anymore.  Sorry.
raveling doesn't have to be as bad as everyone makes it out to be.  Sure, it's not 1940 anymore and you can't drive your car to the tarmac.  You won't be greeted by a fashionable, all-female crew and be served fine cocktails prior to take-off.  You can't smoke on the plane, and you can forget about the mid-flight tour of the cockpit.  Things have changed.

The biggest change to air travel, I think, is the fact that it's priced to be accessible to more people.  That means crowds; hoards; throngs of people all clamoring to clear security, board, be served, clear customs, etc.  The great unwashed masses have joined you on your trip.  It's no surprise that you'll often be flying on an "Airbus"; pretty much sums up the experience.  So what can be done to make the experience better?

First off, you need some tools.  Consider getting the American Express Platinum Card.  Yes, it's got a steep annual fee ($350) but if you travel internationally twice per year and do any sort of domestic flying it's worth it's weight in platinum.  Some key travel-related benefits:
  • International Flight "Buy one, get one" program.  Buy an international business class ticket and get one free (for someone you're traveling with on the same flight).  I did the math - it's pretty much like a free business-class upgrade for two people.
  • Free access to Priority Pass.  Yes, you can buy this on its own for anywhere between $100 and $400, but no need if you have the Amex Platinum Card.  This rewarding pass gets you into 600+ airport lounges worldwide.  More on this importance later.
  • Free registration for Global Entry.  Never heard of it?  Most haven't.  It's a program run by US Customs that allows kiosk re-entry through Customs upon return from an international trip.  You go to an interview, get your fingerprints scanned, get a sticker in your passport.  While everyone else is in queue, you scan your fingerprints, complete a short on-screen questionnaire (no awful Customs forms on the plane!) and stroll through to baggage claim.  $100 registration fee, paid for Amex Platinum Members.
  • $200/year of airline fees refunded for a domestic carrier of your choice.  Choose American.  Choose Jet Blue.  Choose any one of a zillion carriers and be done with stupid luggage fees, meal fees, etc up to $200 per year.  You can change that preferred carrier each year as you please.  Takes lots of stress out of things when you get slapped with a stupid fee and you just don't care since it's paid for.
  • Concierge Service.  Call them to book your travel.  Call them to book your restaurant.  Call them to get you tickets for a sold out show.  Once you get used to using it, you'll use it for just about everything, and it becomes indispensable.  Especially if you missed a flight or lost your luggage and you need help.
Tools alone will not alleviate the stress of travel - you need to know how to use them.  Some practical tips, now on how to make good use of them.

Dressing for travel:  Proper travel attire is important.  Yes, you need to look nice if anyone is going to take you seriously.  Next time you travel, keep a close eye on who gets that free upgrade to Business Class.  Does the airline want frumpy people up there?  No.  Besides, free upgrade or not, dressing well lends credibility to any interaction with the airline employees.  The guy in the sport coat is going to get the seat assignment before the guy in the sweats.  He'll also be served when he walks up to the counter with a question.  Don't overdo it; you want to be comfortable.  But no sweats or grungy looking clothes.  Nice luggage helps too.

Airport lounge.  Soothes the weary traveler.
Getting to the airport:  Few people want to get to the airport early.  There's a reason for that:  The food is awful, the crowds are annoying, and the waiting area seats are as comfortable as 16th century church pews....if you can find an empty one.  You get to pay for internet too; your savior for the boredom of waiting for your delayed flight.

Not you, though.  You can't wait to get to the airport early.  You have Priority Pass which can get you into any number of airport lounges at practically any airport.  This means free internet, free food, often a complimentary cocktail, sometimes massage services and showers.  All in peace and quiet.  Some are "land side" (before security) and some are "air side" meaning after security.  So take your pick where you want to relax before your flight.  When travel plans go awry, this is where you go to use your computer, call airlines or the travel concierge and work it out.

