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.
Yes, it's that time of year. Shocking that the banks haven't closed, and that there is mail delivery. But that's the way it goes.
To celebrate, Krispy Kreme will be given out free doughnuts at their stores. You can check here for the participating outlets.
Dunkin' Donuts is also giving free doughnuts, though you have to buy a beverage.
This has been a public service from Elisberg Industries...
There is a story out of Austin, Texas, where an openly gay pastor Jordan Brown is suing Whole Food because he ordered a cake to read "Love Wins" on the icing, but when he got it, the lettering had a slur that had him "horrified to tears," reading instead, "Love Wins Fag." He is suing the grocery chain.
It turns out that Whole Foods is counter-suing him for tampering with the product.
The first issue is that store surveillance shows Pastor Brown paying for the cake at the checkout cashier, and there is clearly a white scan label on the front of the box. In the video that the pastor made in which he showed the cake in a supposedly sealed box, as he says on the recording, there is no white label on the front of the box -- instead, it's on the bottom, over an edge to seal it.
Secondly, the store's cake decorator is a member of the LGBT community, so it would seem unlikely that such a person would slur another member for their sexual preference.
But I think there's a third problem here, which the article I read doesn't mention.
The box in question has a big plastic window on the front that lets a customer clearly see the cake that they have purchased. If someone bought this cake, it seems to me incomprehensible that you wouldn't see what was written on it -- indeed, check first to make sure it was all done properly -- and not see what was there. How on earth could a person possibly miss this??
Is it possible that Pastor Brown didn't look at this cake until he got home? Sure, it's possible. Is it likely? Not only is it not likely, it seems utterly improbable and preposterous.
Could the pastor have seen it and decided to buy the cake anyway as "evidence" and not say anything until he got home, so that he could make a case out of it and sue? Again, certainly, it's possible. It is also again, implausible. Given that he said he was horrified to tears, not only does he appear nonchalant and not remotely horrified in the video (which you can see in the linked article above), but it seems a far more believable reaction -- most especially for someone horrified to tears by it -- would have been to instantly start screaming bloody murder for the manager, or at the very least buy the cake first so that it was your possession and couldn't be taken and destroyed by the story, and then immediately start screaming for the manager and take a photograph while you were still in the store as evidence that it couldn't have been tampered with.
I assume if this case ever gets to a deposition (I doubt it will get to court), this question will come up. How could it not? I'm just a bit surprised that it wasn't addressed in the article, since it's what struck me first -- and blatantly.
I don't know what happened. But if I had to guess, it wouldn't be that things happened as Pastor Brown said they did. Which would be deeply unfortunate, because such actions only hurt real slurs and harmful actions when they actually do occur.
I know that people flock to Elisberg Industries for cooking tips, so who am I to disappoint. Here's one about a product I came across the other day.
As I've mentioned, there is a terrific, high-end outlet mall in Primm, Nevada, at the state line with California, where I generally stay on my last night coming back from the Consumer Electronics Show. One of the stores there is Williams-Sonoma.
I like to browse through kitchen appliances for reasons that aren't quite explicable, but they have such great items, many of which I'd like to use, most of which I never will. But I came across something on my recent visit that intrigued me.
I like to make rice (and actually have a good recipe for something so simple that I read in an interview with Julia Child. Two parts water to one part rice. Bring it to a boil, then cook it covered on a low heat for 15 minutes. And then turn the heat off and let it sit for 10 minutes. I play around with a bit because I like a "crust" on my rice, but that's basically it.). However, there's one issue that I think plagues everyone who makes rice -- the starchy water bubbles up and spills out of the pot over the stove. You either have to watch it all the time (not high on my list of things to do), or leave the top off a crack to let the steam out (something Julia wouldn't approve of)...and even then there will be spillover.
What I saw at Williams-Sonoma was something called the "Kochblume Spill Stopper" from a Swiss company, Kuhn-Rikon. You can find it here.
It's a disk made of very heavy silicone, that you place over the top of your pan instead of the cover. It creates a a sort of bowl, and has a centerpiece that lies flat and covers holes underneath. When the starchy water boils up, it flows through these holds -- lifting the flaps -- and the water sits in the concave bowl, rather than spilling over the side. I tried it the other day -- and it worked! Wonderfully.
It can also be used as a steamer, and is microwave safe, so it can be a cover in your microwave. Also, the centerpiece pops out, so that it can be used as a splatter guard. (It says so on the package, but that made no sense to me. So I went to the website. What it refers to is for use in, generally, baking. You put it over your mixing bowl, remove the center, and stick your electric mixer blades through it.)
I think it retails for $30, a bit steep, but the Williams-Sonoma outlet store had it for $20. Given that the annoying spill of starchy rice water annoys me enough that I often don't cook rice even though I like it so much, I figured it was worth trying. And I'm glad I did. I think it also is available at Sur La Table stores, and I believe that Kuhn Rikon has an online U.S. distributor through their website (linked above). I would also assume that there are other like-products available, some fairly inexpensive. After all, it's just a piece of rubber with a floppy cover in the center. But the Kuhn-Rikon is very well-made and therefore can serve other uses. And especially worthwhile when it can be found, as here, for a reasonable price.
And that's today's food tip. Buon gusto...
I just got back from a Rosh Hoshana dinner with some friends at a restaurant in Culver City, Akasha. It was selected because they actually have a special Rosh Hoshana menu. Not that there's a whole lot to choose from for holiday delicacies, basically brisket or a boiled chicken, though with a bunch of good-looking starters.
A bunch of us did a mix-and-match, picking some starters off the holiday menu, like potato pancakes, and the main course off the main menu. That's what I did. I figured that brisket wasn't all that far a leap to barbecued ribs.
The restaurant is fairly nice, somewhat modern with a hint towards old world, with a lot of heavy wood. The food ranged from fair to tasty, with small portions that are vastly overpriced. Most of the other people at the table loved the place, so I'm glad for that. Me, it was fine, but not more than that. And did I mention small portions that are vastly overpriced?
The potato pancakes were pretty good. The barbecued ribs were okay flavorful for restaurant ribs, not much for rib-joint smoked for six hours ribs. A bit too dry and they dropped off the bone if you starred at them. And they cost $27. Now, I know from ribs -- it's my favorite food, and I get them reasonably often. I went to a new rib place just last week. For $27, I was expecting a slab. I got four ribs. That's expensive, even if they were great. Which they weren't close to, but fine. There was also a large cup of cole slaw, something that I normally love. These were almost tasteless, almost dry, sort of like eating a cupful of cabbage. Some people don't like creamy cole slaw sauce -- you'd have been in heaven here.
It wasn't a bad place at all. It was pleasant and if someone invited me there again as their guest, I'd be fine going. But to meet? Probably not.
Still, I liked my idea of barbecued ribs as a replacement for brisket. It was great in concept.
Apropos of nothing, I came across this 2-minute from Conan of Louis C.K. commenting about people's reaction to the miracles of technology, and I found it a hoot and spot-on.
It reminded me of a decade or so back when I was doing my penance as unit publicist and was working on-set for some movie. And being on location, as all films do, they had a caterer putting together a buffet lunch. Now, I do recognize that when you're on location for 40 days there's gong to end up being a lot or repetition in the menu. But that's not only understandable, but it's the case on ALL movies, and has been since probably the first catered movie set 70 years ago.
(Note to people who don't work in the film industry -- this is not done to be oh-so fancy, it's that when you're on location, the crew doesn't have any transportation to drive to a restaurant, and living out of a hotel room, you can't make brown-bag lunches for yourself each day. Plus, film companies don't want their crews wandering off for lunch in unfamiliar areas, trying to find where to eat, and then having to wait for 60-80 people to come wandering back so that they can start filming on time. It's just much more efficient to provide a caterer.)
Now, this one day, I was seated at a long table when a couple of Teamster drivers started whining about the food, how it was the same, and how they didn't like what was being served that day and the choice wasn't great and on and on. Now, usually, one doesn't argue with Teamsters on a movie set, especially when you're the publicist and also when you're half their size. But it was not only what they were saying, but also what had been in the news recently, and finally I had enough. So, I turned to them -- I'm not even sure they knew who I was -- and said, "Are you kidding me?? They just had Hurricane Andrew in Florida where a third of the state either lost their homes or were displaced. And the Mississippi River is flooding right now and it's devastating the entire middle of the country. And there are wild fires in Wyoming that is spreading over the state. And you are being given a free buffet lunch every single day. And you're complaining about it. Three meat entrees, a pasta entree, four salads, half a dozen side dishes, four different desserts, two flavors of ice cream, six kinds of beverage and more. And you're complaining." Not shockingly, the Teamster drivers were a bit taken aback, and when they finally caught themselves they recovered and got all defensive and puffy again, and one guy snarled, "Well...well, we work hard for this, and they should do it right." I looked back at them and said, "It's -- a -- free -- buffet."
No, I don't believe I convinced them of anything, though they did stop complaining for that meal. And best of all, I was able to finish mine without my head being busted open.
And by the way, the food was good. Yes, the menu got repeated more than was ideal, and I've had better (I once worked on a movie that was catered by a company who's just been named the top caterer in a survey done by Premiere magazine, and I could see why. They were tremendous), but it was all good. And the reality is that if they were working in L.A. and bringing in their own lunch each day, it would probably be the same sandwich, the same bag of chips, the same soft drink, and the same Pop Tart for dessert. Every day.
That story isn't the same as what Louis C.K. is talking about here, though I think they are cousins.
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, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. 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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