Posts tagged: Shopping

Just Add Wine

By , April 22, 2010

If you are like me, you pay pretty close attention to the myriad ingredients you purchase in order to cook a meal. I go out of my way to shop at specific markets that I know have better produce, or butchers that offer better cuts of meat. I sift through bins to find the best piece of fruit, or the freshest, crispest vegetables. I buy bread from one or two particular bakeries.

I often cook from recipes; they are usually fairly specific, and I go out of my way to locate each ingredient in the best and freshest form available to me. If a recipe calls for sugar, I use natural raw cane sugar. When it wants oregano, I have fresh, organic oregano that I’ve dried myself. I make my own maraschino cherries and grenadine for cocktails, and I even have homemade bacon in my refrigerator right now.

I put forth all this effort in an attempt to cook something fabulous each time I step into my kitchen, yet when a recipe calls for wine, and many do, I am at a loss. Everyone seems to be– even friends with a firm grasp of what wines to drink with a given dish are puzzled when asked to recommend an appropriate wine for cooking. Recipes *never* tell you what kind of wine to use! So, like most people, after spending an afternoon at farmer’s markets, bakeries, butchers, and grocery stores, almost as an afterthought I grab the cheapest wine I can find. Red or white is about the only decision I make, and often, when recipes don’t specify, I don’t even take that into consideration.

Enter my newest discovery: Académie Wines. This is one of the most clever ideas I’ve heard of in years, and frankly I’m baffled as to why no company has done this before. Académie sells four different wines specifically designed for cooking. I’ve tried all four, and they are uniformly good. The label says it all– each wine is blended for usage in cooking certain dishes. So far I’ve tried the wines with beef, chicken breast, lamb chops, salmon, and scallops, and have yet to be disappointed. The difference in the finished product is sometimes subtle, but always noticeable. Each wine brings out elements in the dish that were otherwise muted when using randomly chosen wines.

The other thing I like about these wines is that they come in bottles half the size of a traditional wine bottle. That leaves me just enough leftover wine for a glass to drink whilst cooking (it’s also tasty drinking wine). No more leftover bottles that gradually go bad.

Chef Cooks with Wine

It’s rare that I extol the virtues of a specific brand or product in this blog, and in fact this may be the first time I have ever done so, but I think this is a very useful and unique product, and most of my readers will be glad to know about it. I should add– I don’t really know if it is available outside Northern California. The Académie Wines web page can probably tell you, and answer any other questions you have. If you buy some and like it, let me know– I am actually really curious to get feedback from people about this stuff.


I Want My Groove Back

By , May 21, 2005

I live in Berkeley, California, which is pretty much ground zero for liberal philosophy, socialist ideology, and progressive thought in general. Yet, I see so many Berkeley residents living lavish, decadent lives while putting up what seems like little more than a front of caring for the less fortunate. Perhaps they occasionally volunteer somewhere, or dash off a check to a charity now and then, but by and large they live selfishly. I remember the patrons (and managers) at Fizzy’s former workplace who saw nothing wrong with spending $100 on a thermos or $80 on a dustpan. In fact, they seemed to revel in doing so, almost as if they needed to flaunt their wealth and supposed good taste as some misguided way of publicly defining their self-worth. And all the while they espoused the politically correct, “goodwill to fellow man” rhetoric that every self-respecting Berkeley liberal knows by heart. It seemed to be no better than lip service, but no one ever called them out on it.

I don’t pretend for a moment that I am any better. Of course, I don’t have the income of the people I am chastising, but if I did, I wonder how I would behave. Knowing my frugal and bashful nature, I doubt I’d spend money on conspicuous consumption, but doesn’t mean I would rival Mother Teresa were I suddenly to strike it rich. As it stands now, I don’t do much more than the occasional good deed. I volunteered for a time at the San Francisco Food Bank, but that was years ago. Pretty much the extent of my charitable efforts and contributions is whatever money I give to beggars, which can’t amount to more than a few dollars per week on average. Even without a massive bank account, I know I could still do better. In short, I’m no better than the folks I chastise for hypocrisy.

What you ask, prompted me to consider all this stuff? Well, as it happens, the closest residential parking to my apartment is adjacent to the infamous tract of land known as People’s Park. Because of this, I have come to know quite a few of the homeless people who spend their time hanging out at the park. One in particular, Lisa, has taken quite a liking to me. I once bought her a hot dog at Top Dog, and ever since she chats with me. Usually it’s just idle chit chat, but she has asked me a few times now to bring her some fried chicken. Yesterday I was on my way home, and knew I’d be parking by the park, so I made a quick detour to Colonel Sanders’ and bought a 20-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sure enough, Lisa was at the park when I arrived.

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction. I knew they’d be happy to get it– who wouldn’t be happy? It’s fried chicken! but the outpouring of love and gratitude shocked me. Several people hugged me. I was just glad to feed them, but they seemed to see it as more than just that, which is was what set my mind to thinking on this topic.

