An Ode to Pilot G-2 .38

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Here I am, in Kauai, on the beach, writing about pens. “What a waste of vacation,” you may say. While I would agree with this statement 99/100 times, I am not writing about any old pen. I am writing about the Pilot G-2 .38, which in my book is the Mona Lisa/Roger Federer of pens. Smooth, precise, bold and consistent, the Pilot G-2 .38 represents thousands of years of writing utensil evolution.

If somebody asks to borrow a pen, never give them a Pilot G-2. When pens are borrowed, rarely are they returned, and Pilot G-2 pens are too fine of a writing utensil to just give away. Coming in four sizes (1 mm, .7 mm, .5 mm and .38 mm) G-2s are all smooth and durable writers. If not misplaced or “loaned” away, a Pilot G-2 will produce results for many moons. And their timeless design lets everybody in the room know you take your pen game seriously.

While all four sizes of the G-2 series are top-shelf pens, it is the .38 that separates itself from the pack. Retaining the smoothness of its larger relatives, the .38 brings to the pad an unprecedented degree of precision. For fellas like me endowed with sloppy handwriting, this precision is essential in the same way H2O is essential for Homo Sapiens. Furthermore, unlike many fine-pointed pens, the G-2 .38 manages to write in a surprisingly bold fashion. In other words, stop messing around with that feeble Bic Round Stic. Do yourself a favor and elevate your pen game. Invest in a pack of G-2 .38s, stick one in your breast pocket, and walk around oozing with the confidence that can only come from possessing a superior writing utensil.

The Summer of Cold Brew

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67 was the Summer of Love. 2007 was the Summer of Crocs. 2016 was the summer LaCroix first made a splash. So what about 2017? What trends will take off this summer? Don’t quote me on this, but we may look back upon these warm days and call it them the Summer of Cold Brew.

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Summer poses a problem for coffee enthusiasts. There is still the same need for coffee, yet warm temperatures make a hot beverage unappealing to many. “Just add ice,” you may retort, but alas satisfying an connoisseur’s palate isn’t that simple. When ice is added to a hot beverage, the melting cubes dilute the coffee. When dealing with a bitter dark roast, this is not an issue, and in many cases actually improves the cup of coffee. With top-shelf beans, however, melting ice becomes a liability in the same way adding water to a fine wine or craft beer is a liability.

Cold brew is the answer to this dilemma. A 12+ hour brewing process creates concentrated coffee. When ice is added to this concentrate, it melts yielding a delightfully balanced cup of cold, refreshing coffee. Insert this cup of coffee into any hot summer setting, and you have a recipe for a great time.

Today cold brew is everywhere and seems to be on everybody’s mind. Last week I was Demitasse, a coffee shop in Santa Monica sippin’ on some cold brew and couldn’t help but notice how many people were also ordering cold brew. I decided to count. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, seven costumers came in and ordered cold brew. To be clear, these people did not come in and order “iced coffee.” They came in and specified that they wanted cold brew.

This cold brew frenzy is a relatively new phenomenon. To illustrate this, lets hop into a time machine and turn the dial to 2007. Step out and find a coffee shop.

“What can I get you?” asks the circa 2007 barista, sporting a snazzy new pair of Crocs.

“A small cold brew please,” you respond. “And make it to go. My time machine is parked in the red.”

The circa 2007 barista looks at you confused. He is puzzled not because you have a time machine and are wearing something other than Crocs on your feet. He is puzzled because it is 2007 and cold brew was not really a thing then. There were some fringe craft coffee establishments scattered throughout cities here and there offering cold brew, but until recently, iced coffee was simply coffee with ice. And people seemed okay with this. As the craft coffee scene began to expand, however, people began to realize their summer coffee game could be taken to a whole new level with cold brew.

And this brings us to the Summer of Cold Brew (i.e. this summer). From the bougiest of coffee shops to the dingiest of convince stores, cold brew is always within an arm’s reach. I will not get into the where/what of cold brew in Los Angeles in the light of keeping this a blog post, not a long read. With that being said, however, if you want the ultimate cold brew experience, head to Demitasse. With two locations in L.A. (Santa Monica and Little Tokyo), Demitasse has perfected the Kyoto drip cold brew system. Again, not going to get into the specifics about Kyoto drip, but you can read this blog post I wrote a few years ago if you have nothing better to do.

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Demitasse is obviously not the only place that serves great cold brew. There are probably thousands of coffee shops throughout the world that make a great cold brew. Whether charging their costumers Dollars, Pesos, Francs, or Yen, what all these places have in common is that they take coffee seriously. More specifically, they all use quality beans.

