Kustom Kills Show

Hit the 11th annual Kustom Kills and Hot Rod Thrills Show in Williamsburg under the BQE yesterday.  God I wish I had the good camera, sorry I took so few pix, but I highly suggest you hit the show next year yourself. Frankly, I have enough obsessions, I can’t imagine getting into building Kustoms…or can I?

City Mouse Country Mouse

So a couple of things I learned recently, don’t talk taxes before you go to bed. It makes your wife upset, gives you indigestion, and psychotic dreams. I almost didn’t make it into work today. Since its tax season and I’m a) bent on saving for and buying a country home, but b) have to plan for other things, and c) I’m impulsive, well you can guess I’m a bit cagey. Second big mistake–actually breaking down the various taxes I pay for living in NYC. I know, you say don’t whine, people would kill to be in your place, but let me whine a little. Federal, state, and city tax–I learned more than half my salary goes to taxes! That doesn’t include property taxes because I don’t even own. Makes you wanna beat someone like they stole something! But what are you gonna do?

City Mouse: Move to the country thats what!

Country Mouse: It’s not all that its cracked up to be…New York City’s surrounding counties (Westchester, Rockland, Union, Nassau, etc.) have the top 10 of highest property taxes …in the US. And a number of those counties have seen upwards of 50% increases in property taxes in the last five to ten years alone.

City Mouse: I think I could just as easily be content with 20 acres and an 1 1/2 hr commute as say 900 sq. ft (my apt size) and commuting on the subway (which has also seen unprecedented rate hikes).

Country Mouse: But Brooklyn speaks dozens of languages–knish, kim chi, North Carolina BBQ, food trucks! BAM, McCarren Park, Barneys, and Barnes & Nobles!

City Mouse: Median home prices in NYC according to Trulia are 1.1 mil!  Dutchess County, 260K. Dutchess County too far? How about Putnam County? 375K. Doable! My wife being an architect and interior designer, I keep sending her links to modern, minimalist renovated and prefab country homes…wear her down.

Country Mouse: You could be accused of wanting your cake and eating it too…

City Mouse: I’m just afraid like every other mixed professional couple in NY we’re gonna wind up moving to Ft. Greene and blowing a wad on private school and a brownstone. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Country Mouse: But what if I could build something like this right in the city (the one in the middle)…building is cheaper than buying.

City Mouse: …and maybe we’ll have enough left over for a cabin! Then I’d want to look into a company like Form & Forest. F&F are doing award-winning prefab flatpack cabins with a modern aesthetic that are easy to construct. Just need the land, permits and a good contractor.

Country Mouse: I like this one even better.

Third mistake! Obsessing over living in the country vs. living in the city when good is good enough. I’m sure the internal debate will rage on, but I’ve got to let it go somehow. Excise it… until we’re ready to buy, its all just food porn I guess. When the time comes, we’ll make our home wherever our heart is.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

In 1989, I was sixteen years old living in Ocean City, NJ, a sophomore in a town and high school that never left the 50s. The town was dry (no alcohol sold), and the only way onto the “island” was by one of three bridges across the Great Egg Harbor. I walked to school about four blocks, and if I went a block too far I would be walking in the Atlantic Ocean. If I walked the other direction from my home about the same four or five blocks, I’d be in the bay.

While the provincialism of the town was a constant source of ire and something to rebel against, I found a kind of isolated quiet in which to grow from teen to man. I found my first loves there really–books, music, theater, poetry, writing, and deep kinship that only young men who live closely together (with something to rebel against) can find.

I was sixteen when I saw Dead Poets Society–and though I wasn’t a prep, I like lots of young poets, left the cinema in tears saying, “thats me!”

It didn’t matter that my comrades were four black teenage men with high-top fades brought up on hip-hop, and instead of the solitude of a rural private school we had the endless summer of the boardwalk. We never found our literal captain as the boys of the fictional Welton Academy of Vermont found in Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams).  Though its arguable our pot-smoking, vietnam vet, theater teacher (who shall remain nameless) might have fit the bill on occasion. He had a lime-greenVW van, ‘nuf said right?

But I met Walt Whitman while working my very first job in an antique book store in Ocean City, seeking poetry and messing-around money for pool, smokes and girls. Among the dusty volumes and leatherbound tomes, I picked up The Rolling Earth, in it the daguerreotype of Whitman staring out with the most beautiful eyes I had every seen, made me fall in love with him. I love him as much as my own family, and knowing how much I love him, I always tear-up knowing that I will never speak to him, I can only hear him in my mind. His writings taught me how to learn to love all manner of things and people. I dream of his voice whispering to me…

Walt Whitman 1887

A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into

the worldess,

Away from books, away from art, the day

erased, the lesson done,

Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing,

pondering the themes thou lovest

best,

Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Walt Whitman 1854

I’m reading a collection of Whitman’s writings about the Civil War now, Walt Whitman’s Civil war edited by Walter Lowenfels and produced in 1961 with drawings by Winslow Homer, picked at a bookshop in Woodstock, Vermont earlier this year. Twenty years on and his words are whispering in my ears now differently. I see a younger Whitman, intoxicated and bewitched by a new source of inspiration, that of war. From 1861 to 1865, Whitman worked from Washington and spent countless days on the front and in hospitals with soldiers, both North and South, blacks, contraband (southern blacks), officers, the wounded, dying, and recovering.

