Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages…



from The Childrens Museum of Indianapolis
I remember when I was 8 years old, my parents took my sister and me to the Boston Garden.  I’m talking about the old, filthy, smelly Boston Garden, where legends were made.  And what did it smell like?  Elephants!  Why elephants?  Because the circus was in town!

The lights, the noise, the costumes and the animals mesmerized me, long before I understood how the animals probably didn’t enjoy the spotlight.  The utter spectacle…it never left me.  Many years later, as a member of the Northeastern University Commencement Orchestra, I entered the “Garden” through the service entrance, and we walked up a huge ramp.  As we walked through the entry door, the guard said, “you guys have more trouble getting up the ramp than the elephants”.  I was walking up the very ramps used by the circus!

Sadly, Feld Entertainment announced that Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey circus would cease operations after 146 years, and this past Sunday marked its final performance.  While it is no surprise, with so much competition for the attention of families, the reduction of the use of animals, and the increased cost of doing business, and it was only a matter of time.  With or without the animals, you could always count on the circus to provide thrills, and wholesome family entertainment.  The announcement of the cancellation has left emptiness in my soul…another terrible victim of the passage of time in the era of technology. 

The circus is part of our DNA.  What child didn’t think or threaten to run away to the circus?  “The Greatest Show on Earth” won the Best Picture Award in 1953.  While the elephants were moved out a few years ago, and I the remaining animals will be sent out to pasture and well-cared for in their “retirement”, there’s a certain sense of sadness, not for myself, but for the generations to come, who will never know the thrill of the Flying Walendas or Gunther Gebel Williams. 

Can we question the merits of forcing animals (and clowns) to perform for our pleasure?  Sure, but does it matter anymore, now that the circus is closing up shop?  The Big Top is coming down permanently, and rather than moving on to the next town, being packed away for good.  But for now, for the last time, please turn your attention to the center ring…nothing to see here…


-->

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The spots are running and the smoker is lit...



Back on WBZ Connoisseurs Corner and here are some highlights.

Primo XL with Pitmaster IQ120
1:00a.m. on May 22, 2016
If it ever gets warm here in Massachusetts, we will enter grilling and barbecuing season, and like every year, there is a proliferation of equipment, books and other items that tend to capture the imagination of the grill master; I thought we would talk a little bit about one of my favorite springtime pastimes, reading all the new bbq books…(Full disclosure-I do NOT benefit in any way of you purchase these books, whether through the Amazon link or otherwise.  I promote them because I think they are worthy of your time, but I receive nothing in return, other than your satisfaction with the recommendation-If you read any of these, I’d love to hear from you at criticalpalate@gmail.com). 

Steven Raichlen and me
Project Smoke” by Steven Raichlen is a great book released May 10, 2016.  Steven is the host of “Project Smoke”, broadcast nationally on PBS and has written New York Times bestselling books on barbecuing and grilling, including “How to Grill” and “Planet Barbecue” and now smoking.  He has won multiple James Beard awards, and actually will be joining us on WBZ, Newsradio 1030 to discuss the release of this new book, a beautifully written and illustrated companion book to his television show, with great pictures and easy to follow recipes.  Tune in on June 18 at midnight for this mouth-watering interview.



I have spent a lot of time deep in this book…but the cover alone sets you up with a mouthwatering picture of beef ribs.  The book really educates the reader about the science of smoking, and teaches you about the flexibility of the craft, from smoking vegetables and tofu, meats, sides, dessert and even cocktails.  You can’t go wrong with this book, whether novice or an advanced smoker.


Any fan of BBQ Pitmasters on the America Channel is familiar with Myron Mixon, allegedly the most-winning man in bbq.  He has gone old school with his book “BBQ Rules”, where he teaches us how to build an old-fashioned brick pit, burn down our own coals, and shares some of his Georgia “wisdom”.  Myron is a character and that comes through in his book.  If you want to know how to cook a whole hog, with some nice action photos, this is the book for you.

