Today we head back to the Kitchens of Epicurious for one of their fun "50 People Try to..." videos. This time, they gathering of folk attempt to open a coconut. Get your goggles and protective gear ready (and in the end, find out the surprisingly easy way...)
Let's jump back to another of those amusing Basic Skills "50 People Try to..." videos from Epicurious. Last time it was 50 people trying to open a bottle of wine. Today, we have 50 People Try to Slice an Avocado.
The other day, I discovered a series of videos from the Epicurious website. They're funny, entertaining and actually informative. As you see below, they're Basic Skills Challenges, which I'll try to post from time to time. This first is a good example of them -- it's about how to properly open a bottle of wine, as they record a wide range of people trying their best, and then have an expert come in to show you how.
Some random Las Vegas thoughts.
Security at the Consumer Electronics Show is a joke. It began after 9/11 when they started checking all bags coming into the show. While I suspect that's fully unnecessary, I understand why they do it, so fine if it either gives the perception of safety or the reality of it. But the actually checking of bags is borderline meaningless.
One day, they looked in my bag and passed me through -- great, except the bag had three additional compartments. None of which got checked. Another day, the guard did look in several of the compartments. But in one of these I had some hardware in a smaller bag, which was clearly there to see. But whatever was in that bag -- obvious as it was -- wasn't checked. Another day, I just walked it. In fairness, it's a tough deal -- maybe 150,000 people attend during the week. But surface checks to appear you're doing something is just silly. So, they get an A for intent, and a D- for implementation.
Several years ago on his Diners, Drive-ins and Drives show on Food Network, Guy Fieri visited a pizza restaurant in Las Vegas, Naked City Pizza. I marked down the name at the time and figured I'd try it on a trip to CES if it was convenient. As it happens, I had a free day, and one of their three or four branches was somewhat nearby, so I went. The pizza was fine -- fairly tasty but nothing special, a fairly bready dough, a thin but tasty sauce, and basic cheese. To be clear, I didn't get the pizza he ate on the show. That was a pretty loaded one, and it may have been delicious. But since I had the foundational pizza that overlapped what the special pizza had, I have a good tasting of how it was made. And...it was fine. The toppings combination may have taken it to another level, but this was not special pizza. It was -- well, you know -- fine.
For many years, I've said there are pretty much only two things I like about Las Vegas: buffets and free self-parking at casino/hotels. Last year, a few Las Vegas casinos started charging for self-parking. Most people I talked to -- visitors and casino workers -- disliked the inroad. This year, it got ratcheted up: almost every casino on the Strip now charges. I understand the reasoning. But it still seems counter-productive. Casinos dearly want people to stay at the casino and do everything to attract them and not leave. When you charge people and put a clock on when they'll owe more, that pretty much defeats the purpose. So, we're down to there's one good thing in Las Vegas: lots of buffets
Today is National Doughnut Day. I don't know how all businesses are handling the gala celebration, but here's some info on two companies.
Krispy Kreme is giving a free doughnut to customers. You can find locations here. For those who live in my area of West Los Angeles, there's a store at 1231 Wilshire Blvd., in Santa Monica.
Dunkin' Donuts will give customers a free "classic donut" with the purchase of a beverage. (Their classic donuts include Boston Kreme, Glazed, Glazed Chocolate and Strawberry Frosted with Sprinkles..) And you can find your local store by clicking here. As for those folk among you who live in West Los Angeles, there's a Dunkin' Doniuts -- hey, great news!!! -- at 1132 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Only a block away from Krispy Kreme!
Just another service from Elisberg Industries. Serving your doughnut needs since 1873.
Today, February 9, is National Pizza Day. Here's an article about special offers from a lot of national pizza chains and other places that have pizza (like Whole Foods). It's possible, too, of course, that some local stores will have offers, as well. Just click here.
While some have been blowing up their Keurig coffee makers and doing so on film, others have taken the path to tasty goodness.