Seat Upgrades:  When you check-in at a kiosk, you're often presented with some seat upgrade options.  For $20, get the exit row with more legroom.  For $135, get a larger seat and preferred dining service.  I'd highly suggest you use these to your advantage.  They typically aren't much money, and it's the little things that exceedingly improve your trip.  Just don't pay to board early (unless you have kids or something).

See this?  Now ignore it.
Boarding:  Which brings me to boarding.  I think it's most amusing to watch people clamor and fight to get on the plane.  It's as if the overly cramped space and dry air offers something more than the dreadful terminal.  It doesn't.  Also, there's no reason to be in a hurry to sit since you're going to be doing lots of that for the eight-hour flight.  So be the last to board.  They called your row first?  You don't care.  They're not going to halt boarding because you didn't get on first.  Doesn't matter where you sit - window or aisle, front or back.  Be on last, and enjoy the peace of having most everyone else seated.  You also stow your luggage last, which means people will not be shoving it around to fit their oversized bag on top of yours.

Attitude:  ...is everything when flying.  You have to be super zen.  Might miss your flight?  Don't run, there's a million other flights and the airline will work it out.  Flight delayed?  Perfect for an extra cocktail and another massage at the lounge.  Be kind and polite to airport staff.  Whatever stress you think you have, they have to bear it everyday with airlines cancelling flights, delays, and angry customers.  They'll help you more if you are patient and courteous.  I have found that a calm attitude makes everything work out....and I haven't missed a flight yet.

Airport Pickup:  Yes, it's more expensive than a bus or a train and even a cab.  But when you land, and your mind is all jet-lagged and you can't speak the local language (much less your own) it's highly comforting to walk out of the terminal and see someone with your name scrawled on a board.  You typically pay in advance, so there's no haggling or worrying, you just get in the car and go.  So if you can book it or if your hotel can book it, do it.  Worth every cent.

Other Small Things:  Keep about $50 for each of a number of currencies (Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Dirhams, whatever).  When something goes awry, you don't want to worry about where to get cash or where to exchange it.  Keep small packets of tylenol or advil with you at all times.  Hint:  it's cheaper at your local pharmacy than it is at the airport.  Easy to carry, priceless when needed.  Specify a low-sodium dietary need. You're traveling in one of the driest environments short of the Gobi Desert, and the last thing your body wants is salt.  But they use a lot of it in airline food in an attempt to make it palatable.

These are just a few tips to negotiate this modern world of travel.  I have others, and look forward to sharing them with you another time!

--A

Friday, September 30, 2011

Greetings from Venice!

earest Bouge Followers: September has been a pretty quiet month here on the BougeBlog, but I've got lots to share with you.  I'm  currently in Venice (Italy), and off to Lisbon tomorrow.  Venice has been an amazing experience, and is most certainly a Bouge-worthy destination.  Upcoming I have some info on the Venice experience, a story about an umbrella maker who is giving Swaine Adeney Brigg a run for their money, the Bouge Party to end all Bouge parties, and some nifty travel tips.  So definitely stay tuned!  In the meantime, I thought I'd share a photo that typifies Italian style:


Do note that among other things, those are Persol sunglasses he's wearing!  Not to mention the anline leather Italian shoes...

Cheers!
--A

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making the Best of a Rainy Day

ain rain go away used to be my mantra as well, that is, until I learned how to accessorize for rain properly.  There are those $3.00 umbrellas you can buy on the street (and I've bought my fair share) and then there's umbrellas.  Real umbrellas.  And once you get into those, there's no turning back.

Take a wild guess where the best umbrellas in the world come from...  I'll give you a hint:  They have really crappy weather.  If you guessed England, you're following along perfectly!

There's a company in London that has been making umbrellas since 1750.  I've mentioned them before in passing: it's Swaine Adeney Brigg.  As you might imagine, with over 250 years of experience in one of the rainiest, crappiest, most foul weather parts of the world, they've gotten quite good at it.  It's good enough for the Queen at least, and one might imagine that she is a very discerning woman.