Will Budiaman, a writer for Bon Appetit and Epicurious.com, has written his second book, “Be a BBQ Pitmaster”.  I think this is an interesting book for recipes, some traditional like beef ribs, and beer can chicken, to barbecue nachos and banana nut pie.  While it doesn’t have a lot of photos, and we eat with our eyes as much as our mouths, it does has a lot of detailed text, written in a light style.

We are lucky that right here in Brookline is the home of the great PBS show, “America’s Test Kitchen” and their publishing arm.  As any fan of the show knows, they test, and re-test, and test again any recipe they promote, and wrap it all in a big bundle of science.  When they produce a cookbook, and there are many, you cannot go wrong and though dense, the recipes are usually fool-proof.  So I was excited when they published this years “Master of the Grill”.  The book features great recipes, step-by-step instructions (some with step-by-step photos), a lot of explanations and plenty of reviews of gadgets and gear.  This is a must-buy for your griller or pitmaster.

Another book I am excited about is Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Meathead Goldwyn. Meathead has been running a phenomenal bbq-ing website, amazingribs.com, for years, and has published a book that part review, part science, part recipe, and all-out fun.  I strongly recommend Meathead’s website and book for anyone interested in smoking and grilling, and learning what equipment is important (instant read thermometer) and what is not (a grill brush-we will talk about that later.)  Meathead’s book is for meat-lovers.

Until next time...keep it meaty!




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The buffet has closed...

As you may know, my father passed away from complications relating to Alzheimers and dementia back on March 16…it’s been a month now, and I want to share a few words about him.  This is not my normal post...if you're looking for a review or a rip-job, come back soon. For now, please indulge me. 

My dad was a simple, yet complicated man, but obviously, these few words cannot do justice in explaining him.  In fact, I’m not sure after 50 years I even could begin to adequately describe him.  He really was “indescribable”.

He was a man that could cook and bake…an entrepreneur and a restaurateur, a dreamer and a driver. A man with just a high school education, but a master Bridge player.  A storyteller that liked to be alone, and a man that liked a fine meal and lobster, but LOVED a Chinese buffet.  He was a man that listened to Verdi operas, Glenn Miller, The Gatlin Brothers Band, Earl Scruggs and Frank Sinatra (a perplexing taste in music). 

My father had some hard years, but was a man who could often be heard saying, “I feel good.  I’ve had a good life”.  These words were a frequent refrain in his recent years, before the disease really ravaged him.  My sister and I take some comfort that he truly felt that way, even though from the outside looking in it didn’t always appear to be so.

Many of you had the pleasure of knowing my dad.  Even though he was a storyteller, he was also someone who could not be told anything.  He was a man many people turned to for advice, though I always thought I knew better (but occasionally did not).  Many of his own friends asked him over the years to speak with their kids, if they felt those kids were coming off the rails a bit; my dad could guide those kids along the right path, because, I believe, he saw himself in them, and knew how to talk to them.  He really had a way with all kids…and dogs.  He used to say:  the key is, get down on their level.

My father would also not take “no” for an answer if he felt otherwise.  I recall that when I was being sworn in after passing the bar, I was only allotted two admission tickets, and I was already married.  Elayne was given one, and of course, with a Jewish mother, she got the other.  I felt terrible, and I called other friends who would be getting admitted that same day, but couldn’t score a ticket for my father; it was worse than high-holiday seating.  My father never seemed upset or bothered, and it was no surprise that he showed up at Faneuil Hall for the admission ceremony.  As we walked past the ushers/guards, my father walked right past them, and said “I’m not missing this just because I don’t have a ticket” and he kept on walking.  He never planned on missing it, just as he would never plan on missing any of our events.  We celebrated well when I passed the bar and Elayne passed the CPA exam; he took genuine pleasure in those accomplishments.  

