Monday, December 31, 2007

Measuring By Weight (Or Mass)

You may have noticed that both of the recipes that I have posted for Nutella cookies have included a substantial portion of their ingredient measurements in weights (or masses, but it's essentially the same thing as close to sea level as I live). That's intentional. The only volumetric way that you could possibly measure Nutella accurately is by the displacement method, and who wants to mess with that? Furthermore, flour is compressible and messy and I never really level the measuring cups off. It's much easier (and more accurate) just to do it by weight with a taring electronic scale. The Salter model to the right is what I have -- I think the clear glass top looks pretty cool myself. And when I'm done with it, I just put it back in its original box and packaging; it's the size of a book and takes up much less space than most appliances. I'm not one of those people who automatically assumes that the Europeans are doing it the right way and the Americans are doing it the wrong way when the European way differs from the American one, but it is true in this case.

Last Night's Tipple

Another dram of Macallan 10 year old Fine Oak. The bottle is almost gone, and that's fine. This whisky is tasty, with lots of sherry, but it's really not anything special. I wouldn't exactly turn this down if someone offered it to me as a gift, but I doubt that I'll be buying it again. It's over $30 a bottle, and it's possible to find any number of Scotches that are more interesting than this one at a similar price point.

In the United States, Macallan's regular range begins with the 12 year old. Why did they decide to bottle a 10 year old when they came out with the Fine Oak line? My sense, just from viewing the Scotches that are and have been available, is that anything younger than 12 years old is a bit of a marketing challenge, at least for mass-market single malts, which Macallan unquestionably is. Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, and Balvenie all have 10 year old expressions; but the emphasis for Glenmorangie and Balvenie is and has been on the 12 year old expressions. I would imagine that Macallan is trying to do the same thing with the 10 year old Fine Oak that Balvenie does with the 10 year old Founder's Reserve and Glenmorangie does with their 10 year old expression: get something on the market at a slightly lower price point that can serve to pull consumers into the line, where they will spend more on the older bottlings. The standard 12 year old bottling is nearly $42 a fifth, while the 10 year old Fine Oak is around $32. Somebody who has never had Macallan before might hesitate less to spend $32 than $42; and once he spends the $32, he's more likely to move up to the $42 bottling. At least, that's the only thing that I can come up with.

Today's Shoes

Gravati five-eyelet plain-toe blucher boots in antiqued tan calfskin with a rubber lug soles (15950, 640).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nutella Redux

My initial attempt at Nutella cookies produced good flavor but not enough puffiness. Use more transfat, said Mamacita. Consider using baking powder in addition to baking soda, said Letitia. Add more flour, said my mother. All three made sense, so I began looking for a recipe for peanut butter cookies that used both baking power and baking soda, shortening instead of butter, and relatively more flour than the recipe I adapted for my first attempt. I couldn't find a peanut butter cookie recipe that had all of these attributes, but I did find one that was close from The New Best Recipe from the people who put out Cook's Illustrated magazine. It uses butter instead of shortening, though, so that was an easy substitution. Here's what I ended up making:

12.5 oz (2.5 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening (one of those prepacked sticks)
7 oz (1 cup packed) dark brown sugar
7 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
14.5 oz Nutella
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat the shortening in with the paddle attachment of the mixer until it's broken up, then cream it with the two sugars until all is integrated and fluffy. Mix in the Nutella, followed by the chopped hazelnuts. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add this dry mixture to the mixing bowl in three increments, integrating each one before adding the next. The resulting dough should be fairly dry and should barely stick to the mixer paddle. Chill dough while oven preheats to 350 degrees F. Scoop out dough with ice cream scooper around 1.5 inches in diameter onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper -- they should be around 2.5 inches between cookies, and I can get 3 rows of three on a standard-sized cookie sheet. Press down each cookie with a fork dipped in flour, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating cookie sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes. Recipe makes around 48 cookies.

These cookies were indeed poofier than the first batch. They were also drier. I think I didn't add quite enough Nutella. But they were pretty tasty.

Today's Shoes

You may recall me writing back in September about ordering a desert boot (only better) from Gravati:
I ordered a pair of five-eyelet blucher boots, unlined, in snuff waterproof suede with a microcellular rubber sole on 697 last.

They came in yesterday, and I wore them for the first time today. Gravati really outdid themselves this time. As the quote above illustrates, I was expecting the boots to come in as a variant of the standard five-eyelet 15950; and indeed, they are marked with the 15950 model number. But they aren't 15950s. Their shafts are about a quarter inch shorter than on 15950, and they have three eyelets instead of five. There is a row of stitching outside of the eyelets, too, which the 15950 doesn't have. The shape of the quarters is completely different. And then there's the back of the boot. Where 15950 has a back strap covering the back seam, these boots have none. Instead, they have stitching resembling an abbreviated counter, holding a suede heel lining in place. They are indeed unlined, except for a narrow strip at the top; and they are made from snuff Janus suede, one of British tanner CF Stead's lineup. The smooth side is finished, so it's perfect for an unlined shoe. I don't know what model this boot actually is, but I like it very much, and I'm certainly interested in having the boot made up again. Jim Pierce, the owner of the shoe concession at Harold's in the Heights, has contacted Barbara, the Gravati US Rep, who will contact Ettore Gravati to find out the model details so that this will be possible. Hallelujah!

Last Night's Tipple

I had another dram of Dalwhinnie 15 year old last night, probably because the Cragganmore from the night before got me onto a Diageo Scotch kick. Dalwhinnie, you will recall, is the Highlands representative in Diageo's Classic Malts series. This is a bit anomalous, though, because the Dalwhinnie distillery is located in the watershed of the River Spey and is relatively close to some other distilleries that are classified as Speysides. However, back before there was an extensive road network, one of the principal routes from the Western Highlands to the east was via the Glen Spean, which terminates close to Dalwhinnie. So maybe classifying Dalwhinnie as a Highland malt makes sense. Of course, these geographic classifications are really a poor method of bringing order to the chaos that is single malt Scotch because there is such tremendous variation in the character of malts produced within these geographic regions. Heck, there often is a tremendous variation in character in different malts produced at the same distillery.

In any event, Dalwhinnie is very good. The shoulder label says that it's "The Gentle Spirit", and that's very true. There's a gentle waft of peat, and the palate is all honey and malt. If you don't like this, there's not much hope that you'll like any Scotch that isn't aggressively peated.

