Sunday, May 31, 2009

So-co Moco

What to do with the last hamburger patty? Make Loco Moco, of course!

Took that last hamburger patty from Springfield Farm, pan fried it in a cast iron skillet, heated up some steamed rice, fried a couple of eggs and stacked them all together. This wasn't about plating, it was about eating, and if the yolk breaks prematurely c'est la vie.

The problem for the Loco Moco was that I don't have brown gravy lying around the house. Instead, I cheated a bit and squirted a generous helping of A1 Steak Sauce on the patty for that spicy tamarind flavor. Not the Hawaiian tradition but good enough for a morning breakfast.

Just a note: This was actually Thursdays' breakfast. Today I enjoyed smoked babyback ribs and smoked crown of ribeye.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chicken Stock

With some fresh chicken backs from Springfield Farm, I decided that I really needed to make stock. Whether in cookbooks or on the Internet, you'll find a plethora of stock recipes. In fact, it's insane the number of stock recipes I've read over the years.

The very essence of stock is a long simmering of bones and water, with a variety of aromatics thrown in for good measure. The variations are infinite, which makes stock making very exciting or quite daunting. Give a great Vietnamese cook some time and that beef stock turns into an incredible Pho broth. Or the Japanese ramen chef who takes a base of pork to something balanced and exquisite.

Some people have very strict and rigid stock recipes. Some follow French tradition. Others eschew "major" ingredients for philosophical reasons. As for myself, I take the pirates approach and tend to toss in whatever I'm feeling at the moment. However, that's not to say there isn't some method to the madness. There is and I tend to stick with a traditional mire poix and a few choice elements thrown in for good measure.

This stock features eight free-range chicken backs, peeled and chopped organic carrots (hijacked from my Aunt Josie), sweet onions, celery, multi-peppercorn medley, bay leaves and leeks. Actually, this is the first time I've used leeks. I just happened to have some left over in the fridge and into the pot they went.

Since I didn't start the stock until nearly midnight, I wasn't prepared to stay up until 5am to watch it. Instead, I took the slow and low method (read: lazy), added 10 quarts of water to the stock pot, set the burner to low and went to bed.

Yes, I know one must slave for his labor, but I was tired. And I wanted to sleep. I knew the pot would heat to about 150F and hold there all night. Nothing to worry about. Time to dream - some baristas dream about coffee and the fabled God Shot, I dream about women.

Seven and a half hours later, the pot is heated and the water is slowly cycling under a thick layer of chicken fat. Lovely. Sure there's some scum particles floating about, otherwise, it's perfect. The stock is still brilliantly clear because it never reached a boil. My expert knowledge of cuisine (read: laziness) has been vindicated.

But I've got to run off to work, so there's no time to properly finish the stock. In a flash, I've decided that I would "Keller-ize" the chicken stock. That is, strain the current stock into a large Cambro, put the ingredients back in the pan, fill it with cold water and set it back on the burner for another round.

With the first batch of stock covered and chilling, I'm off to work for another busy day.

Fourteen hours later, after a variety of meetings, appointments, a bar shift, dinner and a cigar, I'm back home to check on the second stock. It's slowly reduced itself by half into a glistening yellow cauldron of chicken goodness. Strain it out and mix with the first batch (a la Keller), then run the stock through a chinois six times (estoy muy Keller) and chill once again. Put the stock back on the burner, reduce by one third (I am Keller) and the stock is ready for whatever dreams may come our way.

With over two gallons of stock, the larder is happy once more.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wetting The Links

I'm guessing, but it's probably been about eight years or so since the last time I played golf. My father is an avid golfer. Most people like to breathe, my father likes to golf. It's his all-consuming passion.

Me, I'm a bit more casual about golf. I own one club: the Taylor Made Ti Bubble 2 driver. Back in 2001 (or so) when it was introduced, it was a monster. A huge headed driver. Today, it's still a good driver though Vanessa's driver looks like it dwarfs mine.

While I don't play very often, nor would I say I have a particular passion for the sport, there's something about hitting the ball in the sweet spot of that metal driver that makes me as excited as a pig roasting on an open fire. That special "tink," preceded by a skillful "whoosh" as the club slices through the air and the head only contacts the ball. None of that dead thud you hear when the club catches the ground destroying the shot. That "tink" sounds as good as sex - without the baggage or ongoing expense.

I'm back on the links in Reisterstown because my friends have lured me away from my cave and into the open sunlight. Dark storm clouds ride the horizon but we're setting off on foot in search of PGA Glory.

As I was waiting for everyone to arrive, I decided to hit a basket of balls on the driving range. Two days before, I had conferred with my dad, whom I interrupted while he was busy gardening. Tickling his passion, he immediately dropped the gardening to talk shop with his son who owns one club. I was seeking his advice on a small quiver to use for today's action. Just a few clubs in a lightweight bag so I could walk the course. He supplied me with a thoughtful set of seven clubs: putter, 6 & 8 wedgewoods, 7 wood, sand wood, pitching wedge and my aforementioned driver.

Dad is a golf fiend slash aficionado. Always ready to lend his knowledge or hold an impromptu golf clinic - whether at the house, on the course or in a ballroom, it doesn't matter. Needless to say, I've been subjected to numerous golf clinics over the years. Golf outings with my dad when I was younger always consisted of a nonstop stream of coaching and swing analysis. To be honest, it really drove me up the wall.

And while I may have been irritated with the non-stop golf clinics of my youth, many of those lessons remained buried in my psyche and surfaced on the driving range. Where to place your feet, where to position the ball, the angle of your arm in relation to the club, the method of swing - it was like greeting an old friend after many years apart. While there were many strokes of the dreaded thud or hooks to the right or slices to the left, sixty-five balls later, my swing felt like it was starting to gel.

As we set off on the course, I found never-experienced-before glory. While the triple-bogey on the first hole was nothing to write home about, the drive was straight and far. The second hole landed me on the green. The third hole I stroked par. I had never performed this well on a golf course - ever. I was stoked. Even Gerry, Rod, Vanessa and Scott were playing with beautiful strokes.

The fourth hole brought us to our water obstacle and I choked. Sliced it to the left and dropped it into the water. What happened? I thought too much. I let the water obstacle cloud my judgement and made me think about the stroke rather than relax and feel the stroke. The second drive was a bit too far but much better.

As we neared the cup on the fourth hole, the skies blackened over and large droplets of water started to fall. Uh-oh. In a moment, a torrential downpour was drenching me to my core. Hiding under a large maple tree teased rather than relieved. A mad dash to a cinderblock shed by the water obstacle promised refuge but inside the 4'x4' structure was a water pump and 480 amp power distribution. Not an ideal place to be soaked to the bone and in a downpour.