My friend Hugh humorously refers to my father as “The Great Philosopher Gil Weinstein”; my father was never short on commentary and advice, and a lot of schtick-there a few that stick with me to this day.  When opening a fortune cookie, he would always say “help, I’m being held prisoner inside a Chinese fortune cookie factory.” (as if there are any other fortune cookie factories…) Then he would flip it over and say “never mind, I escaped”.  As Hugh would tell you, he would always say that kids don’t want your money, they want your time; despite whatever was going on in our lives, he gave us just that-his time.  From Y Indian Guides, to Cub Scouts, TBA Basketball, drum corps, my sister’s acting and dancing classes and recitals, he was there.

In his later years, he did become softer and mellower.  No longer was he eating 19 lobsters in one sitting (yes, it’s true, at Rusty’s Custy Scupper in Rhode Island), but he still did enjoy his Chinese buffet…you might say he became addicted to them, hence his nickname as “The King of the Chinese Buffet”…no matter where he was, he could find them.  Once, on the way to Missouri moving me out for law school, he told me to “pull over at the next exit”.  When I asked why, he said “I want Chinese, and I think there’s a place at the next exit.  I can sense it”.  Sure enough, even though I thought he was full of crap, we pulled over the there it was…a Chinese buffet.  And it wasn’t too bad.

Though he had job loss, failed businesses, family deaths and divorce…he was resilient.  He took figurative punches but never let them bring him down.   Was he easy to live with?…not really.  As kids, we called him Gestapo Gil...but it was an iron fist in a velvet glove. 

He loved to see his grandchildren, just loved to make sure they were ok.  Sometimes would drive over, say hello and leave...a 2-minute visit, precisely; but that was satisfying to him…to see them for those two minutes, and to know they were ok.  That’s all he needed because he reveled in their wellbeing.  That was “wealth” to him.

My father enjoyed that I, along with my high school friends, had turned out ok (in his opinion).  He was proud that Hugh became a surgeon, especially after Mr. Buell, our sophomore biology teacher, told us that we wouldn’t amount to anything; “The world needs garbage men too”.  He was proud that I, along with other friends like Lou, became lawyers.  He was proud that all my friends were good people and enjoyed knowing I still had many of my childhood friends in my life…

Among my father’s most important professional accomplishments (to him) was his small role in the space program.  After seeing action in Korea, he got a new billet in Natick, MA, at the Army labs, where he became a member of the “Climate Commandos”, a team of human guinea pigs, put through extreme physical challenges, while testing the first space suit liners, boots and the like.  His picture, as part of this unit, with the Mercury Project astronauts, was in the Smithsonian, and my father was immensely proud of his small role in American history.  He truly believed that this is the greatest country in the world, put his life on the line to protect it, and loved that he helped, in some small way, expand our horizons into space (maybe that’s why he enjoyed “Star Trek” so much… “Space, the final frontier…”).  Given the chance, I think he would have re-enlisted in his 70s…and that’s why he is buried in the National Cemetery in Bourne, MA.  Because when it is all said and done, and there’s nothing left to say and nothing left to do, by his choice, my father will rest with others that gave of themselves in ways that many of us can only imagine and admire.

Like most fathers, there were many lessons implicitly taught by him:   work for yourself but work hard; always do your best; and don’t expect someone else to a do a job that you wouldn’t do yourself, and he had a little poem he would recite at opportune times: “As you ramble on through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole”. 

My father was a depression-era baby, and like many people of that generation, was not afraid of hard work, or doing what was necessary to make ends meet.  He was tough as nails, and could not be embarrassed easily, and would never be ashamed of doing anything if it meant putting food on the table…but always looking ahead. 


My father, in his favorite position-in line, at a Chinese buffet-2009
So he was a man who had plenty of “holes” that could have derailed him at any time, but he didn’t focus on the negative…he put his head down and plowed along. Yes, he did it his way, but he made sure that we learned by his example.  He would want us all to do the same now…when things are tough…there is no embarrassment or shame…work hard, do your best, and plow through it.  

So plow along, we will, but for now, the buffet is closed.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

And the hits just keep on coming...

