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  1. I've enjoyed an introductory 6 bottles from these guys and have placed an order for an additional mixed case. I'll be in a better position to judge things with a little more experience with the wines. Naked Wine has operations in England and in Oz but that is irrelevant to the outfit linked above - this deal is for California wines from the contractors only. The winemakers involved often have been in the trade for many years so we are not talking about kids just out of wine college here. I strikes me at first blush that this set up is aimed at people who go through at least a bottle or two a week of wine in the 10 to 20 dollar/bottle range, and are attracted to both potential value and perhaps the "social networking" aspect of the thing. I don't know enough about the wine trade from vineyard to table to judge the applicability of this kind of direct-tradey arrangement to wine as opposed to coffee, where the advantages are more obvious. It would be good to hear some informed commentary on that. My interest is in value received, and I'll reserve judgment on that until I gain a little more experience.
  2. I buy coffee from "direct trade" roasters. They contract with farmers for green beans, bypassing the coffee-market middlemen, and sell right to the consumer. Everybody wins: the coffee farmer gets a better price and a steady market, the roaster gets to influence quality and has consistent supply, and the consumer gets a better bean with a high quality/price ratio. It's a good thing. These guys are trying to do the same for California wine. They're setting up some talented winemakers, and you get to support them with a regular payment, and get your choice of product. I stuck my nose in and have tried a few bottles so far. Initial orders are enticingly cheap. You can post your opinions and chat with the winemakers. My first impression is of good value - certainly an intriguing idea. I plan to try it out for a few months to get a feel for what's available. Anybody else try them yet?
  3. Since I last posted, I noticed that Five Guys has invaded the area as well as Smashburger. More opportunity for future "research". Finally got the opportunity to compare Smashburger to the regional faves Steak n' Shake and Culvers. Tried the classic w/o the american cheese (me no likey American cheese) with their shoestring frites. As the name implies, SB is of the school that smooshes a blob of beef on the griddle to frizzle it thin and well-done, as opposed to the "throw a patty on and flip it" approach. This puts them in the same camp as Culvers and SnS as far as griddle technique goes, afaik. I think the burger edges out both Culvers and SnS, though not by a whole lot.SB seasons their beef nicely and the Smash sauce helps the flavor too. Culvers comes very close in style and in the high quality of garnishes, but they have no special condiments and undersalt their beef. If your going to get fries at Smashburger, skip the forgettable plain fries. Didn't try the rosemary fries or sweet potato fries but they've got to be better. SnS does a better job with the shoestrings, though they are maddeningly inconsistent. Neither matches Culvers nice, consistent, fat crinkle fries, IMHO, but that's my french fry prejudice. So, Smashburger fans, if you espy a Culvers or a Steak n' Shake, know that they at least play in the same ballpark. Any Culvers or Steak n' Shake owners out there, the competition is gaining on you.
  4. Happy to oblige. Attached is a pic of a Charlie Chaplin, made with london gin and the Lejay. Straight, it has a clean apricot flavor, more fruity than sweet - 40 proof like the "new" Apry. In this cocktail, the drink is pleasently tart but well balanced with sweetness. The apricot is well centered with the lemon morphed into a fresh apricot juice impression - nice. While I wouldn't care to sip this liqueur, this cocktail is a winner. The Charlie Chaplin Cocktail 1 part apricot brandy 1 part sloe gin 1 part lemon juice ( I made it up, shaken, w/ the gin subsitution)
  5. Which is sort of funny, considering where I currently live, but guilty as charged. Unfortunately, the nearest Culvers to me is 150 miles away. The nearest Steak'n'Shake is only 15, I can probably swing that. Yeah, I got a chuckle out of that too, still, not too much discussion of those midwestern stalwarts. I noticed last week that a Smashburger opened about 10 miles from me. Perhaps I'll visit soon to conduct a benchmarking exercise. Purely for scientific reasons of course.
  6. He fixed my gyuto when the tip was broken off. Excellent repair - you wouldn't know anything had happened to it. Quick turn around too.
  7. Too much East/West coast influence here methinks. Culvers (mentioned upthread) Steak 'n Shake (Much praised by Roger Ebert) Where do they rank? Above Wendys, but I can't compare to the list leaders - not enough FF burger experience...
  8. I have an unopened gift bottle of Lejay-Lagoute Creme d'Abricot from Dijon, which represents an invitation to explore unknown territory (for me) in apricot cocktail land. I've made a list from this thread of things to try. For a point of reference, is anyone familiar with Lejay to compare it to other apricot liqueur discussed upthread?
  9. Reading this today is the first I've heard of this practice - intriguing. I'll have to play with this and see what happens...