Brigg's best umbrellas are those that are "full stick" meaning that the handle and shaft of the umbrella is made from a single branch.  They sell those and two piece umbrellas, but if you're going to do this right then go solid.  As far as their selection of hardwoods, I doubt it can be surpassed.  There's oak and cherry and chestnut and ash and maple and hickory and more.  Some have the option of leaving the original bark on the handle, while others are polished.  There's a good range of canopy options as well from nylon to cotton to silk.  Plaids and solids.  You can customize the length, choose from gold or silver collars, get an end cap for the handle.  You can order the umbrella cover, have the collar engraved, and even get different color fabrics for each frame in the canopy.  The possibilities are endless.

I ordered my umbrella in February this year and opted to go bespoke.  I chose a standard size 26 umbrella (suits me well) that is bark chestnut.  I love the feel of the bark and I think it gives a better grip.  The chestnut color is outstanding, and the difference in color tone between the bark handle and the stripped shaft is amazing.  I went with a nylon canopy since I wanted a color that was not available in silk.  It's a pretty bright orange.  There were two oranges available, and the colors looked different from monitor to monitor.  I imported the fabric swatches into Photoshop and measured the RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) values for both oranges, and ended up taking the one with higher red values.  As I mentioned, the standard collar options are gold plate or sterling silver.  I didn't like either for this umbrella, and had them make the collar from solid brass instead.  No engraving (I remember my name) so just the standard royal warrant.  I'm looking forward to the collar oxidizing some.

The order was placed with Sterling & Burke Ltd based in Washington DC.  They are one of the few places here in the US that offer Brigg umbrellas and all the options available.  My experience with them was... well, less-than-stellar.  I asked about canopy colors and the brass collar.  It took a followup email to get them to send the fabric swatches, but they forgot to tell me about the collar.  Question about pricing took a few emails.  Each time they replied back, they included this templated, flowery writing style reply that included less information than I asked for:
Thank you very much for your order. We are delighted to assist you and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

[lacking message here]


I hope you find this information helpful. Please let us know how we may be of further service. We look forward to hearing from you again and until then wish you,

Kind regards,
STERLING & BURKE LTD
Finally, I got my order put through (Feb 17), and was promised my umbrella would be ready in four to six weeks.  On April 5, I got a followup message (complete with all the embellished language) stating that, "your bespoke Polished Chestnut Umbrella by Swaine Adeney Brigg ..." was ready.  Fail.  I hard ordered the Bark Chestnut and they had sent in the order incorrectly.  I dispatched a strongly worded email that they flubbed the order.  On April 11, I was finally informed that the umbrella would need to be rebuilt from the beginning.  No expected date; they were still looking into it.  By May 23, it was time to hassle them again.  And again, prompt reply with no information:
Dear Mr. (AS):

Thank you very much for interest in our fine goods.  We are delighted to assist you and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

We have enquired with the Swaine Adeney Brigg factory in England in regards to a completion date.  We will forward you our findings once they become available.

I hope this information is helpful.  Please let us know how we may be of further service.  We look forward to communicating with you again soon and until then wish you a delightful day and,

Very kind regards,
STERLING & BURKE LTD

No, I did not find that information helpful.  By May 27, I was certain to inform them of that.  On June 2, I was notified that Swaine Adeney Brigg had run out of bark chestnut shafts, and that they were attempting to source them.  Estimated arrival: mid June.  By June 29, patience had worn thin, and my followup emails were beginning to reflect this.  On June 30, I was informed the shipment (that might include my umbrella) was delayed.  Perhaps it will arrive the following week?  On July 6, I was finally notified that they had the umbrella in hand, and were ready to then ship it to me directly.

Sore points aside, the arrival of the umbrella was something to behold.  It came in a long, slender box something like a box of long-stemmed roses.  Inside, Swaine Adeney Brigg tissue with a gold seal sticker.  Under that, a SAB umbrella bag with a bow tied around the handle.  Inside of that, the umbrella sealed in plastic.  Inside of that, the most magnificent umbrella I have ever held.

