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Ask the Profussor – New Year, New Answers

January 20, 2011

Welcome to the first Ask the Profussor of 2011.  There is no doubt that we are in the thick of winter in Albany.  But thanks to the early sign up requirements of my CSA, I am already beginning to dream of spring.

How far away can it be?  January is mostly over. There is a week of vacation in February, where once again I will not be traveling down to my sunny childhood home of Miami. March isn’t really Spring though is it?  One of these years I’ll get a handle on the seasons.  But it’s not easy having spent most of my life in Florida and California.

For anyone new here, every few weeks I answer the accumulated unanswered questions on the FUSSYlittleBLOG.  If you have a question, I promise to get it answered. The secret is just making sure your question includes a question mark.  Otherwise it may be missed.

Now, without any further ado, on to the answers.

Things were moving a bit too fast for Phairhead:
Wait! Casablanca closed?

It did, and it’s a tragedy. But at least now there is good Korean food around the corner at Kinnaree (on Lark Street). It was lovely while it lasted.  Which is just another reminder not to wait to visit good places in these parts. Just because it’s good doesn’t mean it will stick around. And if you find a place that’s great, tell everyone you can.

Ellen Whitby doubted my assertion:
Are there really people out there who believe Albany is a culinary Mecca?!!?

Mecca may be a bit strong. But there are people who do insist we have star chefs. While I like Ric Orlando and what he’s trying to do with clean food, a victory on Chopped does not make him a star chef. Sorry. There are other people who insist there are excellent restaurants here. I think we have a few that cap out at very good. And I know that’s a bit obnoxious for me to say, especially since I still haven’t been to any of them.  But let’s just say one of them uses pepper-jack cheese on an appetizer (and not in an ironic way).

S had a sneaking suspicion that he knew what I was talking about:
You’re talking about Viks in Berkeley aren’t you?!

It warms my heart to know there are people out here who have been to Vik’s. Yes, Vik’s was the chaat place I was referencing in the post. Without a doubt, Vik’s is superior to Parivar. But they are similar enough that Parivar scratches the itch and remains one of my favorite places in the area to get a bite to eat.

Jess, who is temporarily in Chicago, justifiably mocked my morning coffee:
I do think that cheap coffee can sometimes taste decently when it’s made in a French press, but in a regular drip machine? Gross. Okay, except for the Cafe Bustelo. I do actually like that. And I’m a college student again these days so I’ve gotten a little cheap, but for the most part I try to buy my beans from Metropolis, which runs a great cafe near my place.

I do like her idea of training the kids to brew coffee, although gross-motor skills are not our family’s strongest suit. While I don’t doubt their precision and ability to make a good cup of coffee, I do doubt their ability to carry it upstairs without it spilling on the rug.

I do not drink my morning cup of coffee because it tastes good. I drink my morning cup of coffee because it jolts me awake, and on most days it is delivered to my bedside with a personal wake-up greeting from my wife. Jealous? Well, I’m jealous of Jess’s proximity to Intelligentsia Coffee. So I guess that makes us even.

MamaAss had her question answered, but I have another answer too:
Can I really I really go take acorns from the front yard and eat them?

Do you know that acorns are a wholesome and nutritious food that used to be a staple for many cultures? It’s true. Preparing them for consumption is a bit of an arduous task. But should society break down and crumble, knowing how to make bread from acorns will probably be a valuable skill.

Mr. Dave piped in on some matter of pronunciation:
Did I ever mention that I may or may not have been a student of linguistics at some point in my murky past? Sociolinguistics at work here, pronunciation as a prestige marker…

Well, we learn a bit more about Mr. Dave every day. Speaking of prestige, I’m still hoping to be on the tasting panel when he unveils the Four Loko pickles.

Stevo will learn that he doesn’t need to start with flattery to get an answer:
Daniel, one thing I’ve learned from you is how important acid is in sweet wines. But I’ve never given any thought to tannins. Can you give us a quick lesson on how to discern tannins in wine?

I’ll try and be brief. There are tannins in things other than wine. Like walnut skins and black tea. Everyone experiences things a bit differently, but I get a prickly sensation on the sides of my tongue and sometimes a drying of the inside of my mouth. Some people feel it in their throats, some on the roof of their mouth, but these firm tannins aren’t terribly pleasant. The thing to watch for is that you don’t confuse tannin with acid, with is more pleasantly tingly than prickly.

The mysterious Sophia Walker pondered:
Who doesn’t enjoy off the wall chicken wings?

Mr. Sunshine.

Joni had a great suggestion (that included a question mark):
my own recipe for a delightful warm (bedtime?) beverage = the finest grade hot cocoa you can serve up + 1 tablespoon of Remy, preferably XO. sleep like a baby!

At Tosca Café in San Francisco’s North Beach their house drink was something similar. They called it their house cappuccino and it was hot steamed milk, with cocoa and brandy. There was nothing better to fend off those foggy evenings than sitting in a red vinyl booth, listening to some opera on the jukebox, and savoring one of these warming and satisfying drinks.

Kim D. wanted to carry the conversation about happy meat a bit further:
can we talk about “happy milk?”

If you didn’t read the full text of Kim D’s comment the first time around, I really encourage you to do this now.

It’s just one of the many reasons why I haven’t tackled “happy milk.” I’m working on taking baby steps towards being a more ethical eater. But what Kim D. has come to find, is that even small local farms may market their products as happier than they actually turn out to be.

Bill had a comment that included a rhetorical question, but I want to respond to this:
With the exception of macro-chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday and such where food arrives pre-weighed, pre-trimmed, and even pre-prepared (bag o’ soup, yo), any local restaurant who’s been in business for more than a few years will have survived because they have their choice items that they prepare very well.

You know, the good folks who own Peaches in Stuyvesant Plaza were boasting about their soup-in-a-bag that allows them to have chef-prepared soup in a variety of flavors. I have no idea why the place is still in business, but if anyone can tell me what they do really well (and you best not say burgers) I’ll gladly get down there and try it out. But I believe that some local places survive purely out of customer loyalty and inertia.

KB @ Home-Baked Happiness seemed to be supporting my argument when she wrote:
But why would you go to a steakhouse and order fish, or a seafood joint and order chicken, etc.?

In my post-college days I lured a vegetarian to an Outback steakhouse under the auspices that they had really incredible salads. It was a boldfaced lie. We just wanted to have him drive. But I have heard more recently vegetarians singing the praises of steakhouse sides. Beautiful tomato salads, decadent creamed spinach, and fabulous onion rings.  And while their omnivorous friends drop $100 on their meals, these vegetarian diners walk out spending $20 for a delicious meal in a luxurious setting.

Kater invokes her mother when talking about a technique for making wings:
My mother has recently been investigating ways to make wings at home and–though I’m sure someone will consider this to be the total opposite to the point of wings–thus far the best way they’ve come out is by not frying them, but preparing them in a way that is not so very different from how we roast a whole chicken. We thought, well, when we do that it ends up crispy and heavenly on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, so why not try it for wings?

I’ll write more again on wings soon. But these certainly sound very tasty. If your mom wanted to come over and make these for me while I watched the Super Bowl and drank an unconscionable amount of beer, I’d be more than happy to supply the ingredients. I’d even let her have a beer.

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