Friday, June 3, 2011

Cheerwine Fever Descends On Me Brooklyn

*I would like to preface this post by saying that having all but abandoned this blog for various reasons related chiefly to personal laziness, it's a testament to the sheer ecstatic delight brought on by the discovery that has inspired this missive.

So I'm minding my bidness, just popping into my local bodega-cum-overpriced grocery store. The purpose of the trip: to procure a run-of-the-mill style sodypop for my ailing boo. I approach the refrigerated case, hoping they'll have Mexi-coke in stock rather than the average HFCS-spiked garden variety. As I peruse the shelves, scanning them for unfiltered ginger-ale and yerba mate, I spy the unmistakable pinky-red Cheerwine logo. My heart skips a beat -- nay stops entirely. A feather could push me over. I've found the Promise Land. And it ain't flowing with milk and honey. It's flowing with sweet, fizzy, pink Cheerwine.

Let me explain for the uninitiated. Cheerwine is not, as the name may imply, an alcoholic beverage. It is a soda akin to -- but much much more delicious than -- Dr. Pepper. It was, until very recently (as in the last week or so) available in only a handful of places in the immediate vicinity of its home state of North Carolina.

I was first introduced to the wonder that is Cheerwine when I went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my best friend Ms. Adrian Amaro neƩ Rose in 2007. We drove from Virginia to the small beach town of Manteo for a week of sunbathing, eating Low Country Boil, bicycling, playing viciously competitive Scrabble and surveying the horizon for pirate ships. Our first stop? A little roadside market selling fresh produce (borang) and Cheerwine, which I'd been hankering to try ever since Miss Ad-sales alerted me to its transcendent awesomeness. We loaded up our baskets with the former, and grabbed a case of Cheerwine to take to the beach house. I cracked open a can immediately and let the pink, bubbly goodness roll around in my mouth. Like Coca-Cola, it was a perfect amalgam of familiar yet unidentifiable flavors, intoxicatingly sweet and perky, like a Southern belle all primped and ready for her deb ball.

For the remainder of our trip, we meted out our cans of Cheerwine with as much restraint as we could muster, rationing them carefully with the abstemious precision of Scrooge McDuck counting out his gold pieces. We allowed ourselves to splurge on a particularly hung-over morning during which nothing but Cheerwine could settle our embattled stomachs.

I came back to New York thirsty for more. Whenever Adrian went back to NC, I begged her to sneak a few cans in her bag for me. A summer romance with a Carolinan fellow two years ago found me smuggling cases back with me whenever I went to visit said gentleman. When the relaylay crashed and burned I found myself mourning less for the boy and more for the loss of my direct line to Cheerwine

Recently my girlfriend Stephanie, a grade A foodie, soda aficiondo and quasi-Southerner celebrated a birthday. I had recently discovered, to my horror, that she had never experienced the joy of Cheerwine. Inspired by a recent Serious Eats post extolling the virtues of this geographically bounded delicacy, I decided to visit the brand's website and see whether, by some miracle, there was a place in the New York area to find these treats. As of ten days ago there was not, despite rumors that Cheerwine would be planning to expand its reach as part of a celebration of its 100th birthday. I begrudgingly decided I'd have to special order it.

And then yesterday happened. Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps it's premature, but the massive amounts of sugar I've consumed since my discovery yesterday morning are arming me with a particularly devil-may-care attitude. Therefore I hereby declare this the Summer of Cheerwine. Only don't tell anyone, because if the mass hysteria catches, I'll be reduced to stockpiling and rationing and wind up on Hoarders and nobody wants that right? Let me revise that statement: I hereby declare this the Summer of Cheerwine. Shhh.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Staff of Life, or What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

I'll be the first to say we live in tough times and being adaptable is key. So I can't say I blame a certain neighborhood shopkeeper for wanting to diversify. This particular purveyor, the owner of Grande Monuments, is an oooooooold-timer in my quasi-Italian, hipster-fied area of Brooklyn and his main business is the selling of tombstones, or "monuments" as the sign advertises. But now it seems he's expanded his wares to include ... wait for it ... bread. Apparently the death and dying business is slow? Or perhaps this shopkeep noticed his patrons getting peckish whilst perusing the adornments of their final resting places? Whatever the case, this strange juxtaposition of life-affirming bread and death-affirming gravestone seems at once totally ridiculous and strangely appropriate.