We found refuge in a mid-course bathroom and waited out the storm. By the time the rain had subsided, the greens were flooded and the marshal came by in his truck to close the course and escort us out.

Thus ended my first round in many years. Perhaps the best game of my life, wiped out by a late spring downpour. Could I have stroked par today? We shall never know.

But there's always next Friday...

Brutal, and I'm Right Handed

An Afternoon Drive

Cola of Baltimore

One ounce of formulated syrup base.

I'm continually reminded how much the world is dwindling on an almost daily basis.

For a couple of years now, The Spro has been serving cane sugar-sweetened grey market Coca-Cola imported from Los Estados Unidos de Mexico - until now.

Recent changes by the World Trade Organization struck down the tax on High Fructose Corn Syrup imported into Mexico. The elimination of this tax makes HFCS cheaper than cane sugar in Latin America, leading to the displacement of sugar as a sweetener in the last bastion of somewhat better-for-you food in the world. After a nice period of enjoying the crisp, clean flavor of sugar Coke, the dreaded HFCS has reached our shores... again.

Within a day, I received a call from one of my customers and from my staff asking why the labels now said "high fructose corn syrup" on them. What??? I don't know. I'm going to call my importer.

After a very heated "debate" with my importer on why the F would I pay more for HFCS Coke from him than Mid-Atlantic Coca Cola (assuming that I would even consider carrying HFCS Coke), I had them come back to pick up that weeks' delivery of 22 cases of HFCS Coke.

Which leaves me at a bit of a crossroads. Do we acquiesce and start stocking HFCS Coke (a horrible idea)? Or do we find another path?

Tastes of Baltimore, back from the 1920s.

Many years ago, during the Jays Shave Ice days, I started thinking about serving handmade Coke. The notion became a whirlwind in 2004 during my visit to the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. There, a live soda jerk, made Coke by the glass by using Coke syrup and a soda gun - a glimpse of old school and just absolutely brilliant. Problem was that Coca-Cola did not sell their flavoring to anyone else but their bottlers, and American bottlers of Coca-Cola do not produce their syrup in a box with anything other than HFCS. So, even though I could buy a bag of syrup for fifty bucks, I was still making the same crappy HFCS-sweetened Coke I could buy pre-bottled.

Going back even further to the beginnings of Jays Shave Ice was a cola formulation that we stumbled upon that, evidently, was the cola flavor of Baltimore from the 1800s. In the days before Coca-Cola became the mega-behemoth it is today, local soda fountains and their jerks used locally-sourced flavorings and ingredients to make their wares (who would have guessed???). In Baltimore, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, this was the cola flavor Baltimoreans knew and loved.

As is the course of our industrialized nation, this local flavor all but disappeared in the wake of Coca-Cola. Until now.

Culling our resources, I have been able to secure some of this Old Skool Baltimore Kola Flava and have been reworking our formulation for cup service. The idea is to bring back that soda jerk feel by handcrafting the original cola flavor of Baltimore and offering in lieu of HFCS Coke. This formulation of cola is decidedly simple. Just cane sugar, water and flavor to crate the base syrup. Then hit the syrup with a soda gun et voila! handmade cola to order!

I'm getting the formulation and the service steps down and hope to bring the cola to The Spro in the next couple of weeks for a test run.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pig's Head at Spro

The Towering Infernal

Drip, drip, drip - forty per minute.

We've installed a new method for brewing iced coffee at The Spro. It's been operational for a couple of weeks now and the response has been tremendous.

Since The Spro is located in a suburban library, lots of people pass by on a daily basis - many of whom don't pay much attention to the little espresso bar in the library. The expectation is that this little place couldn't be very exciting or provide very good coffee. We're a bit under the radar. A place for those "in the know."

As a barista, I'm always thinking about better ways to engage the average customer (or potential customer). How do we get these passerbys to take an interest in what we are doing? How to de engage our current customers and show them a continually improving level of excitement?

Down the distillation tube.

Over the past few weeks, we've been incorporating new coffee services to our daily line-up. I've been busy developing standards and teaching them to our baristas. New approaches to tea brewing, cold tea brewing, vacuum pots and now, iced coffee.

In many shops, iced coffee takes a back seat. A cursory thought that is quickly dismissed. At The Spro, we've always adapted Japanese iced coffee brewing techniques that produce a smooth and mellow flavor for iced coffees, but for about two years now, I've wanted to kick it up a notch or two.

Arianna watches - for twelve hours.

In comes the Brew Tower. A glorious tower of wood and glass that is a paean to all things coffee. It's presence is striking. You can't miss it. Combined with the glow from the vac pot burner and the people can't get enough. They stop. They stare. They want to know what it is. They ask questions. Suddenly, we've gone from total strangers to a bridge to engage the public. It's beautiful. Seemingly overnight, we've been able to add a whole new roster of potential clients to our repertoire. What better way to nurture the public than by engaging them in conversation?

Things are just kicking off with the brew tower, and I believe we're one of the very few shops in America currently using such a gadget. This model is a decent unit to educate ourselves, but the true piece de resistance is the version from Hario. Maybe this summer...

The Tower soars mightily over the La Marzocco.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Evil (Not Han) Solo

Eva Solo in brown sweater.

For a long time now I'd been hearing about the Eva Solo brewer from Europe. That fancy dandy coffee brewer that so many people think is terrific that I finally decided to head over to my local housewares shop and buy one to test. Over I went, and in a flash of credit card insanity, bought one brown knit-clad Eva Solo.

Imagine my surprise and shock when told that the cost (plus 6% Maryland Sales Tax *bastards*) would be $106.59!!! Christ Almighty - that's an expensive coffee brewer.

My feeling turned worse as I reviewed the instructions and realized that you pour hot water over coffee in the thing, let steep for four minutes and then pour. The coffee is restrained by a mesh screen filter. Are you serious? I started wondering, Did I really just pay a hundred bucks for a glorified French press???

If it hadn't cost me over a hundred bucks, I might have thrown it out the window of my GMC Sonoma for good measure.

Back at The Spro, it was time to put the Eva Solo to the test. I admit, I was very skeptical. Four minute immersion in water and strained by a metal mesh? Sounds a lot like French Press to me - and a press only costs $30.

Stirring the brew.

First off, the design. It's certainly a good-looking coffee brewer. Sculpted glass with nice curves and a matching metal cap/filter, dressed in a smart-looking knit sweater. Sadly, it's attractive looks also translate into its' most infuriating problems. That knit sweater keeps the glass insulated but since it's fitted, it's an absolute pain in the ass to remove for cleaning - either the knit sweater or the glass jug. Pull, pull, prod, twist, curse and the sweater finally comes off. The sweater is fitted like an American Apparel t-shirt which means that with repeated removals, the sweater will deform and look ugly.