I realized something yesterday. Happiness is not something I can find within myself. No amount of logic or rational thought is going to provide me with the key to personal satisfaction. Since youth I have been of the opinion that the key to my happiness is centered around finding my place in this universe, and understanding how I can make the lives of those around me better. It’s about interaction, not solitude. For most of my life, I’ve been able (by circumstance or effort I can’t say with certainty) to stay happy. I’ve seldom even thought about the matter– I’ve just been content with life, and felt I was on a path towards satisfaction and success. Lately, I don’t feel that way at all. Instead, I feel more than a little bit lost. I can’t seem to figure out what I’m supposed to do now, or next, and I don’t quite understand my role in life anymore. I think that is the key right there– when I again feel I have a purpose or goal for which to strive, I think I’ll fall back into my naturally happy rhythm.

I’ve been moping and soul-searching for a couple months now. Along the way I’ve improved myself. I’ve identified and corrected many personal character flaws heretofore unbeknownst to me, and I’m working on fixing others. I still have a long way to go; I’m far from “better,” but I’m doing my best to change that. This seems like the time for it– what better time to focus on self-enrichment and personal growth than while I feel sidelined by life? Hopefully before long I’ll get back into a nice groove, and be a better person than I was before. And hopefully I won’t post anymore rambling, introspective blogs like this! Apologies!


Bowling for Produce

By , July 7, 2004

My local market has an unusual name: The Berkeley Bowl. It is named such because the storefront it once occupied was previously a bowling alley that sported that moniker. Presumably to save on the cost of a new sign, the market kept the name. I guess the name didn’t deter folks, because it became so popular that a few years ago they moved to a new, larger location; they kept the name.

Today I was chatting with one-time maguffin, and now Real-Life-Speed-Scrabble-Pal, Yale, and she told me that Berkeley Bowl has the largest produce section on the West Coast. That did not surprise me, as I have always thought that their produce section alone is the size of an average Safeway/ Ralph’s/ Piggly Wiggly/ Alpha Beta store. When I find myself away from home, be it in some Podunk town or a major city like New York or Los Angeles, and I am cooking, I feel limited by the lack of freshness and variety in the ingredients available to me. I always ask the people I’m visiting to direct me to the best markets, and am always sorely disappointed.

I seemed to have more of a point to this when I started typing this entry. Oh, I remember– because they have such a vast amount of produce for sale, I, unlike said produce, am spoiled. They have just about every style and variety of fruit and vegetable known to man in there. I have sometimes encountered recipes that call for some very obscure and esoteric ingredients, and when it comes to fruits or vegetables I’ve always been able to find what I need at the Berkeley Bowl. You name it , they have it. Why, during my last visit there I counted nine different kinds of eggplant. Nine!

The best is when I bring some arcane vegetable to the checkout line and the clerk has to stop and look it up in the voluminous registrar of produce codes. I feel warm and fuzzy inside whenever I stump a clerk, especially if it is one of the old-timers that should know them all by now. I am weird.

Today’s Question: Is there a store or shop in your area that you could not live without?


Holiday Cheer & Bargain Hunting

By , November 28, 2003

Thanksgiving has come and gone, thus officially kicking off the Christmas Season. Holiday music abounds, stores are open later, traffic and crowds are larger, Santas are out in full force, and general merriment is on the rise everywhere. As such, I am poised to purchase Christmas cards to send to family and friends, as well as making my annual list of people for whom I need to buy gifts.

My sister and her husband were home for Thanksgiving, and in between sometimes sickening palavers of love and affection for one another, such as:

Lil’ Sis: My Sweet Jeffy!
Jeff: My Cara Bear-a!
Me: *barf*

they had time to converse with me. The matter of holiday shopping was bandied about during one of the conversations. Lil’ Sis was insisting to Sweet Jeffy that they awaken bright and early the day after Thanksgiving, in order that they might spend the entire day shopping and bargain hunting.

I’m as big a fan of saving money as the next guy, but no level of price reduction will get me to venture out to shop on the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve seen televised footage of what shopping is like on that day. No thanks; I’ll pay the extra 10%. I dislike shopping enough as it is without having to contend with stampeding hordes while hunting down gifts.

In the meantime, I need to stop buying “gifts” for myself. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve accumulated a bunch of “throwback” basketball jerseys lately. Playing basketball has become my primary form of exercise, and for some reason I find it fun to wear the things when I play. It’s sort of dumb to spend that much on exercise clothing, but there is something about the old-fashioned aesthetic that appeals to me. I already have a few of them, but I kind of of want one more– this one. Crazy, right? Someone stage an intervention already.

Oh, so back to the topic at hand– bargain hunting. Sometimes I think sales encourage people to purchase things they otherwise would not, simply because of the reduced price. Today’s Question: What do you think?

Oh, and just ‘cuz, here is what Christmas music sounded like in 1949:

Currently Playing: Nat “King” Cole – All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)


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