A short video on Brigg umbrellas compliments of Deutsche Welle:



This will not be my last; I plan to get others!

--A

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sealing the Sleep Deal: Sheets

id you get yourself an awesome mattress? Nice. Now scrap those $40 sheets and let's talk about how to accessorize it properly.



Don't get me wrong, not that long ago I balked at the thought of replacing my single, thread-bare, pilled set of sheets.  The holes were barely noticeable, and who the hell cares about sheets anyway?  But with the new mattress, those weren't going to do, and it was time to do my research.

How you should feel about your sheets
Researching sheets is as stupidly complicated as choosing a mattress.  The easy part (at least for me) was choosing a material.  I think silk is gross.  Flannel is nice, about half the year.  Anything that's not a natural fibre - gone.  Linen is interesting (yes, they make linen sheets) but it's tough enough keeping my pants reasonably pressed.  That leaves cotton, which I love.

Next, you have to deal with thread count.  Thread count, the number threads per square inch, is the latest way that sheet manufacturers are trying to sell you sheets.  The more threads per square inch, the softer the sheets (must) be, and the higher the price you (should) pay.  But there's a catch, as always.  The sheet manufacturers, in an endless competition to outdo one another, have gamed the system a bit.  If the threads are two ply, they can double the advertised thread count.  The National Textile Associate (NTA), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have been fighting over this for a few years now.  Best advice:  Be suspicious of thread counts higher than 500.

Some big names in sheets include Pratesi, Frette, SFERRA, Schlossberg, Zimmer + Rhode, and more.  Prices can be north of $1200 or $1400 for a sheet set.  They're nice, but you're paying more for the name or the design than you are for the quality or feel of the sheets.  Does a $700 sheet feel better than a $500 sheet?  Or an $400 sheet?  I doubt it.  To tap into my grade school math:  What is the point of diminishing returns?  The point where top quality meets value?  Answer:  Thomas Lee Ltd.

I first heard of Thomas Lee when I saw their sheets featured on OneKingsLane (flash sale site).  As is sometimes the case, the price of the sheets purchased direct from Thomas Lee was the same as that on the flash sale site, except you didn't have to wait 2 weeks to get them or pay for shipping.  (A hint for the peeps at OneKingsLane).  Thomas Lee offers 500 (actual) thread count sheets woven from American Pima Cotton.  I'm not sure when the Egyptians thought they cornered the cotton market, but they lose when compared with American cotton.  The ring spun weave makes for the softest anywhere.  At $189 for a queen-sized sheet set (two sheets, two pillowcases), you'll probably sleep better than the people with the $700 sheets.  For an extra thrill, put two or three bottom sheets on your mattress - it feels wonderful and protects your mattress more.

--A

American Pima Cotton

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life is like...a box of chocolates?!

et me clue you in to a little secret: Life should not be "like a box of chocolates" - Mr Gump got it all wrong. Do you want to eat something where "you'll never know what you're gonna get?" No. You want eat something where you don't care what you're going to get because it's guaranteed to be amazing. Enter the macaron, from Ladurée.

Not to be confused with "macaroons", macarons are a small and delicate French pastry made of egg whites, sugar, and almonds. They come in a zillion colors and flavors and are an amazing treat alongside of your afternoon coffee. Texture of the lightest cupcake, with the slightest crunch of an exterior giving way to a smooth, cakey interior with sometimes bold, sometimes subtle flavors ranging from rose to pistachio. Although disputed, it's origin is predominantly thought to be French, circa late 1780s. Other accounts state that it originated from Italy in the 16th century. The basic recipe is heralded by renowned pastry chefs around the world for it's flexibility with coloring and flavoring.  There's a great article on SeriousEats.com on the topic of macarons.


Ladurée is perhaps the most famous of the macaron producers. Founded in 1861, they sell over 15,000 of the tasty treats per day. Most of those don't leave Paris, but the joy is beginning to spread. Unfortunately they have not come to the US, but I was able to dig them up in London at Covent Garden.  Their site is totally fun and worth a visit.