I'm sure there's some design reason for the contoured glass that somehow affects the flavor but, to my mind, it's only reason for being is to make it absolutely impossible to properly clean the glass without a specialized brush (more money). This means that there's a continual buildup of residue and oils that will dry out and turn rancid over time. To this day, the stupid thing is sitting on the counter awaiting the arrival of the Evil Solo Brush that I ordered from Brushmasters.

The true barometer for any brewing device is what's in the cup. Admittedly, because of my reaction to the cost, I had very low expectations for the thing. A glorified, one hundred dollar french press has about as much cache with me as that Clover Automated Brewing System so many of these "third wave" baristas lust over.

For our initial test, I decided that I would give the Eva Solo a run using the same parameters we use for French Press service at The Spro: 23 grams of coffee to 32 ounces of water for a total volume of 896 ml. On our Mahlkonig Kenya, we used a "5" grind setting and brewed for a total of four minutes.

Our control for the test would be the actual coffee from that days' French press service, the El Porvenir coffee from Colombia's Monte y Colinas estate, roasted by Origins Organic Coffee in Vancouver.

The brew from the Eva Solo compared to the standard press as light, airy and clean, with a "friendly" character and a light bitterness that was "pleasant." Hmmm, not bad.


Next test was the actual recommendations from Eva Solo. Using 50 grams of coffee ground to a "normal" grind of "4" on the Mahlkonig Kenya, we filled the Eva Solo to its' capacity of one liter, stirred for ten seconds and allowed to steep for four minutes. The results were surprisingly light, bright and, as one barista noted, a very "dessert-like" coffee.

I was expecting the worst. I was hoping for the worst. Because of its' cost, I didn't want to like this brewer. In fact, I was hoping the results would bear out a brewer best to discard as rubbish, but I can't. In fact, I was surprised and shocked that the Eva Solo produced such a distinct difference than the French press control. Whether brewed to our standards or the company recommendations, the brew was crisper, lighter and cleaner-tasting than the French press. It made some delicious coffee.

That said, is the Eva Solo worth the cost? I don't know. It produces a tasty good cup of coffee with very little fuss or muss (certainly much simpler than a vac pot, but equally as messy as a press), just add hot water to coffee, stir ten seconds, wait four minutes, then pour. It's simple and easy to use, but it's an absolute bitch to clean - which earns low marks in my book. Then there's the cost. At a hundred dollars, it's not cheap. Even at half that price it would be a hard sell. But at $30 each, I would buy six of them and offer them for service - because they're glass, they will break and you will need to replace them (especially for commercial service).

The test results: Eva with press standard, Press Control sample & Eva recommended brew.

To be honest, it's the cleaning part that kills it. It's very difficult to clean and since all the Eva Solo models are clad in either a knit sweater or neoprene jacket, I have to wonder how many operators using the Eva Solo actually clean them properly. The jackets and sweaters are a pain in the ass to take off and the glass is extremely difficult to clean, so unless the shop you visit has strict and serious cleaning culture in place, chances are that the glass will be dirty.

Now, if I could only get the damned thing clean, we could use it again...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Late Lunch / Early Dinner

Just a little butter in the cast iron to cook up the hamburger patty from Springfield Farm, add a little bacon, a slice of American cheese, a little homemade ketchup, some mustard, slice of tomato and green leaf lettuce - all sandwiched between a crispy toasted English muffin and you're good to go.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Beaten Up By The Bay

You may not know this, but I'm actually a sailor. I've done sailing and been a member of a yacht club (or two) since 1995. And while I've spent a bit of time holding the tiller or paddling an outrigger canoe, my experience with power boating has been very limited. Until today.

Bill and Bud piloting our way across the Chesapeake Bay.

Bud called me yesterday seeing if I wanted to go out on the boat. Since my girl was away for the weekend, and Bud and Bill were leaving their wives at home, it was going to be a boys outing on the Chesapeake Bay. The weather for the day was brilliant. Warm, sunny, clear skies - just perfect conditions as we launched the boat into the water at Rocky Point.

Bud's boat is a modest boat with seating for up to eight and a six-cylinder engine, it's small enough to tow but still fun enough to throw around. First stop: Hart-Miller Island where young women reputedly like to sunbathe topless.

Following the Back River out towards the Chesapeake Bay, Hart-Miller Island is to starboard (right). I'd heard of this magical place just off Baltimore County's shore but had never been there. As we approached, I wondered just what kind of frolicking we would be party. Sadly, it was barely 11am and only six boats were anchored off the island, meaning that the party hadn't started and that we were too early.

Figuring that the sights would be better in the afternoon, after the revelers had time to drink enough alcohol to lubricate the party machinery, we took off for the protected shelter of Fairlee Creek on Maryland's Eastern Shore, about four miles away.

The interesting thing about taking a boat across the Bay to the Eastern Shore is the relative time savings. For us to drive to Fairlee Creek from Baltimore would take nearly two hours. We could be there in 30 minutes. As we cleared Hart-Miller Island for the open expanse of the Bay, Bud gunned the 200 hp six cylinder engine and brought it roaring to life. Soon, we were skimming along at 40 mph.

Compared to sailing, the speed under power is exhilarating. With the sun beating down on you, the wind on your face and the engine roaring angrily behind you - you feel as though you are rocketing across the water. It's smooth, it's cool, it's delicious - until you hit the chop.

Boom, we're jostled about. Boom, we're airborne. BOOM, suddenly the boats' hull has crashed into the top of a wave and we're slightly rolling and the stern is pitching to the right. One moment we're gliding along happily, the next I'm envisioning the stern popping out hard to starboard and the next wave catching the hull, causing us to flip over mercilessly and the three of us flung from the cabin at high speed with arms and legs flailing about.

CRACK, the hull hits another wave and it feels as though we're on the verge of losing control. I quickly wonder how much abuse this hull can take before it actually cracks and we're swimming for shore - damn, I would hate to lose my iPhone this way. Bill and I are being thrown into the air and nearly out of our chairs. We're being flung like rag dolls and just barely hanging on to a railing, a windscreen or cushion. The force of the blows are so severe that the fire extinguisher and its' mounting are ripped from the bulkhead and tear across the cabin, ready to impale any of us that gets in its' way.

Our transom cooking rig.

As quickly as it reared its' head, Bud has brought the beast back under control. The forecast is calling for thunderstorms that afternoon and it seems the low pressure has already started to create chop on the Bay. We attempt to seek refuge behind larger vessels crossing the Bay but none are heading in our direction and we must traverse the entire width on our own. It's not bad except for the chop and the wake caused by twin crossing freight barges in the shipping lane.