Places like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts may tout the drinkability of their cold brew, but what they are not touting is that they are using sub-par beans. As a result, their cold brew is bitter. Copious amounts of milk and sugar may mask the bitterness in the same way they mask the diluted nature of normal iced coffee. But soon people will wake up the fact that the cold brew they are drinking at places using yucky beans is no better (and simply more expensive) than the normal iced coffee they had been drinking all along.

This does not mean that there is not a future for cold brew. Places like Demitasse that really care about the taste will continue serve it and look for ways to make it better. I do not think, however, that in ten years from now I will be able to walk into a gas station in Hastings, Nebraska and find an assortment of bottled cold brews to choose from. If I am wrong, contact me and I’ll buy you a cold brew.

Talking ’bout Tacos: Des Moines Edition

DSC_2741If were forced to pick one food to eat everyday for the rest of my life, I would pick tacos. Not hard shell “Tex-Mex” tacos filled with ground beef. Tacos I grew up eating is Los Angeles. Filled with spicy meat — carne asada, carnitas, al pastor, chorizo, lengua, chile verde —wrapped in two fresh tortillas, topped with diced onions, cilantro, a bit of lime and covered in the hottest salsa from the salsa bar.

I went to college in Grinnell, IA, and learned quickly to live without tacos. I realized this while eating at La Cabana, the town’s Mexican restaurant, when my order for “two carnitas taco and one chorizo taco” was met by a look of blank confusion on the waiter’s face. I recently moved to Des Moines to clerk for the Southside State Senator Tony Bisignano, and initially went about life not expecting authentic tacos. A few weeks ago before lunch, however, a similar exchange took place.

TONY: Lets grab some lunch. What do you want?
SAM : I’m fine with anything.
TONY: Come on! Pick anything
SAM: Really good tacos like I grew up eating in L.A.
TONY: Grab your coat, I know of a place on Grand that might satisfy you.

The outside of Raquel’s Pastry (1521 E. Grand) is non-descript; easy to walk past without knowing there are tacos inside. Upon entering, one may think they are in a pastry shop. This would be an accurate assumption: Raquel’s Pastry is in fact a Mexican bakery, as its name suggest. The only thing that that indicates otherwise is a small blackboard saying: “Tacos: Carne Asada, Carnitas, Pollo, Chorizo, Shrimp”

I ordered 3 tacos: carnitas, pastor and asada, and they did not disappoint. The carnitas was crispy and salty on the outside with a juicy and bold finish. The pastor was smoky, spicy and saucy enough to negate the need for salsa. The carne asada was perfection: minimally seasoned, Raquel’s Pastery lets the grilled beef speak for itself. Drizzled with lime and slightly charred, this is how a taco’s supposed to taste.

I find imperfections in even the most perfect dishes. After all, I started a food blog as a way to critique my parent’s cooking. Even though I had great tacos at Raquel’s, I was let down by the tortillas. A great tortilla manages to be simultaneously soft yet firm. The tortilla can then soak up the meat’s juice, while at no point seeming as if it will fall apart under the weight of the toppings. The tortillas at Raquel’s are a little too much on the crunchy side in my opinion. They seem to be fried briefly on a grill, hindering their ability to soak up the juices, leaving one with a plate full of wasted meat drippings and sauce. Overall I would say 7.8/10. At the time, I gave it an 8, because I had not had tacos in months, and I was desperate.

Yirgacheffe Beans and Cascade Hops

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Beans as fresh as they get, roasted by Ted Catanzaro of White Album Coffee.

Craft coffee and craft beer, once fringe enterprises, can today be called mainstream. For a consumer, this is both a blessing and a curse. While it is now possible to find a great mug of coffee or beer in most cities, this abundance makes it hard for a particular roaster, brewery, bar or coffee shop to stand out.

If, however, if somebody came up to me and said:

“Sam, I am forcing you to pick a favorite coffee and a favorite beer,”

I would respond

“Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.”

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This answer is based on a mixture of objective facts and subjective opinions. Lets get the subjective part out of the way first so I can end my argument on solid facts.

Before I discovered Ethiopian Yirgacheffe I was under the assumption that coffee was a bitter beverage. But after hearing about The Refinery, a fancy coffee shop a few blocks from my high school, I paid a visit to this establishment and my opinion on coffee was forever changed. I asked the barista (who’s name I would later learn was Jimmy) to make me his favorite drink. What I was served was a mug of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, brewed via pourover with a Hario V60.2

Drink it black,” Jimmy told me.

