Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

We would like to extend our best New Years wishes to all of our friends and hope that 2009 is fruitful and happy!

We're on vacation in Belgrade so we haven't managed to post anything substantial in the past week or so and will resume our normal shenanigans after the 10th!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Deep Culture: Ivo Furman: Marx on a Plane

So It has been almost three weeks since my last posting. I've been bogged down by a multitude of academic tasks including attending and chairing and academic conference and submitting my term projects. It has been a long and stressful three weeks but I have now returned back to my hometown of Istanbul for X-mass vacation.

When I was flying into Istanbul on a red-eye flight last Tuesday, I was thinking about the experience of the airplane. Flying could possibly be one of the most disciplinary and exhausting tasks an individual undertakes in daily life. We are systematically organized into performing amazingly mundane tasks such as lining up, taking off our shoes and endure sharing a tiny personal space with other individuals. I personally despise the experience despite the fact that I fly approximately 10 to 14 times a year. I will not divulge into a Foucauldian analysis of the airport institution as this is not the object of this blog. What I will do however is to examine the concept of airplane food.

Airplane food is a disgusting experience. Breakfasts are often the worst as catering companies go buck wild trying to recreate western breakfast staples such as scrambled eggs or muffins. Usually the results of such endeavours are disastrous. Flying with Turkish Airlines, the breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs and ham. The eggs were a wobbling mess of yellow that resembled something particularly unpleasant (vomit) while the ham could make vegetarians out of the most carnivorous of people. The best of all was that there was an offer of "baklava" with the meal. Who the hell would eat baklava on a plane flight? Eat two and you'll get enough of a sugar rush to perform summersaults on the aisle. My question is who really designs these meals? We already pay so much to fly and yet somehow, since I was a kid, I remember hating the food on offer.

Ryanair seems to have it the best, as it offers no food. To be frank with you, although I really hate all the silly jingles and announcements Ryanair does to promote their goods on the flight, I'd say that paying less and bringing your food is better than eating theirs. Will there be a solution to this problem in aviation anytime soon? Somehow the aviation authorities have complete rights over our bodies as soon as we enter the airport, we are how to behave, how to sit and how to wait. We complain about all this but somehow no one seems to bring up the issue that the authorities also dictate what we eat. Let's examine this problem a little further.

The quality of food that we eat is in essence defined by how much we want to spend on an airplane seat. Theoretically, the more you spend the better service you get. Money is fact a determinant of the level of service you get. Therefore there has to be visible indicators of quality difference. Asides from the size of the seats where else is a better place to show difference in quality than in offered food? So there it is, we are doomed to always have bad food in the economy class as long as business and elite class exists. If not, there would be too little of a difference for customers to make the choice of paying almost twice as much for a seat. We say Marxism is dead but here you go, when you take an airplane to be a self sufficient "society", a Marxian analysis reveals that that the structure of "airplane society" reinforces your miserable existence on economy. So next, the time you fly remember that you have nothing to lose except your chains...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boutari, Xinomavro, and the Great White North

Today I had the opportunity to visit one of the great Greek Wineries in the DOC region of Naoussa. Boutari Winery produces wine from seven significant wine producing regions and features both noble varieties (syrah, cabernet, merlot) as well as little known indigenous grapes. Vasilis Georgiou, one of the vintners at Boutari, was gracious enough to give me a private tour and lead me through a tasting of a number of the recent vintages. The goal of the tasting was to familiarize myself better with a range of Greek grape varieties but principally to explore a specific grape with great potential: Xinomavro.

Cold Steel

I first became interested in Xinomavro wines after having a bottle at the restaurant Pylos in New York this summer. A 2003, which is purported to be an excellent year, was bright, exciting and provided an insight in the power of these little known grapes. Much like Pinot Noir in terms of body and color, the wine shines when produced by refined and knowledgeable individuals. Red berry notes dominate the wine but also typical are "green" notes as well - grass and mint, which is evocative of Barolo.

