The last remaining bottle of the world's most expensive whisky is going up for auction tomorrow in LA. Glenfiddich made only fifteen bottles of the "Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve" from a cask that went into the barrel in 1955. (Janet Sheed Roberts was the oldest living person in Scotland and the granddaughter of the distillery's founder.) They apparently went into glass in 2010, so the whisky is considered 55 years old. One of the bottles from this set went for $94,000. According to the Glenfiddich malt master (how do I become a malt master?), the bottling is "incredibly elegant". Here are some other tasting notes.
The bottle itself is special too, "Each of the beautiful hand blown bottles has 24ct Gold adorning its neck and front. The stopper which consists of an aquamarine Cloisonné medallion monogrammed in gold with Mrs Roberts initials was made by Thomas Fattorini's." [From Glasstorm.com]
Once again, Michelle has found (for us anyway) another gorgeous, beautifully designed product. This time, it's Wasara paper tableware. These drop-dead stunning plates, bowls, and cups are designed by a Japanese company and made from sustainable, biodegradable products -- bamboo, reed pulp, and sugar processing by-product. Some of the items have thoughtful design touches to help you carry the items one-handed -- a nice touch for a paper plate. Even the packaging is beautiful.
They're not cheap ($12 for 8 plates vs. $4 for 36 Chinet paper plates - 13.5x more - Amazon has them in bulk for a little less), but when you want or need to use more elegant disposable tableware, Wasara looks perfect. (Even though they are made in China, we can't buy them here. Oh well.)
Back in March as part of our trip to Singapore, we spent a few days with some friends on a private island in Indonesia. (Yes, I realize I'm more than a little late with this post.) It was probably the best vacation we ever took.
The island is called Pulau Pangkil Kecil; it's a tiny island about a half mile long near Singapore. It's owned by a wealthy guy in Hong Kong who has done a fantastic job building out the island, outfitting it with rustic but luxurious driftwood buildings and training a very attentive and professional staff. The island is available for vacation rentals where you basically get the whole island to yourself and your family/friends. There are enough bungalows for forty people to comfortably stay on the island; it was especially roomy with just seven of us plus the staff on the island.
The island has electricity and water but no real internet access and barely even mobile phone coverage; it was kind of a treat, really, to not be connected for a few days. We spent the time playing the tidepools, swimming in the lovely pool, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, reading, napping, playing board games, and getting massages (at our request, they brought a masseuse to the island who stayed the whole time and was basically on call for us.) Oh, and of course, we ate. Well. A lot. The cook was fantastic, preparing amazingly great Indonesian and Malaysian food -- curries, seafood, and other treats.
Another treat was stargazing; since the other islands nearby had very little or no people, there was virtually no light pollution. We could see zillions of stars; we even saw the Milky Way quite clearly. I'm pretty sure it was the first time the kids had ever seen the Milky Way.
I can't recommend this place enough and am dying to go back.
Michael (9) in front of the main building. This is where we ate and hung out a lot.
The inside of the main building. You can see the open bar and coolers on the left and bunch of tiny, amazingly delicious bananas hanging in the middle. The "floor" of the building is all white sand.
This is the biggest of the bungalows. It's the only one with the bathroom inside; the others have a nice bathroom next to the house.
Here's a shot of the inside of the bungalow. Tropical/rustic but comfy and clean. The mosquito netting was necessary. Bugs were maybe the only bad thing about the island.
At night they built huge bonfires on the beach for us. We roasted the marshmallows we brought over them. You can see the kids sitting near the fire (they're about as close as they could get -- it was a big fire.)
Here's Andrew (12) near their iconic tent/table on the beach.
On the other end of the island they have beautiful freshwater swimming pool, tucked behind the rocks. You walk through a passage in the rocks to get to the pool.
They also arranged fishing trips for us. We used hand reels to catch reef fish for dinner.
Occasionally, a local family would paddle by the island.
The staff was lovely, super attentive, and all-around awesome!
Here's the sad view as we left the island. This boat took us back to a bigger Indonesian island. We then took a 30 minute bus ride (nice air conditioned private coach) across that island to a larger ferry back to Singapore. All told it takes about two hours to get to the island from Singapore.
While I was in Tokyo this week, my colleague, friend, and ramen fiend K1 (his name is actually Keiichiro, but since ichiro means one in Japanese, he goes by "K1") took a few of us to his absolute favorite ramen place -- Ramen Jirou.