As I said I would, today I was at the grocery store and made sure to buy ReddiWip -- in fact, two cans. (Fat Free, for those with a scorecard, keeping tabs.) And I've tended to be a "whipped topping in a tub" guy. (Not because I haven't liked ReddiWip, I do, and *have* bought it occasionally in the past, but...well, just because.) But hat's off to them for pulling their ads from the Sean Hannity show.
Last week, I went to Galco's Old World Grocery. I hadn't been there in probably eight years -- not because I wasn't impressed enough (in fact, I was bowled over by how absolutely wonderful it was), but it just isn't convenient to get to. It's in area called Highland Park, which is a convoluted 30-35 minute drive for me, a ways northeast of downtown Los Angeles. And that's a long distance to go for a grocery store. Though in fairness this is unlike any grocery store you've been to. (Something I feel confident saying, whoever "you" are.) I've always intended to go back, and even have had a reminder in my Outlook, which I keep moving forward in the calendar, so that I will "someday soon." Eventually I got tired of someday and said "to heck with it" and went.
Galco's truly is not a typical grocery store. It was once -- it's been around over 100 years -- but no longer sells the basic groceries you'd find in your supermarket. Mainly, it sells soft drinks. Yes, soft drinks. Small, local, uncommon brands from across the country, and some from around the world. Brands you may have grown up with and thought they'd long-since gone out of business. Over 200 brands and over 750 varieties. (Its website is sodapopstop.com.) They also sell uncommon beers and interesting wines, and have a similar candy section and some sandwiches -- but mainly, it's soft drinks.
Trust me, this doesn't do it justice. The place is the Disneyland of soft drink stores. Keep in mind, too, that if you saw a layout like this in your local supermarket, 90% of these bottles would be from Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and Dr. Pepper, since they control shelf space. These, again, are from 200 different brands.
(And yes, they also have Coke -- but not the Coke your supermarket will most-likely have on its shelves. Theirs is from Mexico, which still makes Coke with cane sugar, not corn syrup.)
It just goes on and on and on. A wonderland of soft drinks. And yes, they're all in bottles.
I first became aware of the place around 2009 when host Huell Howser did an hour-long episode about Galco's on his Visiting with Huell Howser show on local L.A. public television, where he went around finding fascinating places throughout the Los Angeles area. (For readers of Mark Evanier's website, yes, this is the Huell Howser he was waxing eloquent about and calling the "cheeriest person on the planet" a couple of weeks ago in several postings, like this one here.) And yes, Galco's is so wonderfully interesting and fun, Huell Howser was able to fill a full hour on it, a grocery store that largely sells soft drinks. As a result of that show, I was so taken with the store that I had to make the trek and track the place down. It was as joyous as I hoped -- but as convoluted to get to as I feared.
But even when you do come here, even if you live close by, that's not the real challenge at all. The problem with coming to Galco's is that you don't know where to start. Do you take one bottle of each interesting-looking brand? Well, that alone would empty your bank account since there are SO many brands that are interesting. (Most individual bottles -- and yes, you can buy just a single bottle -- cost in the $1.50-$1.80 range. Some may be more, I came across one that was over $3; a few less, I bought one under a dollar.) Or instead you can pick a particular flavor and try all the ginger ales or all the wild cherries or all the root beers, lemon-limes, colas, orange or orange creams, or on and on and on to compare them. But that risks your wallet, too, since there will be a dozen or two dozen of each, if it's a normal flavor. (No, they don't have a dozen cucumber sodas. Though it's worth nothing that they started stocking Mr. Cucumber five years before it was named Soft Drink Flavor of the Year -- or whatever its award was.) And if you decide to go this way get just one flavor it leaves out all those rare varieties, it's hard not to try.. At the very least, you can get all the different flavors of one brand alone to check it out. That's workable -- most brands with multiple varieties may only have three or four -- but which of the 200 brands do you want to try? O what to do??!