Boutari is one of Greece's oldest modern wineries and has become very well known for its white Moschofilero from the region of Mantinia in Peloponnisos. This white wine is widely available at many larger wine shops in the United States. Apart from this very well known wine (900,000 liters are produced per year) in Greece, at least, the Xinomavro wines from Naoussa are the best known and most well-renowned.

Raising the bar.

A grey and misty day, my cousin and I set out on the hour-long ride to the winery, situated north of Thessaloniki, in his convertible, which was arguably not the best car for the job. No matter, as we arrived safely around 1:30 and were more than ready to taste a few wines. Vasilis met us in the large and beautiful tasting room and led us on a tour of the facilities. The facilities were large and impressive and handle the bottling of the majority of the Boutari wines. What was clearly evident during the tour was not only the meticulous, loving attention paid to the wine but also the attention to innovation - just installed was a french oak fermentation tank solely for experimenting with new blends and cutting edge viticultural methods. All of the wines are currently fermented in stainless steel fermentation tanks, which lend a clean, crisp characteristic to their wines but lack some of the characteristics of wines fermented in oak vats.

If I could have only photographed the aroma!

The wine vaults were vast, with approximately 3,000 barrels of primarily French oak (but also some American as well) and smelled heavenly. Boutari's selection of their vintage wines is also vast - the most extensive in Greece and one is able to purchase across a large range of the classic Xinomavro vintages at a very reasonable cost (1990, an excellent vintage, was 30 euros per bottle).

Want to see some wine disappear?

After the tour came time for the tasting. We tasted young wines - ranging from 2003 to the most recent 2008 vintages - from five Boutari's wineries situated around Greece. The best wines were round, full, and delicious. The flagship, workhorse red, Naoussa Boutari 2007 had great potential but didn't have time to open up. Vasilis said that 2007 will prove to be an excellent vintage; I think it will come around as time passes and I will be looking forward to tasting the Grand Reserve when it comes out. The Grand Reserve 2003 was excellent. The additional time spent in the barrel and bottle softened the tanins and balanced the acidity which are characteristically high with Xinomavro. Again the wine needed decanting to open up but it was delicious (I bought a case). The last wine in the tasting was a horse of a different color. Skalani, from Crete, was a big, juicy wine that really shined. 50% Syrah and 50% local grape Kotsifali, it was familiar yet mysterious. It wasn't overly jammy and would have done well next to any red meat and really shown with the typical red fruit notes of Syrah but with a finish that was interesting, dominated by undertones of chocolate and oak. This wine won top honors at the Thessaloniki wine expo this past year.

All said and done, it was an excellent day at the winery. I had a wonderful opportunity to taste a wide selection of Boutari wines, curated by Vasilis and his team. We left the winery, cases in hand, for a late lunch in the town of Naoussa, which had been completely enveloped by clouds, fog, mist, and a fine drizzle. In the restaurant's warm womb we washed down baked fava beans, cooked feta cheese, and fresh grilled bread with lashings of delicious, fresh house-made Xinomavro. With drove back to Thessaloniki extremely contented with our experience: mission accomplished. 

Feel free to read up on Greek red grape varieties HERE

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recipe... for disaster

Today on Bloomberg was the last article in a series on world famine.  Since I brought up corn in a prior post, I figured that I would mention it again...  The statistics in this article are baffling and frightening - the amount of corn that could feed 91 people for a year will power cars in Houston for 21 seconds.  If this doesn't make you mad, I don't know what will...

Super Club

On the plane over to Greece I read a funny article in the Financial Times, which I thought I'd share.  One of their food columnists, who frequently travels for business, measures the quality of hotels by how well they make a club sandwich.  A little closed minded, perhaps, but it's actually a pretty funny piece (typical English).