As though the pastry wasn't enough, the gift boxes are absolutely stunning and everything is packaged with immense care. A box made it home with me in my carry-on luggage quite successfully with little damage. (Thanks both to Ladurée and Zero Halliburton) Keep refrigerated and they'll hold for about a week. If you do port them back from wherever you are, though, be sure to sample at least one in the store. Savor it, and keep that needless decadence in your mind as a baseline of the perfect treat. Box of chocolates? Pah.

December 15, 2011 Update:  Ladurée is now in New York!

--A

Ladurée, Covent Garden UK

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Do your clothes suck?

o you ever wonder if your clothes suck? Not like style-suck, but like quality-suck. Are you wondering if there is some methodology by which to gauge how much they suck? Wonder no more! There is a simple, easy, and straightforward way to measure how much your clothes suck.  It requires these three simple steps:

  • Step 1: Wash your clothes in the washer. 
  • Step 2: Dry your clothes in the dryer. 
  • Step 3: Open the lint compartment on the dryer.

Do you see a ton of lint?  It's not dust that was on your clothes.  It's not dirt the washer missed.  It's not your cat.  It was not put there by your dryer, no matter how old it is or how much you hate it.  It's your clothes, falling apart.  So if you find an extra shirt lurking in your lint trap, know this:  Your clothes suck.  Start buying them somewhere else.

--A

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ultimate Quest for Rest

leep has never really been a top priority for me. A few more cups of coffee, cat nap here and there, and getting by on five hours or so has been the norm for a very long time. Since I was 17 I've never really had a real bed. It's been a futon on the floor, pull-out couch, whatever. And then it dawned on me that having a grown-up bed is just...well, grown up. It was time to do this.

Shopping for a mattress has to be the most time consuming and yet useless endeavor on the planet. Choices range from actual Japanese futons (purportedly amazing) to springs/coils to memory foam to latex to various inflatable options. Price ranges from $400 to $10,000+. Hoards of advice, and then contradictions to that advice. Scams abound. Enough technical diagrams and cutaway photos to bore you into oblivion.

My search started with price point. I wasn't going to pay over $4,000 no matter how comfortable it was or how long the useless warranties extended for. That narrowed the field a lot, but still left companies like Duxiana, Euro-flex, Sealy, and a zillion more. Dux beds were at the high end of the price point (a bit more, even) and yet the customer reviews were mixed. Few were downright uncomfortable, but many thought that it was not money well spent. And their customer service is apparently lacking. No good. Euro-flex seemed like a good option, and the materials they sent were assuring. But there was no way to see one in NYC, and a flight to San Diego (their one showroom) to look at them and customize it seemed extreme. Sealy had generally good reviews but their mattresses are often sold by companies rife with "switch the label" scams. Most advice dictates that you should physically see the mattress and lie on it for 15 to 30 minutes. Who has time for that? (And what place would even let you do that?!)

Time for a new strategy - one that didn't require me to see the mattress, lie on it, and yet trust that it is what it is. Enter Four Seasons Hotels. I read that Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, a luxury hotel company, is selling their proprietary designed mattresses (built by Sterns & Foster, a division of Sealy) to the consumer public. I've been to a couple Four Seasons hotels and resorts. I slept fine. It's a reputable company. Have you ever heard from someone that they had a nice time at the Four Seasons, except that the bed was uncomfortable? I haven't. And then the more I thought, the more I realized their challenge. Their beds need to be universally comfortable for a wide array of clientele. They don't want to replace them frequently, so it needs to last a long time. The only way to order them is directly through the hotel. Problem solved.

They say to allow four to six weeks for delivery. Mine showed up in three weeks. You can order the mattress, the box spring, a frame, and even sheets through them. The prices were reasonable - well within budget. I just ordered the mattress. It's thicker than most at 15 and a half inches. It has over 500 coils and a super-plush pillowtop. And comfort? Absolutely unsurpassed.  Contact the Four Seasons Hotel nearest you for pricing and details.

