Today is my wife's birthday, which would be my favorite day of the year if it fell during a more reasonable month. It's hard to be unabashedly enthusiastic about any day with a high temperature of 28 degrees, but it helps when the day in question is spent celebrating the existence of your favorite person. It helps further when the celebration is centered on eating and drinking and giving gifts of pickles and skirts.
We did it, guys. We made it through all 50 days of January. The worst is over. We endured a full miserable month of cold and darkness and we have emerged onto the glorious other side where groundhogs promise sunshine and Beyonce sings during Sunday supper. It's not dark out at 4:00 in the afternoon anymore, and baseball sort of starts sort of soon. All is right with the world. Almost.
Last week the city sent out census confirmation forms on which both my wife and I were listed as "students." This is incorrect. She has an actual job-job with health insurance and an employee cafeteria and unlimited Post-It access and the whole deal. I am less traditionally employed, but even though I conduct rigorous peer-reviewed pot pie studies, I am not affiliated with a formal academic institution.
This weekend my wife and I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing denial. It's a tricky business, because admitting to denial tends to undercut the operation, and what a very important operation it can be. For instance, we live in Boston, where the temperature's been 100 degrees below zero every second for the past two months.
I like history in general, because it seems important to know what went down before I started paying attention, but I'm not a nostalgist. As pertains to beer, I have no interest in reliving the days before reliable carbonation and decent bar dishwashers. I don't want to go to a Prohibition reenactment fantasy camp any more than I want to bleed to death on an old-fashioned pull-tab. But I do wish I was on the scene at the beginning of the modern American craft brewing movement, which is why I was excited to learn that Samuel Adams has teamed up with Jack McAuliffe to recreate New Albion Ale.
Serious Eats pays me a million dollars a week, which would be enough to float most boats, but my insatiable thirst for life's luxuries—caviar, student loans, electricity—requires a million and a hundred, so I work one night a week as a bar bouncer.
Either I was being a big, dumb snob or the chain restaurant cocktail game has improved dramatically in the past couple of years, because these days you can get a perfectly good mixed drink at some of the aggressively decorated quesadilleries that we all love to mock and the honest among us love to (very occasionally) gorge ourselves at. My wife works near Boston's sole T.G.I. Friday's, so we stopped in last week to investigate their two newest drinks, the Bee Sting and the Grey Goose Cooler.
As soon as I sat down at the bar I noticed some signs that P.F. Chang's takes their cocktail operation more seriously than might be expected: The house whiskey is Evan Williams, which is not a personal favorite but which I respect as the go-to bourbon of many a discerning bottom-shelfer. And maybe I'm a sucker for being impressed by such a triviality, but I liked that the drink prices are rendered in whole dollar amounts. In my experience a $10 drink is almost always better than a $9.95 drink. I had a good feeling about this liquid lunch.
Emily and I are hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner this year; it was just going to be the two of us until she found out our dear friend the Greene Bastard intended to go it alone at a hotel buffet.
Among the reds, I preferred the Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot. Is this because of the black cherry, apricot, and vanilla flavors, or because the Stones are my favorite of the bands represented?
Happy November. Let's talk about pumpkin beer. Oh, you thought that was over now that Halloween's passed? You assumed the beverage industry's entire stock of pumpkin-flavored drinks would magically morph into turkey vodkas and stuffing lattes as soon as the final mini Snickers was doled out last night? You were mistaken.
Fall in New England is a great time for many things: sports and pie and politics are all peaking, and even the leaves throw cheap thrills to the nature perverts and tourist trappers. I find New Englanders to be a generally grumpy bunch, but everyone's in a good mood for the six-week stretch between the last blanketed pig of the wedding season and the first gravy-boat murder of the holiday season.
In 2007, Harpoon began dabbling in cider, and this fall they've introduced a pumpkin variant. If you read enough food blogs, you might be convinced that pumpkin flavoring is totally played out, making Harpoon very late to a very lame party, but don't kid yourself. Harpoon knows that cider is sold to humans, not blogs, and humans love pumpkin-spiced things. Axe will make their next billion dollars on nutmeg body spray before anyone goes broke betting on pie drinks.
Most of my favorite foods come in liquid form. I stick mainly to beer and soup, but come spring I like to work the occasional smoothie into the mix as well. I make more smoothies at home than I order out, however, because the take-out models tend to be too expensive for a snack and not substantial enough for a meal. Restaurant smoothies aren't insubstantial in terms of calories—you easily can cram several hundred calories and triple-digit grams of sugar into a fruit smoothie—but rather in terms of "Wait, that wasn't lunch; that was a very sweet pink thing that required no chewing."
Bottom Shelf research director Emily came down with a sore throat Monday afternoon, which gave me a rare and welcome opportunity to play heroic caregiver. I don't get a lot of chances to nurse Emily back to health, because she's fairly sturdy, plus she works with a bunch of doctors and also believes a little too strongly in the healing powers of Advil and detective shows.
It's finally turned winter in Boston, so I had to trade my bike in for a bus pass. This was initially devastating, but then I realized it was an excuse to get one of those superphones that prevent you from ever making accidental eye contact with a fellow human being. So that was good, until it led to more bad: You know all those people staring at their phones on the bus? I'd always assumed they were looking at porn or reading Serious Eats, but it turns out they're busy beating the hell out of me at Words with Friends, the fake Scrabble game that is disproving everything I thought I knew about the English language, things such as "Will has a firm command of it" and "Quok is not a word."
Domination of the bottom shelf is no guarantor of success in the big leagues, but all Trader Joe's beers are contract brewed, so they could conceivably arrange to slap their name on anything. Why not a bottled-on-lees Belgian-style strong ale that goes for a mere $4.99 per 750mL? For the seventh straight year, TJ has teamed up with Quebec's outstanding Unibroue to produce Trader Joe's Vintage Ale.