About 15 years ago, I was traveling on business with another, more senior lawyer from our firm. We decided to have a cocktail before dinner and were examining the menu for something light to eat while we sipped our drinks. After carefully scrutinizing the menu, she suggested we try the olives option. I responded that I had never eaten an olive before, but if she wanted to get some I’d try one. I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t like them.

She expressed astonishment, and then chuckled. “You’ve never tried olives?” she said. “Well, you’re in for a treat.”

She was right, of course, We got the dish of olives, and they were terrific. A bit salty, but with a meaty texture, and a nice snap when you bit into one. The olives weren’t pitted, so we also experienced the adventure of precisely nibbling around the pit and then delicately disposing of it in a way that approximated good table manners. In short, the olives not only tasted good, they were kind of fun to eat. By the end of that one cocktail hour, I was firmly and permanently hooked.

Since then, olives have become a staple of my dinnertime options. I still relish the taste and the texture and have found I enjoy pretty much every variety of olive that’s out there. I particularly like them as part of a dinner plate with meat and cheese because they are light, and as I’ve gotten older I often prefer a lighter evening meal. The fact that they are a good component of a low-carb approach to eating and a fundamental element of a healthy “Mediterranean diet” just adds to the allure.

For me, olives are the prime example of why you should try something before you decide you don’t like it. For years, I missed out. Now I’m making up for lost time.

Making Pasta Alla Carne Di Cervo

Last night I finally cooked up the venison that Russell brought to our apartment. I toyed with the idea of making venison burgers, but ultimately took the advice of some experienced venison chefs, who recommended spaghetti as a good, and safe, introduction to the world of cooking deer meat. I decided that some pasta alla carne di cervo (“cervo” being the Italian word for venison) sounded pretty good for a Friday night.

I began by browning the ground meat in my smaller cast iron skillet. I followed some on-line cooking site advice, which noted that venison is very lean meat and can dry out if overcooked, and made sure to slowly brown the meat with a lot of butter to keep it juicy and maintain the flavor. There was a lot of meat in the packet that Russell brought, and it basically filled the skillet. I liberally flavored it with some garlic and paprika, and a bit of salt.

Unlike hamburger meat, which would have been spitting all over the stove top as it browned, the venison cooked very easily and cleanly and, as predicted, didn’t produce much fat run off. (Those deer obviously stay in pretty good shape.) I kept a close eye on it to make sure the meat stayed tender. Because there wasn’t a lot of fat, the cooking meat didn’t reduce in the same way hamburger would, and the skillet stayed full. And here’s another nice feature of cooking venison–because the meat is leaner, you don’t have the greasy clean-up challenge that you get with browning hamburger.

By the time the meat was cooked there was so much browned meat I had to use two jars of tomato sauce to make sure there would be plenty of sauce to cover the pasta. Between the two jars of sauce and the venison, the sauce pretty much filled a three-quart pot. I slow-cooked the sauce, too, and added a bit more garlic and a healthy dose of parmesan cheese, and then let the sauce simmer while I prepared the pasta.

The sauce smelled great, and by the time the pasta was cooked I was starving. (The opportunity to really build and sharpen your appetite is one of the advantages of a slow cooking approach, in my humble opinion.) When everything was done I got out a big dish, drained the pasta, and prepared a sizeable portion that my grandmother would have said was “big enough for a truck driver.” I added some more parmesan cheese on the top, because I am a big parmesan lover. The dish definitely passed the visual appeal test.

With everything done, I sat down to sample my efforts and took a tentative first bite, wondering how the venison would affect the taste of this very familiar dish. I am happy to report that the spaghetti was, in a word, excellent. The venison was both lean and flavorful and went very well with the tomato sauce and cheese. I ate every bit, relishing the meaty sauce, and was grateful that I made a lot of it, because I’ll look forward to having another serving of pasta alla carne di cervo tonight.

I enjoyed my first foray into cooking venison, and will definitely try it again. It makes me wonder about potentially trying other types of meats, just to see what I’ve been missing.

3.2 Days

The Columbus Dispatch published an article earlier this week reporting that the Bier Stube, a bar at the south end of the Ohio State campus area, may be torn down to make way for another development project. The story had some personal resonance for me, and probably for many other people of a certain age who grew up in Columbus, because the Bier Stube–one of the oldest taverns in the University area–is where I had my first legal adult beverage. That beverage was a glass of watery 3.2 beer.