The calm, protected waters of Fairlee Creek are a welcome respite to the pounding we received by crossing the Chesapeake Bay. The sun is bright and feels good on the body. The weather is reminiscent of my days in Honolulu and I'm longing for another chance at life in paradise. In the meantime, Fairlee Creek will have to suffice.

Surprisingly, the waters are cool for May. Were we to dip into the Atlantic waters in Ocean City, we surely would have been greeted by hypothermia. Here, the waters are warm and refreshing. Fresh water swimming always kind of freaks me out. Who knows what kind of odd fish or snake (water moccasin) is lurking beneath the murky waters or lying in wait on the muddy bed. In spite of my misgivings, I take a short swim and am reminded of my distaste for open water swimming.

In spite of the fact that I'm open to sailing, boating, outrigger canoeing and overseas air travel, I really have come to detest open water swimming with its' seemingly bottomless floor and no walls to grab onto - it's positively unnerving. And I never remember this little fact until it's too late. Like the last time we took the catamaran offshore off Waikiki. One mile out and in the best interest of trying to impress the ladies, we're the first to leap off the boat and into the deep ocean blue waters.

Mind you, I'm freaked by snakes in fresh water but sharks and other man-eating creatures in the open ocean don't necessarily bother me.

It's not until I'm soaring through the air do I realize that I really hate open water swimming. Once in, it's a continual treading for survival. Up and down you go as the swells roll by you. Up onto the crest of the wave, then back down into the trough. Add the strong current pulling you away from the vessel and it's a constant struggle to stay alive. I think it's better to be topside drinking Mai Tais. At least the salt water of the ocean increases buoyancy, reducing your effort preventing drowning.

Anyway, back to Fairlee Creek...

After a few minutes, we've got the propane grill set up on the transom and I'm cooking from the water. It's oddly unique and much more convenient and comfortable than having set the grill on the sun deck and having to bend down took cook. This way, I've got my mise en place in place and we're ready to start grilling.

Bacon Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Perhaps there's nothing more masculine than grilling. It's just so simple, so guttural, so "man." It doesn't require specialized techniques or tools. Just an open flame and meat. How fitting that we're just three guys standing in a calm harbor grilling meat and waiting for chicks.

Bill has prepared some chicken breasts in BBQ sauce and I've got a simple prep of sliced and seasoned rib eye and hamburgers from Springfield Farm. We get the chicken and steak rolling first and it's a good start. They can't believe I've only used salt and pepper to season the steak and are surprised by the flavor. Bill swears that I've added butter, but I haven't. I promise.

To go along with the burgers, I've brought some Martin's Potato Buns, Springfield Farms bacon, fresh tomato and lettuce. A burger wouldn't be complete without cheese and while many might expect me to bring along some fancy cheese - to me, there's nothing better on a real, bonafide, American hamburger than bright yellow, heavily processed American Cheese. I just love that odd gooeyness.

After our food, some good conversation and more than one cigar, the storm front they were forecasting is starting to roll in and we're still miles from home. It's time to go.

As we make our way out of Fairlee Creek and into the Bay, dark clouds and storm fronts surround us on three sides - one of which is dead ahead. The barometer is plummeting, a Coast Guard patrol is to our starboard and the National Weather Service is getting ready to issue a Small Craft Advisory (that means us). Luckily, we secure a berth behind a large cabin cruiser making it's way at high speed across the Bay. Riding in the wake of the cruiser means that our ride back home is pretty smooth all the way across.

With foul weather and a small craft advisory on the horizon, we remain true to form and make a stop again at Hart-Miller Island to see if the action has increased since the morning. It most certainly has and while we don't spot topless sights, we do find lots of revelry going on. We hang out for a little while until the rain starts and it's time to get ashore.

Half an hour later, the rain is coming down, the boat is secure on the trailer and we're riding home after a long day on the water.

Hightailing back to the Western Shore from storm front rising.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

More Expensive Than Starbucks

A customer came in the other day while I was manning The Spro, looked at our prices and remarked:

"You're more expensive than Starbucks."

Ah, the trials of operating an espresso bar in a suburban public library. It was a swipe. One borne out of perhaps frustration and misunderstanding. Frustration that an "indie" coffee place wasn't cheaper than the national brand Starbucks and a misunderstanding because he just doesn't understand exactly what we do.

Oddly enough, it really didn't bother me. Somehow, I've come to accept the fact that what we do just is not suitable for everyone. There will be some who understand and perhaps recognize the quality (and therefore, the value) of what we do, and others will not. The Others will be satisfied with whatever their current coffee experience is - and that's perfectly acceptable.

Perfectly acceptable because we're not advocating mere "satisfaction" by coffee. We're advocating a sensual, stunning and evangelical coffee experience. We want our guests to be stoked that they came to visit us. We want to surprise and dazzle them. We want them to come in, expecting to find some perfunctory coffee, and be shocked to their core. Shocked that something so tasty would be found in such an unlikely place.

To do this requires expense. The Spro isn't built on a multi-hundred thousand dollar buildout, like Starbucks. Nor do we utilize superautomatic espresso machines with their push-button functionality. We are craftspeople striving to provide the best product possible by sourcing the best ingredients available.

It is this commitment to our standard alone that drives our prices. We're not out there sourcing the cheapest coffee possible. Nor are we using the cheapest equipment, or the cheapest milk. In fact, our milk costs more than most dairies nationwide. Our milk costs more than two times what people pay at the supermarket. And everything from our syrups to our drinks are made by hand.

The average barista candidate at The Spro takes roughly one month to train. That's one month of salary, coffee, milk, cups and more - just to teach that person the bare minimum to be a "barista." For a company as small as ours, the investment is staggering.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I thought the persons' comments were thought provoking. Why are our prices higher than Starbucks? For one thing, with thousands of stores, they have economies of scale that we could never match. To match prices or, God Forbid, price our products lower than Starbucks just because, is a near guarantee of crushing failure.

As for myself, there's always the possibility of economic disaster and business failure - especially during these economic times. But I would rather fail providing the standards we have committed ourselves than to fail by attempting to be "cheaper" than Starbucks.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eating Chicago

My time in Chicago was spent (what else?) eating and checking out the various cool and interesting restaurants of the city. And what is a visit to Chicago without a taste of their ubiquitous hot dogs?

Initially, I was going to check out Hot Doug's again but as I pulled up to the restaurant around 2:30pm on Saturday, I spotted the line snaking around the building, and down the block, and decided to pass. Pressing onward but hungry, I ended up spotting a Mexican grocery store with a taqueria, cut off another driver and jammed into the parking lot. Inside, I loaded up on beverages, conchas and cookies and partook of a cecina taco and a chorizo taco with freshly squeezed orange juice.