Walt Whitman 1850s

While I was inspired by Whitman to be a naturist first (he gave voice to my deep abiding love for nature that developed in rural Ohio), I’ve rediscovered him again as an adult. Turns out we both live(ed) in Brooklyn and we’ve reconnected it seems over my own genealogical research into the Civil War era. In the last five years I’ve become my family’s genealogist, documenting several family lines back to the late 1700s and 1800s, back to slavery in Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. I was inspired by Skip Gate’s program African American Lives initially. The Civil War marks a gate through which many black family lines are lost, emerged, dissappear, reappear after emancipation, transformed. However, my genealogy is a story for another time. And in Whitman’s writing, the Civil War is made human and real. Hollywood’s images, Glory, God’s General, Roots, even the documentary images of the Burns brothers fades away into a new expression.

Now it is like hearing about the war from a brother who has been away. He has come for a visit, for he must go back, but we have settled into arm chairs together, or posted up to the bar at our local, and over a beer or whisky, and he has leaned forward, not quite looking me in the eyes, but seeking an invisible horizon, begun to talk…

Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living–sweet are the musical

voices sounding,

But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead with their silent eyes.

– from Ashes of Soldiers

In 1992, a rare phonogram recording Walt Whitman emerged and was much debated, but most scholars have settled on its authenticity–the quality matched Edison’s “vertical-cut” method of recording which was 30 years ahead of its time, and the accent of the speaker was indeed Atlantic Tidewater with an Adirondak inflection (an accent that is near extinct today). I encountered Whitman’s voice, sadly, in a Levi’s ad earlier this year. Despite being a marketer, even I was a bit mortified. I guess its just another bit of penance I’ll have to do for hawking brands instead of focusing solely on writing, alas. Yet the strength of his rich voice, the simplicity and cadence to the poem “America,” overwhelmed me. It is so like my inner voice, the way in which I think and write today.

You can hear his voice for yourself here.

Whitman is and always will be my captain.

…from Fall to Winter in Brooklyn

I woke up with with flu (day three) and snow flurries and howling wind. The cat, ninja, is somewhere warm. Despite that, it was a busy weekend as we transitioned from fall to winter in my house, and prepared for the holidays.

In the last week we polished off the leftover Turkey….

Turkey Pot Pie with Whole Wheat Crust
Turkey Chili with Andouil

Bought the tree…

Needs decorations...
Gold and Ivory color scheme by my wife

I bought French handblown glass ornaments from Darr’s Williamsburg outpost next to Hollander and Lexer. Darr is one the best curated home goods store I’ve ever been in. Vintage, handmade crafts, items. Also hit up LeGrenier but couldn’t find anything for the tree. Might hit Brook Farm General Store later…but all are good for Christmas gifts if you’re in the ‘burg and want to shop local.

box of glass ornaments at Darr
pictures can't do Darr justice

And we hit up Fairway to get food for my annual Festivus Holiday Party. I can’t believe this will be the fifth year.

on my menu so far:

  • Virginia Ham Sliders with Cranberry Korean Pear Sauce
  • Baked Brie with Strawberry Balsamic Jam (from Anarchy in a Jar)
  • Chips & Crudite with Brooklyn Salsa (the Burnt, and the Green)
  • Red Orchards Mulled Spiced Cider with ROOT (from Art in the Age)
  • “Hudson Valley Cold Snap” (Hudson Whisky & SNAP also from Art in the Age)
  • Applesauce Cake w/NY State Cortlands
  • Selection of Brooklyn Brews
  • Clementines
  • Candy Canes

Lastly, went up to Kensico to see if I could snag dinner (Lake Trout) but no luck. The coldfront was biting.

I don’t know what was up with my cellphone’s camera (a 8mb Droid X) but on “landscape” these images came out looking “posterized”.

Nice effect.

Visit to my Alma Mater & Philadelphia

I went to school outside Philadelphia at Swarthmore College (founded in 1864 by Quakers and one of the first co-educational colleges). One never leaves Swarthmore, because wherever you are in the world, you’ll bump into a “Swattie”. Its a small liberal arts college–one of the best–and its alumni range wide and far, typically go on do civic-minded things.