As it turns out, this shop has a cult-like following among the Japanese. Ramen Jirou is completely different from other ramen places I've been like Ippudo or Kyushu Jangara (some purists don't even consider it to be ramen.) People have compared the place to the restaurant of "Soup Nazi" fame. To begin with, the branch we went to kind of dirty, more like something I'd expect in Beijing, not Tokyo.
There's nothing to order besides ramen -- no gyoza and if you want something to drink besides water, you can buy it from the machine outside. There are only a few seats, and often a half-hour line. You sit when a seat opens up -- no waiting for enough room for your party.
There's only one basic menu choice -- a super-rich pork-based soup with thick and dense noodles (vs. the thin ramen noodles or lighter udon noodels), a few slices of pork, and a pile of cabbage and bean spouts mounded on top. It has none of the classic ramen toppings, no egg, no menma (pickled bamboo shoots), no cod roe. It's not a really visually attractive bowl frankly -- kind of monochromatic and slopped in vs. the carefully composed look of most Japanese food. The only choices are whether you want a big or small bowl with extra meat or not. You buy a chit from a machine that specifies your preference. I ordered a small bowl with a normal amount of noodles and meat. It was 600 yen, a little over USD$6.00.
When the chef hands you the bowl, you specify whether you want garlic, vegetables, more pork fat, and additional soy sauce (K1 says it's too salty with additional soy sauce). You have to order in a specific way, like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or you will be met with derision. (I had to memorize the order in Japanese before I sat down; naturally I had it with everything except the additional soy sauce. You say "yasai, niniku, abura" for "vegetable, garlic, fat") Once the bowl arrives, you eat silently, seemingly as fast as you can. Once complete, you put the bowl on the upper counter, wipe off the counter, and leave quickly.
OMG -- it was fantastic and unlike anything I had ever had. The soup was amazingly rich and tasty with blobs of pork fat suspended in the soup. The noodles were dense and chewy, the meat tender, and the veggies added enough crunch and variety to balance the thing out. A few shakes of white pepper kicked it up even a little more. I slurped up my bowl in a few minutes with a huge grin on my face. There's nothing subtle about it. Just pure porky goodness.
K1 has described the various stages of Ramen Jirou addiction. Early on, other ramens taste wimpy. Apparently at the last stage (the one he's in), you can't think of anything else. He dreams of Jirou incessantly and goes there first whenever he lands in Japan. It's not just K1. There are a lot of write-ups on Ramen Jirou including an NPR story, a CNN article, a Guardian UK article declaring it one of the 50 best things to eat in the world, and more.
I'm fast on my way toward Ramen Jirou addition too.
The line outside Ramen Jirou. All of the official branches have this yellow awning sign.
The scene inside as I look longingly from outside. There are a few few seats at the L-shaped counter and two people working inside.
This is the machine you order from. The row on top are the small bowls, the lower row is the large bowl. The choice on the right is extra meat.
The master at work. He kind of just slops everything into the bowls. You can see the sliced pork at the bottom.
The bowl of happiness. It doesn't look like much, but damn, it's good.
I don't really have much of a sweet tooth, which surprises some people since I love pretty much all other kinds of food. It's pretty much the one class of food to which I can say "no". I like sweets, but I just strongly prefer salty stuff. So, it should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite confection in the world is Fran's Gray Salt Caramels.
Fran's is a Seattle-based chocolatier who makes a luscious caramel, robes it in rich chocolate, and the sprinkles a few grains of gray salt on top. The salt really brings out the yumminess (sorry for the technical term) in the caramel and provides a nice balance to the sweetness. They also make an equally great smoked salt caramel.
These little morsels of love are one of the few things we've had friends bring to us from Seattle to China; pretty much everything else we've been able to find here or live without. Michael (8) is especially fond the "salties", as he calls them.
If you can't wait to try them (and really shouldn't be waiting) and you don't happen to live in Seattle, you can order online right now. Too bad they don't deliver to China...
This is a long overdue post. Last month, just before we moved, I was in Hong Kong for an offsite. Since I had arrived early from the US, I followed up on a tip from a foodie buddy, Meng, who said I just HAD TO go try the dan ta at Tai Cheong Bakery (the website is much more fancy than the bakery). This hole-in-the-wall bakery is famous for these sweet desserts - thick egg custard in a pastry pie crust. Chris Patten, the former British Governor of Hong Kong, was apparently a big fan of the place.
