September 23, 2010

The Gentlemen’s Weekend pt. 1 – an Introduction

Turn it up, not too loudly, let it marinate. Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Preservation, a benefit album, like so many others released since the storm, sets the mood perfectly for the run-up to this weekend… for the third year in a row, two friends and I will make our annual fall pilgrimage to the Crescent City, dedicating ourselves fully to the morally bankrupt yet artful craft of Conspicuous Decadence. 
From the author of Just One Night… “I've been having a linen suit custom made by a sixth generation New Orleans tailor.  It's taken a year.  Every stitch is specially intertwined with tiny strips of sugar cane and Anders Osborne's guitar strings as well as hairs from Manning family members.  It then was hung up in the kitchen at Galatoire's for three months to age.  I'll pick it up Saturday while we're there.”
Too bad he can’t wear it until Memorial Day. Though tomorrow night we’ll be at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville, enjoying our personal cocktail buffet at the Absinthe House before decamping to Tipitina’s for Rebirth, where the generally accepted societal rules on what may or may not constitute appropriate behavior are routinely flaunted. More to come…  

Photo credits: Rebirth Brass BandIt's a Newman 

September 19, 2010

KBK's Sunday Ribs

The first time I met KBK was on a golf course in Colorado. I was on the home stretch of a summer trip to Aspen with my then girlfriend (now wife) and her parents, and we rendezvoused with this old friend of my father-in-law's to celebrate his wife's birthday. It was my inaugural family vacation, an interview of sorts, and just as I was getting comfortable came the real smell test... a round with this duo who had famously asked the former boyfriend of my object of affection to hold the pin during a lightning storm. Hardly a gimme, to be sure, but the lightning stayed at bay and we enjoyed a memorable round of golf; well, memorable in the sense that it was the first time I heard my future father-in-law take some liberties with the English language. Clearly this KBK character brings out the best in everyone. 

Later that afternoon, as we convened for dinner, our subject arrived decked out in what can delicately be described as the sartorial opposite of what everyone in the state would consider common attire: pink linen blazer, black & white striped pants, suede loafers; if this were a movie on mountain-fashion KBK would have been comically miscast. Though I will give him credit for consistency... in the ensuing years I've seen the man wear enough Lilly Pulitzer to make a Palm Beach bridge game take notice. The last time I saw him was this spring in San Miguel de Allende... he had a beard and was wearing a Moroccan tunic. Yet while KBK's attire places him firmly in the running for the Most Interesting Man in the World, his escapades in the kitchen, at least the one we'll celebrate here, are decidedly Midwestern utilitarian. Which makes sense, given that his home-away-from-road is Evanston, IL. 

So to honor this final weekend before we officially enter the autumn season, may I present KBK's Sunday Spare Ribs...

First off, I do not have a smoker, which is obviously the preferred method of slow-cooking any large slab of something that previously walked on four legs. It's a gaping hole in my culinary arsenal that needn't be pointed out. But the brilliance of these ribs is that all you'll need is an oven and a grill, and a large television to watch the games, and a full ice chest, and...

Step one: head to the store and grab about 3 racks of baby back ribs. If your grocer-of-choice has decided that the best way to merchandise these is on a styrofoam tray under cellophane, then leave and find a good butcher. Lay them out on tin foil. 

Two: mix your rub. Red pepper based. Add some salt, a little sugar, garlic and onion powder, and anything else you might need to spice it up. Then work it into both sides. Wrap the racks in tin foil and drop them into a pre-heated 275-degree oven for three hours.

Three: pull them out of the oven, unwrap, and baste with some good molasses-based sauce.  

Four: grill each side over medium/high heat for about 5-7 mins. At this point the meat is more than likely falling off the bone. Pull off the grill, tent in foil, and finish up whatever else it is that you're cooking. 

Five: Have a drink, enjoy the season. 

September 16, 2010

Just One Night

This is a love letter, written by a friend to one of the world’s great cities.  I shall place him squarely on the spot and say that what follows is but the first of many regular contributions that you’ll be reading from the author, who, having spent the summer hopping between Washington and Chicago and just returning from a week on the Mediterranean, is, as I write this, touching down in Jackson Hole.  His is a charmed life… here’s a peek (unfiltered and unabridged). But first, push play...

“I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine; I wish I could jump on a plane.” – Jimmy Buffett from Changes in Attitude, Changes in Latitude

Regardless of how you feel about the “artistic merits” of the music, books, and other endeavors of the ageless pirate, there’s no denying that Jimmy can induce nostalgia and wanderlust at the drop of a wide-brimmed, straw hat.  The Buffett daydream factory is usually churning out visions of the delicious, fictitious Margaritaville.  With apologies to all the Parrotheads for whom a life of blown out flip-flops and lost salt shakers is as close to heaven as this world gets, if I ever have the chance to sip cocktails with Jimmy, I hope we’ll find ourselves in one of two real world cities that have also fed his imagination over the years: New Orleans or Paris. 