To be honest, my Spanish comprehension is terrible. Everyone speaks natively (read: fast) and I'm at a disadvantage. Of course, this is compounded by the fact that I don't look terribly gringo so they speak to me normaly (fast and in Spanish). With a little mumbling and slight slurring, I manage to order the two tacos and the orange juice chico (small).

That's when the guy throws me a curve ball. Luckily, I hear the word "aqui" in the mix and guess that he's asking me if I want to eat it here (aqui) or "to go." Quickly, I drill out (with a heavy slurring of the words): "Si, aqui por favor" and hope that's enough to get me through. Luckily, it is and I'm treated to two very large and tasty tacos.

Compared to Baltimore, there's a very large population of Mexicans and Latinos in Chicago. This means that I'm sure to find some authentic and tasty eats here. In fact, I read reports that made the bold claim that the vendors at the New Maxwell Street Market are as good as in Mexico City. Woah, that's a bold claim indeed. Whatever the case, this grocery store taqueria has it going on.

But back to the hot dog...

The Superdawg resting on a bed of fries.

Over at the PolyScience booth at the NRA Show, Jason is telling me that I need to check out SuperDawg up in Niles. Since I'm staying way north of the city in the suburban enclave of Deerfield/Northwood, it's on the way and after an afternoon of touring the show, I'm feeling in the mood for an authentic Chicago dog.

SuperDawg is a real, bona-fide drive-in. The kind you either saw in Happy Days or American Grafitti. You pull up to one of the stalls, peruse the menu, hit the button, order your food and a female car hop delivers it to you on a tray that you hang off your car window. This is my one chance at a Chicago dawg and I go whole hawg: the eponymously named Superdawg is an all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun with tomatoes, pickles, onions, celery salt, neon green relish and some tasty goodness resting on a bed of crispy crinkle-cut french fries. Muy excelente!

Fearing that perhaps the bed of fries might be a bit small, I decide to err on the side of abundance (this is America, afterall) and order a side of fries. A mistake. A tasty mistake perhaps, but a mistake nonetheless. Not because they weren't an example of crispy fried potato goodness, but rather because I was now facing a mountain of fries. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son...

No visit to the drive-in would be complete with a proper malted. Chalk one up for the chocolate malt and a side of Coke. Yes, it's a lot, but I've got a long drive, I reason.

Bacon and Cheese Omelette with hash browns and pancakes at Georgie V's.

Sunday mornings are usually spent casually lolly gagging around the house. But since I'm on the road and on a schedule, I've got to get cracking and want to find a nice spot for brunch without having to battle the brunch crowd. This demands that one get going early while everyone else is either thinking about rousting themselves from bed or attending church services. Luckily, I attend the Church of Bacon and after a quick online search, I find a place nearby in Northwood called Georgie V's.

Georgie V's looks like your typical suburban pancake house. Simple walls, simple decor, nothing too fancy, just a light touch of classic Americana home with cream walls and lots of booths. I secure myself one and peruse the menu.

This is the area of Chicago that was home to some of America's most prominent teenagers. I'm comforted by the fact that not too far from here Mr. Vernon detained a bunch of unruly high schoolers in The Breakfast Club and Ferris took Cameron's dad's Ferrari for a ride in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Readers of this blog might be expecting some sort of fancy feast for brunch, but really, I prefer something a bit more simple and homey - even a bit downright pedestrian. I go with the three egg omelette with bacon and American cheese. Served with a side of hash browns and three dollar-sized pancakes, it's a simple winner. Whipped eggs, bacon and American cheese - slathered with Tabasco and a watered down piss water coffee. Ah, Americana.

Iriquois White Corn cornbread with goat ragu at Mado.

After a stint at Woodberry Kitchen, Thunder Dan Silo has taken up residence in the kitchen of Lula Cafe in Logan Square and is my inside guide to some of the newer places in town. Knowing my fondness for locally sourced ingredients, he's made reservations for us to attend the Stewards of the Land Family Dinner at mado restaurant in the now trendy Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood.

Once a month, chef owners Rob and Allie Levitt shut down their cozy restaurant to host the family dinners featuring products from certain producers. Tonight's guests are Marty and Kris Travis of Spence Farm - the oldest family farm in Livingston County, Illinois, established in 1830. At the outset, Rob tells us that 98% of the ingredients for the meal have come from Spence Farm and that the Iriquois White Corn used to make the cornbread is a very special heirloom corn that almost met total extinction just a couple of years ago and is now being cultivated (after an exhaustive search) by Marty and Kris.

The meal:

- Grilled asparagus with pickled eggs
- Whitefish Bacala with cattail shoots and chilies
- Beef Carpaccio with Radish, Green Garlic and Cherokee Sweet Mint
second course
- Iriquios White Corn Cornbread with Goat Ragu
- Spring Greens Salad with Pickled Ramp Vinaigrette
- Nettle Gnudi with Butter and Parmesan
- Prairie Fruits Farm Cheese with Apple Mostarda
-Wheatberry Pastiera with Rhubarb Compote

Roasted Bone Marrow, ramp pickle, parsley and shallot jam at The Bristol.

The next night, Thunder Dan and I are off to the place Dan's been wanting to check out: The Bristol. A neighborhood eatery, The Bristol seems to have subscribed to what is starting to look like the Farm-To-Table restaurants' de rigueur interior decor uniform: exposed brick walls, wood tables, metal chairs, noisy environment and hip-looking servers.

Uniform interior or not, The Bristol is jamming on a Monday night and is packed. After a half-hour wait, we are seated at a two top by the blackboard wall filled with handwritten chalk specials. The nice thing is that there's lots of goodness to choose from and we're not afraid for a de facto tasting menu:

- Scotch Olives, Pork Sausage, Lemon
- Duck Fat Fries, House Ketchup, Garlic Aioli
- Heirloom Apple Salad, Hazelnuts, Marinated Manchego
- Raviolo, Ricotta, Egg Yolk, Brown Butter
- Roasted Bone Marrow, Ramp Pickle, Parsley, Shallot Jus
- Goat Loin Carpaccio, Farro Salad, Almonds, Goat's Feta
- Egg Sandwich, Grilled Fresh Pork Belly, Toast
- Peach Panna Cotta
- Chocolate Pot au Creme with Nutter Butter Cookie

It's a pretty darn good meal that started off with a seriously tasty cocktail or locally produced vodka, house made ginger beer and lime juice, in a copper cup. So darn good, I could've pounded them all night.