(As an aside, Spec's also has a significant discount on the Dalwhinnie Distiller's Edition, which was finished in Oloroso Sherry butts. I'm sure it is very good, and I'm sure that I will be forced to buy it at some point.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Mamacita was looking for some relatively inexpensive wool trousers for Papi Chulo (thinking that Papi Chulo could use some pants for work that were dressier and less likely to get horribly rumpled than the chinos that he has been wearing), and for some reason, she actually thought that I might have some good ideas. The first thing that I suggested were the Kirkland Signature wool trousers from Costco. Yes, from Costco. I had read good things about them online, Costco has a good track record for offering good value products under their Kirkland Signature label, and trips to Costco are always amusing if nothing else; so why not check them out? Alas, my friendly neighborhood Costco didn't have any; and from the online listing of them, it looks like they've been discontinued. So the question remains, where can one find decent wool trousers for not outrageous sums of money? Well, here are some possibilities:
  • Lands' End Year 'Rounder trousers -- Generally speaking, Lands' End offers decent basic clothing. I have not seen these trousers in a number of years, but the last time I did, my principal complaint with them was the presence of topstitching along the outer side seams. Use of the Zoom feature on the Lands' End website leads me to believe that they have done away with this stitching, which would be a very good thing, but I can't be sure. I'm pretty sure, however, that these trousers are a good value at $60 a pair, although the tax and Lands' End's outrageous shipping charges reduce the value proposition considerably.
  • LL Bean Washable Year-Round Wool Trousers -- Just as most of the merchandise offered by LL Bean is similar to merchandise offered by Lands' End, so too do these trousers appear very similar to the comparable Lands' End trousers discussed above. The principal differences appear to be the price ($69 a pair for these, rather than $60 a pair for the Lands' End ones) and the fact that these trousers are supposedly washable and wrinkle-resistant. I would be hesitant to wash wool because it has the tendency to pill and shrink, and I have never been a fan of wrinkle-resistant coatings on clothing. Such coatings tend to decrease the sensual pleasure of the fabric, and they tend to wear off. But I know that others feel very differently about them. The uninspiring picture above is of these trousers.
  • JC Penny Stafford 100% Wool Dress Trousers --I have never examined them closely, but I have read in several places that JC Penny's Stafford line of dress clothing is relatively well-constructed and offers good value. These trousers are marked down to $40 a pair from $80, and they may be worth taking a flier on. The principal down side is that they appear to come only with pleats, which may not be what Mamacita is looking for for Papi Chulo.
  • Jos. A. Bank Traveler Plain Front Trousers -- Jos. A. Bank stores have been popping up all over the place over the past 15 or so years as an alternative to department stores for men's tailored clothing. The level of quality and the prices available are pretty much the same, but not having to go to Dillard's or Macy's to buy a suit has been a winning proposition for a lot of men. In the past couple of years, Bank has started to take the permasale approach to marketing: everything in the store is almost always on "sale", so the retail prices listed don't have much meaning. These trousers are currently "marked down" to $68 a pair, which is probably about what they're worth. They are mostly wool with a touch of Lycra, which can reduce the fabric's tendency to wrinkle without resorting to the spray-on coatings that the LL Bean trousers do. One of the problems with clothing purchased from Bank is that you have to pay extra for the trousers to be hemmed, which means that the real cost of these trousers is actually $78 a pair.
Were it me, I would probably start with the Lands' End trousers and work my way through the others in order if they didn't fit properly. The only unequivocal advice that I would give is that she should eschew trousers that have a substantial amount of polyester in them. Wool breathes. Polyester doesn't. And wool blended with polyester has more tendency to pill than 100% wool, all other things being equal. But Mamacita rarely listens to me.

Today's Shoes

Vass six-eyelet blucher Budapesters in Cognac pebble-grain calf with reverse welting and a double leather sole (with a hard rubber plate inset at the toe of the sole) (Budapest last). The shoe show above is the same leather and last, but the design is slightly different. It doesn't have the reverse welting that my shoes do, it has five eyelets instead of six, and the quarter seam and counter don't meet in a curved V like they do on my shoes.

Last Night's Tipple

Liquor Claus was exceptionally generous to me this year. In addition to the bottle of Glenfarclas that I wrote about yesterday, she also gave me a bottle of 10 year old Eagle Rare Bourbon (another of the fine products from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort) and -- are you ready for this? -- a Spec's key. That's Spec's frequent shopper program, and it mostly gets the key holder a discount of a dollar or two on a constantly-changing array of products. But sometimes the discounts are larger, as they were yesterday on Cragganmore Distiller's Edition Scotch. $8 a bottle was significant, and I had heard good things about the Scotch; so, in the spirit of adventure, I bought a bottle to try it out.

You will recall that Cragganmore is owned by liquor giant Diageo and that it is one of Diageo's "Classic Malts" (along with others like Talisker, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, and Glenkinchie), meaning that Diageo markets it as the ideal representative of all that's best about Speyside Scotches. It's helpful to remember that it is just marketing and that Cragganmore hasn't for time immemorial been regarded as the best Speyside Scotch by all informed observers (the distillery was only founded in 1869), but it is very good and well worth the money it costs if you like Speyside Scotch (and I do). Back in 2005, to expand the "Classic Malts" brand, Diageo came out with a number of so-called Distiller's Editions for their principal Classic Malts. Though they are aged for different amounts of time, all of these whiskies are "finished" in special wood, meaning that they have been racked from the barrels that they spent most of their time aging in to other barrels where they spend the last few months before bottling. Glenmorangie pioneered this technique, and it has become very popular with Scotch consumers. In the case of this Cragganmore, it was distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2005, and it ended its aging in used Port barrels. The Port influence is immediately apparent, both from the deep color of the whisky and the sweet wine richness in both the aroma and the flavor. There is also plenty of malt, of course, and the net effect is of a full-bodied dessert Scotch. It's delicious, and it makes me want to try the rest of the Distiller's Editions. Damn you, Diageo marketing machine!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Shoe Construction: Bologna

Bologna construction is another Italian specialty; and on initial examination, it may look somewhat similar to Blake construction because of the row of stitching going from the inside of the shoe through to the outsole. However, the two construction methods really are very different. Bologna construction is sometimes called bag construction or tubular construction because the leather forming the upper goes all the way around the shoe, being sewn into a bag or a tube. The upper part of this leather is lined with normal lining leather. The lower part of this leather, where the foot will rest in the finished shoe, is lined with a soft leather insole much less stout than the kind of insole that you would find in a Goodyear or a Blake shoe. The upper lining is connected to the soft insole via a row of stitching on the underside of the both, so that you'll see a trench on the inside of a Bologna shoe. The row of stitching connecting the upper to the outsole is closer to the wall of the upper than it is on a Blake shoe, and its much less likely to come into contact with the wearer's toes.

As with Blake construction, one of the benefits of Bologna construction is that it's possible for the sole to be extremely close-cut, if that's aesthetically important. Bologna construction also makes for an extremely flexible shoe. Blake shoes are usually flexible, but they can't compare to the flexibility of Bologna shoes, all other things being equal, because of the thinness and pliability of the soft insole in Bologna shoes. The principal reason that Bologna construction exists is to produce extremely soft, slipper-comfortable shoes. That, of course, is one of the limitations of the construction method, too. Bologna constructed shoes aren't the most durable, and they don't provide the same degree of support to the foot while walking that Goodyear, Blake, or Blake/Rapid shoes do. Because Bologna construction has that row of stitching going from the inside of the shoe all the way through the outsole, Bologna shoes have the same moisture-wicking problem that Blake shoes do. And, for some reason, the outsoles of Bologna constructed shoes tend to be slightly convex, meaning that they wear more rapidly at the center of the sole than toward the edges.

The two most prominent practitioners of Bologna construction in Italy are A. Testoni and Artioli, although there are many other manufacturers who use it for at least some of their shoes. Gravati and Santoni both make excellent Bologna constructed shoes, and the diagram above was taken from the Santoni USA website.

Today's Shoes

Now that the complete shoe inventory is once again available, I was able to wear my Alden long wing bluchers in English tan pebble grain calf with a reverse welt and double leather soles (Barrie last) -- one of Alden's special makeups for LeatherSoul in Hawaii.

Last Night's Tipple

Liquor Claus paid me a visit yesterday, and part of her bounty was a bottle of 12 year old Glenfarclas single malt Scotch. Glenfarclas is something of an oddity in the world of Scotch. It was established by a farmer named Robert Hay in 1836, and he sold it to John Grant in 1865. It has remained the property of the Grant family since (there are other Grants involved in the Scotch industry, but none of them are related to the Glenfarclas Grants), and it is the only distillery that the Grant family owns. That's right -- in an era of huge multinational corporations seizing control of the Scotch business (and the Bourbon business), Glenfarclas remains an independent. And that's not the only way that it's unusual. It has the largest stills in Speyside, and it is one of the few distilleries left that uses direct heat to fire their stills (as opposed to steam coils that provide indirect heat). They experimented with steam heat on one of their stills in the 1980s and found that the character of the whisky was changed and so abandoned the experiment. Finally, there's the aging program. Most Scotch today is aged in used Bourbon barrels; Glenfarclas apparently is aged exclusively in used sherry butts (Oloroso and Fino, according to the website), making it an interesting counterpoint to another sherried Speyside malt, Macallan.