Sleep well!
--A

Thursday, June 16, 2011

All-Clad Porcelain & Steel Bakeware Takes the Cake

told you about All-Clad's cookware before. It's amazing, and IMHO the best you can find. Well back when I was picking up some more at Bed Bath & Beyond I came across a new line of bakeware that was a Pillivuyt porcelain dish with an All-Clad trivet. I examined it for a while, and then stuck to immediate needs which was more in the cookware area.

Last weekend I was back in Bed Bath & Beyond. Don't get me wrong - I'm not a huge fan of this overcrowded store (you'd think people had never seen fans before) but it offers cheap cleaning supplies. Apparently they also sell food too, which is odd. I digress. Back in the All-Clad section, and this porcelain/steel combo was gone. Suspecting it wasn't going to reappear, I went home and researched.

Indeed, the line is getting pulled. Why?!? Is the American public really that big of a group of philistines? I looked around and found a guy on eBay who was liquidating a lot of them in new-in-box (NIB) condition for half price. Two models were made, a square one and a rectangular one. Surprisingly enough, the square pan was larger. I liked it better, so I bought two. They arrived two days later.

Pillivuyt is a French porcelain company that has been around since 1818. They are considered one of the top porcelain producers in the world. All-Clad was founded in 1960 and is considered one of the top crafters of cooking steel. Combined, this is some incredible talent. Pillivuyt's porcelain dish can go in the microwave, the oven, the dishwasher, and the freezer. It's heavy and beautiful and separate from the metal trivet. The trivet is constructed of steel and has rubber feet that will not scratch the table surface. It has carry handles that stay cool.

As far as I can tell there are two types of trivets.  There are beautiful trivets that are useless - things slide off or the trivet transfers too much heat.  There are also very practical trivets that  work well and look awful.  All-Clad's trivet scores points for both form and function.  It protects the table from temperature and scratches, allows people to pass and serve from a hot pan, and adds style to the table.

Remember, these are being discontinued, so choose the one you like (or hell, the one you can find) and get it before it's too late.  And shame on that All-Clad exec for canning this product.  The all-steel pans are nice, but just not the same!


--A

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Custom (MTM) Shirt; Part 2

s soon as I had picked out my fabrics, it was time to be measured. Having been used to choosing shirts based on collar and sleeve length alone, I was quite unprepared for the intense measuring process.  Shoulders, forearms, both wrists, three chest measurements, individual arm length, neck, etc...  When it came to wrist measurements, I was asked if the watch I was wearing would be worn with these shirts.  Upon my affirmative answer, the wrist with the watch was measured separately as if the watch was an additional part of my wrist.  Arm measurements were staggering - my left arm was nearly an inch longer than my right.  I was asked if I wore my shirts tucked, if I preferred a slim fit, and more.  Mr. Chang takes his shirts seriously.

After working out measurement details, a few drawers were opened and out came a myriad of collar styles, followed by countless cuff styles.  As I made my choices, all information was carefully recorded in Chinese for the makers.  One small attribute that I found necessary to customize was the buttonhole on the forearm.  Typically, it's cut in the same direction of the forearm.  This is easier for the shirtmaker as the button placement does not have to line up as neatly - if it's off a hair here or there the length of the buttonhole compensates for misplacement.  Since I knew of the quality of Ascot Chang, I had them cut the buttonhole perpendicular to the forearm which I prefer and appreciate.  Monogram?  No thank you.  Forearm buttonhole for the one French cuff shirt?  Pass.  Each answer appeared to please Mr. Chang, and whether it really did or did not, it was very reassuring.

At this point, it was well past closing time, although none of the sales staff even hinted of this.  I could have taken all the time in the world and I felt they would have been glad to accommodate me.   Mr. Chang thanked me for my order and explained he would be in touch with me in two weeks when the test shirt was completed.

