Several months ago, I started a VERY silly Instagram project called Limited Endeavor. About once a week, I set up an artistically grandiose photograph of a weird limited edition snack (most often candy). My motivation was threefold:
(1) I'd heard the happiness advice that having a "quest" is a good for you
(2) I hold a lifelong interest in limited editions (or just new versions) of brand-name standbys, especially candy bars
(3) I possess an artistic sensibility steeped in irony
I've had one particular candy bar on my desk for a few weeks now, and it is so odd that the idea of just posting a photograph of it seemed a shame. I was VERY curious what was under the hood, so to speak, and wanted to share the unwrapping/first-taste journey with the world (or, you know, whoever happens to find their way to the video). I'm about to leave for England (like, I'm heading to the airport as soon as I hit "publish") so it was now or never.
For your viewing, questing, and maybe eating pleasure (?) may I present... the Payday: Flavor of Texas BBQ.
Every Friday night, a little wine shop in Pasadena called Monopole puts an item on their menu called "Friday Blind." The game is simple: taste four wines – two white, two red – and if you can name three out of four varietals, your wine is free, the equivalent of about two full glasses. It may sound like a gamble exclusively for sommeliers in training, but you’re provided with a detailed tasting guide that explains typical colors, bodies, and flavor notes for the different grapes on offer. I've gone to do the Friday Blind three times – the first was a total whim, the next two were very much on purpose – and each night, somewhere near the end, I declare it "the greatest thing ever."
To clarify, my wine tasting companions and I are by no means experts. We have all consumed a fair amount of wine in our free time, but always at an amateur level, i.e., sans tasting guide, sans careful analysis, sans much thought period. I know from experience that I tend to love Sauvignon Blanc and make a sour face at a sip of Chardonnay. I prefer red over white unless it’s hot or I am thirsty, and then I chose white because it’s cold. I have entertained daydreams about sommelier training, because a job that’s all about taste and smell sounds like…well, the greatest thing ever. There’s a slight chance I might be one of those “super tasters” and a keen sense of smell runs in my family (we call it “the Berg nose” after my great great grandparents, not to be confused with “the Berg tongue,” which has nothing to do with taste at all, but is rather a kind of absentminded facial tick).
Aside: When it comes to the canonical Five Senses, taste and smell don’t get enough credit. People ask “would you rather go deaf or blind?” as a kind of sick parlor game, but losing smell or taste would make a pretty grim impact on my daily life. It’s noon on a Saturday and already today I’ve compared the taste of 4 different stone fruits at the farmers’ market; tested a long list of perfumes at a local beauty shop; noted the subtle flavor change as I added cream to my iced coffee (and the less subtle change of adding the spicy house salsa to my chilaquiles); lamented that the gelato shop where I bought that coffee uses the cleaning solution that has become my personal odor nemesis since moving to LA (in case you’re trying to get me to avoid your home or business, it’s called it’s the “lavender” scented Fabuloso); and been greeted, upon my returned home with the delicious smell of pancakes (which I am too full of chilaquiles, stone fruit, and coffee too eat).
Anyway, back to the wine tasting. The Greatest Thing Ever.
On our first outing, none of us guessed any of the wines correctly. The second time, one of us got ONE correct. Last night, I was the big winner: I got two out of four correct (both the whites), and was roundly congratulated by the owners. I felt very proud of myself.
But guessing right isn’t what makes it fun. What makes this process fun is the way half a glass of wine, once merely a classy way to loosen up/refresh, becomes a world unto itself, a conversation, a quest, an article of examination. Last night, we all agreed that one of the wines had a definite “tar” note to it, and I confidently stated that the final wine had a bouquet of burnt blackberry pie. And you know what? I meant it.
Because we were having so much fun, and it was getting late, we got to try the last bits of a couple other bottles when we were done. We were give sips of a white wine that was a clear as water and tasted like jasmine perfume — I’d never had anything like it. When we asked the people serving us how they learned so much about wine, the woman behind the counter told us, “You have to keep drinking. If you don’t drink, you don’t learn.”
Now there’s some advice I can run with.
So here's something weird: now that I live in California, I almost never go to Chipotle. There's even one right by my place but, though I've long loved the chain, I almost always skip it in favor of something that feels more uniquely Californian. I mean, if I'm in the mood for sorta- kinda-Mexican food, I have tons of choices, regardless of what part of the town, county, or region I'm in.
It's not about avoiding chains, either. I think it's more that, even after nearly six months (!), I'm still in tourist mode. When I'm in a foreign country, I might be tempted to visit a McDonald's, but only to see how it's different from the US version; for most of my meals, I want to try something I can't get back home. Just so, in So. Cal things as commonplace as Rubio's, Wahoo's, even El Pollo Loco, have the benefit of feeling novel, because we don't have them back home.
Today, I discovered a strange, added bonus to my somewhat illogical avoidance of Californian Chipotles: as I walked through the front door, that familiar Chipotle aroma hit me, and it instantly reminded me of home. I wasn't at the Chipotle of Orange, CA, I was on State and Grand, or on Ontario in Streeterville where we used to take our lunch breaks, or down on Jackson by the library. Through avoidance, I managed to make a national chain feel like home.
The catch, now, is that I'll only be able to experience this feeling maybe once every month or two. I figure if I walk through those doors too often, the smell of the restaurant will lose its transportational powers.
But I can live with that. After all, it's just Chipotle.
One minute, I'm suggesting "pizza party" as a birthday idea for a friend. The next minute, I'm singing. I had to look up this commercial for the '80s board game, "Pizza Party," to jog said friend's memory and tickle my nostalgia bone. But the truly amazing part? I'd been singing it in the right key.
I thought about calling this post "Marissa's Tips for Living the Dream: Celebrate Any Damn Thing," but that just didn't seem informational enought.
Today, as some of you are sure to be aware, Apple stock (aka AAPL) passed 600 and Apple announced they'd begin paying out quarterly dividends. This is kind of bittersweet news for me (I had a tiny bit of the stock once, but had to sell it to survive my year of joblessness), but my dad was pretty psyched. In fact, he decided he had to celebrate by creating a cocktail.
And it's good.
Here's the recipe
2 oz vodka
1 oz Goldschlager
3-4 oz Martinelli's, chilled
Combine vodka and Goldschlager in a shaker (ice optional). Strain into a martini glass and top with Martinelli's. Sit back and think about how you bought Apple stock in the 1980s when people thought the company was going down the tubes. Alternately, stare blankly into the glass, enjoying the pretty gold color and the bubbles.
Said the drink's brilliant inventor, "We'll enjoy it for today. The stock's been going up so fast, something's gotta...[trails off]."
Genius, master chef, goofball, pessimist. That's my dad.
In Lincoln Park, there's a funky little restaurant called Icosium Kafe. Hidden in a long list of drink choices, you can find "Armenian Mint Tea with Honey" listed. If you should ever go to this restaurant, get this drink. They serve it to you in a pretty metal pot with miniature glass mugs, rimmed in gold. The glasses have mint leaves in them, which you can douse with a bit of honey before adding the tea and stirring with the tiny spoon they've provided.
It is ridiculously delicious. After trying this unassuming little beverage for the first time, I had to peek under the lid of the tea pot. Inside, there was healthy handful of mint leaves, two mint tea bags, and even some cloves. This simple but beautiful drink was too essentially decadent not to recreate.
Do it! But consider not using tea bags that have been in your family since the 1980s.