In those days, Ohio allowed 18-year-olds to drink beer that was 3.2 percent alcohol. “3.2 beer” began in the 1930s, after the end of Prohibition, and continued to be produced in many states, including Ohio, for decades. If you were 18 and wanted to have a legal drink–as opposed to going the fake ID route–3.2 beer was your only option. (3.2 beer hung on in Ohio until 1982, when the drinking age was raised to 19 for 6 percent “high” beer, and stayed around even longer in other states.)

So it was that, after we had all passed our 18th birthdays, a group of high school friends and I decided to head to the Bier Stube to celebrate. We had heard through the grapevine that it was a good, no-hassle place to quaff some brew. We went to the bar, presented our licenses to a bored bartender, ordered a pitcher of 3.2 Stroh’s, carried our glasses and the pitcher to a booth, and sat down. The Stube was a pretty rustic place, as bars go, but we didn’t care. The 3.2 beer was watery, but we didn’t mind that either. We saw our visit as a kind of rite of passage and first step on the road to adulthood. Weak beer in a bar that had sticky tables and floors wasn’t going to affect our ebullient mood at finally being legal, as we drank our beer, chattered away, and decided to get a second pitcher, just for the heck of it.

I haven’t thought of that trip to the Bier Stube and my first exposure to 3.2 beer for years. I’ll be sorry to see “the Stube” go.

Froot Loops

Our hotel in Austin had a great breakfast bar that included an omelet-to-order option, freshly baked biscuits, and lots of other tasty breakfast options—including two gigantic containers of Froot Loops. The cereal must be popular in Texas, because two of the three dry cereal options were Froot Loops. The other was Raisin Bran.

I successfully resisted the temptation to chow down on a bowl of Froot Loops, but it was a challenge, because one of my childhood memories involves that cereal. In the early’60s Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me on a trip to Battle Creek, Michigan, where we took a tour of the Kellogg’s cereal factory. At the end of the tour Kellogg’s served every visitor with a little dish of vanilla ice cream topped with Froot Loops, which had just been introduced. I liked my Froot Loops sundae very much and asked Mom to buy the cereal when we got home—which I’m sure is what Kellogg’s was hoping for. (I liked Toucan Sam, too.)

Froot Loops remains a favorite cereal to this day, although my metabolism doesn’t permit me to eat it anymore.

Dinner With The Killer Bs

Years ago, I went to dinner with a business associate who knew a lot about Italian wines. He took control of the crucial wine-ordering responsibilities at our meal, studied the wine list carefully before ordering a bottle, inspected the bottle when the waiter delivered it, instructed the waiter to decant the wine, and then noted that we would let it breathe for 15 minutes or so. When I remarked on his impressive command of the wine-ordering function, he shrugged and responded: “In reality, all you really need to know about Italian wines is the three Bs — Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco.”

I’ve always remembered that lesson in fine wines, although I quickly realized that “The Killer Bs”–as those three wines are known among at least some wine lovers–must regrettably be reserved for very special occasions, because they are pricey. Last night was just such a special occasion, as we celebrated the new year and a wonderful performance by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and, especially, its principal oboist. We went to a terrific restaurant called It’s Italian Cucina, had a very fine meal, and the sommelier selected two bottles–a Brunello followed by the Barolo above–to accompany our dinner. (There were only four of us at dinner, so we couldn’t reasonably complete the Killer B trifecta with a Barbaresco.)

I don’t have an educated wine palate, but it wasn’t hard to conclude that we were enjoying some pretty spectacular wines. The taste of the Brunello changed and ripened and became even more delectable as it continued to breathe in the decanter, and the Barolo was simply wonderful and went perfectly with our main courses. It was great to be able to enjoy a fun celebration with the Killer Bs. I definitely look forward to the next opportunity to implement my friend’s wise advice.

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

In Great Britain, the chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency, Professor Susan Jebb of the University of Oxford, is mightily concerned about the nation’s health and the obesity epidemic affecting many Brits. Among the targets of her ire are people who bring cake into the office–something she considers to be harmful as exposing your co-workers to secondhand smoke.