Tacos al Pastor at Tecalitlan

After such nice meals in the Windy City, it was time to gear down a bit on my last day and check out this al pastor place that Jason had been telling me. Happily, Tecalitlan has outdoor seats but no al pastor grill for a proper pastor. Instead, the meat is chopped, grilled and served on corn tortillas. The tortillas are good, the meat is tasty but this ain't no El Vipsito.

On the menu, I spot chilaquiles and I can't help myself. I must order one, just to taste. It's decent enough. The chips are slathered in a red salsa that has just a hint of chipotle bite but the rice and beans are just odd.

Inside the Cemitas Milanesa from Cemitas Puebla.

When asking for recommendations, Moveable Feast's Louisa Chu vociferously recommended a shop way west of the city. Cemitas Puebla is a small Mexican joint specializing in Pueblan fare. The neighborhood seems suitably sketchy but it's clean inside and food cooking on the griddle just looks delicious.

Here at Cemitas Puebla, the torta-like sandwiches are served on a sesame seed roll. I go for the milanesa, a pounded, breaded and fried pork cutlet, and a Taco Arabes. The owner is a friendly and very outgoing man who speaks in a happy Spanish. I apologize for my American ignorance and inability to speak more than one language and he doesn't skip a beat. Obviously, he's more than used to non-Spanish speaking people coming into his restaurant.

It's only been fifteen minutes since my meal at Tecalitlan, so it would be pure insanity for me to eat a second meal here. I ask for the food to-go and take it with me for the flight home.

Cocooned in darkness, with the lights of the world passing beneath me at 450 mph, the still slightly warm taco and cemitas goes down well with a cold Coke. Both are tasty. Perhaps not the best torta and taco I've ever had (could use a little salt), but the flavor is comforting and reassuing - and I'm confident that should United 766 take a nosedive into the ground, I would vaporize a happy, Mexican-fed, man.

Superdawg Drive-In
6363 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60646

Georgie V's Pancake House
1139 Church Street
Northbrook, Illinois 60062
Georgie V's on Yelp

mado restaurant
1647 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647

The Bristol
2152 North Damen Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647

Tecalitlan Restaurant
1814 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Tecalitlan on Yelp

Cemitas Puebla
3619 West North Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Interlopers be gone!

Over the years, I've been to a lot of trade shows: SCAA, NPPL, ShowBiz West, CoffeeFest, CES, and even though this years' NRA was smaller than ever, it was the most brutal trade show I have ever attended. Brutal not because of the vendors but the size really was a tough grind. Four days of non-stop walking the show and talking with vendors and it's still nearly impossible to see everything.

After four days, I was worked. By 7pm Tuesday, while shopping at the Target nearest to O'Hare, I hit the wall. Done. Finished. Spent. I just needed to trudge to the airport and hang on for the flight home.

As always, the National Restaurant Association Show was an experience. Just about everything and anything food and restaurants is on display. While the proliferation of the Internet has made researching easier, nothing beats seeing the goods face-to-face. Sure that chair looks nice on the website, but what is it like to sit in that chair? And, after days of walking and standing on thin-carpeted concrete, all you want to do is sit in a chair.

One man and his NRA harvest.

I've been to a lot of food shows and learned my lessons the hard way. At first, a food show seems like a veritable smorgasbord orgy and you go ballistic eating everything in sight - like your own personal buffet. Then you get ill. Too much eating. Too much food. Too much crap.

The other side of trade shows is that you want to grab everything in sight. All the free books, magazines, catalogs, brochures, pamphlets, product samples, promo items and sexy models that you can stuff into your bag. You then trudge all that stuff back home with you where it sits in a corner, undisturbed for how many months before you throw it away.

During shows like this, I let them scan my card and send me information at home where I can take the time to properly review the material. My goal is to acquire no more paper material than I can carry in one hand, without a bag. This limits my burden and forces me to choose only the most important pieces to review that night.

When it comes to eating, I don't know why anyone attending shows like this needs to visit a restaurant or snack bar in the center. Food is everywhere, and while they don't give you full servings, a little grazing along the way when you get hungry is an easy and cheap way to keep yourself full Of course, most of the food you're eating you really don't want to eat on a regular basis...

Sexy goodness from CookTek.

CookTek, my favored induction heat source, debuted their new eight burner range top. Requiring 208v 3Phase power, it's simply bad to the bone. I want one. Also got the chance to see their Apogee induction top up close and now understand why I must spend the additional three hundred dollars for one. But the coolest thing they had on display was their counter induction warmer. Pull the digital sensor pad away and all you have is your non-reactive countertop. Put the pad down and you've got induction. Promises that they're developing a full-powered version for cooking means that you can have your beautiful granite countertop and cook on it too.

Chris Cosentino prepares Porchetta di Testa.

One of the highlights of this show was watching Chris Cosentino prepare a porchetta di testa. Quite simply, you take a pig's head, debone it while maintaining the integrity of the skin, fill in the skin holes with the ears, roll the head with some herbs, seasoning and tongue - while keeping the snout intact. Wrap the roll in netting, vacuum-pack it in a bag, cook it for six hours in an immersion bath (a la sous vide), chille and slice. Delicious and I'm calling my butcher this week to secure myself a pig's head. Maybe I'll even give Chris' "Brain-naise" a try...

Fountain Coke versus Slurpee Coke.

Coca-Cola has to have one of my favorite booths at the show. For no other reason than they give out free Coke to anyone who asks. And they're not measly servings either. Twelve ounces of amber Coke goodness. Compare their approach to Pepsi and their comparatively anemic booth and it's no wonder why Coke is Number One.

One afternoon, I decided to give fountain Coke and Slupee Coke a head-to-head comparison - if only to satisfy my own curiosity. While fountain Coke is decidedly sweet, Slupee Coke is carbon-y (as in fizzy carbonation) and the sweetness is lessened. Actually, it really is like freezing Coke, which diminishes it's character and isn't very interesting.

Freshly sliced Jamon Iberico.

Since it is the national restaurant show, food is at the forefront. Unfortunately, most of that food is utter crap. If it's frozen, portioned, processed and prepackaged, it's on display here. Like I said above, you can eat for free at the show, but the food isn't very good. Sure, the Lamb-Weston fries are something you've tasted before, but are they really good? No. I found this show interesting because it reminded me of the coffee trade shows: lots of stuff on display, most of which do not compute for me or the company.

Luckily, there are a number of vendors whose products look applicable. Take Solex and their selection of Spanish products, like the Jamon Iberico they were handing out. At roughly one thousand dollars per leg, it's not cheap, but it is delicious. And while there were a number of regional producers at the show, it reinforced the notion in my mind that we ought to keep with our mission of sourcing the best local ingredients. Though, I have to say that while I'm a constant skeptic of American Wagyu, I did find a vendor whose product (if they can achieve their highest grade) looks as though it might rival the original Japanese.