Read the article HERE: Come on Hotels, Use Your Loaf

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gyros makes the world go 'round

I love Gyros. I love sultry, salty, succulent meat turning on a spit. Shave it and wrap it in fluffy, delicious pita. I love it with tzatziki or spicy feta spread.  I love it with tomatoes, french fries, and onions.  But what I don't love is the fake unpalatable wrapped trash passed onto unwitting American consumers. This is not to say that sometimes it can't be tasty - I've definitely filled up on the American version at the Gyros House in St. Louis. Papa Cristo's in LA has also done it's job from time to time. But generally it needs to be noted that what Greek-American restaurateurs serve would never pass in Greece.

Before I launch into any tirades concerning fast food of the Eastern Mediterranean, it must be made clear that I will focus exclusively on the Greek version of gyros.  Many permutations exist throughout the Mediterranean world, primarily as Döner and as Schawarma.  The modern inculcation first appeared in the 19th century, in the Turkish city of Bursa and quickly spread to other parts of Turkey.  Greeks expelled from Turkey in the 1960's began opening up döner shops in their new country, and quickly popularized döner, which was rebranded as gyros (Greek for "turning").  With fast-food culture taking over the Western world, Greek expatriates living in the United States returned and established a fast-food tailored to Mediterranean tastes.

The American gyros can be looked at as a metaphor for Greek diaspora culture - or it can be further extrapolated as a prime example for any diaspora. Clearly Greek entrepreneurs meant well when they popularized gyros but they had to tailor it to not only American tastes but also to American preconceptions and stereotypes with regards to Greek culture. Certainly in the 1960s the stereotypes of a pastoral Greece, whose landscape was dominated by shepherds and their flocks of sheep and goats, wasn't too far-fetched. What stuck in the imaginations of Americans were images of Greece, which were filtered through the lens of the few prominent films which caught the attention of the general public - Never on a Sunday and Zorba the Greek, serve as two prime examples. I will not discuss these films in depth but they both establish and corroborate the stereotype of the macho mustachioed Greek man, drunk, poor, dancing, and happy.

In all of this developed this fascination with Lamb. According to the average American, Greeks eat lamb for every meal. While I love lamb, until relatively recently, the cuisine of Greece was purely seasonal. You could not buy strawberries in November. You could buy lamb frozen but that simply would not do. Lamb really is only served a couple of times a year - served primarily at Eastern when it is roasted whole on a spit, preceded by an intense soup made with the offal of said lamb.

These misconceptions are played up by Greek-American restauranteurs who, at this point are run by 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations who have been fully assimilated into American culture, and are perpetuated in the name of sales and expectations of the American clientele. Certainly most emphasize quality of ingredients but very few emphasize refinement of cooking. Often it is an older family member who cooks the traditional dishes and recipes, which are passed on to line cooks who are often not Greek. But essentially this is comfort food - from their home to yours and is not intended to be a refined cuisine.

Of course this article is not intended to belittle the hard work of Greek-American restaurateurs who have worked hard, chasing the American dream. The true testament to these entrepreneurs are the legions of Greek-Americans who have excelled in academia, medicine, law, business, etc. The only question that remains is - if this group of people can excel in so many high-profile fields, why can't they just serve a proper Greek gyro?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Come All Ye Faithful

On Saturday I'm headed to Greece. As you may have heard, the entire country has erupted into riots over the shooting of a 15 year old boy by Greek police; the rioting that ensued thereafter was the culmination of dissatisfaction with the Greek economy and the quality of life under the current governmental administration. Obviously the situation has deteriorated far more precipitously than anyone had anticipated - hence the Christmas tree decked out in its holiday finest in front of the Greek Parliament building in Athens.

Ivo wanted my cousin, George to live-blog as the various events unfolded while he and his university compatriots took to the streets in protest but, unfortunately he wasn't so keen on the idea. Had we been in Greece this week instead of next I certainly would have taken the opportunity to at least provide some better insight on what exactly is going on at the street level beyond the handful of anarchists throwing molotov cocktails.