I really appreciate all the kind words many of you have shared with me through various channels...my work, on your behalf, will never be done.  But for now, please enjoy these quick hits for some current, and upcoming spots, on Connoisseurs Corner...available for download a little while after broadcast here.  

Suburban Chinese

When I was growing up, Sunday nights were designated for a trip into Boston’s Chinatown to eat at the long-gone “House of Roy”.  Back then, there was no such thing as great suburban Chinese food.  If you wanted high-quality Asian cuisine, Chinatown was where it was at.  No more.

Lately, there has been some media attention on suburban Asian cuisine options.  There are a lot of reasons why you can now get excellent Chinese food in the suburbs, but regardless the reasons, we all win!  Better food in the suburbs means better food, period. And I have a few I really like.

SuChang’s in Peabody.  This is a beautiful spot in Peabody, on Lowell Street.  It doesn’t look like an Asian restaurant from the outside, or the inside.  The décor is bright and airy, and the food is contemporary Asian, with some traditional dishes.  If you live on the North Shore, you have to go to Su Changs.

Dumpling Daughter in Weston.  More take-out than sit-down, this is owned and operated by Nadia Liu Spellman, daughter of the great Sally Ling.  This is a delightful little shop, with fantastic rice bowls, noodle dishes, and dumplings.  Try the baby bok choy with sautéed garlic, or chicken dumplings in Sichuan sauce.  Dumpling Daughter gives you a reason to travel into deep downtown Weston.

SichuanGourmet with multiple locations in Framingham, Brookline, Billerica and Sharon.  This my local go-to Chinese place in Framingham.  Always packed, the food is fresh and very flavorful, and I mean very.  With choices like “chicken with hot green pepper” to dry-cooked chicken with chili sauce, or Gan-gou chicken, beef or tofu, with potato, bean sprouts, asparagus and Szechuan peppercorns, be prepared to have your tongue tickled, but both flavor and spice.

Alice’s Mandarin Taste on Pond Street in Sharon.  A small place, but with a big and flavorful menu.  Try the beef chow foon, or any number of creative and flavorful chicken dishes.

*****************

As you know, I’m always interested in trying new spots, but finding the time is sometimes difficult.  However, from March 6-11 and 13-18, all the listeners/readers should be thinking about setting aside a night or two to enjoy Dine out Boston.

Dine Out Boston formerly known as Restaurant Week Boston® is brought to you by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and American Express twice a year, providing locals and visitors an opportunity to sample area restaurants at special prices. Participating restaurants design  prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner. the Chef then prepares a menu to delight.

Diners can choose from old favorites to the latest culinary hot spots, from nationally known chain restaurants to local chef owned bistros, from Asian or Argentinean fare to French, Italian, tapas and sushi, from the award-winning restaurants of Boston and Cambridge to the gourmet gems in the suburbs north, west and south of the city.
Check it out and make your plans.

*********************************

One of the best parts of being from New England are farm shops, especially at the apple orchards.  Having gone to school in Amherst, a local favorite was Atkins Farm in South Amherst.  I am happy to say, 30 years later, Atkins has expanded and no longer focuses solely on apples.  They have a market, with local produce, meats and seafood.  There’s a cheese counter/case, bakery, deli, butcher and prepared foods area.  Of course, there are apples and pies, but a trip to Atkins is much more than apples.  Check out their website for all the details on offerings at Atkins or visit it on West Street in Amherst.

********************************
I am always on the lookout for unique gift-giving ideas in the food realm, for colleagues in my regular work.  My mother put me on to Wicked Good Cupcakes, featured on Shark Tank.  With an actual brick and mortar location in Faneuil Hall, but with a thriving mail order business, these are not your normal cupcakes.  They are cupcakes constructed inside a glass mason jar, so all the flavors meld together.  If you love a good cupcake, how could you not love a cupcake you eat with a spoon, making sure to get a little bit of everything with each bite.  I gave these to a few associates this past December and they were big hits.  Check them out at here.