Professor Jebb’s basic point is that you simply can’t rely on the personal willpower of people who are exposed to the tantalizing prospect of free cake. The Times article linked above quotes her as follows: “’We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment,’ she said. ‘If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day, but because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.’” She raised the smoking issue because passive smoking harms others, and “exactly the same is true of food.” The upshot, in her view, is that Great Britain needs to provide a “supportive environment” to help individuals avoid bad choices that lead to weight gain.

Although Professor Jebb specifically singled out cake at the office as an example of the prevalence of bad food options at every turn, the bottom line for her is that Great Britain needs to regulate food advertising. She notes: “At the moment we allow advertising for commercial gain with no health controls on it whatsoever and we’ve ended up with a complete market failure because what you get advertised is chocolate and not cauliflower.”

If Professor Jebb is hoping to get to a a society where cauliflower is vigorously advertised, I predict her efforts are doomed to failure. I also predict that her fellow Brits won’t look kindly on any potential restrictions on a co-worker’s ability to bring cake into the office.

Putting aside time-honored employee birthday cake events, people who bring leftover cake to the office want to get it out of their homes so they won’t be tempted by it, and people who eat cake at the office like to have a treat now and then. I’m not sure that trying to regulate cake offerings is going to prevent obesity, if that cake is then consumed at home rather than at the office. I don’t think regulating TV or billboard or radio advertising is going to get there, either, so long as cake mix is sold in stores and candy and snacks are available at the point of purchase to tempt people into taking the road to perdition.

The bottom line on obesity is that we need to build up the willpower of individuals, and incentivize them to watch their weight. Restricting cake at the office isn’t really getting at the root cause.

Cooking With Deer Meat

Russell brought home this bag of ground deer meat when he visited from Maine recently. He got the meat from a hunter friend up there, but didn’t get around to cooking it during his visit, and as a result it’s been sitting in the freezer. I’m intrigued to try it, so I’ve thawed it out and am trying to decide what to cook with it tonight.

Other than, perhaps, a piece of venison jerky years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever tried any food made with deer meat. However, in the past I’ve eaten bison burgers and some elk meat at a wild game night at a local restaurant. I don’t mind the stronger flavor you tend to get with meat from wild animals–although you never know, venison meat might be different, and of course the preparation is critical.

I have no idea how to prepare and cook ground venison, so I did the normal modern thing: a Google search. To my surprise, a search for “recipes for ground deer meat” yields a treasure trove of suggested dishes, from tacos to goulash to “hunters’ casserole” to meat loaf, chili, spaghetti sauce, and of course burgers. The recipes for venison–like this one for chili from a website with the delightful name “Rustic Recipes”–often point out that it is viewed as healthier than domestically raised meat, because it is lower in saturated fats, doesn’t have artificial hormones or antibiotics, and is “a good source of iron.” That last comment means you might want to make sure you add some flavoring to the dish. Recipes for venison burgers, like this one, also note that because venison has less fat, you need to add something (the recipe suggests butter) in preparing the patties to avoid a dry burger and avoid overcooking them. The recipe also recommends adding garlic powder, onion powder, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt and pepper, for seasoning.

Tonight I think I’m going to start with the basics: venison burgers.

The Random Restaurant Tour — LI

We’ve been waiting patiently for a new restaurant to open in the Gay Street District, in a spot formerly occupied by an Irish pub. The sign has been up for ESCO Restaurant and Tapas for a while now, the interior work has been done, and lately I’ve seen some activity in the place as I’ve walked past, but a look at the restaurant’s website indicated the Grand Opening wouldn’t be until this coming Friday. Yesterday, though, as we were on a stroll to the library to return some books, we saw a sign indicating that ESCO would be serving brunch. On our return trip we decided to stop in to check the place out.

I like it when I get an nice surprise, and this was a pleasant surprise, indeed. The restaurant decided to do a soft opening to work the kinks out before the formal Grand Opening on Friday, so we got an advance look at the restaurant and a chance to taste ESCO’s wares. You can see the menu and other information about ESCO Columbus–the third ESCO restaurant, following two established in the Atlanta, Georgia area–here.

The brunch menu is tantalizing, indeed. Although I engaged in a vigorous internal debate about whether I was hungry enough to try the chops and eggs, I opted for the seafood and grits. ESCO offers the option of shrimp, catfish, or lobster tail, and you can get them either fried or grilled. I chose the traditional form of shrimp and grits served with grilled shrimp. Kish, meanwhile, got the fried chicken and red velvet waffles.