  10. Exactly right. This is the issue everybody with a "home barista" aspiration has to wrestle with. If you mainly want better AND cheaper milk drinks than the ones you get at *bucks, it's not hard to do. Your Gaggia or your Breville, some supermarket beans, a decent though low-end burr mill and you can easily learn to enjoy yourself more and add up all the payback from your investment over the cost of all those damn lattes you used to buy every morning. Cool. I did that happily for many years. If you go to one of the specialty bars proliferating around the country where espresso is carefully made (beware of pretenders), or the home of a skilled, well equipped aficionado, and experience a truly proper shot, you will suddenly find that you can't get there from there. Then what? There is another, possibly a bit discouraging but I think wise argument that bears consideration here, that goes along with the "start on the second floor" point of view above. A lot of effort and money is wasted trying to learn to make high quality espresso on less-than-prosumer equipment. For people with more taste than money, this can be important. Instead of spending 400, 800, or even $1000 on espresso machine/grinder kit, this argument goes, spend your money exploring the most delicious coffees you can find, brew them up in a french press or manual drip rig, and froth your milk in a milk frother. Enjoy your wonderful coffee having embraced the fact that home espresso is an equipment intensive hobby, and you are saving your pennies for the day when you can afford the right stuff to explore this particular culinary space properly. The crux here is the heuristic experience. Much of what you learn from lower end equipment is how to conform to the limitations of the equipment to maximize its effectiveness and laboring to avoid making something icky - not learning the nature of different coffees and the different results you can obtain. It may not look it from the bottom of the slope, but it's much easier to concentrate on making the drink and not attending to the hardware with higher end stuff. I jumped from very cheap equipment to full-fledged semi-pro stuff not exactly in one leap but pretty close to it, and I'm glad I did, so I think this is worth considering if you have the espresso bug, want to learn the skills involved, but are frugally minded like me. I think this argument detracts not at all from the experience of those who ventured into Silvia and Rocky land and have learned to do good things there. One of the good things about Silvia and her friend is that their resale value is really great! (Just a hint contained therein )
  11. Wellll, I'm not so sure. Lots of people may shop at Super Store X, but do you really know how often the company buyers buy their brown rice? How long it sits in their distribution centers or in the store? Back in the day, we had a wholesale distributorship that sent whole grains, freshly ground flours, various pulses over a large swath of midwest america. The brown rice farms we bought from were located in California and Arkansas. I forget how frequent the farm to warehouse deliveries were, but it certainly wasn't a once-a-year situation. The amount of cleaning these grains had before they were packaged (generally in large paper bags) at the farms and sent to us varied. We had lots of control over our trucking and deliveries,and in both the wholesale warehouse and in my retail store, things turned over much faster than the typical natural foods warehouses and stores at the time. I know this, since I sought out lots of comparative data. While we had to do the prudent inventory checks and IPM controls in the store, we rarely threw out infested product that became that way in the store. I doubt if there was ever an instance of receiving infested rice from the wholesale. It's possible I may have encountered rice that became infested in the store, but vary very few instances if any. Plus, I saw few instances of infested anything in my kitchen, at the tail end of the chain. I knew that other retailers had regular problems with infested deliveries from their wholesales, as well as a worse situation than I with in-store problems, and these people invariably bought from distributors with fewer turns and longer storage cycles than ours. So yes, infestation happens, and is inevitable to some degree with whole foods. I hereby forthrightly declare, however, that sealed, infested packages on the store shelf may rightly be called "old", and should not be considered a "normal" expectation in this part of the world by any stretch, especially if it happens more than once. That said, if you find yourself with a small quantity of infested brown rice at home, you need not necessarily toss it, and the world will probably not come to an end, as pointed out above.
  12. This will happen if the retailer and/or wholesaler they use has poor turnover. Find a supplier with a shorter and faster pipe from the farm to you, learn basic best-practice home storage methods, and you will have few infestation problems with whole grains. If and when critters appear, Jenni's comments are apt.
  13. So, what are the better contenders for entry-level machines? And what price level, for the two pieces of equipment mentioned, is considered entry-level? I've heard the comment about the Rancilio combo before, and IMHO, I think that's largely a reaction to two things: some common observed behavior of newbe espresso geeks, and price point change in the tier of espresso equipment just above Silvia's head. Many people who bought the Silvia upgrade to a fancier setup after a year or two since they are frustrated by the relatively slow pace of milk-drink making possible with such a machine, and lust after kit that is easier to use and easier to make consistent shots with. At the same time, the price of entry level heat exchanger (HX) machines, which are more forgiving of operator skill regarding consistent shot quality and can make milk drinks for dinner guests much faster, has dropped as the Rancilio machines have increased in price. For example, one of the better importers will sell you a Bezzera BZ02, a well built and great performing HX, and a Quamar 63mm grinder (a real commercial grade grinder) for something like $1400 delivered. So, if you pay something on the order of a third more, you can get stuff that is as good or better built and quite a bit more capable. Hence the argument, why not skip screwing around in the lobby and go right up to the second floor? You couldn't say this a few years ago - the ticket price of the ride to HX land was a lot higher. At the same time, the Rocky remains capable of world class shots as long you don't try to pack too much coffee into one shot, and the Silvia is a fine little personal machine albeit not well adapted to lattes for a crowd. The Crossland hasn't much of a track record - time will tell there.
  14. Yes, but where do you get THAT? Where do you live? If there's no good roaster nearby, start here: http://www.home-barista.com/coffees/list-of-our-favorite-roasters-t12125.html While this list is espresso oriented, there's plenty of brewing coffees to explore. Most all the coffee people listed ship right after roasting, and put the roast date on their bags - a definitive sign of somebody who is serious. I agree with wienoo that the starting emphasis should be on coffee quality first, and then a good grinder. The easiest way to improve one's coffee is to find specialty coffee in the top 10% of quality for the current crop, which must be sought out from the right roaster, and avoid run-of-the-mill commodity coffee which is everywhere. The sweet spot at the moment are beans that cost $12 to $16 per pound from folks like those on the list in the link, which will yield flavor a mile ahead of supermarket coffee. Prices above this range will generally give you increasingly exotic stuff but the difference will not be quite so dramatic for the newbe coffee explorer. Manual pour over coffee pots using paper filters will give you clearly separated flavors and a clean cup, and are cheap to buy. French press gives a muddier cup with rich oily flavors some love and some hate - a matter of taste. Siphon pots are a bit odd to use but give a cup that mixes the best attributes of both - but they're quirky and not everyones favorite. Espresso that is actually good is a another subject unto itself, and is the most equipment and money intensive way to do coffee. Percolators tend to destroy the aromatics that come with the better coffees, so pursuit of better coffee with a percolator is self-limiting - but of course their distinctive flavor pattern has its fans. Baratza is a company that make nice grinders that are relatively durable, and do a much better job than the el-cheapo bean bashers in the department store.
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