Archive for November 2010
Have you ever felt patronized in a wine store? How about a record shop? Somehow the boys who sell records always seem to be judging your devotion to Rick Astley. If you’re not an expert in arcane roots music, it feels as though you’re trespassing on their time and space.
Bike shops can be worse.
Until last year, I rode sturdy hybrid bikes with the happy ignorance of the post-industrial age—this machine works, I know it works, and there is no need to know how it works. So when I inherited my mom’s road bike last spring, I knew next to nothing about components or maintenance.
My first stop was my closest bike shop—let’s call it Local Bike Shop #1. This is a sleek outfit that specializes in racing gear and deigns occasionally to sell hybrids to the locals. I was wearing street clothes and wheeling my new/old bike, a well-loved Trek.
ME: Hello, can I ask you a question?
PERSON IN FULL SPANDEX BEHIND THE COUNTER: (tiredly) Yes?
ME: My mom gave me her old road bike and I think I want to get it fitted. How much would that be?
PERSON: (smirking) Why?
ME: Well, isn’t that what you do if you have a new bike? To make sure it fits you?
PERSON: I don’t know. Are you going to ride it more than, like, a few miles? Cause you really don’t need to get it fitted. That’s more for athletes.
ME: (annoyed) Well, I want to commute with it, 22 miles round trip.
PERSON (dismissive) Well, you don’t need a fitting. (Looks past me at a racer next in line)
I left, feeling like it was 1961 and I was a woman trying to break into copywriting on Madison Avenue. He practically called me “sweetheart.”
I went around the corner to a new bike shop—Local Bike Shop #2, for the sake of this column. It was a different world: people actually smiled. I asked timidly about a fitting. The shop’s owner admired my bike—he had a thing for old steel—and told me, matter-of-fact, that I should ride it awhile first. He was kind but not patronizing. He answered my questions but did not lecture. It was, in other words, an ideal LBS.
Over time, I came to LBS #2 with countless inexperienced questions—my gears are clicking! my spoke is popped! why am I getting flats every week?— and they treated me like a person, not an idiot. They taught me only as much as I wanted to know. When I admitted that I’d never actually filled my own tires, one of the guys sat patiently with me while I practiced on a store bike.
Later, I had to venture to a bike shop in Manhattan, where they apparently see inexperienced women as a chance for a large commission. I found myself at LBS #3 downtown, after a smash up on the West Side left my back wheel so bent I had to carry my bike. A grease-stained gentleman took a cursory look and assured me sweetly that I had to replace my “very rare wheel” for $120.
Suspicious, I put my bike in a cab instead. Sure enough, my own shop trued my wheel and charged me 12 dollars. How many accident-shaken young women had LBS #3 conned with that “rare wheel” line? Why are bike shops, like car dealerships, sometimes the kind of place you have to take your boyfriend to get a fair deal?
Women with bikes and no mechanical expertise: practice your confident stance. Don’t be intimidated. Ask the questions you need to ask! And learn to change a tire. Even if you never actually do it, knowing that you could will give you an air of bored sophistication that even the racers will have to respect. I haven’t changed one yet, myself, but here is a poem about when I do:
HOW TO CHANGE A BICYCLE TIRE
First loosen up the nuts that hold the wheel.
Remove the wheel and then deflate your tube.
You have a tire lever, I assume.
I’m chic and practical in sweats. I know
I’m set to take control of this bike’s fate.
I find the nuts—I think—and off they go.
No lever, but a nail file works as great.
One lever in; another slides around.
You take the tire and tube completely off.
Now patch your tube! Replace it if you like.
I try my fingernail, but it won’t fit.
I find a second file and slide it round.
The tire’s off, along with other bits.
The bike’s in shiny pieces on the ground.
Replace the tire, one side first, then ease
the tube inside, with nothing pinched by rim.
Use thumbs to work the tire’s other side.
I’m using thumbs and smoothing pinches! See?
I’m independent, capable and sleek.
My hands are greased, my pants ripped at the knee.
It’s as authentic as I’ve been all week.
Before inflating, use your thumbs again
to check the tire isn’t pinching. Now
Inflate it slowly, slowly, and you’re done!
The bike seat’s somehow lost. The chain is knotted.
I, joyful, pump the tire to one-ten.
Oh, thanks! I know my efforts are applauded,
And you know I’ll gladly change your tire again.
