The Menu Journal

I have a bit of an issue with food blog photography. While I love taking pictures of food, I am often too focused on the process of actually eating or cooking to remember to pause and set up a good shot. Plus my digital camera recently broke, I lost my Ollo Clip for my iPhone, and said iPhone has decided to insert a bright purple lens glare into the corner of almost every shot. So the pictures I am taking aren't necessarily the best anyhow. And as it will be awhile before I can afford the sweet DSLR I have my eye on, I find myself at a loss for what to do in the meantime. Because photos of food don't just act as pretty eye candy for the blog posts -- they also serve as memory-jabbers to help me recall what I've eaten and how the process came about.

Thankfully, the good people over at The Kitchn posted this a few weeks ago, and Hark! I had my solution! A Food Journal. I have tried to keep food diaries in the past, ones that counted all the calories and fiber content of everything I ate over the course of a day. Those diaries never made it to Day 3. And I have a recipe book, where I will write down a recipe of something once I have made it several times and it warrants recording for posterity (read: future disinterested grandchildren who don't even know how to read a real book with two covers and paper in between.) But this cookbook doesn't really capture all the little joys of my everyday cooking and eating.

So I got a fresh Leuchtturm notebook ( the BEST notebooks on the planet, far superior to Moleskin) and dubbed it Die Speisekarten, which is German for The Menus. I'm including meals I make at home in my sweet little Dollhouse, as well as particularly memorable meals I eat out in restaurants.  I started it off with what we ordered on our venture to the recently re-opened China Village in Albany, which was truly delicious, save for the Spicy Sour Chitlin Fun. (Ugh. I shudder at the remembrance of the smell of that one.) And since then I have been filling it with my Dollhouse dinners, and it has been very informative to see which ingredients get repeated and re-purposed. For instance, I made a Chive-Basil Pistou one night that, when mixed with some tahini and champagne vinegar, became a lovely salad dressing the next night. Since I don't write recipes for salad dressings ever, it's helpful to have some sort of record of this happy accident for future inspiration purposes.

So the problem of remembering what I have eaten seems to be solved. Now on to figuring out what to do with the mediocre iPhone food photography... Maybe I will just turn to illustration instead!

The Dearth of Decent Dive Bar Wine: A Bit of a Rant

I relish the modern upscale wine lounge. A place where the list includes dozens of wines by the glass, where one can relax on a plush sofa or a charming bistro table with some friends or on a date. I also enjoy dining out at the bar in nicer restaurants where one may order a light meal and an interesting glass of wine, usually region-specific and almost always agreeable for the given price. And the sheer value of opening a lovely bottle at home and either sharing it with a few select friends or alone and in cosy pajamas is simply undeniable. But every once in a while, I just want to hang out in a place that's more casual. A place with an interesting mix of people, where the patrons are a cross-section of society and where you are guaranteed a cheap drink and a slightly sardonic bartender.

The dive bar is an institution probably  as old as wine itself. The tavern, the pub, the kneipe, the lokal, the taproom, the saloon, and countless others in all various forms and languages are all examples of this type of establishment. The dive bar is the modern incarnation of that age-old place where one can get a decent drink at a fair price and there are no real qualifications for admission, other than being of legal age and reasonable sobriety. Basically, if you can pay for a drink, you're old enough to do so, and you're not too drunk to stand, you'll fit in just fine.

Dive bars get a bad rap sometimes for being less than reputable, but they really are fascinating places to spend an hour or two on a lazy Tuesday evening. There isn't just one kind of patron; rather, there are all sorts of people from all different professions, backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and education levels. No matter where you go in to world, the dive bar is a place where, if you know the general rules of common courtesy and have a mild-to-fair appreciation for alcoholic beverages, you can spend some time in a welcoming and oftentimes fascinating environment. At least it's never dull.