MK's Erik Williams promoting Cornish Hen, Morels and French Asparagus .

Tuesday is the last day of the show and also one of the slowest. Most vendors have scaled back their sampling so foraging for lunch is slightly more difficult. While looking at ovens, Louis Petrozza snuck up on me to offer his advice on procuring ovens (a used Blodgett is a better buy than an inexpensive new oven). I can't say I disagree. But it's so much fun buying new!

Erik Williams, executive chef at Chicago's MK Restaurant was giving a demo that I wanted to check out. He's making a pan-seared cornish hen with morels and French asparagus. The asparagus looked so delicious, I just wanted to reach out and grab a handfull. Erik has a great demeanor and personality, and gave a great show. It's just a shame that he was scheduled on the last day so the crowd was much smaller.

Le piece de resistance- rotary evaporator with vacuum pump and circulator.

I was attending the NRA as the guest of Philip from PolyScience. Armed with my PolyScience Exhibitor badge, the show was a very different experience. Other vendors either eye you suspiciously (one came out and asked if I was a competitor spy) or ignore you altogether. Since I was here to find new products and buy them, it was a bit irritating to be outright ignored, but it was also a relief not to be constantly battered by the full court press that people with attendee badges were receiving. In that vein, I was able to browse in peace.

On the flip side of the coin, having a PolyScience badge afforded me a level of familiarity and, dare I say: "prestige" with certain individuals at the show. Did it make me cooler? Maybe. Did it separate me from the typical restauranteur who buys everything pre-portioned from Sysco? Possibly. Whatever the case, there were certainly a number of times when I was welcomed warmly because I was associated with such a great company - and for that, I am grateful. Thanks Philip.

While there will always be a longing in my heart for a nice chamber vacuum, my show lust was driven by the introduction of the PolyScience rotary evaporator with vacuum pump and chill circulator. Just look at the picture above. It was destined to be part of my arsenal. Of course, I hope my banker won't see this otherwise my letter of credit may disappear.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not Suitable For Nieces

Uncle Jay as Ghengis Khan.

The other night I was talking to my cousin's cousin (not my cousin) who was surprised to find out that I write a blog. After quickly looking it up, she asks if my cousin (her cousin) knows that I write a blog and do my nieces also read this blog.

NO, I certainly hope not.

Not that I have anything to hide or am harboring dark family secrets (though I might), but after writing this blog, I certainly do not think that some of the content on here is quite suitable for young readers - especially with my occasional rants and sporadic use of profanity to make a point. None of which I would consider appropriate for my nieces.

So, if you happen to be one of my nieces reading this: GET OFF THE COMPUTER!!! Watch Dora or iCarly. Go outside and play. Stop wasting time indoors and eating hot pockets (they are evil).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's Get Brutal

It's Tuesday morning and I'm reluctant to leave the security of my hotel room in Northbrook, Illinois for the thirty minute commute to Chicago.

I've been in Chicago since Saturday attending the National Restaurant Association trade show - a four day festival of all things restaurant and hospitality. As far as food trade shows go, it's immense, though not as big as before as the falling economy has caused many vendors to pull out from the show and the organizers to scale back to two halls instead of three. Regardless, seeing everything is brutal on the body.

The NRA Show for me, is like the Specialty Coffee Association's trade show. Lot's of stuff that do not apply. Instead of the syrups and powdered mixes of the SCAA, here it's battered, frozen, portioned and fried foods. Out of the many vendors, maybe three percent apply. The positive thing is that you don't have to buy food so long as you're willing to eat whatever is available and graze.

A couple of celebrity sightings: ran into Rick Bayless at the Cambro booth and wanted to ask him about the finer points of mole but he looked pretty engrossed in shelving. Attended a session with Incanto's Chris Cosentino that was really quite exciting - making a porchetta from a pigs head - most excellent. But the true celebrity moment was while walking along an aisle and spotting someone who I swore I knew from Baltimore. So much so that I started to approach and greet him. Only then did I realize that I didn't know him personally and only knew him from television. For a number of my friends, Hell's Kitchen is our secret indulgence and here was our favorite chef from Season Four, Louis Petrozza - who is as nice in person as his persona on the show.

Today is the last day and I'm heading back for one more round before flying home tonight. The goal: a thorough exploration of a Spanish importer, olives and their jamon iberico.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Knowledge Seeker

As I've, once again, decided to hurtle myself towards reckless financial ruin, I figured I would at least try to understand what I did wrong when I do it.

The local Border's and Barnes & Noble bookstores have a plethora of food and cookbooks but a dearth of material covering the actual operation of foodservice businesses, leaving the general public in the dark and contributing to the continual shuttering of foodservice businesses every year. With that in mind, I decided to venture into the heart of the city to visit the Baltimore International College's Bookstore.

I went there once years ago and found some helpful books and figured it was time for an update. Nestled in the basement of their business center, the bookstore is hard to find and difficult to access (I had to request a security badge at reception to buzz my way through the doors). As I made my way down and through the labyrinthine passageways and stairwells, I hoped that all this effort would be worth it. Upon reaching the bookstore and perusing its' contents, I was reminded of the one truism that has remained since my college days.

Crickey, textbooks are expensive.

Amidst the choices, I found what I was looking for: Design and Layout of Foodservice Facilities and Food and Beverage Cost Control, two of what looked like excellent texts to bolster my knowledge. Ten minutes later, and a long trudge up a steep staircase, I was back on the street with the sun in my face and the horror of spending over two hundred dollars on two books in the pit of my stomach. For that much money, you bet your ass I'm gonna put these principles to work. So much for that dinner this weekend at Charlie Trotter's...

I'll report more as things progress.

Monday, May 11, 2009

From Yesterday to Today

At home with Tapsilog and Tabasco

Yesterday's beef tapa yielded todays' Tapsilog: pan fried beef tapa with fried eggs over garlic fried rice. All fresh and all local ingredients. Add to that a marathon of Jack Bauer and Season Six of 24, and it's a rollicking good time.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

The family gathers for Mother's Day Brunch.

It's Mother's Day and happy wishes to all the mothers out there in the world. Decided to prepare Mother's Day Brunch for my mom and my aunts. Here's our menu:

- Beef Tapa
- Pork Tocino
- Scrambled Eggs
- Pancit Bihon
- Applewood Smoked Bacon
- Steamed Rice
- Blueberry Muffins
- Steamed Asparagus
- Mixed Fruit
- Buko Pie
- Oven Shrimp
- Blood Orange Juice
- Aida's Grand Reserve from Stumptown

Blueberry muffins hot from the oven.