This said, I wanted you dear readers to know that for the next 30 days this blog will be heavily influenced on experiences abroad. I hope to bring you insight on Greek wine from the region of Naoussa, an introduction to the wonderful world of Ouzo, a variety of traditional Greek and Turkish recipes, and an expose on some of the best Gyros that one can find in the world. Dear readers, I hope to take you on a virtual vacation. To experience with me the sounds, sights, and smells (well not really) of travel in foreign destinations. Meanwhile I'll try to dodge the flying stones and puddles of burning gasoline.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

-OH Bond Holidaze

I've been gorging my mind with a semester's worth of physics and chemistry over the last couple of weeks in preparation for my final exams. Yes, I am currently a student - a super super super senior, to be exact; but for all university purposes I'm just a lowly freshman. With some luck and some elbow grease, I'll do well in all my pre-requisites and get into medical school! In my previous life, I was employed and living in New York, in wine more specifically. In said past life, a time-honored tradition called for a sober month of January. The real hard-boiled red-nosed guys would all swear off alcohol for a month in order to detox after the holiday season of bingeing (and presumably to see if they actually could cut alcohol out of their lives for 30 days).

I have been dry for nearly two weeks, which, I realize, is actually something that I haven't done in quite some time. This certainly has been a good time to cut out drinking since I need all of my faculties to concentrate - one can say that I'm going dry in order to prepare FOR the holidays. I stumbled upon the following article in the NY Times by a man who hasn't had a drop in 16 years. Despite all of the time that has gone by, he still struggles, but only during each Christmas season.

It's a thoughtful essay on why we are driven to drink and the challenges of sobriety. I'm sure he had to let some steam off somehow. As for me, I'm looking forward to sitting by the fire with a belgian Christmas ale as soon as my exams are done.

Follow the link for the article: It's the Holidays. How About Just One?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We Recommend: Highland Spirits

Ascend to the throne of whisky.

The breadth and variety of single malt whiskies can be intimidating for anyone who is just starting to explore the world of serious spirits. Since many fine single malts are produced in small batches and aged accordingly, drinking whisky is an expensive habit.  With such enormous regional variation, one must taste an enormous quantity in order to become a true connoisseur.  While the writers of this blog are not experts, we certainly recommend Islay whiskies, which are characteristically peaty.  These will appeal for those who prefer smokey flavors over sweeter ones.  

In today's NY Times, wine and spirits editor Eric Asimov offers his remarks on a tasting 21 single malts from the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands.  How he was able to remember anything after this tasting is beyond me.  Since I'm abstaining from drinking anything alcoholic until December 12th, I thought that I would at least live vicariously through Asimov and post the link to the results of his tasting here.

Please click the link below for the full article:

The trick, of course, is finding them!  

Happy hunting and Cheers!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guest Recipe: Soul Rolls: Cookin' with Coolio

I'm not entirely sure how many of you out there are familiar with Coolio's YouTube cooking show but I watched it again recently and I could NOT stop laughing. Most of you recall Coolio as the lampooned mid 90's rapper whose hit single "Gangsta's Paradise" was featured in the Michelle Pfeiffer film "Dangerous Minds." The music video is HI-larious and stars Michelle Pfeiffer reprising her role in the movie. Watch it. Now.

Coolio's music career failed to gel and now he's apparently trying to start a catering business - HA. Biggie and TuPac roll in their graves, I'm sure.

In any case, check out the following episode of Cookin' with Coolio - you won't regret it!
(There are a few profanities thrown around FYI)


Monday, December 1, 2008

Cemetery Tourism

So it appears that I'm definitely not crazy to spend time thinking of modern cemeteries, especially as tourist destinations. Sunday's New York Times featured an article about visiting the various interesting cemetaries located in the Borroughs of NYC. The article points out some of the big names burried there: Miles Davis, Lewis Comfort Tiffany, James Cash Penney, and Duke Ellington are some of the names mentioned. I think, all-in-all the two cemetaries I mentioned in my earlier post have a more impressive group of people interned. Even though we don't get sweeping Manhattan views they are certainly worth exploring.

If you've done everything there is to do in NY (or at least feel like you have) then the article should be of interest as it highlights some nice side-trips. Check it out: