Not a Connoisseur (Accent on the 2nd Syllable)

It Was Just a Phase I Was Going Through

I have fallen out of love with wine. Oh, when I was younger, I thought that it would be very cool if I were knowledgeable about wine and showed everyone what good taste I had. Right next to the company where I worked, there was a Vendome Wine & Liquors, and I tried mightily to read up on vintages and varietals, and to be the guy who showed up at the party with the most interesting wine.

My biggest coup was to find several 18th century Madeiras. It was a bit of a rip-off, because only a small portion of each bottle dated back two centuries, but the bottle stated that it was a 1756 (or whatever) vintage. It was all right, I suppose, but now Madeira is a bit too sweet for my taste.

Now my brother is a genuine wine connoisseur (with the accent on the last syllable). He actually has a wine cooler at home set to the ideal temperature, rarely varying more than a degree or two of optimal.

Perhaps the reason I no longer drink wine is that the medications I take—anyway, most of them—may not be taken with alcohol. And, as a diabetic, I know that alcohol turns into sugar in the body. So I rarely drink anything alcoholic with my meals. Yesterday’s lunch was an exception: I had some British hard cider, which was quite good. And when it is blisteringly hot, I will occasionally drink a beer.

As for wine, that is, for me, so 1970s that I generally avoid it. It was all well and good when I had people to share it with, but Martine doesn’t drink wine either, and if I open a bottle, what do I do with what I don’t finish? Put in in the refrigerator? That kind of wrecks the taste.

The last time I enjoined wine was three years ago when I was in Valparaiso, Chile. The Bed & Breakfast where I was staying had a wine tasting of reds and whites from the nearby Casablanca Valley. They were all pretty good. So maybe, it’s not so much that I don’t like wine as that the circumstances of my life as it is lived have irrevocably changed.

 

Seeing the Stooges at the Alex

Curly, Larry, and Moe—The Original Three Stooges

You wouldn’t think that Martine is a big fan of the Three Stooges, but she is. She has seen every one of their shorts innumerable times. For the last twelve years or so, we have trekked to Glendale’s Alex Theatre see see their annual big screen event, usually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Today was the 21st annual Stooges show at the Alex.

The theme this year was a title with the number three in it. Consequently, the program included:

  • “Three Little Beers” (1935)
  • “3 Dumb Clucks” (1937)
  • “Three Missing Links” (1938)
  • “Three Little Pirates” (1946)
  • “Three Hams on Rye” (1950)
  • “Three Sappy People” (1939)

I am not about to claim that watching Stooge shorts is a sophisticated intellectual experience, but it is uproariously funny. There is something about watching same with a large appreciative audience that makes it funnier still.

The Alex Theatre on Brand in Glendale

The Alex Theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places. Founded in the 1920s, it has become a venue for not only films, but occasional concerts. Two of the upcoming film programs include the Nutcracker Ballet with the Los Angeles Ballet (several dates in December) and “The Greatest Cartoons Ever” on December 26.

One of the reasons that incline Martine toward events in Glendale is that she truly loves the way Armenians prepare chicken. (The City of Glendale is the largest Armenian city outside of Asia.) Glendale is the home to Sevan Chicken at Kenilworth and Glenoaks and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant at 1000 Glendale Boulevard.

What Flows Through My Veins

No, It’s Not Coffee … Ever!

With most Americans, I would wager that what flows in their veins is either coffee or Coca-Cola. With me, it’s tea—either hot or iced. And my tea is occasionally made with tea bags, but most of the time with tea leaves which I store in bulk. Although I also drink Chinese and Japanese green teas with my Chinese or Japanese food, my tea of choice for my own cooking is Indian black tea. Darjeeling is by far the best, but the better grades can be fiendishly expensive. So I usually blend it with Ceylon or Assam depending on the time of year.

When it gets cooler, as it is now, I like to mix the Darjeeling with a “wake-me-up” Assam like Baruti or Ghalami. I -purchase the tea in bulk either from an Indian or Persian grocery store. One pound of any loose black tea will last me the better part of a year.

I have a cheap Japanese metal pot with a removable insert so that I don’t need a strainer to remove the infused tea leaves from my cup. After making a couple of cups of hot tea for breakfast, I save the rest of the tea in the pot for iced tea, adding two or three ice cubes per glass. During the summer, I usually drink iced tea all the time, including for breakfast.

My iced tea is usually unsweetened. For hot tea, I like to add mesquite honey and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Sometimes I don’t even think of myself as an American because I’m not hooked on coffee and Coke. Although I will occasionally drink a Coke when the only alternative is iced tea adulterated with passion fruit, raspberries, or kumquats. Adulterated iced tea is an abomination and to be avoided at all costs.

 

Chilehead

These Used To Be the Hottest Chiles on Record, But Things Have Changed

It was several years ago, when my brother was living in Paso Robles near California’s Central Coast. When I would go to visit him, we usually went shopping together at the farmers’ market at nearby Templeton. Once, one vendor selling olives stuffed with chile habaneros (see photo above) offered Dan and me the opportunity to taste one, all the while grinning as if he expected us to spit them out. We ate the proffered olives, smiled, and asked for more. The vendor looked at us as if we were from the hot side of Mercury.

My brother and I are bona fide chiliheads. It’s one of the things we enjoy most about getting together, because both of us are surrounded by people who blanch at the thought of biting into a sliver of jalapeño, and who carefully remove all pepperoncinis from their salads. We came by this through our mother, Sophie, who used to cook a Hungarian dish called lecso (pronounced LETCH-o), a kind of Hungarian adaptation of Spanish rice seasoned with hot Hungarian banana peppers. When I was growing up, I thought that lecso was altogether too spicy for me. Now I rather like it. (My father, however, did not: He was one of the digestively challenged.)