So I trekked up the Central-Mid-Level escalators and looked around for the place. (As an aside, why do they have the escalators going down but not up in the morning? I don't care if there are more people going down. The damn hill is steep!) Although I was completely unable to follow a map that morning, I eventually found Tai Cheong and ventured in.
I bought the last two dan ta and some sugar puffs (blobby donuts covered in sugar). They were all still warm and fresh smelling. I took the bag and ate the goodies right on the street, across from the bakery.
OMFG, I had never had anything like these dan ta. The crust was tasty and flaky (apparently they use lard -- further evidence that pigs are proof of a kind and loving God) and the custard was rich, eggy, and densely flavorful. (My mouth is watering again as I write this six weeks later).
After I scarfed these two tarts down, I ate the sugar puff; this might have been even better than the dan ta. It was kind of like a warm brioche covered in sugar. If I hadn't bought the last two tarts, I might have gone back in for more. These were heaven on earth. What's more, they were cheap. I love Hong Kong. If you are in HK, be sure to go.
Tai Cheong Bakery
35, Lyndhurst Terrace
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 2544 3475
Regular readers know that I have a special part of my heart (and my waistline) reserved for bacon. I've written about the world's best way to cook bacon, linked to bacon humor, and even had my son aspire to bacon art.
However, I haven't written much about great bacons yet. My friend Chooky describes the best of something as "the bacon of xxx" (like his posts on the "bacon of yogurt" or the "bacon of pens".) This lead me to wonder what the "bacon of bacon" is.
Since I seem to inhale any bacon in front me too quickly for a thoughtful taste test, I turned to Cooks Illustrated, my favorite food magazine ever. They're the Consumer Reports of food. They'll test a hundred variations of a recipe to get it right; they also compare brands of foods and tools and give you the low-down. Their stuff is almost always gold. (They're also known as America's Test Kitchen on TV and in some cookbooks.)
Cooks Illustrated did two taste tests for bacons, one for supermarket brands and another for premium brands. (Note, CI requires a subscription to get to this content; they have a free 14-day trial offer though.) The winner of the supermarket brand is Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon, topping stalwart brands like Boar's Head, Hormel Black Label (which I had yesterday morning and thought was lovely), Armour, and Oscar Mayer. Tasters described it as "meaty", "full-flavored", and "crispy, yet hearty".
On the premium side, Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon won the day (I mentioned Niman Ranch in my post on cooking bacon.) Here's their description:
Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon Oakland, California $8 for 12 ounces Tasters found this bacon hearty, rich, balanced, and smoky. One taster said, "Yum . . . what bacon should be."
This is our "house bacon" whenever we can swing by Trader Joes.
One note for the organic, free-range, no-preservative crowd: CI observed in their reviews that nitrate-free bacons did not fare well. Turns out that people are used to the color and taste of nitrate in their bacon, so it doesn't taste right when the nitrates aren't there. This is consistent with a taste test we did between corned beefs a few St. Patricks' Days ago. We ordered a nitrate-free corned beef that was excellent except that everyone liked the regular supermarket one better. The nitrate-free corned beef was grey instead of the familiar red and missing the tang that we've come to associate with corned beef.
CI also noted that there is a visible variation in meat-to-fat ratio between different packages of bacon. This seems obvious since bacon is a natural product (well, it starts off natural anyway and then becomes ethereal). It's worth a few extra seconds in the store to pick your package of bacon carefully, just like you would pick out good apples.
So, go give these brands a whirl and let me know what you think. Of course, as CI notes, "Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron."
Every week when I pick up our share from The Root Connection, I stop by Minea Farms across the street for some the best apple cider I've ever had. Minea uses a 100 year old cider press to make both single variety and blended ciders. Unlike most store-bought cider, Minea's actually taste like apples rather than sugary brown water; what's more, each variety of cider tastes different, as it should. I love them all, but I especially prefer the sweeter ones like Gala and Fuji over the tarter varieties like Granny Smith. Each week they have a few different types and offer tastings so you can decide which to choose from. (Michael (7) likes the cherry-apple cider blend.)
This time of year is especially good since they are pressing recently harvested apples; earlier in the year, they sell cider frozen the previous autumn (still super damn good). In addition to cider, they have apple butter, veggies, apples, fruit leather, and other farm products, but the big draw is the cider.