Without fail, my test shirt arrived from Hong Kong within the promised two week period.  It was ironed and prepared for my visit.  Upon trying it on, all seemed well, but Mr. Chang asked that I bring it home, wear it, wash it, and wear it again.  Collar and cuff sizes were to shrink up to a half inch, and I was advised to test their fit before the other shirts were made.  I did this, and after washing the right sleeve did indeed feel a bit short.  Another visit with Mr. Chang corrected this, and subsequently the other shirts were made and shipped.  They were perfect.

With my measurements on file, I can order more shirts at any time by stopping in and choosing new fabrics, or by calling in an order for the fabrics I had already chosen (keep your receipt!).  On the next visit, I hope to look into customizing other features such as button hole stitch colors an the like.  One thing is for certain - Ascot Chang's care and consideration for my small shirt order will make me a loyal customer for a long time to come.

--A

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Custom (MTM) Shirt; Part 1

homas Pink used to be my main source for shirts. Classic British styling, amazing fabrics, and a pretty decent fit. Over the years, their prices have increased and while their styles (cuts) have also increased, their number of offered fabrics has diminished some. Their prices have increased so much that I began to hunt for other options, and eventually it dawned on me that I could get a custom made shirt (Made to Measure - MTM) for nearly the same price. There's a host of options for that out there, but Ascot Chang came highly recommended thru a number of reputable sources. It was time to give it a try.

So I walked in late one afternoon to their store on 59th Street. There were stacks of off the rack shirts, some ties, some suits. The salesperson was friendly, and I asked about their custom shirts. The scoop is that you have to buy four of them in a clip, period. Ok. I was led to the back where there was a table and a shelf with some 30 or 40 books of fabrics....at least that's what they had out. I was introduced to Albert Chang, who was working on talking the arm off of a shirt. I was asked what types of fabrics I was looking for, and three books were presented.

Imagine that each book has some 80 fabrics or so.....whoa! Flipping thru them was amazing. On each there was a sticker with a price ranging from $480 to about $550. After a lot of time and agonizing, I asked how they priced their shirts; thinking that sticker represented price per bolt of fabric or something. Nope. That's the price per shirt for that fabric. So I interrupted Mr. Chang from his task and informed him that my budget was perhaps somewhat less than he may have anticipated. No problem - three new books appeared, and I was back down to Thomas Pink range. And the quality difference was not significant.... After a lot of hemming and hawing, I picked two plain white shirts (a good thing to have) and two other with bold stripes. And that's when the real fun began....

--A

Saturday, May 14, 2011

If it's good enough for "The Football" ...

f my plane every goes down, the NTSB is likely to find two things: the ubiquitous "black box" and my luggage.  Having carried around the crappy nylon luggage that everyone else uses for years, I decided it was time for an upgrade.  It needed to meet international carry-on bag standards.  It needed to have a "suiter" (folding compartment to carry a suit and/or shirts), it needed to look nice and be easily identified, and it needed to withstand significant airline abuse.

Zeroller ZR21T by Zero Halliburton
The first challenge was to decide on a material.  Leather, canvas, carbon fiber, aluminum, and polycarbonate (not polycarbonate composite) were all in the mix.  Leather was nice and would develop a nice patina with all the mis-handling, but was also likely to get stolen.  Canvas was too crushable.  Carbon fiber was nice but $2,760.  That left aluminum and polycarbonate.  Aluminum could take more abuse, and polycarbonate was also strong and lighter.  Eligible brands included Titan, Tumi, Zero Halliburton, and Rimowa.

In the end, I chose the aluminum Zeroller ZR21T by Zero Halliburton.  With 6 wheels, an aircraft aluminum exterior, metal handles, nice lining, and a TSA lock built-in, it also is able to fit in the overhead.  Steel locks keep it closed.  You can sit on it when you run into places with no seats.  The light color/reflective nature of the aluminum keeps it cool in the summer sun.  Interior straps keep everything in place.  The interior lining is the best I've seen.  Removable suiter when it's a pleasure trip and not business.
Oodles of room, and even the Champagne is protected.