Parrish Hall via Friends Historical Society
Parrish Postcard via Friends Historical Society

I was invited back to lecture on mass media and politics,  and to share my thoughts on what it takes to be leader. I told the students that a) I was too young to lecture them and b) leadership is determined by your choices, c) your choices should be guided by our own moral compass. My moral compass has swung wildly sometimes, like all men learning to be adults. I still make mistakes, but I’ve become grounded lately, as I begin to realize what it means to live for others. Leadership, is making choices that serve others first. The best moment of the lecture came when I informed the students that the Smithsonian has decided to archive every single tweet every made for all time…and to be careful what they post online. You should have seen their eyes as it dawned on them, that perhaps they had made some poor choices at one point. I assured them that digital media never really dies, but that they could make better choices now that they were informed, that their responsibility (born from the privilege of an education) was to make choices based on their moral compass going forward.

While on campus I stopped in at alumni relations and viewed some of the artifacts of a bygone era. This “S” letter sweater stood out.

These were the old mailboxes in Parrish Hall. Many a student (and me) had nightmares about these stacks and stacks of mailboxes–terrifying dreams of needing to get something out and being locked out.

While in Philadelphia, I stopped by Art in the Age of Mechanical Production.

I had heard they were making their own hooch, so hit their Old City store just before closing. While they couldn’t sell me their Root and Snap liquors (both organic), I had a little tasting. Root is an antique spirit, made from birch bark, wintergreen and other wild roots and herbs in the 1700s. It became the basis of “root beer,” but started out as “root tea”, a spirit.

“Snap” is brilliant too–tastes exactly like an original gingersnap cookie, made from blackstrap molasses and ginger. “Lebkuchen”, the original Pennsylvania Dutch cookie is one of my favorite treats so you can bet is going to be in a cocktail at my holiday party next weekend.

As soon as I got home, I had to whip up a cocktail. I went simple…1 1/2 ounces Snap, 1 1/2 ounces Hudson Manhattan Rye Whisky, ice, shaken and served straight-up. I call it the Hudson Valley Cold Snap.

I also picked up a dope Gitman Bros. flannel. It was heartening to come across Art in the Age, and to see that nearby Sugarcube had survived the recession. I used to live right there on 3rd street across from these shops in a loft. Hoagies, Yuengling beer, Yards beer, the Northern Liberties, La Colombe coffeehouse, Reading Terminal Market, Rittenhouse Square, the Devil’s Pocket, the Roots, Ortlieb’s Jazz House, the Italian Market, Haverford girls, the Mainline. Good times.  I’m looking forward to going back.

Thank Squanto at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving–was a lovely holiday spent with the in-laws in Duluth outside of Atlanta, but I didn’t get to hunt as we were rained out! Bummer. however, after an aamazing southern farm-to-table lunch at JCT Kitchen, we had to stop in upstairs at Sid Mashburn’s, the best preppy style menswear shop in Atlanta and arguably the left coast (with the exception of J. Press in New Haven, maybe). I bought a lovely wool tie and gingham shirt.

My in-laws are first generation Korean-Americans, so the pre-thanksgiving meal consisted of several types of Kimchi (bok choy, cucumber, napa cabbage), stuffed prawns, and braised short ribs with chestnuts.

Because our initial union was not approved by the family, my wife and I had much to be thankful for. Our marriage earlier this year seemed to finally break the cultural barriers that kept me from getting to know her parents for the first four years of our relationship. In fact, our visit was a homecoming that saw years of tension melt away. As we sat down to the Korean feast the night before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but smile deeply at the miracle of the meal that was a long time coming.

Later that night, I set out to prepare the turkey–brining the 20 lb. bird in three cans of Guinness, kosher salt, water and Canadian Grade A maple syrup.

During the day, we visited the massive H-Mart, a Korean supermarket where we watched Kimchi made in bulk and had traditional street food (pancakes filled with red bean).

I forgot to take a picture of the finished bird, but here are the leftover sandwiches with my wife’s cranberry and Korean pear sauce, turkey, gravy and stuffing on rolls, yum.

Other lovely meals this holiday…

Drinks and piano music with my brother and his friend from Brazil at the Manhattan Inn, a Cinnamon Sidecar, Old Fashioned and Warsaw Mermaid (green tea vodka, sake, jasmine, creme de violette). Every time I go I order the Fried Wild Pollock sandwich…its the sea on a brioche bun.

Breakfast with the wife at Five Leaves, late of Heath Ledger, but fast becoming an institution on McCarren Park…the Big Brekkie and Merguez Scramble…

Last year we watched the NYC Marathon from Five Leaves over brunch, this year, we sat at the bar at the Manhattan Inn.