I've been eying said establishment for a couple weeks, torn about whether or not to risk further investigation. Much as I love bread and have no doubt that the sort sold in this funny little storefront would be delish (it hails from a reputable Italian bakery in Bensonhurst and is not, for better or worse, made onsite), the prospect of procuring such a comestible when its been rubbing spatial elbows with potential corpse placards makes me uneasy and a little nauseous. But on the recommendation of my local barista, who highly recommended the 'prosciutto' bread (quotation marks are reproduced per the sandwich board outside the shop), I peeked inside, and found that I was disturbing the shopowner's lunch. He was a short, squat, rheumy-eyed Italian fella who, when I openly marveled at the diversity of the wares on offer, merely replied, "We're trying everything." Fair enough.

The bread was displayed on an ornate silver stand in the shop window, and though the loaves seemed perfectly fine, I couldn't reconcile future eating enjoyment with the musty, fusty environs, Astroturf floor and tombstone-littered showroom. I asked about the olive bread, which is a weekend specialty, and promised to return, narrowly avoiding purchasing a guilt loaf. Before leaving, I noticed that the shop was also selling a pair of black suede Jessica Simpson-brand pumps. My gaze didn't escape our friendly shopkeep, who assured me they were of the best quality, being that they were endorsed by Britney Spears. You can't blame him for trying.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Hot Dog of the Sea

As a human being, I make sense of my world by comparing like with like. As a writer, this is especially helpful when critiquing, say, music or literature or food -- it's both comforting to me and, ideally, evocative to the lucky twelve or so people who actually read what I've written.

When I go out to dinner at a fancy sea food restaurant (oftener than you'd think given my monetary restrictions of late) I enjoy regaling my eating companions with my observation that the lauded lobster is essentially the cockroach of the sea. It helps if my foodmates are sensitive of stomach or adherent to the proscribed rules of dining etiquette. Cuz I'm a brat like that.

I was talking to my mom today and she mentioned that she was going to be making gefilte fish for the upcoming Passover seder, and immediately I started to think about this inexplicably comforting Jewish delicacy, which I've explained to non-Jews as the HOT DOG of the sea. For the uninitiated, gefilte fish is workaday fish quenelle made from a savory hodgepodge of mild fish including, but not limited to, pike, whitefish and, if you want to get real shtetl about it, carp. (I recall a kids' book I enjoyed as a whippersnapper that was called The Carp In The Bathtub, about a Jewish family who brought a carp home from the market to make into gefilte fish and stored in the family bathtub -- so sanitary, those Orthos -- and formed an unfortunate attachment to the fish that made slaughtering it all the more delicate.)

But I digress. For my gentile friends, let me try to impart the particular charms of the modest gefilte. It is a salty, fishy, starchy bolus of grossness, traditionally served on Shabbat and other holidays. In our modern times, only the most industrious home cooks attempt to make it from scratch, not simply because of its labor-intensive components, but because it makes your kitchen, and indeed the rest of your house, stink of fish for days on end. Most folks are content to purchase ready-made gefiltes in jars proffered by Manichewitz, suspended in jellied broth (it just gets better doesn't it?). To further the culinary simile, I'd point out that much like the hot dog, the gefilte is traditionally served with horseradish, a pungent, spicy condiment that functions much like mustard to cut the overwhelmingly fishy flavour, all but numbing the tastebuds in the face of a particularly malodorous chunk of fish.

In perusing Wiki, I found an abbreviated history of the gefilte (Yiddish for "filled or stuffed"), which you might find interesting. Being that ethnic cuisine, particularly the stuff of the lower-class, seems to appeal inherently to foodies intent on reinventing it to suit their evolved palates (see ramen, dumplings, tacos and the aforementioned frankfurter), I hereby predict we'll soon see a haute take on the lowly gefilte. A low-brow morsel in need of a high-brow makeover with a perfectly blue collar back story and potential for a million re-interpretations, it's ripe for a shot of epicurean repackaging. Mark my words. The hot dog of the sea is coming to an overpriced menu near you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Negligence!

Dang, it's been an effing year since I posted in this beeswax. Well I'm sad to say there's nothing uber-exciting for me to share. At least not that I'm willing to go into now. (I had a baby and moved to Papua New Guinea but other than that....) I'd simply like to mention a few things in passing.