There is a means of measuring the hotness of chiles called the Scoville Heat Scale. Here is a summary of relative hotness of chiles:

Mexi-Bells, New Mexica, New Mexico, Anaheim, Big Jim, Peperonicini, Santa Fe Grande, El Paso, Cherry     1 100-1,000
Coronado, Mumex Big Jim, Sangria, Anaheim     2 1,000-1,500
Pasilla, Mulato, Ancho, Poblano, Espanola, Pulla     3 1,500-2,500
Hatch Green     4 2,000-5,000
Rocotillo     5 2,500-5,000
Yellow Wax, Serrano, Jalapeno, Guajillo, Mirasol     6 5,000-15,000
Hidalgo, Puya, Hot Wax, Chipotle     7 15,000-30,000
Chile De Arbol, Manzano     8 30,000-50,000
Santaka, Pequin, Super Chile, Santaka, Cayenne, Tobasco, Aji, Jaloro     9 50,000-100,000
Bohemian, Tabiche, Tepin, Haimen, Chiltepin, Thai, Yatsufusa    10 100,000-350,000
Red Savina Habanero, Chocolate Habanero, Indian Tezpur, Scotch Bonnet, Orange Habanero, Fatali, Devil Toung, Kumataka, Datili, Birds Eye, Jamaican Hot    11 350,000-855,000
Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia, a.k.a. Naga Jolokia), Naga Viper, 7 Pot Primo, 7 Pot Douglah, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Carolina Reaper    12 855,000-2,200,000

I can eat chiles up to about half a million Scoville units, namely the habaneros or Scotch Bonnets. If I were to make a large pot of soup, I could put half a chopped habanero in the pot—but no more! As for the superhot chiles such as the Carolina Reaper or Ghost Chiles, they are really too hot for comfortable human consumption, even by chiliheads. I have had powdered ghost chiles on occasion, but only in m-o-d-e-r-a-t-i-o-n.

 

Tuna (Not the Fish)

In Spanish, Tuna Refers to the Fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus

Although the prickly pear cactus grows in all fifty states of the United States, I believe that only in the Southwest does it bring forth an edible fruit. In Spanish, that fruit is called Tuna. It is full of seeds which are easy to spit out, and is not excessively sweet the way some fruits are. In Mexico, it is cheap and readily available. I remember once in the 1980s buying a whole bag for fifty cents, more than I could finish in a month.If you ever visit the Southwest, you should give it a try, as it is not only tasty but incredibly nutritious.

But if you go to Mexico, be careful about ordering a tuna sandwich. The word for tuna (the fish) in Spanish is atun.

 

American Cuisine? No Thanks!

Burger and Fries … and Fries and Burgers

As I grow older, I realize more and more how different I am from most Americans. Politically, I have re-defined myself as independent of the two major political parties, and totally uninterested in the minor ones. Racially, I no longer consider myself to be white—ever since I have become so disgusted with misbehaving whites in the Trumpf era. (As a Hungarian, I consider myself to be of Other Race, namely Finno-Ugric, the language family to which the Hungarian language belongs, originating in the borderlands between Europe and Asia.) Now I find myself disliking most American food. At those times I am forced to eat at an American restaurant, I am usually lucky if I can finish 30% of my meal.

I make an exception in the case of the foods of the American South and Southwest. And I like Italian, Latin American, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern foods. And I still love Hungarian food, if I can find any! But don’t offer me a burger and fries. Been there. Done that. Am finished with it once and for all.

That has led to some problems with Martine. Most of the time, she likes to eat stuff I don’t like, such as burgers, pot roast, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes. I will indulge her on weekends when we go out to eat, but I don’t make much of a dent in what is served to me. And no Cokes or Pepsis, please, just iced black tea without chemical additives. In the end, I make sure she gets what she wants, but she is frightened that I am becoming a vegetarian of the Indian Subcontinent variety.

During the last six weeks, Martine has had major digestive issues, so that I have concentrated on improving my vegetarian curries. And I have done so substantially, to an extent that alarms my little French girl. I suspect that we shall come to some sort of agreement in the end, even if I have to cook some foods I am not interested in tasting.

Lemons and Limes

A Bowl of Lemons and Limes

This is a story that begins almost sixty years ago. As a student at Chanel High School, I occasionally took college-level courses in English at Western Reserve University during the summers. I would take two buses to East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue. At the southwest corner, there used to be a drug store that has a soda fountain. I became addicted to a menu item that they called a “fresh lime rickey,” except that this version contained sugar and had no gin, bourbon, or other liquors. It was delicious.

Some ten years plus pass. I assert my independence from my parents by taking trips to Mexico. I note that, unlike on our side of the Rio Grande, there are virtually no lemons available—but lots of limes. When one asks for limones in Mexico, one gets limes.

Another twenty years pass. During cool weather in Los Angeles, I always take my hot tea with a squeeze of lime.

I could not help noticing that Mexican fruit vendors have a little plastic device they use to squeeze out all the juice from halved limes onto the fruit salads they sell. My mind, which had been working extraordinarily sluggishly suddenly flashed a bright “Aha!” I found one of these squeezie devices at the supermarket. Limes, which run for half a dollar each at Gringo supermarkets can be obtained for a dollar a bag from a little old Chinese woman who sells them on the streets of Chinatown. And there is a Mexican market just a couple blocks from me, the Eden Mercado, that sells them for a reasonable price.

The result: I have rediscovered lime rickeys, though made slightly differently because of my diabetes. I press out the juice from a lime half into a glass, add water, ice, and artificial sweetener, and I have a delicious drink that is much better by far than lemonade.