And when I say "on and on and on" with the flavors, seriously, I'm not kidding. There's peach soft drink. And espresso coffee soft drink. And sarsaparilla. And there was huckleberry soft drink. And...and...okay, you get the point.
Yes, that's mint julep soft drink.
And as you shop, wafting through the air is music from the '50 that helps put you in the proper frame of mind to wander the aisles here.
But Galco's doesn't even limit itself to these 750 varieties -- there is a "make your own soft drink" stand where the combinations are near-limitless. And by "near-limitless" I'm not exaggerating. There are about 30-40 bottles of syrup which you can use separately or combine to make your own special flavor. You get a bottle, fill it three-quarters of the way with either light fizz or heavy fizz soda (your choice) and then take 8-9 pumps of whatever syrups you want. (If you want single pumps of nine different syrups, that's fine. Hence me saying "near-limitless.") Then, take it to the bottle capper on the far right of the area, and finally add a label for your personal soft drink.
I made a banana-strawberry soft drink, with light fizz. I haven't had it yet, going through a few of the bottled brands first, as a sort of control. But I can't wait. (When I went to check out, the knowledgeable guy there -- he said he's tried about a third of the product in the store -- was curious what flavor I'd made. I could tell he was wary, since I assume so many people probably make either one-flavor or exceedingly weird combos. When I told him -- strawberry-banana -- his eyebrows raised. "Oh. That sounds good!" So, here's hopping.)
But the real expert there is John Nese, whose family has owned the store for a great many decades, back when it was a regular grocery store, and he's the one who turned into it the "Soda Pop Stop" in 1995. He's also the fellow I saw on that Huell Howser broadcast and who stopped me in the aisle when I finally showed up at his palace eight years ago. Seeing me almost bewildered by the choices, he came over, "Can I help you with anything?" And his love of his store and its product was palpable. He spent almost 10 minutes talking with me about all the brands and flavors, and where they came from, their history, and who the packer was, and more and more details that was like a joyful history lesson of Beverage University.
And he was there last week when I showed up -- and again asked me, "Can I help you with anything?" when he saw me wandering. And yes, I took him up on it. Because I knew how much he seemed to love what I was doing -- which I told him, adding how I had been there about eight years earlier and spoke with him. He saw I had Green River in my cart (a brand from Chicago) and happily said that it was much better these days since they went to a new packer a couple years ago who uses the original formula and explained the differences. He asked what flavors I like, and pointed out several brands that he thought were particularly good. I mentioned how I wasn't a fan of orange soda, even though I love the fruit itself, but my last time at Galco's I'd decided to try some orange cream soda which was delicious. He couldn't believe I didn't like orange soft drink (as opposed to orange cream) and showed me a few brands I had to try. (I got one.) And then took me over to the refrigerator section where he stocked Bundaberg's Blood Orange. I was tempted, since it was his recommendation, but I said I really don't care for blood oranges -- I find it too bitter -- however I did get a Bundaberg's Peach. He said you can't go wrong with anything from Bundaberg's.
It is a heavenly, joyful place. In fact, in one news video about Galco's that's embedded on the site, John Nese comments that people regularly come up to him and say, "'You know, you have the happiest customers I've ever seen.'" -- and then he adds on camera with a big smile, "Everybody's happy!." They are. It permeates through the store. The few people I spoke to were quite simply in the cheeriest moods, happy to come over to ask about brands or flavors they'd found or were looking for. I was in a cheery mood, too.
Happy though I was, I unfortunately won't be back soon -- it's still that trek -- but I got enough bottles to last me a while, since I don't guzzle soft drink, though now that they're back home it's been hard not just swig them all down over a weekend. But now that I'm more comfortable knowing the drive there after two trips, it definitely won't be eight years before I return. Once a year perhaps, or at least every other year -- I hope.
This is just a small sample of the 14 bottles I ended up getting.
It's probably a great place to take kids, for the sensory overload, the overflow of history, the fun of seeing all the artistic labels and unique beverages. The problem, of course, is that your children would likely be on a sugar high for the next year from just one trip. (They do have some diet soft drinks here, it should be noted.)
Galco's Old World Grocery is otherworldly and unique. Alas, most people can't get there, but you can at least check it out online, and watch the great many news story videos about the place I mentioned that they have embedded there.
In fact, here is that original hour-long Huell Howser show that introduced the place to me. (If you read about him on Mark's site, this is your chance to see him in action at his up-beat best.) If you don't want to watch the whole thing, jump to the 7:30 mark, past the pre-soda history of the place and get directly to John Nese in his enthusiastic glory. (That's him below in the yellow shirt.) And all of Huell Howser's intricate details about the place and its various sections (including the sandwich-making that Nese's mother does, and has for 50 years) that he digs out.
One note: in the video John Nese refers to the "aisle" with soft drinks. Big as that aisle is, it's more than just one aisle. There are at least two, though one is smaller, plus all the boxes sitting out, plus the soda creation booth.
And if you want to watch something shorter, here's a six-minute piece on Galco's that MSNBC did when they used to have a business-hour show. It's very good, and focuses wonderfully more on John Nese from a business perspective and his philosophy: "Not fewer suppliers, less choice. No, no, no, no. More choice. Just overload 'em, continually overload 'em...and you'll win. Simple." But if you watch this MSNBC one instead, do at least also check out a few minutes of Huell Howser's enthusiasm for the place, too...
Heading back out On the Road, this week Charles Kuralt has a short, simple piece about the old world way of making molasses in a Tennessee holler.
Usually when I head downtown into the city when I come to Chicago, I go to the Art Institute which tends to preclude me going to one of the restaurants I like. I tend to get to the museum in the late morning, and it's just too inconvenient to leave mid-visit for lunch and then return back afterwards to the rest of the paintings. This time, though, I decided to change my schedule a bit and took the L in to arrive around 11:15 so that I could go to The Berghoff for a very early lunch, and then go to the Art Institute after, which is only about two blocks away.
The Berghoff is a Chicago classic in every true sense of the word. It's been there on Adams Street for a long time. No, seriously long. For 119 years, since 1898.
It's a German restaurant, and you really feel a sense of heading back into time when you walk in, though there's nothing musty about the place. It's just Old World. They keep it as fresh as reasonable, although walking back in -- I haven't been there in decades -- was totally family. The only surface differences I noticed is that they now have women waitresses, and all the waiters were under the age of 60.
(Yes, it's empty here, but remember -- I said I got there a little after 11:15. The place was much more full by the time that I left...)
The Berghoff makes its own beer, so I got a couple of samplers of the Original and the dark. They also make their own bread, of give you a sort of "snifter" of pumpernickel, rye and some other. And I othered the bratwurst, which I love. It was all delicious.
Great to be back.
And then on to the Art Institute. It's quite an amazing place, as I've mentioned. Not just for the collection, which is remarkable, but how meticulously and thoughtfully it's all laid out.
When I was there last time, one of their famous paintings, American Gothic, was touring on loan. I was hoping it would be back by now, but I was told I was three days too early, that it wasn't due until June 11. However, when I got to the American Paintings of the early 1900s area...it was there! Huzzah.
But the real treat was that they have another famous American painting on loan right now, that I had no idea was there. It's owned by the Paris Museum, and rarely seen in the U.S. -- in fact, it hasn't been at the Art Institute in 60 days. But when I walked up the stairs to the American section, I saw a big sign for it.
I think there's a good chance you'll probably recognize it. (Please excuse the reflection.) --
In the little description for "Whistler's Mother" next to the painting, there's a a great quote from James MacNeil Whistler. It turns out that he acknowledged it was probably his best painting, not just his most famous, and he was pleased by it. The quote was something like. "When you're going to do a painting about your mummy, it's such a good thing when it's so nice."
All in all a good day.
And it's rare when the elves taking care of the homestead ever get jealous, but they did today. In large part, though, that's because they really love pumpernickel.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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