Its worth taking a moment to “thank Squanto” for Thanksgiving. Squanto was a native american of the Patuxent tribe in the Massachusetts coast. He taught the Plymouth Pilgrims how to hunt for eels and farm corn, contributing greatly to their survival. He spoke English because he had in fact been caught as a slave, nearly sold in Malaga, Spain, rescued by Friars and resolved to return to the “new world” after journeying to London where he lived for several years as a ship-builder, then joined an expedition to Newfoundland, and finally after a few attempts made it to his tribal lands. Sadly, most of his tribe and several other coastal groups died in an epidemic while he was making his way home. Amazingly, he settled with the Plymouth colonists (who were on his ancestral lands) and still–in the deepest spirit and meaning of giving–helped them to survive. The story of Squanto really is the story of Thanksgiving, its not just “thanking god” for survival, but continuing to hold love in your heart when your very survival is threatened. That’s the real lesson.

So I guess when all is sad and done, though the cultural barriers thrown up by my wife’s parents caused us years of pain–we were able to keep love in our heart, to continue to invite them into our lives at every opportunity, and love won out. Thank Squanto.

Saltie, the Shop and ‘burg Food Culture

So my wife and I decided to hit up Saltie in our neighborhood, Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. We had the finest sandwiches we’ve had all year. Our friends who live right down the street from Saltie put us on this place. My wife had one on Saturday and suggested we both go on Sunday. The cooks are alums of Diner. I’ve got nothing but love for this offspring by partners and Caroline Fidanza, founding chef at Diner and Marlowe & Sons, she’s done so much for food in New York, local purveyors, and hungry Brooklynites that she deserves the keys to the city.

I had the “Ship’s Biscuit” (soft-scrambled egg, ricotta). Sweet, melt-in-your mouth flavor with the hit of the salt on the ciabatta was a lovely combination.

She had the “Scuttlebutt” (hard-boiled eggs, cauliflower, pickles, capers, aioli, feta, black olives). The bite of the pickle combined with the creaminess of the egg and salty brininess of the caper, the smokiness of the aioli–sheer heaven. Big bold flavor on a perfectly baked ciabatta.

I love Brooklyn dining so much that I’m going to make a special effort to record my meals in Brooklyn. Favorite ‘burg restaurants are the aforementioned  Diner, but I’m also a fan of Rye, Dumont, Pies-n-Thighs, Motorino, Dressler, Walter Foods, the Shop (awesome bbq), Fette Sau, Roebling Tea Room, Sel de Mer (awesome seafood), Enids, Manhattan Inn, Five Leaves…and don’t even get me started on Ft. Greene or Carrol Gardens/Cobble Hill…hmm ok, maybe we eat out too much! I think I might need the New Brooklyn Cookbook for Xmas! Maybe I’ll get it and make a few recipes for the blog.

Funny thing–working in marketing I come across alot of trend reports and its so obvious we’re in the middle of a revival of artisanal living trend. I’d hate to see a backlash against this trend because frankly, I can’t go back. I’ve never felt more connected to my food, community, and life as a consumer than in the last ten years. The skeptic might just call it another trend–but I think of it as a return to a simpler way of life–one I had in my life as a kid in various ways, but that we drifted away from as we migrated to suburbia and into young adulthood. My parents were never farmers, but they shopped farmer’s markets in Ohio, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania (love those Amish). My dad was a carpenter and builder so we weren’t shy around tools, at least the boys weren’t, so artisan was really just plain old living. It just seems a way of life that people have had outside of the city, seems to have made its way into it. Why Brooklyn? Why Williamsburg? My guess–in a city of immigrants, New York’s chefs got tired of trudging from Brooklyn into Manhattan’s high-end restaurants–and so they migrated downtown and stayed in their own hoods. The ‘burg has had for years a large number of Yankees, southerners or whatever,  move in and they’ve brought their tastes with them. Brooklyn has been at the crossroads of a resurgence for Americana because a wide variety of Americans make their home here. The strong DIY attitude has emerged in response to a desire to make Brooklyn look and feel more like home–a little bit of Tennessee or Ohio valley. Just look at the music, just as diverse, and a sampling of every sound from across the country, bluegrass, jazz, indie, rockabilly, EMO. Well, I digress, I think its these influences among others, are what drives the food culture here.

Just last week I came across a motorcycle shop-bar-cafe-speakeasy-bbq joint with “urban country club” services. While I was walking down Metropolitan I caught the scent of bbq on the air–but wait–it wasn’t coming from nearby Fette Sau–this was a bit different. I went in to the Shop and met J.T. (one of two J.T.’s who tends bar there) and proceeded to learn that they were indeed smoking sausage and chicken right there on a pit called Riggins.

Checkout the video:

Damn, now I’m hungry again.