Micaela Blei writes about urban cycling in both poetry and prose. Her recent pieces include a meditation on Biking in Winter and a review of the bike-friendly video for Sun Airway’s “Put the Days Away.”
Hanukkah celebrations usually involve foods fried in oil, and every year I face the perennial temptation and horror of deep-frying in my home kitchen. The idea of homemade Hanukkah doughnuts always entices me, and at some point I really would like to master the art of the French fry. But hot vats of oil in my small, non-commercial space is a recipe for disaster. Every surface gets greasy, and my ventilation system leaves something to be desired. Let’s not even talk about grease fires. So, no doughnuts for dessert this year — I’ll stick with rugelach. And as for dinner, pan-fried latkes are my usual choice.
But what latke recipe to use? Thin or thick pancakes? Matzoh meal or no? Onions chopped or grated? These debates can reach rabbinical levels of debate among Jewish cooks. In the winter, my own mother, the daughter of German and Polish immigrants, always made thin, wide potato pancakes, loaded with applesauce. These days, I eat Eastern European foods mostly for nostalgic reasons, to remember her. A taste of borscht or a bite of these pancakes sends me back to nights in a warm winter kitchen with my sisters after basketball practice. But her latkes were, rest her soul, greasy. Eastern European foods seem a bit dense and under-seasoned to me now, and I usually choose to prepare spicier and lighter recipes for my family.
Mark Bittman, my beacon of sensible and delicious cooking, solved the latke problem for me. I found a recipe for Korean vegetable pancakes in his book The Best Recipes in the World. They are crowd pleasers, and very kid-friendly despite having a kick of kimchi in the batter. The soy based dipping sauce works much better, in my opinion, than heavy condiments like applesauce or sour cream. Bittman suggests a pinch of cayenne or a chopped hot pepper in the batter, but I just rely on the spice of the kimchi. For best results, the potatoes and carrots need to be coarsely shredded. The grating disk of my Cuisinart works really well. As a final note, to the seasonal eaters and root-cellaring homesteaders out there, any winter vegetable works here. I’ve made these with parsnips, sweet potatoes and even radish.
Korean Vegetable Pancakes
(adapted from Mark Bittman)
2 potatoes, peeled and grated
3 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup cabbage kimchi, drained and chopped
2 Tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Peanut oil for frying
Dipping sauce (recipe below)
1. Put potatoes and carrots in a large, clean dishcloth. Gather the cloth, and twist until the vegetables are pressed tightly. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Combine in a bowl with everything but the oil.
2. Preheat the oven to “warm” or 200 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with several layers of paper towels. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet and add the batter in large spoonfuls. Fry until browned on both sides (usually 6-8 minutes total). Drain on the paper towels and keep warm in the oven.
3. Serve with the dipping sauce.
2 scallions, minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
This weekend, you’re busy. We get it. Busy with family, busy with food, busy with wine, busy with giant inflatable Spider-Men. The fact that you are reading this at all fills us with gratitude. Frontier Psychiatrist is growing by the week due entirely to your readership, and for that we could not be more thankful. So, as a gift, we will spare you the typical wry, wordy, not-as-clever-as-we-think introduction this week and get you straight to the music.
Right after this one humble but self-serving reminder to vote for us in the 2010 Village Voice Web Awards.
OK, on to the music:
*The National’s High Violet, a record likely to be featured on our upcoming year-end top 40, was re-issued this week in an expanded double-disc version with a plethora of bonus material. Enjoy the previously un-released track below.
The National – “Wake Up Your Saints”
*Apparently unwilling to rest on his laurels until the end of the year, Kanye West released a new track this week featuring Jay-Z and one-half of French electro-pop duo La Roux. The song, produced by top No-H Jon Q-Tip, is slated to appear on the upcoming Kanye/Jay-Z collaboration.
Kanye West & Jay-Z featuring Elly Jackson of La Roux – “That’s My Bitch”
*Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox released a whopping 4 albums of worth of demos this week for free download on his blog. The collection, Bedroom Databank vols. 1-4, entitled includes covers of tunes from Kurt Vile and Bob Dylan, streaming below:
Atlas Sound, “This Wheel’s on Fire” (Bob Dylan/The Band Cover)
Atlas Sound “Freak Train” (Kurt Vile Cover)
*Speaking of cover, Gorillaz cover The xx:
Gorillaz – “Crystalized” (The xx Cover)
*John Legend and The Roots cover Arcade Fire:
John Legend and The Roots – “Wake Up” (Arcade Fire Cover)
Destroyer – “Chinatown”
Cut Copy – “Take Me Over”
Enjoy the rest of your holiday!