Originally, my plan was to do a traditional American-style brunch but as I got into planning things yesterday, I realized that while I enjoy pancakes and such, why not focus more on our traditions and go with a Filipino-style brunch. Suddenly, more items started dancing in my notebook: ensaymada, ukoy, fire-baked bibingka, sinangag and dried fried fish.

It's so easy to drive over the Filipino grocery store and buy the packaged tocino and tapa, but why? With such great ingredients at my disposal, why choose commercially processed meats over the great local meats? So, I drove out to Springfield Farm to load up. With pounds of bacon, flank steak and pork butt (not to mention a few pounds of chicken backs for stock, and a couple rib eyes) in tow, it was back home to get things rolling.

Sliced flank steak and some Shaoxing wine for marinade.

Truth be told, I'd never made either tocino or tapa before. I looked up some recipes and started mixing. The tocino is a pretty simple mixture of salt, sugar and achiote powder. Slice the pork butt into thin planks, sprinkle the dry mix, top with sliced garlic and let marinate overnight. Of course, I didn't start until the morning so I needed to speed things up by bagging and vacuum packing the seasoned meat.

Tapa was equally simple. Slice the meat into thin planks and marinade in a mix of Aloha Shoyu, Shiaoxing rice wine, coconut vinegar maasim (hot), sugar and lime juice. This needs to marinated for at least an hour, better overnight, and then air dried for 12 hours. Of course, it's the morning and I'm under the gun. Vacuum pack the meat and marinade to speed the process for an hour, lay the planks on a drying rack in a 175F oven for awhile, finish drying in the hot sun and then pan fry.

Marinated beef tapa basking in the sunshine.

Happily, I still have some of the fresh blueberries I froze from last summer. My supply is now dwindling but the flavor is still bright, sweet and intense. The perfect specimens for muffins. Taking a cue from the current issue of Cook's Illustrated, I whipped up their recipe of flour, sugar, baking powder, butter and oil with a cup of frozen blueberries and some of the blueberry jam I have from last summer. Coat with a liberal application of lemon accented sugar and bake at 425F for twenty minutes. Beautiful.

Everyone works the line...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wii Bii Bored

Was out the other day and found the Wii Sports package and Wii Fit contraption at Target. I decided to buy them. My cousin told me they had them at Target, the guy at the counter told me I could probably sell them on eBay for a profit. I figured it might be a way for me to do something active while at home. Profiteering be damned.

Never in my life have I ever owned more than one gaming console at a time. My brother and I had the Atari 2600 when it was still just called the "Atari" - we never owned Intellivision. When Colecovision came out, we got that. I think my brother had the Nintendo but I didn't. He also got the PlayStation.

Years later, the PlayStation 2 came out and I got one. For six weeks, I was Snake Plissken. Then, when the stresses of business close in around me, I took to the streets of Liberty City and, with the help of cheat codes, proceeded to gun down the masses in a ball of fury, flame and a hail of gunfire.

Fast forward to 2006 and I'm unexpectedly the owner of a PlayStation 3, which turned out to be more of a Blu-Ray Disc player than anything else - except for the one week period where I was launching a Blitzkrieg of 155mm tracer shells on unsuspecting bad guys from my C-130 Hercules gun ship.

Now, I've got the old PS2, the PS3 and the new Wii. I finally opened and set it up today and gave Wii Sports a go. After a rather successful game of bowling and a relatively decent round of golf (which is much better than my real world average), I'm now bored with the machine and couldn't stand playing another round.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Good News

I have just received good news from the coast.

I think I will smoke a cigar in honor of this news.

My Entire Life

It took me awhile to figure it out, but when I was back in college, I took an economics course and our textbook was McConnell & Brue's Principles of Microeconomics. It was there that I found a favored passage that I refer to from time to time:

Human capital is the accumulation of outcomes of prior investments in education, training and other factors that increase productivity and earnings. It is the stock of knowledge, know-how, and skills that enables individuals to be productive and thus earn income. A valuable stock of human capital, together with a strong demand for one's services, can add up to a large capacity to earn income. For some people, high earnings have little to do with actual hours of work and much to do with their tremendous skill, which reflects their accumulated stock of human capital.

The point is demonstrated in the following story: It is said that a tourist once spotted the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in a Paris cafe. The tourist asked Picasso if he would do a sketch of his wife for pay. Picasso sketched the wife in a matter of minutes and said, "That will be 10,000 Francs." Hearing the high price, the tourist became irritated, saying "But that took you only a few minutes."

"No," replied Picasso, "it took me my entire life!"

Friday, May 01, 2009

New York Swag

Few things are as excruciating in life as getting up at 4:30am (after having gone to bed at 1:30am) to catch the 5:30am train to Nueva York.

I was in New York today to attend the New York Coffee Summit being held at the International Culinary Center and hosted by Edible Magazines. While I won't go into heavy detail about what we discussed today (I'll save that for another time), I will say that it was fun, informative and offered the perspective from the hardcore retail barista and roaster to the mass market segment that helped underscore the true challenge to those of us interested in pursuing coffee at the vanguard.

But enough of that talk. What you want to know about was the swag, and this summit was Swag-A-Licious:

- Brazil Serra Do Bone from the happily still operating Ecco Caffe
- Insulated press cup from Bodum
- Finca Mauritania from Counter Culture Coffee
- Aida's Grand Reserve El Salvador from Stumptown
- Colombia La Mirada from Stumptown
- Hair Bender Espresso from Stumptown
- Colombia Finca Piendamo from Stumptown
- Kurimi Ethiopia Yirgacheffe from Intelligentsia
- Rwanda Epiphanie from gimme! coffee
- Amedei Tuscany chocolate from Chuao
- Brieto peeling knife and Japanese oyster knife from Korin
- Drew Estate cigars from Bronwen Serna
- Yemen Mokha from Oren's Daily Roast
- Cafe Colombia from the Colombian Coffee Federation
- Illy ground espresso
- Edible Manhattan

The selection is pretty exciting and we had the chance to sample many of these coffees throughout the day. The Intelligentsia Yirgacheffe had a really nice light and fruity flavor while Stumptown's Finca Piendamo rocked it with notes of honey. Later, at the closing reception, USBC Champ Mike Phillips and WBC Champ Stephen Morrissey worked the Ecco Serra do Bone producing sweet macchiatos to lead us into the evening.

I should note that the knives from Korin came from a shopping trip with Bronwen after the summit, then a quick trip midtown to my favorite Ipanema Restaurant for vatapa before the train back to Baltimore.