  1. If I were to have a rap group, it would be called Inkwyerin' Myndz. Trademark bitches.
  2. I am in love with that phone commercial wherein a dude accidentally butt-dials his lady friend and said ladyfriend proceeds to have a feigned conversation with his butt. "Hi butt." In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrote that commercial in my sleep.
  3. Wouldn't it be rad if you had like, a dream career? Like literally a career that you tended to (and excelled at, because it's a dream, see?) when you were sleeping? Like a high-powered somnambulist!
  4. I'm trying to get to the bottom of why, despite my dutiful application of eyeliner and mascara, by 5 pm every day it's gone without a trace and I look like a twelve-year old.
  5. Pop Rocks are vastly under-rated. So says Giada!
That is all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dumb Thoughts

A few years ago when I was starry eyed and naive I read this book by fellow Czech Milan Kundera. It featured a character who felt that her identity was defined by the things that she surrounded herself with -- her pet cat, certain photographs, books, clothes, records that she accrued painstakingly -- all were deliberate clues about her inner life. Her sister's approach to her domestic trappings were completely different: she believed that the external was irrelevant and her essence was completely divorced from her physical belongings or surroundings.

I read this book approximately six years ago -- just when I first moved to New York. I found myself for the first time free to adorn my living space exactly how I wanted, without fear of reprimand from parents or school officials. An yet . . . . I kept thinking of the first sister. How her belongings seemed so important, how they were her way of figuring out who she was and where she fit in the world. I felt a bit superior to this notion that material objects could define me, that my identity was defined by an accumulation of THINGS, which, taken as a whole, would somehow communicate my essential being. I fully appropriated the second sister's philosophy: I looked down my nose at my friends who seemed so concerned with buying just the right albums, the right clothes, the right pictures or posters to plaster their rooms with. I felt like it was a weak, simplistic, fumbling attempt to create a ready-made personality. "I'm the kind of girl who listens to Sixties mod, reads Martin Amis, brushes my teeth with Tom's of Maine." It was lazy conformity.

For the first three years that I lived in New York, I made it a point to keep my walls bare and make sure books and cd's were not prominently displayed. I hated the idea that someone could just walk into my room and feel they got a sense of who I was merely by glancing at the trash I kept around.

It sounds pretentious and dumb. It was. After a time, the design aesthetic of my living space was not so much rooted in philosophical conviction as in laziness. I never bothered to frame or hang the lovely Frank Lloyd Wright wrapping paper my mother got me as a gift. I had no pictures of family or friends, no artwork, no band posters, nothing. My walls were completely blank, and they were ugly.

The one thing I saw fit to adorn my otherwise virginal wallspace with was a calendar. I've always had one handy. It's strange, but I'm obsessive about calendars. I feel that without some tangible way of marking time, I am completely out of touch. I feel lost, confused, totally out of touch.

These days, my walls don't fare much better than they did a few years back. But I've come to the conclusion that what I surround myself with isn't necessarily for show. It's not for others to judge me by. It's for me. I'm the one who spends the most time here, and it makes sense to have things that I like close by, whether it's aesthetic or practical. I have three decorative wall decals above my bed that add a splash of color to my white-walled room. My bookshelf functions not only as a place for my books but as a display case for odds and ends that I've acquired over the years -- my grandma's highschool graduation picture, a tin-can insect my mother gave me, a starfish my friend brought me from Florida, a plastic narwhal from an ex-boyfriend. Still, the calendar is central. It occupies a sacred space on my north-facing wall, all by itself, nothing else detracting from it. It's always been chosen carefully and has, in many ways, reflected my internal life at any given time. Last year, I chose one that featured Japanese woodcuts, hoping it would lend me calm and serenity with it's peaceful strokes of blue and pomegranate. The year before that it was a kitschy Dick and Jane calendar, whimsical and nostalgic and childish. And the year before that, it was Madeleine, the little French schoolgirl with the yellow hat. After the year is done, I take down each calendar and put it in a box for safe keeping. I don't know why. I'm fairly unsentimental about most things, and not at all a pack rat. But these I save. I guess it seems like otherwise I'd be throwing away the past.

I suffered through the first two months of 2008 with no calendar whatever. I know it sounds silly but I felt totally disoriented without someplace to keep track of the days gone by. A place to ink in appointments or parties or birthdays. A way visualize the passing of time.