The shrimp and grits were, in a word, fantastic, and looked so delicious that I immediately dug in and started eating before I remembered to take the photo above. The grits were well prepared, the sauce was buttery and included gouda cheese, which gives it a very smooth, delicate flavor, and my plate was loaded with plump, succulent shrimp–so many that you could easily enjoy a piece of shrimp with every bite of grits. This dish was a definite keeper. Kish reported that her chicken and waffles were also excellent, and came in such a heroic portion that there was plenty to take home and enjoy during the rest of our Sunday. As for me, I finished every bit of my shrimp and grits, and found myself wondering whether I would have some fried catfish instead the next time I try that dish.

It’s always a cause for celebration when a new restaurant opens on Gay Street, to help maintain its reputation as the coolest street in downtown Columbus. When the new place serves great food, and offers options like shrimp and grits that aren’t currently available from our other local eateries, the celebration meter goes even higher. I’m happy to welcome ESCO Restaurant and Tapas to the neighborhood, and look forward to continuing my culinary exploration there. I’m sensing a lunch there will be in my immediate future.

Wine Of The Month Club

Today we effectively “unwrapped” one of our more interesting Christmas presents–a subscription, courtesy of Richard and Julianne, to a “Wine of the Month” Club at Wine On High, a wine shop in the Short North. We walked down to WOH on a bright, cold winter’s day, presented our membership card, and made our selections for December and January. At WOH, the Wine of the Month Club members are invited to tastings and then can select from among specific wines that have been chosen for the members.

A Wine of the Month club membership is a great gift for people who like wine. And if you’re lucky enough to be gifted with a membership, you have to decide how you want to use the membership. You can play it safe with wine varieties you know, or you can try something totally different. I took the latter course, trying a 2018 pinot noir from a German winery–who ever heard of a German pinot?–and a 2019 Uruguayan red made from the Tannat grape, a variety that I’ve never tried before.

I figure getting free wines (as the Wines On High sommelier aptly put it) liberates you to really let your freak flag fly. Why not do some experimenting?

A Germany Without Bakeries

If you’ve ever been to Germany, or lived in an American city with an authentic German bakery, you know that Germans love their baked goods and take great pride in creating them. German bakeries produce dozens of variations of breads and rolls and buns and, especially, fabulous desserts. Germans aren’t low-carb people, and a fine strudel, a light torte, or a beautifully decorated kuchen is as important to German culture as a perfectly flaky croissant is to France or a delicate, crunchy cannoli is to Italy.

That’s why what is happening now in Germany is so painful. Rising energy and wheat prices, caused by supply shortages resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have put many German bakeries out of business and are leaving others teetering on the edge of closure. The bakeries have been hit by a double whammy: the cutoff of Russian natural gas has caused the cost of maintaining ovens and cooling rooms powered by natural gas and electricity to skyrocket, and the loss of Ukrainian wheat means that the cost of flour–the most basic ingredient of German baking–has surged.

We aren’t talking about modest price increases, either. One German baker in Dusseldorf quoted in the article linked above said his monthly electricity bills have more than tripled, from $6,000 a month to $22,000 a month, and the price of flour has more than doubled. A baker in Bremen says his energy costs have increased tenfold, and that bakers in his city are having to recycle leftover bread to make new bread in an effort to reduce costs. The price of the oil that is another key ingredient in German baking has tripled.

Staying in business in the face of such price increases would be a huge challenge for any business, and many German bakeries haven’t been able to manage it. Family businesses and larger firms that have been in existence for decades have had to declare bankruptcy, close their doors, and mothball their ovens. German bakers have been protesting and seeking government help to try to stay afloat, but so far their efforts have not produced much in the way of relief. And with Germany heading into the heart of winter, when energy supplies will be even more stretched, bakers are fearful that worse times lay directly ahead.

It’s hard to imagine Germany without bakeries, and without the succulent smell that greets any customer lucky enough to visit one. The plight of German bakeries is just another example of how interconnected we all are, and how the ripple effect of Russia’s unwarranted invasion of Ukraine will continue to have unexpected, unwanted consequences.