You will recall that the more copper contact distiller's beer and low wines have during distillation, the "cleaner", lighter, and freer of congeners the finished new make spirit will have. Larger stills tend to promote more copper contact, as do ball- or lamp-shaped tops of the stills. Since Glenfarclas has the largest stills in Speyside and those stills have ball-shaped tops, you would expect that its whisky would be light and elegant. I wouldn't call it inelegant, but it certainly isn't light. Perhaps it's the sherry influence that gives it weight, I don't know. In any event, it smells like nutty fruitcake (in a good way), and there's a lot of malt on the palate. I generally like sherried Scotches, and I like this one, too. Thank you, Liquor Claus. You're the best.

(Incidentally, that picture above was taken from the Glenfarclas website. Within the last year or two, Glenfarclas has changed the bottle for their 12 year old expression. Instead of the tall, clear bottle shown above, it's now tinted brown and squat. I can't find a picture of the new bottle online, though, so we'll just have to make due with the old one.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday Evening Movie Review

Judd Apatow has been on a roll recently. Since 2004, he has produced Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Knocked Up, and Superbad. All have been very successful, and all have been very funny. (In particular, I thought that Superbad was pure genius.) Now comes Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a brilliant send-up of music biopics in general and Walk the Line (about Johnny Cash) and Ray (about Ray Charles) specifically. Following the Apatow pattern, the star of Walk Hard (John C. Reilly) had previously appeared in a supporting role in another Apatow film (Talledega Nights).

Apparently, Walk Hard has not been doing particularly well at the box office, and I don't really understand why. It doesn't rise to the level of genius shown in Superbad, but it is very good. In particular, it pokes fun at all of the elements of biopics that ought to be poked fun at (the use of the same actor for a range of ages of a subject from adolescence to old age, even when the actor can't really appear convincing at some of those ages, the standard sex/drugs/rock-an-roll montages, and the stereotyped story arcs, among others), and the actors (in particular John C. Reilly and Tim Meadows) turn in excellent performances. It's raunchy and crude (I didn't realize that prolonged full frontal male nudity could be in an R-rated movie), as are all Apatow movies, but, like Knocked Up and Superbad, the overall message (such as it is) is not what you would expect from a run-of-the-mill raunchy and crude comedy.

Today's Shoes

John Lobb Paris plain-toe chelsea boots in dark brown calf with single leather soles (Chesland model, 8695 last). Hallelujah, back home now, so I can get a little more variety in my shoes.

Today's Tipple

Not just any Coca-Cola, mind you. A Dutch Coca-Cola. I have no idea how such a thing got onto the beverage cart of a Continental Express regional jet, but there it was. Not surprisingly, it wasn't much different from an American Coke, although it did contain sugar (beet sugar, I would guess) instead of high fructose corn syrup. Oh, the glories of international commerce.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Shoe Construction: Blake/Rapid

As the name suggests, Blake/Rapid construction is a whole lot like Blake construction. There is a row of Blake stitching along the insole; but instead of attaching the insole to the outsole, it attaches the insole to a midsole. The midsole is attached to the outsole by a row of stitching (that's the Rapid part of the combination) running outside the shoe. Conceptually, it's a bit like a combination of Goodyear welting and Blake construction. Because the row of Blake stitching doesn't go all the way from the interior of the sole to the outsole, it doesn't have the problem with ground moisture that Blake-constructed shoes; but this increased degree of waterproofing comes at a price. The presence of the midsole and the necessity for a row of stitching on the outside of the shoe attaching the midsole to the outsole mean that Blake/Rapid shoes can neither be as flexible nor have soles that are as close-cut as Blake-constructed shoes. In addition, all other things being equal, Blake/Rapid shoes will have a more rugged appearance than equivalent shoes made with Blake construction. This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the look that you're seeking.

Like Blake construction, Blake/Rapid construction is a mainstay for most Italian manufacturers. Most manufacturers who do Blake also do Blake/Rapid and will switch between the two depending on the shoes that they are making. The diagram above is courtesy of Ron Rider, who is the US agent for Romano Martegani, a prominent manufacturer in Tradate in Italy that is something of a Blake/Rapid specialist.

Today's Shoes

Alden five-eyelet demi-chasses with twin-needle stitching forming the faux apron and toe seams in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (2210, Aberdeen last).

Last Night's Tipple

Among wine snobs, Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson is often regarded as the devil. Part of that is because he's famously prickly and litigious, but most of it is because of Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, which embodies virtually all of the characteristics that snobs detest about California Chardonnay. It's slightly off-dry, and it's a butter bomb. That is, time in oak barrels (plus full malolactic fermentation) imparts a toasty, buttery flavor to the wine that dominates it (along with coconuts and tropical fruits). It's very much an engineered wine. Jackson knew that American consumers preferred wines that were low-acid and off-dry (even though they didn't want to admit that the wines were off-dry), and that's what he produced. K-J Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is, in its conception and execution, very much like Sutter Home White Zinfandel, only with more pretensions of sophistication.

Kendall-Jackson is a huge operation, and although the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is their most popular wine, they make many, many other ones. Our Christmas wine was the 2004 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the grandiose name, the Grand Reserve line is just K-J's second-level line (above Vintner's Reserve but below the Highland Estates and Stature lines), and I tried my best not to like it. I did not succeed. I couldn't detect much varietal character (which, for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a distinctive cedar aroma), but it did have good concentration and lots of fruit. It was pleasant, and it went well with the standing rib roast. I didn't know how much this wine went for until I looked it up just now (around $23 a bottle), and I don't think that it offers a particularly good value. However, it was enjoyable, if you can put aside your preconceived notions about Kendall-Jackson.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas From the Family

Feliz Navidad, y'all.

Today's Shoes

John Lobb Paris plain-toe chelsea boots in dark brown calf with single leather soles (Chesland model, 8695 last). Two things that would make these boots better are cloth pull tabs on the front of the throat as well as the back (since one puts them on by putting one hand on the back pull tab and one hand on the front throat) and making them wholecuts, so that there weren't seams running from the bottom of the elastic gores to the soles on either side.

Last Night's Tipple

I rarely order wine in restaurants, particularly wines by the glass. Part of my reluctance is due to a hesitation even to trifle with drinking and driving, part because it's impossible to know how long the bottle that produces the wine by the glass has been open and the conditions under which it has been stored, and part because drinking wine in restaurants is usually a really bad value. But last night, I figured, hey, it's Christmas Eve, I'm not paying for dinner, and I'm not driving home. So why not? I ordered a glass of Coltibuono Cancelli, an IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica -- similar to France's Vin de Pays wines in that the geographical restrictions are usually not very constraining and there aren't many restrictions at all about the grape varieties or winemaking techniques that can be used) wine from Tuscany containing 70% Sangiovese and 30% Syrah. Badia a Coltibuono is prominent Tuscan winemaker specializing in Chianti, with a thousand-year history. Wines made exclusively from estate-grown grapes bear the Badia a Coltibuono label, while wines that include at least some purchased grapes, like the Cancelli I had, have the Coltibuono label. It was a pleasant wine -- bright, acidic, and possessing that pleasant leathery smell that Italian Sangiovese-based wines always have and American Sangiovese-based wines never do. I enjoyed it, and I would buy a bottle if I saw it in stores.

