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"JalapeƱos
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 jalapeƱo. 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