Their usual hours are Wed-Sun 11am - 5pm. They're located at 13404 Woodinville-Redmond Road. Here's the sign from the road:
If you haven't had fresh apple cider before, you're in for a treat. If you have, well, you know what you're missing. Either way, get off your butt and go get some...
(OK, as usual, I have no idea if this really is the world's best anything, but it's pretty damn good cider.)
I love potato chips. They're like the veggie brother of bacon. I almost went to MIT instead of Stanford because I fell in love with Cape Cod Chips when I visited Boston. Really. (Thank goodness I didn't since by senior year, we could get Cape Cod Chips in Palo Alto. I got to be in shorts in February and eat yummy chips. Top that, MIT!)
I've eaten potato chips around the world and loved almost all of them, but the very best chip (or should I say crisp?) in the world are Cheese and Onion Tatyo Crisps from Ireland. These are the most popular crisps in Ireland (the dark horse is Kings, made by the same company and very good, but just not world class.)
I typically shy away from flavored chips, but these don't hit you over the head. They're thin and crispy like Lays (vs. the heavier crunch of Cape Cod or Tim's). Simply heavenly with a pint of Guinness.
They have a "smokey bacon" flavored chip too which I have not yet tried; those might actually be the best chip in the world...
For years, I've relied on friends traveling to Ireland to feed my need (thanks to Fergal to bringing me back a few bags recently to remind me of the old country). However, I just discovered that you can mail order Taytos from Ireland to the US. Of course, they're not cheap. US$20.59 for twenty snack-sized bags plus $31.88 shipping to Seattle (ten day service).
This is an affordable luxury and a small price to pay for such delight.
Irene, a dear friend of mine from many years ago, recently sent me six pints of ice cream from Graeter's Ice Cream, a famous shop in Cincinnati (and now other locations in the Midwest). Many consider it to be the best ice cream in the world. I'm a believer.
Irene sent us two pints of black raspberry chip (her favorite and their signature flavor) and a pint each of caramel, cookies and creme, chocolate, and coffee. The flavors and texture are amazing; for instance, in the caramel, there's a lovely burned-sugar taste. The taste is very natural, unlike Haagen-Daz, my stand-by, which has a more chemically taste. The ice cream is incredibly rich and has a great mouth feel. Graeter's makes their ice cream by hand using a French pot process in two gallon batches, hand packing them into the pints.
You can order the ice cream over the Internet and have it shipped (which is what Irene did). The pints come packed in a cooler with dry ice and were frozen solid; frankly, they were so hard we had to let them soften in our freezer until we could scoop them. (Dry ice is so cool.)
The Graeter's was a special treat and a wonderful surprise. Thanks, Irene!
(Of course, Wikipedia has more on Graeter's.)
I love bacon. I mean I really love it. Good American bacon - the crunchy kind, not that flabby stuff you get in other countries. At the risk of offending entire religions and regions, I think much of the unrest in the world is because too many people don't know the joy of bacon. Almost no one who has tasted bacon would willingly blow themselves up or start shooting at someone else. Bacon is worth living for.
But, it can be a real challenge to cook bacon well. Frying it is a mess. Microwaving has inconsistent results. Plus, neither scales well to the large amounts of bacon needed for a big brunch (or just me on a Sunday morning.) The secret is to bake the bacon in the oven.
Result: piles of perfectly cooked bacon for your dining pleasure.
Here are the cool bits about this recipe:
I've read a variation of this recipe that recommends putting a wire rack in the cookie sheet to keep the bacon out of the fat. I tried it. The results aren't any better, the bacon sticks to the rack, and the rack is a mess to clean up. Stick to the simple solution above.
While I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for Niman Ranch bacon. This is the real deal. Thick cut, smoky, and meaty, this stuff is made from happy, pesticide-free, free range pigs that lead productive, satisfying lives and died in the prime of their tastiness for you and me. Oh man, this stuff is good as is everything from Niman Ranch. Go get some today (Trader Joe's carries the stuff as do other good stores.)
Mmm, salty, rich, crunchy, and meaty. What's not to love?
Regardless of how you feel about guns, I think everyone would agree that if you choose to own a gun, you should be trained in its safe and effective use. I learned to shoot at Insights Training Center and have nothing but good things to say about the school and Greg Hamilton, the founder and chief instructor. The system they teach is very logical and thought through. It truly is a system that integrates the same principles through unarmed, knife, handgun, and long arm self-defense. One bit of evidence of the quality of the program has been two championships and multiple top five finishes for Greg, his instructors, and students at the National Tactical Invitational.