But here's the shocking part. The glass cost $9.50. The entire bottle can be had at retail for $10. In other words, given that the restaurant probably paid a wholesale price for the wine, they made a profit on the first glass of wine they sold from the bottle. I know that maintaining stock in wine is expensive for restaurants, and I know that selling wines by the glass results in a lot of wastage when the remains of bottles have to be poured down the drain because they've been open too long. But come on. People think that it's outrageous when clothing merchants keystone their merchandise (ie, mark their merchandise up to 100% over wholesale price). What about a restaurant marking their wines up to 600% over wholesale price? I feel like a sucker every time I order wine in a restaurant. For all I know, restaurants generate more of a profit this way than they would with a reasonable pricing structure, but I can tell you that a reasonable pricing structure would lead me to order wine in a restaurant more than once a year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Semper Fi

Marines aren't just like Army soldiers with better uniforms. They are different. If you want to understand why they're different, a good place to start is the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. It opened in November, 2006, and it contains a number of well-done exhibits about Marine Corps training, the Marine style of fighting (in teams that closely integrate infantry, artillery, and air, with riflemen who are trained to take the initiative, even if they're extremely junior in rank), and their major deployments since they were founded as the Continental Marines in 1775. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is on World War II (where the Marines did the vast majority of the fighting in Nimitz's island hopping campaign in the Central Pacific), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. There are plenty of artifacts and film shorts, but there is an emphasis on reading -- don't bother to come here unless you're prepared to read a lot. And don't come here if you're unwilling to spend quite a lot of time going through it -- it's possible to spend multiple hours in each gallery and still not get everything in them that there is to get.

The picture above is of the facade of the museum, and you may have noticed that it bears a certain resemblance to that famous picture of the Marines raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945. Obviously, the resemblance is intentional (and, of course, the museum has both of the flags that those marines raised, although only one is displayed at a time). Admission to the museum is free, and it deserves to be on the itinerary of anyone who lives or visits the Washington, DC area.

Today's Shoes

Alden five-eyelet bluchers with twin-needle stitching on the apron and toe in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (model 2210, Aberdeen last).

Last Night's Tipple

Oysters dredged in cornmeal and deep fried for dinner tonight, and it seemed like a good idea to have some wine with them. The ideal wine would have been something bone dry, full bodied (to compete with the flavors of the oysters), and pleasantly tart (to cut through the fat imparted by the deep frying). Muscadet is the most commonly-mentioned seafood-friendly wine, but I would have taken a nice, assertive Sauvignon Blanc (like a good one from New Zealand), too. Well, neither of those was available, so I was stuck drinking a glass of 2006 Vendange Chardonnay. I believe that Vendange is the bulk label for Mondavi, which is now owned by Constallation Brands. All of the wines sold under the Vendange label have the California appellation, and all are designed to be easy-drinking wines of wide appeal. And so this one is. The overwhelming impression that I got was one of watered-down apple juice, which indicates that the wine has not gone through malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation converts malic acid (which gets its name from the Latin word for apple) to lactic acid, and it causes apple overtones in a wine to disappear in favor of creamy, buttery ones. Red wines almost always undergo malolactic fermentation, but it's rare for white wines to do so. Except chardonnay. Well, this chardonnay didn't undergo malo, which is just as well, I suppose. It wasn't bad, but I really wish that it hadn't been so watery and that it had been more acidic. But then it wouldn't have been as crowd-pleasing. Oh, well.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Oh, How Strange Instant Replay Is

Tonight, the Washington Redskins beat the Minnesota Vikings 32-21 to seize control of the race for the final playoff spot in the NFC. If the Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys next week in Washington, they're in. To be honest, the game wasn't as close as the score would indicate. The Redskins dominated it for three and a half quarters, and the final score should have been much more lopsided. There were some tense moments in the first half of the fourth quarter, however. The Vikings scored a touchdown to bring the score to 25-14. On the next possession, Redskins quarterback completed a pass to receiver Santana Moss down the sideline for 23 yards. It was questionable whether Moss got both feet down, and the Redskins rushed to get a play off before the Vikings could challenge the play and have it reviewed via instant replay. Collins fumbled the rushed snap, and the Vikings recovered. It looked like the game might completely turn around, but the Redskins' coaches noticed that the Vikings had 12 men on the field. They challenged the play, and instant replay confirmed that the Vikings were guilty of having too many men. The Redskins got the ball back and eventually scored a touchdown to put the game out of reach. So the fumble that was caused by a rushed snap to prevent an instant replay review was reversed by an instant replay review.

Today's Shoes

John Lobb Paris plain-toe chelsea boot in dark brown calf with single leather soles. Yes, a repeat of what I wore the day before yesterday. I'm traveling for the holidays, and I can't take many shoes with me. Chelsea boots are just about the ideal travel shoes because they can be worn in many different situations and because they're easy to get out of and into when going through airport security.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Shoe Construction: Blake

Blake construction is the bread and butter of the Italian shoe industry. Although Italian shoe manufacturers use a dizzying array of construction techniques, probably more good-quality shoes are made using Blake construction than all of the other methods combined.

The diagram above (again lifted from the La Botte Chantilly website) shows what is involved with Blake construction, and it should be immediately clear why it is so popular: it's a lot simpler than Goodyear welting. There is a single row of stitching that attaches the insole to the upper (turned under the insole) and the outsole. Obviously, since the stitching runs inside of the shoe, it's not possible for a Blake-constructed shoe to be stitched together by hand; so this construction technique is a child of the Industrial Revolution. It's named for Lyman Reed Blake, and American inventor who patented the machine to accomplish this in 1856. He later sold the patent to a man named Gordon McKay, and one consequently sees this construction method referred to as McKay construction.

Blake construction has two principal advantages. First, because it requires no stitching on the sole edges outside the shoe, it is possible to get extremely close-cut soles with it, much more closely cut than would ever be possible with a Goodyear-welted shoe. Second, because Blake-constructed shoes have fewer layers in the sole, they tend to be more flexible than Goodyear -welted shoes. The principal disadvantages are all outgrowths of the stitching along the insole. This row of stitching can irritate some feet, especially when it is not covered by a sock liner. More seriously, it can wick moisture from the ground into the inside of the shoe. Unless they have rubber soles, Blake-constructed shoes will always be less waterproof than Goodyear-welted shoes, all other things being equal.

Shoe snobs tend to disparage Blake-constructed shoes, and I think that this tendency is unfortunate. It is true that Italy turns out a lot of cheap, junky Blake-constructed shoes, but I would put a Blake-constructed shoe from an excellent maker like Gravati up against any comparably-priced footwear, regardless of construction. They're better-made and better-finished than any of the English-made Goodyear-welted shoes that I have seen at a similar price point. And, despite what you might hear from salesmen pushing Allen-Edmonds or other Goodyear-welted shoes, Blake shoes can be resoled. The cobbler just needs a Blake soling machine, which are admittedly less common than Goodyear welting machines, at least in the United States.

Today's Shoes

Alden five-eyelet blucher with twin-needle apron and toe stitching in Color #8 shell cordovan with double leather soles (model 2210, Aberdeen last).

On the Utility of Teabags

Teabags are not the perfect tea delivery mechanisms. In the first place, I have yet to see a teabag that allows the tea contained inside to spread out as much as it ought to spread out during the brewing process. During brewing, tea is rehydrated, and it can expand to three or four times is dry volume. There simply isn't enough room in a teabag to accommodate that degree of expansion, and that inhibits the infusion of the hot water with all of the tea-y goodness. Secondly, top-quality tea rarely goes into teabags. You're not going to find whole-leaf teas in bags, and it's likely that there will be a non-trivial quantity of finings in the blend. The word "finings" is just a nice euphemism for tea dust, and the more tea dust and tiny tea pieces in the bag, the more bitterness the brew will have.

Still, anyone who likes tea sooner or later will have to reconcile himself to using teabags sometimes. Restaurants that serve loose tea are few and far between, and there are places (such as the office) where it isn't practical to have the full loose tea-brewing rig. If you're going to use teabags sometimes, you ought to spend the extra money to get teabags produced by quality vendors. The Republic of Tea and Harney & Sons are two such. Their bags are large, not overstuffed, and are made from unbleached paper (well, Republic of Tea's certainly are; I'm not sure about Harney & Sons) to reduce off flavors. And the tea that goes in the bags doesn't contain many finings. I'd still rather have loose tea, of course, but I can get by with bags such as these when necessary.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Will Someone Please Buy This?