Finally today I purchased a silly calendar of retro-looking ladies saying cheeky things. I hung it on my north-facing wall, all by itself. I can see it from my bed as I fall asleep, assured of my temporal weight. Comforted by the knowledge that there's a tomorrow.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Brek Day One: The Power of Pizza

There is quite possibly nothing more delicious for breakfast than cold pizza. Biting into coagulated cheese and icy tomato sauce atop a crust that is quickly coming to resemble cardboard might not be most peoples' definition of a stellar eating experience, but there are plenty of us with fond memories of a childhood in which pizza for breakfast was tantamount to a snow day. Cold pizza breakfasts were reason enough to forgo that last slice, so that you could wrap it in tin foil and open it up next morning like an edible Christmas present.

In New York, cold pizza left over from the night before is well and good, but it's certainly not the only option. Here in the outer boroughs, the pizzerias open bright and early. Lots of blue collar worker dudes getting off of their night shifts can be seen tucking into a Grandma slice at ten in the morning. For people like me who forgot to eat a proper dinner and went out drinking all night, the fact that one can procure a piping hot, fresh from the oven slice is priceless. God Bless Brooklyn, de facto pizza capital of the world.

This morning I staggered out of bed at ten-ish to feed a certain Bitsy Boo, and then cooled my heels until I thought I could run across the street to San Marco, my pizza joint of choice, without the proverbial egg on my face. I didn't need to be so ashamed -- the place was bumping at 10:48am, full of old-timers speaking Italian and drinking their espresso, hulking construction worker types face down in Sicilian slices, and an odd hipster or two reeking of last night's booze and cigarettes. I ordered a Neapolitan and a Sicilian, both steaming hot from the oven, grabbed a 20 oz. coke -- aka the elixir of the gods when one is feeling not 100% -- and beat a fast path back to my home where I made quick work of the doughy, slightly undercooked Sicilian first, jaws still not fully awake. By the time I had finished I literally had to rest my mouth. Then on to slice numero dos. Man, I gotta say, San Marco is the obvious choice for sheer proximity, but damned if they don't make some of the best pies in New York. The cheese is stringy and spongey and has a subtle beer aftertaste. The sauce is perfect, not too sweet, not too acidic, and the crust is crisp on the bottom but maleable and doughy on top.

A few swigs of my Coca Cola classic and I'm ready to face the day. Right after I wake up from this food coma.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm A Brek Gurl

A few months back I encountered a gastro-crisis of sorts. See, I'd recently left my regular 9 to 5 job and because I was liberated from having a particular wake-up time, found myself arising from sleep at all hours, ranging from "morning" to "late morning" to "early afternoon." Ah, bliss. But I digress. I found that the irregular times at which I awoke created some confusion as to what I ought to eat first thing. Normally, I'm a big fan of breakfast and all of its attendant foodstuffs. Most regular days I'd have kicked things off with a yogurt or an omelet or a bagel egg and cheese for the days when I was a bitsy hung over. And of course there were also the times that sadly I skipped brek altogether and coasted onward to lunch, which provides a veritably endless array of food choices.

Now I was in a quandary: What if, say, I woke up at twelve or one but still wanted breakfast food? Certainly this is the premise that brunch was based on, but brunch is a special weekend meal. Even the leisure class doesn't indulge in brunch during the week. Ladies Who Brunch? No. I rest my case.

Even more troubling were the times when I arose BEFORE noon and found my meal options limited by the understanding that until noon, only breakfast foods were, loosely speaking, allowed. I mean of course I KNOW that I'm an adult and I could've eaten anything I damn well chose, but for some reason . . . for some strange reason, breakfast seemed to have these unspoken rules that are blindly followed. Perhaps that's why when the rules of breakfast are flouted, like say when you eat cold pizza for breakfast, or better yet, when you eat "breakfast for dinner," the act always seems like some delicious, naughty transgression.

Why are there so many rules and regulations regarding the breakfast meal? Is it because, as we're taught from the time we can swallow cream of wheat that it's 'the most important meal of the day'? Why does such staunchly protected ritual surround this meal, when all bets are off for lunch or dinner?

What really got me thinking is the fact that if you're more of a savory than a sweet person, the only options you have for breakfast are eggs and egg-based concoctions. Sure you could have toast or cheese grits or hash browns, but I'm talking the main even here. If you don't feel like eating an omelet or cream cheese on a bagel, what, really does that leave you?

It is my goal to inquire into the codified world of the breakfast meal -- to understand its rules and deviations, to explore the culturally and regionally specific foods that inhabit the breakfast spectrum, and to, whenever possible, document my own breakfast eating as a sort of social experiment. And also to make sense of the various and sundry morning and breakfast related idioms that pepper our every day speech. The early bird gets the worm, and half off the breakfast buffett at Big Boy.