The one black mark of a dive bar is the utter lack of decent/tasty/quaffable wine. At least here in the states, I have noticed that it is next to impossible to acquire a drinkable glass of wine-- and I live in Northern California! There is a huge microbrew movement that has been pretty phonomenal in the bar and restaurant scenes for at least the past couple of decades. You can now go into just about any dive bar and have your choice from all manner of beers: from the humble Miller High Life or PBR, to the hoppy craft brew IPAs, to the elegant Hoegaarden white beers and Trumer Pilsners.  So why, pray tell, it is so enormously difficult to get a simple yet well-made glass of wine in these establishments?

If you don't believe me, please visit your local dive and notice the refreshing variety of beers. Then ask for a glass of wine. I can almost promise you that the response will likely be, " Red or White?" Then there will be two options: either a cheap chardonnay that has been aged with oak chips to give it that lovely sour-wood quality, or a cabernet sauvignon-based blend that tastes bittersweet in its undeveloped and saccharine nature.  Yuck.

I have asked various bar managers and owners, and all I seem to get for  a response is a shrug of the shoulders. Various reasonings supplied have run along the lines of, "no one is interested," or "it's too expensive," or "it doesn't fit with our vibe." To which I reply, Yes! We are interested! People don't ask for wine because they know it will be awful plonk and they'd rather not subject their taste buds to that drudgery. And No! Decent wine doesn't have to be expensive! There are plenty of bottles you can get that wholesale for $7-12, that you can turn around and sell for $6-8 per glass. You just need to put an ounce of effort to find them. And while you may claim it isn't in your bar's particular style, keep in mind that fancy microbrews hardly fit in with the vibe back in the 1980's, but they sure seem to be indispensible now.

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Needless to say, there are plenty of establishments that do cater to the needs of the wine lover. I love these places and have no wish for them to disappear. I would simply like to see the humble dive bar continue to display its welcoming and egalitarian nature by offering all its imbibers something to get excited about.

Stilettos for Spatulas

I used to be completely and totally obsessed with shoes. I was the typical Sex and the City watching, Manolo Blahnik fiending, girly cocktail drinking chick. I spent large portions of my paycheck on gorgeous strappy stilettos and chunky wedges. I loved shoes.

I'm not sure exactly when I stopped caring about shoes so much and started caring about kitchenware. It didn't happen suddenly, but one day I noticed it had been a year since my last shoe expenditure and I still didn't have and money in my savings account. Where, pray tell, was all my money going?

I glanced around my cluttered kitchen and and spied the new magnetic knife rack we had yet to install. I saw the jars of anchovies and capers lined up next to a plethora of vinegars and oils. I thought of the new tea strainer nestled in the drawer, alongside the new egg timer and the new cheese grater. And then it dawned on me: I had unconsciously traded in Jimmy Choo for Cuisinart!

Not that I don't still adore gorgeous footwear, but I've acquired a deeper love for all sorts of culinary tools and specialty ingredients. It's clearly where much of my money is going. And if Macy's Union Square's Shoes on Two is heaven for a shoe junkie, the its kitchenware equivalent is Kamei Housewares and Restaurant Supply on Clement Street.

If you owned a Chinese restaurant and you wanted to set up the entire kitchen and dining room for not a lot of money, this is the place you would go. They have ridiculously low prices on everything from flatware and plates to pots, pans, salt shakers and sake cups. The enormous space is positively packed with narrow aisles just exploding with everything you could ever want for your kitchen. 

And trust me, I want it all! I never leave without spending at least $40. Even if all I came in for was chopsticks, you'd better believe I'm coming out with a zester, a deep frying ladle, some tupperware, and maybe even a new serving platter as well. It's simply impossible to describe the overwhelming sense of joy and excitement I feel when wandering the aisles of Kamei. Perhaps this makes me seem like a bit of an obsessive food-gadget nerd, but it cannot be helped. 

Though I may not necessarily need all these wonderful tools, I feel more relaxed and confident in the kitchen, just knowing they're nearby. And you know, come to think of it, i don't need sexy stilettos either. But strangely enough, I feel more confident and relaxed in them as well. Funny how that is.