Alex Begg & Co. makes the best cashmere scarves in the world. Period. There are other good producers of cashmere scarves, but none of them can compete with Begg in density, softness, and quality of the cashmere used to make the scarf. They know it, and so do the consumers who buy their scarves, which is why Begg scarves are so expensive. Begg's bread and butter is in single-color scarves, and you can find these easily in many specialty stores throughout the United States. Harder to find are the Begg patterned scarves like the one pictured to the left. They're simply stunning, and they're hard to find. Which makes it all the more difficult for me to believe that Jonathan Fischer at Four In Hand has that large-scale paisley pattern in both burgundy and chocolate brown. But he does, and someone should buy both. He has them listed among the women's scarves, but I see no reason why a man couldn't wear them. If it cold enough in Houston to wear a cashmere scarf more than once or twice a year, I would already own one, but alas. It doesn't. And so it is up to you, dear reader, to give these scarves a good home.

Today's Shoes

John Lobb Paris plain-toe chelsea boots in dark brown calfskin with single leather soles (Chesland model, 8695 last). I usually have trouble with JL Paris's 8695 last because it's too wide in the heel for me, but it doesn't bother me on these boots. I'm not sure why, although I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that they are boots rather than shoes. The picture above is of these boots in black calf, but mine are almost identical in every respect.

Last Night's Tipple

The most commercially influential wine rating scheme in use today is the 100 point system. Popularized (although not invented) by wine critic Robert Parker in the 1980s and now adopted by most wine publications that rate wine, it's actually not really a 100 point system: if the liquid in the bottle is wine, then the minimum score it can get is 50 points. Any wine that it not badly flawed will get a score above 75 points; and in order to be commercially viable, the score has to be above 85 points. Well, at least if the wine costs more than $10 a bottle and is not available in unlimited quantities. Yes, ratings matter in the wine business, and they matter a great deal. Wine publications are widely read by enthusiasts (and those who fancy themselves as enthusiasts or want to be regarded as such), and a score below 85 for a wine from, say, Ridge, would be the commercial kiss of death. Nobody wants to buy bad wine, and a large percentage of consumers rely on wine publications to tell them what wine is good and what wine is bad.

And wine merchants take full advantage of this insecurity in the American consumer. Anyone who has been to a wine store has been bombarded by those little shelf talkers, which show the wine's score in some publication in a big, bolded number, followed by the blurb that that the publication had about the wine in smaller, unbolded type. For Parker and for most or all of the others that use the 100 point system, the score was intended to be nothing more than a quick reference. The description in the text was where the real meat of the review was supposed to be. Of course, it hasn't really worked out that way; and a lot of wine consumers seem to buy on the basis of the score alone.

I'd like to say that I'm completely uninfluenced by the scores shown on the shelf talkers in wine stores, but I know that this isn't accurate. I can say that I strive to be: a number tells you nothing whatever about a wine. It's even more worthless than a review by someone whose palate and preferences are different from your own. Chasing scores is unlikely to lead to good purchases.

And what scores has the 2005 Ridge Lytton Springs received? Beats me. I suspect that they're not that good, though, because of the lack of mention of them on the K&L Wine Merchants website. I can honestly say that I don't care, though. I liked this wine, and I liked it a lot. If the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker didn't, well, that's just more of it left for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seven Fold Ties

Listen closely, my children, and you shall hear about the way ties used to be (at least if you believe the marketing literature put out by tie producers). Back in the olden days, ties used to me made from a single square of silk that was folded upon itself seven times to generate the distinctive tie shape -- there was no lining to bulk up the knot area, no acetate on the underside of the tie blade, nothing except the silk material of the shell. It took almost a square yard of silk to make the tie, but consumers saw the quality inherent in this way of production, and all was right with the world. But then the dastardly profit-seeking tie manufacturers invented an automatic tie-sewing machine that could produce ties from two different pieces of silk sewn together and folded three times around a wool lining, thus reducing the amount of silk and the amount of labor required to make a tie. And the public, seduced by the lower prices of such inferior ties, flocked to them and put the virtuous seven fold tiemakers out of business. It was only a matter of time before humanity had sunk to the depths of accepting 100% polyester ties. But a few years ago, a bold tiemaker named Robert Talbott decided to revive the ancient craft of seven fold tiemaking and managed to find two very old seamstresses who knew how to do it. And so today we have the opportunity to buy little pieces of history, for only $225 apiece.

The preceding paragraph sounds snarky, and it is. There are two things that bother me about the just-so seven fold tie story as it has been disseminated by Robert Talbott and others. First, there is the implicit assumption that more labor and more silk and less lining make for a better tie. But this isn't really the case. Consider the blade of the tie. In a standard, lined, three fold tie, the blade, just like the rest of the tie, has a lining; and this lining gives the blade heft and drape. The blade of the seven fold tie just has two layers of the shell fabric, which typically is not particularly heavy. It doesn't have the weight to drape well or to stay in place. Consider also the narrow part of the tie where the knot is tied. The folding process essentially results in this area of the tie being lined in several layers of silk, but a multi-layered silk lining is not necessarily the construction that results in the smoothest, best-looking tie knot. The second thing that bothers me about the seven fold tie story is that it reads, well, like a story. Remember that the tie as we understand it today is a relatively recent innovation, dating from the early part of the 20th Century. It seems very likely to me that the three fold method of construction was developed almost immediately after the modern tie came into being and that the story of those halcyon days when all ties were seven folds is a myth.

In any event, Robert Talbott did introduce the seven fold tie back into the American mass market a number of years ago and proved that it was possible to sell such a tie for two times the price that a standard three fold tie could bring. All of the silks that they use to produce seven fold ties are limited-edition (enough for 40 ties per pattern and colorway), and they all feature intricate jacquard-woven designs. I think that most of these designs are much, much too busy to be attractive, but there are some I like. These ties are widely distributed throughout the United States via large chains like Nordstrom and via independent men's stores. The picture above was taken from Hansen's Clothing, an independent store in Spencer, Iowa that has a significant online presence selling Talbott and other upscale brands.

Seeing Talbott's marketing success with the seven fold tie, a number of other companies have tried to get in on the business. Several Italian makers, including Kiton, sell ties that they call seven fold, even though they aren't folded seven times and they have a lining. These are perfectly good ties, and some are even excellent, but they are being improperly labeled. If you want a genuine seven fold tie (and you should try one at least once in your life -- some people prefer them to standard ties, and everyone's taste is different) and you don't like the flashiness of Talbott's offerings, consider some of the following sources:
  1. Sam Hober -- I have written about this company before. It's owned by David and Noina Hober, and all of its ties are bespoke, meaning that you can get whatever length, shape, and construction that you want. David doesn't usually recommend seven fold construction, but he will be more than happy to use it if that's what the client wants.
  2. Four In Hand -- Four In Hand is owned by Jonathan Fischer, and Jonathan carries quite a lot of ties, mostly of three fold construction. He has a small number of Italian-style "seven" folds (actually six folds) and honest-to-goodness seven folds in a few styles, though. He's also the best, most responsive online merchant that I have ever dealt with. He contracts with manufacturers in Italy for his ties -- he selects the silks, the lengths, and the methods of construction.
  3. Seaward & Stearn -- S&S was founded by two Turnbull & Asser ex-employees, and they have managed to take all the best that ever was about T&A neckwear and improve upon it. Most of their ties are standard three folds, but they do have some seven folds. I own one of the seven folds, and it's just like all of the others from other manufacturers that I have seen except that the blade is unusually narrow -- less than 3.5 inches wide. I don't know if this is just how they make their seven folds or if the retailer specified that width. S&S has a small distribution in the US through specialty stores, including Alex Kabbaz's online one, although their principal market is in Japan.