It was anything but bitter. With a fruity aroma, this cup of coffee could almost be described as warm juice3 , as the dominant flavors were blueberry and strawberry rather than bitter and more bitter4. This cup of coffee made me realize that — for lack of a better/less-cliche phrase— a cup of coffee could be more than just a cup of coffee. With each bean possessing a unique flavor profile that varies depending on brewing method, I suddenly had been sucked into the world of craft coffee.

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Sierra Nevada: there are many things that make this beer great, but for the sake of keeping both the readers attention and this post under 500 words5,  I’ll keep it short. Sierra Nevada is great because it perfectly balanced. The body is crisp like a pilsner yet substantive like a stout. The Cascade Hops give it a citrus bite and contrasted with a maltiness that is present, the final result is perfectly sweet. It will pair perfectly with most any food or any occasion that calls for beer, from  a summer afternoon to a winter evening.

Like Yirgacheffe, part of my affliation towards Sierra Nevada is in part personal. Growing up it was always the beer my dad drank with dinner if we were having burgers, tacos or pizza. And after going to college and drinking shitty beer like Keystone and Rolling Rock at parties, it was one of the first six packs I bought for myself, and it made me realize that beer, like coffee, did not have to taste bad. They could both be quite enjoyable.

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1. Or, as my girlfriend suggested upon hearing my elevator pitch of this post, “Jerking off to Elitism”.

2. From the words at the folks over at Stumptown coffee: “Nuanced and versatile, the Hario is an elegant brewer for those who want to perfect the pour. It’s great for folks who are looking for complete control over brewing extraction. The key here is to pour slow. The entire brew process for a 10oz mug takes about three minutes.” Click here for a great video if you would like an excuse to dive into the world of craft coffee. 

3. I will refrain from actually claiming it tasted like warm juice because it was not a cup of warm juice, it was a cup of warm coffee.

4. For my reaction to this cup of coffee at the time of the experience, refer to the following blog post: https://samsfoodblog.com/2012/03/25/the-world-is-a-different-place-with-a-5-50-cup-of/

5. Not including  footnotes. 

Two Chains Worth Chaining Yourself To

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I could not chain myself to one coffee shop since there are so many options out there. Nor could I chain myself to one craft beer, as again there is so much I would be missing out on. When it comes to fast food, however, give me the handcuffs and throw away the key. In-N-Out and Jimmy John’s are all I need.

I have written extensively about In-N-Out, so as an exercise I will sum up in one sentence why it’s the best fast food chain in the world. A burger that consistently melts in your mouth and lightens your mood while keeping your wallet heavy. For under $10, you can get a double-double, milkshake and fries. I love the burger’s modesty. With thin patties, it does not try to be a gourmet burger but with grilled onions, it is sure tasty. This separates it from places like Five Guys, who use thicker patties in an attempt to up their burger game, but really just end up serving an $8 pile of overcooked, dry meat. Likewise, their shakes are also modest: vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. No Oreo or Reese’s Peanut Butter shakes, but a shake that is hard to put down once the first drop hits your tongue. But this is not why I would chain myself to In-N-Out, let alone throw away they key. It is the costumer service that makes the commitment worthwhile. No matter how crowded it is, the servers somehow manage to be genuine and friendly to every costumer. What more, the food is prepared freaky fast considering the lack of freezers and microwaves in the restaurant.

Jimmy John’s is nowhere near as good as In-N-Out, but within it’s niche of cheap subs, it is perfection.  My willingness to commit to a life of Jimmy John’s servitude stems again from outstanding costumer service. Walking into a Jimmy John’s, one is greeted by friendly subristas (like a barista but who makes subs) and a welcoming environment. From start to finish, it takes no longer than a minute for them to prepare your sandwich, and while the final product may not impress Anthony Bourdain, it is made with love. On top of this, their claim of “Freaky Fast Delivery” is warranted, never taking more than 10 minutes for a sub to arrive at your door. So next time you are in the midwest, and are at a lost for what to eat, try Jimmy John’s. It may not be a meal worth writing home about, but it will be meal that satisfies the soul.

So here I am, chained without a key to these two chains and perfectly content. This does not mean, however, that a chain-cutter is out of the question. The reason I discovered In-N-Out and Jimmy John’s was my willingness to break out of the I-Only-Eat-Gourmet-Food prison. So if a better option for cheap burgers and subs arrives, by all means send me some chain-cutters but until then, this inmate is staying in prison.

 

 

Milk for Dummies

IMG_7927I have a pretty refined palate. When I was thirteen, my parents blindfolded me and I successfully identified various types of water (tap, Evian, Dasani) and ketchup (Heinz, Whole Food, Hunts). Fast-forward to this morning in my kitchen. With the sun out, the fridge door open and my palate ready, I am about to see if I can taste the difference between “gourmet” and “normal” milk.