Aruba Ariba

No Caribbean vacation would be complete without enjoying a rum-based cocktail in an oceanfront bar. My choice on this trip was to try an Aruba Ariba, one of a number of different options that would have fit the bill.

The barkeep cautioned me that an Aruba Ariba should be sipped, not guzzled. When you read the traditional recipe for the drink, you will understand why: ½ ounce vodka, ½ ounce white rum, ¼ ounce Grand Marnier, 1 ounce crème de banana, and fruit punch made from orange juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine syrup. The Bucuti & Tara beach resort version of the cocktail is served with a wedge of orange and a maraschino cherry. It has a pleasantly fruity flavor and is not too sweet, which is appreciated. It’s an ideal drink for a day where you have been in the sun and are feeling a warm tropical breeze as you look out over the ocean.

I sipped my drink, following bartender’s orders, and also took some water breaks in between, for the record.

Pappa’s Eight Rules Of Etiquette

Last night we went to a great restaurant called Papiamento for a terrific dinner, and after dinner we decided to visit Pappa’s cigar lounge, named for the cigar-loving patriarch of the clan that owns the restaurant. That’s him in the photo above, in the chair facing the camera. While at Pappa’s I savored our meal as I smoked a very fine cigar, sipped some excellent port, and enjoying a nice conversation with Pappa, his son, and one of their friends.

Interestingly, Pappa has published eight “rules of etiquette” for people who come to the cigar lounge. They are a pretty good guide for proper conduct, not only in cigar lounges specifically, but in visiting establishments generally:

  1. Don’t bring in outside cigars. Customers are expected to support the lounge and not take advantage of the amenities without buying a cigar (or a drink).
  2. Stay out of the humidor and ask for assistance.
  3. Leave the cigars of other people alone.
  4. Don’t stick a cigar from the humidor up to your nose, in the event you decide it’s not the right cigar for you.
  5. No trash talking, no religious discussion, and no politics.
  6. Don’t wet the cap of the cigar before cutting it, so as to keep the cutter sanitary.
  7. Watch your ashes to avoid accidents.
  8. Don’t expect freebies, because Pappa’s is “a big boys’ room.”

When you think about it, the eight rules all boil down to having respect for an establishment and its owners and acting accordingly. We scrupulously complied with the rules (especially rule no. 5, which is a challenge for many people these days) and enjoyed a very pleasant, wide-ranging conversation that touched on David Bowie, Salvador Dali, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the guitar playing of George Harrison, the World Cup final, the history of the restaurant, and other interesting topics. The world would probably be a more pleasant place if everyone follow Pappa’s rules.

On The Balashi Train

One of the very best things about a holiday trip to the Caribbean–and there are many good things to choose from–is sampling the local beer. In Aruba, one of the local beers is called Balashi. Like virtually all local Caribbean brews, it is a pilsner. No Russian Imperial Stouts or Triple IPAs or heavy porters down here–the traditional pilsners rule the day in this region of bright sunlight glinting off brilliant azure water. In the hot Caribbean climate, nothing suits for thirst-quenching purposes quite as well as a frosty pilsner, straight from the bottle.

Like all good Caribbean beers, Balashi is light and refreshing and is best served — and consumed — ice cold, almost to the point that you would get brain freeze. That maximizes the cooling effect and the contrast to the sultry weather. And Balashi has one nice feature that other Caribbean beers, like Sands or Belikin or Kalik or Piton, don’t offer–it comes in nifty eight-ounce bottles. The little bottles remind this native Midwesterner of Schoenling’s Little Kings, the beer that you got if you wanted to take a step above Stroh’s or Robin Hood Cream Ale back in the ’70s. And like Little Kings, those little bottles of Balashi go down very easy and stay cold all the way to the end, just the way you want.

I quaffed three of the Balashis without really realizing it, and wasn’t even troubled when the hat of the woman sitting next to me at the bar was blown by a gust of wind and and knocked over my about half-finished brewski. The woman apologized, the barkeep mopped up the mess, and he served me another ice-cold Balashi, on the house. It went down easy, too, and got our Aruba excursion off to a good start.

Running Time

The baking weekend is not over until the tins have been assembled with care, so this morning I enjoyed some quality tinning time, which special attention to layering and cookie distribution. (Fudge, almond bars, and gingerbread men bring up the load-bearing bottom, for example.). There not too much left over, either, which is good news!