Today's Shoes


Edward Green austerity brogue bals in burgundy antique calfskin with single leather soles (Beaulieu model, 888 last).


Alden half brogue bluchers in long-nap dark brown suede with a commando sole (Barrie last). These shoes were special orders from Alden of Carmel many moons ago.

Last Night's Tipple

I try not to read reviews of the liquors, wines, and beers that I drink for two reasons. First, I would rather not have my reaction to the wine influenced by the opinions of others. Second, I often read what others think about what I drink and get indignant about what is going through their minds, and there is no point in that. Well, I violated my rule and searched out comments about the 2005 Ridge Lytton Springs, and I was immediately reminded of why that's my rule. It seems that a lot of people think that the 2005 Lytton Springs is disappointing, that it lacks in fruit, concentration, and charm, and that it is not nearly as good as previous efforts. I don't agree with that at all. There was lots of fruit, including the briary Zinberry flavor that is common to Zinfandel, and the fruit coated my nose with its aromas and my palate with its flavors. It did not taste alcoholic, despite the fact that it was well over 14.5% alcohol. I thought that it was delicious, and much more enjoyable than the 1998 Lytton Springs that I opened a couple of weeks ago. It joins the top tier of Ridge wines that I have tried recently, and I would happily buy it again despite its expense.

So why do so many people think that this wine doesn't live up to their previous Ridge experiences? I have no idea, and it really doesn't matter to me. What matters is how I enjoy a wine, not whether others agree with me; and I enjoyed this wine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shoe Construction: Goodyear Welting

In my posts about the shoes that I have been wearing, I frequently make reference to the method of construction that was used for the shoes. However, I rarely explain what I mean by the terms I use, and I realize that some readers might not know what in the heck I'm talking about. Therefore, I plan to make a series of posts about the various major construction techniques for quality men's shoes. Today, we'll start with Goodyear welting.

The diagram above (lifted from La Botte Chantilly, a French online shoe store) shows the basics of Goodyear welting. With this method, there are four major parts of the shoe: the upper (the portion of the shoe that forms the parts normally observed when a shoe is being worn, including the basic design of the shoe and the lacing), the insole (the piece of leather at the bottom of the shoe that the foot comes into contact with when the shoe is being worn), the outsole (the piece of leather that forms the bottom of the shoe and that comes into contact with the ground while the shoe is being worn), and the welt (a thin strip of leather that runs around the perimeter of the outsole.

The first step in Goodyear welting is to prepare the insole for stitching. This is done by creating a rib perpendicular to the face of the insole through which shoemaker's twine can be stitched. There are three major methods for doing this. First, the rib can be carved out by hand from the face of the insole using specialized shoemaker's cutting tools. To the best of my knowledge, only makers who welt their shoes by hand use this method anymore, and I'm not even sure if it's possible to machine-welt a shoe with a carved insole. Second, a cut can be made into the edge of the insole and the rib turned back and stabilized with linen tape or other mechanisms. I believe that this was the original method for rib creation used in machine-welted shoes; but today, the only manufacturer that I know of that still uses it is JM Weston. Third, a rib made of stiffened linen tape can be glued (gemmed) onto the insole. This sounds like a shoddy procedure unlikely to produce a quality shoe, but this is not the case. When done properly, the gemming is extremely secure and long-lived, and the linen rib can take as many reweltings as a cut-and-turned rib.

The second step is in lasting the shoe. This means that the upper (with its lining) is pulled tightly over the last and secured to it, along with the insole. Lasting can either be done by hand using shoemaker's pliers and elbow grease, or it can be done by a machine. Most ready-made welted shoes use the machine. The third step is the actual welting. Here, shoemaker's twine is sewn through the welt strip, the upper, and the rib of the insole. This is done with a lockstitch, which means that all of the stitching won't unravel if one stitch becomes abraded or comes undone. Finally, another row of lockstitching connects the other side of the welt to the outsole. Both rows of lockstitching can be either done by hand or by machine. The machine is called a Goodyear welting machine and was invented by Charles Goodyear, son of the man who invented the process for vulcanizing rubber, in the 19th Century. His invention revolutionized shoe construction because it made mass manufacturing of shoes possible. Hand welting shoes is time-consuming, back-breaking process that can take more than 20 hours per pair of shoes. Operating a Goodyear welting machine takes skill, but a pair of shoes can be welted in minutes.

Today, very few ready-made shoes are still hand-welted (Vass is one of these). Are hand-welted shoes superior to machine-welted ones? Well, it depends on what you mean by superior. It is possible to have a more sculpted, beveled, narrow waist with hand-welting than it is with machine-welting. Waist appearance is important in shoes, but it is only an aesthetic consideration, not functional. It's doubtful that machine-welted shoes are any less durable than hand-welted ones, and it is possible that the converse is true.

I see two principal advantages for Goodyear-welted shoes, both emanating from the same aspect of construction. First, they are relatively water-resistant. Because nothing goes through the face of the insole of the shoe, groundwater doesn't have an easy path into the interior of the shoe. In contrast, with Blake construction, there is a row of stitching through the face of the insole connecting it to the outsole, which allows groundwater to wick into the interior of the shoe. Second, they are relatively comfortable (assuming that the last fits the wearer's foot well) because there isn't a row of stitching on the face of the insole to irritate the bottom of the wearer's foot. In addition, most makers of ready-made shoes put a layer of cork amalgam in the void between the ribs on either side of the insole; and this cork amalgam molds to the bottom of the foot, which sometimes enhances comfort.

Prominent makers of Goodyear-welted shoes include Alden, Allen-Edmonds, Edward Green, Gaziano & Girling, Vass, Grenson, Tricker's, JM Weston, and Alfred Sargent. In addition, many Italian manufacturers can do Goodyear-welted shoes, although they can also use many other construction techniques.

Today's Shoes


Gravati high-lace punch-cap bal boots in dark brown calfskin with single leather soles (10278, 683 last). You may have noticed by now that I have a thing for boots. Back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, boots, ankle and otherwise, were very common for dress wear, I would imagine because the dirty streets of the day and the fact that men still rode horses at least occasionally made them more functional than low-cut shoes. They have fallen out of favor over the last 60 or 70 years, however, and it's easy to see why. They're warmer than shoes (since they cover the ankles and lower legs), they're more expensive than shoes (since they use more leather), and they take longer than shoes to get into and out of. Still, I like the way they look, the ankle support that they provide, and the fact that they're a bit out of the ordinary without calling attention to themselves -- a casual observer would probably not ever notice that I'm wearing boots.


Gravati double monkstraps with twin-needle stitching on the apron and toe "seams" (even though they're not really functional seams) (16617, 671 last).