Zero Halliburton began it's life in 1946 as Zierold Company, a metal fabricator.  They later became the Zero Corporation and in 1952 acquired the Halliburton travel case division started by Earle Halliburton in 1938.  He had commissioned a team of aircraft engineers to build some cases that could withstand his frequent international adventures.  Since then, the materials haven't changed much (still uses aircraft aluminum) but the methods have.   Zero Halliburton's site best describes the incredible production process:
  • Every ZERO Halliburton aluminum Case starts with a two-ton coil of aircraft-grade aluminum. 
  • After being cut into individual pieces, the aluminum is “deep-drawn” over special steel dies using 440 tons of pressure. As the shape is formed, the molecular structure of the aluminum actually changes, resulting in a shell that's free of wrinkling, distortion and manufacturing inconsistencies. 
  • Following the deep-draw process, the shell is heated to more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and then quickly cooled, making the aluminum even stronger and more durable. 
  • Each shell is then buffed and electro-chemically anodized to add color and prevent corrosion.
 If that's not enough of a selling point, consider that a Zero Halliburton case was used in the Apollo Mission to bring rock samples back to earth.  Today it's still the interior case for "The Football" - the case that a presidential aide carries with our nuclear launch codes.  Should do just fine for my luggage...

--A

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Word on Jeans

p until about a year ago, I didn't even own jeans. Maybe one pair, and even they were khaki. Times change, people change...I've moved on. In my days at Conde Nast, I remember the fashion people wearing very high end designer jeans and I wondered what they were like. We're not talking Levis or Diesel, but rather a step above. So I read this and that and jumped in with both feet.

It didn't take long to find out that the best place to go for kickass Japanese selvedge jeans in NYC is Blue In Green. Located on Green Street near Canal, the place offers one of the biggest varieties of Japanese denim in New York. Don't be fooled by the size of the store; they have out only a few pairs of each with loads of stock in the back. Being one of those stores where you need to be buzzed in, I was expecting a less-than-helpful sales staff. I couldn't have been more wrong. These guys are knowledgeable and friendly and will patiently spend time with you. They'll pull everything off the shelves and let you try it on. They even have a book of photos that shows how various jeans they stock fade over time.  Nearly all of the jeans they sell come un-hemmed.  In the store they have a very special machine that hems denim.  It's a free service for anything purchased in the store, and $30 if you bring in your own pair for hemming.

My first pair of jeans from them were made by Pure Blue Japan (lovingly referred to as PBJs by their loyal customers) and were the NC-005 Slim Straight jeans in blue.  "NC" stands for "No Change".  They're dyed with a special fade-resistant dye called "indanthrene" which allows them to be washed over and over again with little to no fading....perfect for "dress jeans" that you want to look new.  "Slim straight" means a tighter fit in the thigh with no taper toward the ankle.  The embroidered leaf in back is the PBJ trademark.  A particular quality of PBJs is a "slubby" texture to the denim.  It's rough to the touch and a little "hairy" for the lack of a better word.  It fits like a dream and feels great.

Later on, I upped the stakes and got the AI-002 Natural Indigo jeans.  The warp threads are repeatedly hand dyed in natural indigo, making the thread absorb more dye than in machine processes.  At 18.5 ounces, it's a heavy denim that's perfect for winter. Two color seam stitching adds to the charm.

Why Japanese?  At the end of WWII, the Japanese grew to love blue jeans, and began making their own.  Perhaps it was due to all the US servicemen present.  So they took what we knew about weaving denim and expanded upon it greatly.  They experimented with weaving, dyes, and cut.  One pair of PBJs has an indigo warp and a purple weft.  The weft is typically white, which is why jeans get lighter as they fade.  These get purple as they fade, which is really quite awesome.  While we here in the states got used to our brands of jeans, the Japanese innovated. 

Today, there are quite some number of boutique jeans companies in Japan, and there's something for everyone.  And if you give it a try, my guess is you'll never go back.  And once you wear them for a while, you'll begin to notice the jeans other people are wearing and how they stack up.  Or don't.

--A