The cup on the left is Whole Foods whole milk, which is like any other whole milk only it’s from Whole Foods and therefore is expensive. This is the normal milk. The milk to the right is Fairlife whole ultra-filtered milk. This is the gourmet milk. As they write on their website, ultra-filtered milk “is a new twist on a classic favorite. Deliciously creamy and full flavored but now with 50% more protein, 30% more calcium and 50% less sugar than typically found in milk.This is achieved via a state of the art filtration system in which milk scientists at Fairlife can keep the desirable things like protein, calcium and vitamins in the milk while filtering away bad things like sugar and lactose. My job, as the fella with the refined palate, is to see if I can taste a difference between the two.

I close my eyes and my mom hands me a cup of milk. I take a sip and swish the milk around in my mouth. It tastes like milk. I have my mom hand me the other cup of milk. I again swish it around in my mouth. Hmm. This one tastes sweet. This could very well be the “special” milk. I swallow and immediately take a sip of the first milk again. This time it come across as watery and bitter. This must be the Whole Foods “normal” milk. I open my eyes and find out my palate has served me well again. The first milk was in fact normal and the second milk was gourmet.

“It has a good, smooth and rich taste,” said my nine-year old brother Simon of the ultra-filtered milk. This is a pretty accurate description of Fairlife milk and this wonderful tastes stays in your mouth for awhile after a sip. The Whole Foods milk leaves an aftertaste, but it is not a pleasant one, coming across as artificial and processed. Drinking Fairlife is like drinking milk fresh from the udder, if milk fresh from the udder came in hip and colorful packaging.

I have never actually had udder-fresh milk, so I’ll make a more appropriate comparison. Fairlife milk is like an In-N-Out milkshake and Whole Foods milk is like a McDonalds milkshake. Shakes from both of these places taste good since they are milkshakes and milkshakes by nature are tasty. Upon closer inspection, however, a McDonalds milkshake begins to tastes artificial and gross, much like the Whole Foods milk. An In-N-Out shake, however, no matter how much it is scrutinized, will always taste like ice-cream and milk and in a similar fashion, Fairlife milk when analyzed tastes like milk and nothing else. So next time you are in the dairy section of the market ask yourself do I want to drink milk or do I want to drink something that vaguely tastes like milk? If you pick the former, buy Fairlife and if you pick the latter, well…I have some more convincing to do.

Ode to Courier

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I have been trying to find a font that suited all my needs ever since I began using a computer. Wingdings were the first font I fell in love with. Then  I learned how to read/write and realized I needed to find a font with letters and numbers. I went through a brief Comic Sans phase which lasted until high school, where I was given the “Times New Roman, one-inch margin” mantra. I have stuck with Times New Roman ever since, as most professors in college swear by it. The issue is that Times New Roman just doesn’t feel like that one font I will spend the rest of my life with. There are so many other options out there, and choosing a font for life is a daunting task. But I think I have found “the one.” Meet Courier. I met Courier in a word processor and set it as my default font for my computer. The way things are looking, it will remain that way for a long time.

Courier was developed in 1955 for IMB as a monospaced slab serif. This is a fancy way of saying that each character takes up the same amount of space and is constructed with even stroke widths. Because of this, when used in a screenplay format, it can be estimated that one page of 12 point Courier will equal one minute of screen time. It was also the official font of the State Department until 2004 when it was replaced by Times New Roman, which is said to offer a “crisper, cleaner, more modern look.” This is the worst decision the U.S. has ever made. Courier is in every way crisper, cleaner and more modern that Times New Roman can ever dream of being.

I do not write screenplays, I do not work for the government but I love Courier. It is such an inviting, readable and cool looking font. Times New Roman single spaced makes a document look daunting. The characters are close together causing confusion to ensue before I have even started reading the document at hand.  Courier, by contrast, makes a document look clean. It is slightly larger than Times New Roman meaning there are less words per page which naturally shortens the time it takes to read a page. This means that anything you read in Courier becomes a page turner when compared to reading that same document in Times New Roman. There may be the same amount of words, but the reading process feels quicker when pages are frequently being turned. In truth, however, I like Courier for its looks. It is such a sleek, industrious looking font that makes any document look official without looking boring. I could be caring around a print out of all my blog posts, and people will think that I am carrying around transcripts from a congressional hearing, or a draft for the next Oscar winning screenplay I am not working on. The point I am trying to get at is that if you want to be cool, use Courier.