I don't like straight egg nog. It's just too thick for a drink -- more like a melted milkshake than something one is actually supposed to consume from a glass. And it fails as an alcohol delivery mechanism: I can't bring myself to buy cheap liquor, but I would never drown good liquor in egg nog. However, just because egg nog is a failure as a beverage, that doesn't mean that it is a failure as a flavoring. Here are some of my favorite egg nog-flavored products:
  1. Egg nog latte. Both Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee (the coffee shops inside Border's bookstores) have versions, and I'm sure that lots of other chains and independents do, too. Instead of steamed milk, as in normal lattes, egg nog lattes use steamed egg nog. The coffee thins out the nog and makes it less sickly sweet, and I like it very much. I am under no illusion that this is a serious coffee product, but who cares? It's a tasty dessert.
  2. Egg nog milkshakes. At one time McDonald's had a version, but I don't know if they still do. The version that I get around Christmas is from Jack In The Box. I mentioned that egg nog has the consistency of a melted milkshake, so why not make a milkshake out of it? The cold also tends to cut the sickly sweetness.
  3. Egg nog ice cream. I swear that I remember Blue Bell making egg nog ice cream at one time, but it appears that they no longer do. Well, they should start making it again, and other ice cream producers should do so, too.
  4. Egg nog cakes. The Seattle's Best Coffee place in Houston Border's has had an egg nog bundt cake that is very good. I can't tell you much about it, other than that it's dense in texture and has a concentrated egg nog flavor. Yummy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Wrapping of the Trunks

In Houston, outdoor Christmas lights typically aren't put in trees; they're put around the trunks and branches of those trees. When I first came to Houston many years ago, I thought that this custom was completely bizarre, but with time, I came to appreciate the beauty of it, particularly when the trees with the light-wrapped trunks were live oaks (of which Houston has many) and when the lights were white. It takes a lot of lights to make this kind of display work, it's true, and putting them up is a bit labor-intensive. But it doesn't take much creativity, and when it is done correctly, the results are magnificent. I searched extensively online for a good picture to illustrate this phenomenon; but the only decent ones that I could find were on Flickr, and I'm too stupid to figure out how to copy those. So you'll just have to follow this link -- it's not the greatest display in the world, but it should give you some idea of what trees decorated in this manner can look like.

Today's Shoes


Vass high-lace wingtip blucher boots in dark brown calfskin with a single leather sole (F last). The boot pictured above is actually one of mine, although I didn't take the picture. A friend of mine recently got the same pattern on the same last in Color #8 shell cordovan with double soles for wear as winter boots, and he absolutely loved them. I can see why, although I think that a single sole is the way to go with these -- a single sole fits with the sleekness of the last and the narrowness of the toe.


Alden saddle bals in Color #8 shell cordovan with a single leather sole (model 994, Barrie last). This is one of the few regular-production shell cordovan models that Alden makes with a single sole. I wish that they would make more -- there's no reason why shell cordovan shoes all have to be double-soled gunboats.

Last Night's Tipple

As I mentioned in yesterday's post about Chariot Wines' 2004 Central Coast Sangiovese, Chariot's stated goal is to "produc[e] refreshing, high-quality food-friendly wines at palatable prices." That's the sort of thing that you hear from a lot of wine producers these days, and I think that it is a worthwhile goal. There remains the perception today amongst a large section of the American drinking public that wine comsumption is pretentious, snooty, and unenjoyable for the vast majority of the population that has not studied wine extensively. Changing this perception is a key to commercial success for those wineries who do not claim to produce the great wines of the world, and it's the reason why Bonny Doon's labels are irreverent and iconoclastic and why Charles Back intentionally pokes fun at French wine naming with his Goats Do Roam series of wines. They're all selling the same concept: drinking wine with dinner is healthy and fun, and enjoyment of wine is not limited to those who can afford and enjoy attending a vertical tasting of Chateau Mouton Rothschild from 1929 to 2004. I wish them luck, although I doubt that the typical American drinker will ever prefer a glass of decent red wine to a Bud Lite.

This particular wine was more enjoyable last night than it was the night before when I first opened it, which is very unusual for me. As I have commented before, wine almost always is worse the second day of being open than it is on the first day. I don't know why that wasn't the case with this one. It had more bright cherry fruit, although I still thought that the acidity was lacking. I want my Sangiovese-based wines to make my mouth pucker, and this one just didn't. Oh, well. I'm glad I tried it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Brian Westbrook is My Hero

Well, not literally, of course. But he did make one of the most intelligent clock-management plays that I have seen a football player make in quite some time. Westbrook is a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, who played the Dallas Cowboys at Dallas yesterday. Philadelphia led 10-6 with just over two minutes left in the 4th quarter and had the ball on the Dallas 25. Dallas was out of timeouts, so they could only stop the clock at the two minute warning. Westbrook took the handoff, broke through the line, and had a clear path to the end zone. Instead of scoring the touchdown, he intentionally fell down on the 1 yard line. Why was this a smart play? Because if he had scored the touchdown, Dallas would have gotten the ball back with around two minutes to play. Sure, they would have been down by 11 points, making the chances of a comeback slim; but it still could have happened. Back in October against the Buffalo Bills, the Cowboys scored 9 points in the final 20 seconds of the game to wine, so an 11-point comeback in the final two minutes isn't even unprecedented. By falling down on the 1 yard line, Westbrook allowed the clock to run down to the two minute warning, after which Philadelphia was able to run three kneel-down plays to end the game. Dallas probably would have lost had Westbrook scored the touchdown. They were practically assured of losing when Westbrook didn't score. That shows a game awareness that is all too often completely missing from football players, even professionals. Good job.

Today's Shoes

Gravati high-vamp penny loafers in red-brown grained calfskin (Tibet Color 39) with twin-needle stitching on the apron and a single leather sole (15477, 701 last). The shoe in the middle of the picture above is mine.

Last Night's Tipple

Chariot Wines is the creation of Jim Neal, a former chef at Spago in Los Angeles who first entered the world of grape-based products when he came out with his own line of verjus, which is made from the juice of unripe grapes and is used as an alternative to vinegar. He eventually decided that there was money to be made in wine, and he founded Chariot Wines, whose stated mission is to "produc[e] refreshing, high-quality food-friendly wines at palatable prices. " Central Market has been pushing a number of varieties of wines under the Chariot label for the past couple of months; and given the attractive label and the screwcap, it was probably inevitable that I would try one of them eventually. Then they put them on sale, and my fate was sealed. I chose the 2004 Central Coast Sangiovese. Sangiovese is the principal grape in Chianti, a dry, acidic, and brightly food-friendly wine from Tuscany. I like Chianti, so I decided to try this Sangiovese.

It's okay. I wish that it were more concentrated and tart and had more of the ripe cherry flavors that I associate with Sangiovese, but I really can't complain too much about it. It was an enjoyable, competently-made wine. I probably won't buy it again, but I don't feel ripped off by the experience.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Peanut butter cookies are my favorites, and I especially like them when they have Hershey's Kisses put on top just after they come out of the oven. I had been wondering how Nutella would work in cookies -- it pretty much has the same consistency as peanut butter, and I would thought that the combination of chocolate and hazelnut would make an excellent cookie similar to peanut butter but with a delicious and unique twist. I Googled Nutella cookie recipes but could not find anything all-Nutella that seemed to be the style I was going for. The closest I found was this one posted on Visual Recipes by chizad, which is half peanut butter and half Nutella. (I figured out later that it was an adaptation of an Alton Brown recipe for peanut butter cookies in I'm Just Here For More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking -- not that chizad hid that or anything; I just can't read.) I decided to take chizad's recipe and add more Nutella in place of the peanut butter for an all-Nutella cookie. Here's the recipe that I ended up following:

340g/1.5 cup unsalted butter, softened
284g/1.5 cup granulated sugar
284g/1.75 cup dark brown sugar
78g/0.5 cup canola oil
568g/2 cup Nutella
0.5 cup chopped hazelnuts
3 large beaten eggs
9g/2 tsp vanilla extract
510g/3.75 cup all purpose flour
6g/3 tsp baking soda
9g/1.5 tsp salt
6 dozen Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
Some extra granulated sugar for sprinkling on tops of cookies.

Cream the butter with the granulated and brown sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then oil and Nutella. To this mixture, add the whisked-together mixture of flour, salt, and baking soda in three increments, incorporating each increment before adding the next. Chill the resulting dough. Dish out the chilled dough in golf-ball-sized balls onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet, then press down with a fork dipped in flour (to prevent sticking). Sprinkle granulated sugar on the tops of the cookies. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for around 15 minutes. Place one Hershey's Kiss in the center of each cookie immediately after removing from the oven. Let cookies set up on cookie sheet for three or four minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

I actually made these over two days. Yesterday was largely a disaster. I didn't chill the dough enough, my portion control was bad, and the cookie sheets I was using were not allowing for even heating of the cookies. So, I left the remaining dough in the refrigerator overnight and bought new (and bigger) cookie sheets and an ice cream scooper to do the portioning. Today's results were better and more consistent. The flavor was good (although I wish that the Nutella had been a bit more overt), and I ate entirely too many of them as they were cooling. The problem, though, was that finished cookies weren't poofy enough for my taste. They were pretty much flat. Mamacita thinks that this is due to the lack of partially-hydrogenated fats in the dough and suggests that I try using shortening instead of butter. I was thinking that maybe more flour and some baking powder would help. Anybody have any other ideas?

Today's Shoes

JM Weston demi-chasse bluchers in dark tan calfskin with a fudge welt and double leather soles (Ref. 598). The picture to the left is from Sky Valet, and excellent shoe store in Washington DC. Notice the metal tip at the toe of the sole, which manfully resists wear but makes a heck of a racket in the process. Weston also makes a couple of models that have steel plates instead of rubber strips in the corner of the heel, too. That prevents heel wear but can damage wood floors and cause the wearer to slip and fall on his butt when traction isn't perfect.

Last Night's Tipple

Hey! No Zinfandel last night. I had bought a bottle of 2004 Goats Do Roam In Villages red wine from Fairview Winery in South Africa probably a year or eighteen months ago, and I figured that it had sat around long enough. South Africa is classified as a "New World" wine region even though wine grapes have been cultivated there since the 17th Century. Among New World wines regions, moreover, it has been overshadowed by Australia, Chile, and the United States. Still, good wine comes out of South Africa. Due to the climate there, Mediterranean grapes and Mediterranean-style wines are more successful, which may be a big part of the reason why Charles Back's Fairview Winery has put out a line of Rhône-style wines under the Goats Do Roam label. The largest AOC in the southern Rhône is Côtes du Rhône, so the name is is play on that. Other wines on the label extend that wordplay: among others, there's the Goat-Roti, which plays on the Côte-Rôtie AOC in the northern Rhone, and Goats Do Roam In Villages, which plays on Côtes du Rhône Villages, a sub-appellation of Côtes du Rhône. Fairview's names for these wines have annoyed INAO, the French governmental agency responsible for maintaining the AOC system, but so what? There is no intent to deceive here, and anybody who mistakes a bottle of Goats Do Roam for Côtes du Rhône has problems.

Because it is made in the style of a Côtes du Rhône Villages wine, Goats Do Roam In Villages has the fruit salad of of Southern Rhône grapes that one would expect. It has Shiraz (Syrah), Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Carignan, Rhône grapes all; it also has some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinotage, a distinctive South African grape that is a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. I was prepared to love this wine because I think the names are clever, because I have had and enjoyed Goats Do Roam wines before, and because this bottle is closed with a screwcap, which is much more reliable than a cork. Alas, it was not to be. The overwhelming impression that I got, both on the nose and the palate, was tar. I thought that I was sucking on a big chunk of asphalt. After a while, I got some violets, but not enough to overcome the tar. Not pleasant at all.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Rayon is the original artificial fiber, first developed by Georges Audemars in 1855. There are many different types of rayon, but all of them, but in layman's terms, all of them use some sort of chemical solvent to dissolve some source of cellulose (cotton lint, wood pulp, etc.) into a mass of goo, which is then extruded into fibers and spun into yarns. It's not like polyester, which often has difficulty breathing and can melt at high heat. Since it's cellulose, it behaves in many ways like cotton (another fiber that's largely cellulose) -- it can breathe, it can absorb water well -- but since it's an engineered fiber, it can often perform better than cotton in many ways (depending on what it was engineered to do). Today, there are many different kinds of rayons, each engineered for different uses. Lenzing Fibers, an Austrian company, is one of the leading producers of rayons, and their two flagship products are Tencel and Modal. Tencel is Lenzing's trade name for lyocell, a rayon made from wood pulp. Modal is made from the pulp of beech trees. It's extremely soft, and it's more hydroscopic than cotton (which means that it absorbs water more readily than does cotton). More than that, it also takes dyes readily and is very colorfast, meaning that bright reds like the one in the Zimmerli undershirt pictured above don't fade with washing, as they would if the fabric were made from cotton. Modal is widely used as a blending fiber with cotton, and it's also a standalone. I have seen sheets made both from 100% Modal and cotton/Modal blends, and everybody and his uncle (including Target and the Gap) is selling Modal or Modal-blend underwear and sleepwear.

A step up from regular old Modal is MicroModal, also produced by Lenzing. As far as I can tell, the primary difference between Modal and MicroModal is the fineness of the fibers produced, with the fibers in MicroModal obviously being finer. As far as I can tell, MicroModal is only available in knit fabrics (I have seen some woven Modals), and those knits are overwhelmingly used for underwear, including Zimmerli's Pureness line (which blends MicroModal with a small amount of Lycra). It's very expensive, but it's also incredibly soft. And it retains that softness through many, many washes. Good stuff, and I wish that someone would make a woven fabric from MicroModal -- I think it would make a great shirt.

Today's Shoes

Alden two-eyelet chukka boots in dark brown calfskin with a reverse welt, sole extension, and a commando sole (Barrie last). This is a special make-up for Alden of Carmel (AF32) that I purchased a number of years ago. The picture above shows a good detail of Alden's commando sole. The boot has a full double leather sole, then a low profile rubber lug sole stitched on top of it. It provides good traction without calling attention to itself. Adam Knott, the proprietor of Alden of Carmel, is primarily a make-up specialist, and he really likes the commando sole. I can't say that I disagree with him -- it makes for a very versatile shoe.

Last Night's Tipple

In addition to the grapes that William Dickerson sells to Ravenswood, he also retains a portion of the grapes he grows and has them vinified and sold under his own label. Some of these grapes are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Ruby Cabernet (a UC-Davis-created cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignane that has mostly been used for Central Valley bulk wines but that Dickerson insists can make good juice when properly cultivated and vinified), which Ravenswood would not be interested in for their single-vineyard wines. But there is also a Dickerson Vineyards Limited Reserve Zinfandel. And guess who the winemaker is for all of the Dickerson Vineyards wines? That's right: Joel Peterson, the Ravenswood winemaker. So how does Dickerson decide which Zinfandel goes to Ravenswood and which goes into his own wine? And how does his Zinfandel differ from the Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Zin? Beats the heck out of me. I'd like to try it, though.

The remainder of the 2005 Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Zin bottle that I had last night actually showed better than it did when I first opened it. I don't know, maybe the time open softened the tannins in the wine (although it didn't seem overly tannic to me). But in any case, the fruit showed up to a greater extent, and I liked it more. Which is to say that I liked it greatly indeed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Attack of the Bad Uniforms

Last night, the Houston Texans completely dominated the Denver Broncos, beating them 31-13. Given the uniforms that the Texans decided to wear, this is a surprising result. Their normal home uniforms consist of navy blue jerseys and white pants, but they were wearing all red last night. The red jerseys just don't look right, and the sartorial sin is compounded by the matching red pants. This monotone uniform thing is a recent trend in football, and I don't understand it at all. Granted, it's not as bad as those all-yellow uniforms that the West Virginia Mountaineers wore a month or two ago, but they're still pretty bad. And they would still be bad even if professional sports teams had not taken to using lots and lots of different uniforms to drive merchandise sales.

Today's Shoes

Vass plain-toe bluchers in burgundy pebble-grain calf with double leather soles (Budapest last). The shoe pictured above is identical to what I wore today except that it's in black pebble-grain calf instead of burgundy pebble-grain calf. I have written this before, and it remains true: I have never worn any shoes that prevent my feet from getting fatigued when standing or walking for extended periods of time than double-soled Vass shoes. They're amazing.