While New Orleans deserves (and shall soon receive) its own special note of adoration on this esteemed literary outlet, today my thoughts belong to the Crescent City’s grand, graceful ancestor. 

I recently had the good fortune to end a week of overseas travel with a single night in Paris.  The group I was traveling with had spent five days in the hot August sun of Mediterranean beach towns.  We limped into Paris tired and sun burnt.  Knowing exactly what we needed, the Travel Gods suddenly turned the temperature down to a wonderfully crisp fifty-five degrees.  With jackets donned, we gathered at the Arc de Triomphe and began the universally-known hike up the Champs Elysees.  As the sun faded, the lights of the city’s cafes and restaurants began to glow.  Any fears I had at being desensitized at all to the scene because prints like Van Gogh’s “The CafĂ© Terrace at Night” can be found in half the dorm rooms in this country were immediately laid to rest; the real life subject of the painting is nothing less than sublime.

We walked through the otherworldly Jardin des Tuileries, where one group member pointed out the exact spot where he had proposed to his wife, and passed through the grounds of the Louvre.  We then crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts and ventured into the raucous Latin Quarter.  We continued walking along the river and passed countless landmarks, one of my personal favorites being the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, known for decades as a home, both literally and creatively, to aspiring writers. 

We turned off the main thoroughfare and followed the twists and turns of smaller side streets that were so Parisian in appearance that I almost didn’t believe they were real, as if I weren’t actually walking through the city itself, but rather a movie version of Paris.  At this point, the long walk, cool weather, and nighttime cityscape induced a craving for red wine that went beyond visceral almost to primal.  We finally reached our destination, a small restaurant that I could never find in a million years.  After three hours of devouring red meat, drinking an ocean’s worth of wine, and making every toast known to man, our group of 23 joyously staggered back out into the picturesque street.    

While Paris is a town perfect for wandering around in a beauty and history-induced daze, it’s also a great town for just having a damn good time.  Our group stumbled into a bar two doors down from the restaurant, where our hilarious, drunken, and doomed attempts to talk with the locals were fueled by more wine and were met with reputation-defying friendliness and laughter.  We also discovered that Parisians, at least those that we met, get immense joy from being unwilling to take a picture of just our group.  Each time we singled out a Parisian from a group of, say, four and requested that he/she take a picture of our group of, say, five, the other three Parisians would immediately jump to our side to be included in the photo.  This turned each picture into a wildly comical event.  Later in the evening, a picture would actually be taken that features nine members of our group and no less than twenty-five Parisians who rushed to be in the photo as if the fate of every grape in France depended on it. 

Once the bar closed, our good spirits carried us to an underground nightclub that was housed in a former wine cellar.  We did our best to adjust to the European techno beats of the deejay.  The astounding people-watching was highlighted by witnessing the club’s bouncers smash in the bathroom door to collect the unconscious body of an overdosed teenaged guy.

When we were finally ready for the evening to end, we hailed cabs that zoomed around the empty nighttime streets and gave us one last beautifully blurry montage of The City of Lights.

I had only been to Paris once before and I have no idea when I will be back.  Obviously, one could spend a lifetime exploring the city and its endless cultural offerings.  However, I would advise any fellow travelers to not ignore Paris because you’re waiting until you have the chance “to do it right.”  Any night, even just one, is the right time to do Paris.  Once you have, you can join me and Jimmy for a bottle of red and tell us all about it.   

photo credits: Gourmet, It's a Newman.

September 9, 2010

greetings from Telluride

Accompanied some friends to southwest Colorado this Labor Day to bid adieu to August and hello to football season. Hiking, biking, eating & drinking, and somehow managing to take in a little culture, insofar as a four-hour documentary about baseball can be considered a cultural undertaking.

It’s Aspen… 35 years ago. A 130 y.o. mining town turned world-class mountain escape for the well-heeled, as charming for the preservation of its historical buildings and lack of pretentiousness as for its goings-on. There for a weekend of celebration and relaxation, we fortuitously caught the 37th Telluride Film Festival, and along with it all the trappings that these sorts of things bring to the table.  “Hey isn't that...?”

If you know documentaries then you know Ken Burns. And if you know Ken Burns, then you know Baseball, his 18½-hour film dedicated to our national pastime, which at present seems to be rife with issues that reflect the character (flaws) of our nation while at the same time are of no real concern to anyone (in spite of Congress’ insistent meddling). But Baseball stops in the early nineties, just when things started to get 'juicy'. So on our last afternoon in town, with white clouds and blue skies and 78-degree weather, I opted to duck solo into a balmy dark room with a big screen at the front of it to catch the first half of Burns’ new film, The Tenth Inning… an addendum, as it was, covering the sordid years of the sport between 1994 and today. Unfortunately the real world called us back before I could catch Part II. But it was a tremendously successful viewing, I got to tell the filmmaker "congratulations" (way to take advantage), and now I can frame my Film poster poseur-free.