As a kid, I discovered the genius of Bob Dylan via my uncle’s record collection, which included Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire. But when my uncle invited me to see Dylan play this week at Terminal 5, I hesitated. How would Dylan the Man measure up to Dylan the Legend? But what was I going to do instead, watch Monday Night Football?
In person, Dylan barely resembles or sounds like the curly headed hipster on my uncle’s albums. Imagine a dapper diminutive grandfather with emphysema backed by a band of bluesmen half his age. For most of the show, he stands at an organ perpendicular to the audience, mostly people in their 30s and 40s. Every few songs, he huffs into a harmonica or plays guitar with equal parts sloppiness and passion. Never a master of melody, he abandons pitch in favor of a spoken-word chant with a huskiness that makes Tom Waits sound like Minnie Mouse. Meanwhile he jettisons the meter of his songs and adopts a ratatat rhythm, dropping words like third period French. He could almost be reading from the cue cards he flipped in D.A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back.
Rather than perform a jukebox musical, Dylan deconstructs and rearranges his material on stage, an aesthetic reinforced by Monday’s opening song, “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.” The rest of the set included reworked versions of classics such as “Desolation Row” and “Highway 61 Revisited” as well as newer ones like “Summer Days” from Love and Theft and “Thunder on the Mountain”from Modern Times, a song that name checks Alicia Keys as a symbol of a new generation of musicians.
To Dylan’s credit, he hires the right people. When his band gels, as they did halfway through Monday’s set, their take on the blues is a lesson in tastefulness and musicianship, especially Charlie Sexton on lead guitar and Donnie Herron on pedal steel. (His entourage also includes a team that combs the web for people who post his music, including his latest bootleg, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964)
Sure, Dylan is a shadow of his former self. But nobody asks a 69-year-old pitcher to throw the same fastball he hurled in his glory days. Nobody expects a 69-year-old to make love like a young man. Why expect eternal youth from a 69-year old rock star? When Dylan closed Monday’s show with “Like a Rolling Stone,” the crowd screamed along “How Does it Feel?” Unlike the singer, the existential question shows no sign of age.
Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. All he really wants to do is baby be friends with you.
[Today we launch Serious Juice, a new column about wine]
It’s no secret in my family that I’m no fan of Thanksgiving, the American harvest feast turned industrial holiday. For years, I’ve fought my Midwestern brethren over proper turkey cooking temperature, blanching Brussels sprouts, and killing the canned cranberries. Yet despite my culinary school degree, 15 years of restaurant service, a career as a food and wine writer in New York City –and no matter how many foodie articles I send with tips from celebrity chefs — I’m condemned annually to a missionary meal of dry white meat with pasty gravy. That’s when I reach for the wine.
Some serious juice can arouse this sleepy feast. I like to drink wines that are crisp and fruity because they’ll cut through all the fat, yet can hang in there when I’m assaulting my palate with sweet and sour cranberry sauce and cloying marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes. And, despite my Francophile tendencies, I like to buy American and plenty for sharing to show that I’m no Thanksgiving Ebenezer. Here’s a diverse threesome –one sparkling, one white, and one red– that’s wholesome enough to serve at this family meal.
Bubbly is a great place to begin, and end, if needed. When my family is feeling less than convivial and it’s particularly rough going in the kitchen and at the table, I’ll stash a bottle in the bottom of the beer cooler, especially if that bottle is my favorite American bubbly, Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut.
Domaine Carneros, owned by the Champagne Taittinger house, makes this brut with a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Carneros appellation, which sits on the northern border of the San Pablo Bay. The grapes easily ripen under the California sun giving the wine its fruity edge, but a nocturnal fog keeps temperatures cool, which in turn keeps the grapes from getting too ripe and raisin-y, a common, yet often unacknowledged, problem in the state’s wines.
The winery adds a creamy touch by putting 8% of the wine through a secondary, malolatic fermentation, which- for you A.P. nerds- converts tangy malic acid (granny smith apple) to softer lactic acid (milk). It’s a well-balanced, yet complex, mix of vibrant pear and stone fruit flavors, with layers of toasted nuts, pastry and a long, creamy finish. That turkey is starting to sound delicious. Astor Wine & Spirits carries the current 2006 vintage for $20, but you should be able to find this or previous vintages, which are just as good, at most major wine stores.
When dinner is finally served, and hopefully I’ll get a fork in it while it’s hot, I like a white and red on the table, with a few bottles of each for back-up. As a host, it’s important to serve only one white and only one red. If you start to mix and match, someone at the table will inevitably to be left out of one bottle or another and feelings could be hurt. Or worse, guests might binge in a mad-dash-guzzle to try every wine that’s opened and passed around. Guests, lushes or not, are excluded from the one white, one red rule. If I’m not preparing or bringing a dish, I always bring a bottle, if not two, but I leave it to the host’s discretion for if and when those wines will be opened.
For a white, I like Riesling because it’s an all-court player when it comes to the sweet, sour and fall spice flavors found on the Thanksgiving table. The wine’s zesty peach and spice notes can stand up to stuffing and sweet potatoes, while its limey freshness cleanses the palate. And its intense minerality is a reminder that wine comes from the earth.
Rieslings can range from bone-dry to sticky sweet, but I recommend the dry or semi-dry versions because they’ll compliment rather than compete. Hermann J. Wiemer from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York makes both styles. Fred Merwarth, the current owner and longstanding winemaker, produces estate grown Rieslings that are putting this region on the world wine map. Union Square Wines sells the dry version for $20, and Frankly Wines in Tribeca has the semi-dry bottling for $18 .
Despite its All-American status, I don’t like Zinfandel with this meal. Its high alcohol and jammy concentration will overwhelm most dishes, except for something like a honey glazed ham or a decadent pecan pie. Rather, I like a red from the other end of the spectrum, Pinot Noir. The light-bodied Pinot Noir has many of the same characteristics as Riesling. It has a core of cherry fruit, refreshing acidity and a distinct earthiness that borders ethereal. Because I’m focused on fruity yet fresh, I usually skip the hot climates in California and head to the cooler vineyards in Oregon for this occasion.
A to Z Wineworks offers a great entry-level Pinot. It’s has the typical cherry berry fruit, as well as hints of herb and hot stone on the finish. It’s the perfect wine to bridge the various flavors of a fork full of dark turkey meat, sausage-sage stuffing and a knife tip of fresh cranberry sauce. Garnet Wines & Liquors sells it for $18, and like most wine stores, gives a 10% case discount, because this is one bedmate worth keeping around.
Frontier Oenologist is deeply embedded in the cellars of the secret and often dangerous urban wine underworld. He lives in Brooklyn.
It’s Thanksgiving. This means the end of fall and the beginning of winter. Here come the pale days of December and January, the 4 p.m. sunsets, and the first time I have to decide: am I a winter cyclist?
I’m relatively new to the world of cycling. This is my first cold season as a commuter. So am I for real, or was this a flash in the pan? Will cycling get dusty, go the way of ukulele, trapeze, and formal poetry? If I don’t keep it up when the going gets tough, can I call myself a commuter?
Here are some of the steps I am taking to become a winter rider.
STEP ONE: Talk to everyone you know.
This means non-cyclists and cyclists alike. Ask the cyclists when it gets too cold for them to ride. Grill them for strategies. They may say: “When the snow is 5 feet deep, I just change my tires.” Everyone has a different breaking point. My friend (we’ll call her Anabel) just stops after Thanksgiving, no matter what. But then there’s the three guys at the Co-op who insisted that they cycle through the deep, dark cold. (Were they lying to a cute girl? Possibly.)
If you are talking to a non-cyclist, of course, you say: “When the snow is 5 feet deep, I just change my tires.” You’re practicing.
STEP TWO: Get some layers.
Everyone I know who rides, really rides, in the winter, takes the layering very seriously. You need a wicking layer at your core (cotton gets sweaty) and lots of things you can zip and unzip. SmartWool socks, an ear-protector and full fingered gloves are also really good. You should start your ride a little cool—since you’re going to warm up quickly.
I tend to wear everything.
If you are riding in subzero temperatures you break out the face masks and head protectors. Also, if you are actually riding in subzero temperatures you don’t need an amateur like me to tell you what to wear.
STEP THREE: Know your breaking point.
I really don’t know that I’ll be getting out there in a snowstorm or on the frozen pavement. My tires are too slick, and besides, my dad reads this column. If you do ride in the storms, you know to have a mountain bike and a bunch of lights– like the kind they put on the roll bars of Jeeps.
These guys are adventure cyclists. They biked in Siberia. You could do that too, if you wanted.
STEP FOUR: Get inspired.
Before you begin your romance with winter cycling, try reading “Ode to the West Wind” by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s nice and dramatic. I know it will help as you struggle nobly against the elements. Just memorize several stanzas and yell them like a battle cry as the dusk’s cold cuts you on the Manhattan Bridge. Alternately, here’s a sonnet I wrote in honor of the winter commute.
On summer rides, the wind would flirt and stare,
Admire my bike and compliment my gloves.
I liked its sass, the way it touched my hair.
On downhill coasts we breezed and called it love.
Then fall began to fall. The mornings paled.
I layered pants like pastry– flaky, bright.
The wind, so gentle once, was distant, cold
And in the mornings seemed to pick a fight.
I hoped he was distracted. “It’s a phase,”
I thought, “My SmartWool will inspire a different tune.”
But now I’m bundled, gloved and scarved, and dazed
By rage in him I never knew in June.
O pain! I’ll fight to bike through winter’s dread–
Or buy a monthly MetroCard instead.
Micaela Blei is a teacher, writer, and a regular contributor to Frontier Cyclist. Her last piece reviewed the bike-friendly video for Sun Airway’s “Put the Days Away.” She rides a KHS Flite 220 Flatbar. Those who cycle in the cold are her heroes and her loves.
I live in a primarily Mexican and Puerto Rican neighborhood. Every day, Mexican food vendors set up shop on the main streets with big containers of tamales for sale. To accompany the tamales, they sell cups of atole or champurrado, a thickened hot breakfast drink. When I lived in Mexico, in the countryside, atole was a breakfast staple. Tamales, however, were special — festival food. Anyone who has made them understands why. They are a labor of love, each tiny packet of masa individually wrapped in a sheath of corn husks. An elderly woman from central Mexico was lamenting the other day about the sheer availability of tamales in the neighborhood. “They used to be special”, she sighed. “Now they are a daily food, and this is no good”. She herself only makes them at Christmastime, and she feels that their appearance on her table but once a year make them taste all the better to her family.
I, too, have learned the value of special, annual foods. Even if they are not labor-intensive, it is worth saving certain recipes for festivals, large and small. It adds a thrill of anticipation, and sets the day apart, especially in a commercially driven environment that has created holiday “months” rather than days. My son is still remembering the apple-studded challah I made for the Jewish new year, and asking when “Rosh Hashanah Bread” will come again. My husband has already started the countdown to the duck in clementine sauce that I always make on Christmas.
Thanksgiving always brings a special sweet bread from Martha Stewart. That’s right, Martha Stewart. Rich, citrusy and studded with dried fruit, it is just the thing to eat before facing the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal. This bread is a memory-thread that runs through the beginning of my adult life: I’ve eaten it in a small New York apartment with my sister and mother, in Minnesota with my in-laws and in Chicago with my own small family. To eat it more than once a year would diminish the strength of these memories.
These past few years, the bread has actually featured a home-grown ingredient: poppy seeds. I was browsing for early spring-sown seeds at a local nursery, and found a packet of “Hungarian Bread Seed Poppy”. The lady at checkout gave me the eye after I told her I wanted to grow the seeds for my kitchen and reminded me curtly that this was the opium poppy. I did my research, and the seeds of this particular flower have been saved for generations for culinary purposes. A state extension office website gives this advice:
“All plant parts except the seeds are toxic and contain alkaloids used to manufacture opium and morphine. It is legal to grow Papaver somniferum in the United States for garden and seed production purposes”.
The lady could have saved her attitude! The seeds grew into tall, sturdy plants with delicate pink flowers and gorgeous dusky green seed heads, and they have been a part of my garden ever since. In early fall, I gather up the seed heads and hang them to dry for a few weeks, until the seeds rattle inside. I split each open to harvest about a tablespoon of blue-grey seeds. From a very small flower plot, I can generate a cup or so of seeds. I stick them in the freezer, designating them for the Thanksgiving bread. A few go into an envelope for sowing in the early spring.
The first year, I raided my Thanksgiving stash and toasted a few tablespoons of the seeds to garnish our carrot soup. As my husband and son scooped the speckled orange soup into their mouths, I did have one horrible moment of imagining the two of them nodding off in a heroin haze like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Needless to say, we all survived the night.
So pick your own signature Thanksgiving recipe…. use mine if you want. The bread is rich enough that, when eaten as a late breakfast, you will be able to hold out until the feast of the midafternoon. And if you can make your recipe with a mildly illicit homegrown ingredient….all the better.