Even if you don't choose to own a gun, it probably isn't a bad idea to learn how to handle them safely. Of course, there are a lot of classes from Insights that aren't firearm related as well including unarmed, folding knife, pepper spray, and others.
One of the things that appealed to me most about Insights is that Greg takes a very pragmatic and unglamorous view of guns and self-defense. For instance, in the first General Defensive Handgun class, when we were all on the firing line, Greg said that if he had this druthers, we'd spend the whole class running away as soon as he blew the whistle because that was the best way to handle a fight; of course, he knew we'd be upset about spending two days and few hundred dollars running sprints. He also warned that a defensive shooting would probably ruin your life emotionally and financially; there is nothing heroic or appealing about shooting someone else. It would simply the be price of protecting yourself and your family.
The classes are also just plain fun. There aren't too many other places you get to move around, yell, and shoot thousands of rounds in a safe environment. I haven't taken the unarmed class yet, but friends who have said it was a hoot to be able to hit someone (in a padded suit) full force.
I already use the learnings from Insights everyday; I am much more aware of my surroundings and take simple precautions like locking my car doors as soon as everyone is in. As a result, I hope I'll never have to use any of the more violent lessons from Insights, but I'm happy to have the option to do so if the time comes.
[post edited 4/10/2006 to correct a glaring typo]
There's a small set of things I always have in my pockets. My cellphone. A pen. An LED flashlight. These are all useful to me almost every day. But the thing I've carried most consistently over the past few years is a Spyderco Delica, aka the "Clip It"
The Delica is small, lockback folding knife. There are lots of these kinds of knives, but the Delica stands out in a few ways.
First, it has a clip on the side that allows me to hang it on the corner of my pocket; the clip is reversable so I can carry on either side of my body (and I do). This has a few benefits. First, it's just way more comfortable to carry this way; it's not turning sideways in the bottom of my pocket like the Swiss army knife I used to carry. Second, I always know exactly where it is and in what orientation.
This leads to the next benefit. I can open and close the knife with one hand, quickly if necessary. Invariably, when I need to cut something, I'm already holding it.
Next, the knife is super comfortable to hold and use. It's small and light (and short enough to legally carry virtually everywhere). The bump on the back of the blade is a perfect place to rest my thumb. Together with the slight curve on bottom, I feel secure that I can push a bit on the blade with less risk of sliding forward. This alone makes it preferable to me than most of the straight handled folding knives.
Finally, it's got a good blade. It's sharp and holds an edge. The blade comes in three configurations -- serrated, smooth, and combination (half serrated, half smooth). I prefer the smooth or combination blades. Spyderco also makes a trainer version with a dull blade.
While the knife looks purposeful and a bit scary to some (and I'm sure it would be useful in a fight), I find myself relying on it almost every day for some mundane task -- cutting down a box for recycling, peeling an orange, cutting out a newspaper clipping. I use the knives so often that I am acutely aware now when I don't have one (like on flights after 9/11.) These are useful tools, well-designed and well-made, and relatively affordable. What more could you ask for?
I'm a huge fan of the flashlights from Surefire. These guys take their flashlights very seriously. They are mostly aimed at military and law enforcement applications, so the stuff is very tough, insanely bright (they have a light that can blind you through your eyelids), and super functionally designed.
The 6P is the granddaddy of their lights and a personal favorite. It's a good size, bright (see above), and happens to be a good fighting light if you find yourself in a shootout in lowlight. (Doesn't everyone?)
They have very slick LED and weapons-mounted lights too. Their website and catalog are glorious and really show off their passion for excellence.
I love companies who really care about what they build, are honest about what they can and can't build (e.g. they don't claim their LED flashlight is visible at 20 miles and can last a lifetime on a single battery), and build great products.
Great, great stuff.
I'm not usually a big rum fan unless it's mixed with Coke or something, but I just had a glass of Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Rum. Damn, it's good. Very, very smooth. It is reminscent of good scotch without the peat or smoke. It's a more clean, sugar cane taste.
This is the world's best rum. I think so. So did the 2000 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Anyway, it's delicious.
It will also kick your ass. I've been sipping an albeit generous pour this evening and can already feel it go to my head. How good.