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THE PERFECT BENDER
The only thing that separates a drinking problem from a drinking habit is what you have on the side. If your whiskey stands tall aside a plate teeming with confident cheese and a well-dressed salad or imported cigar, then you, my friend, are a gentleman with a fine drinking habit. If, however, your whiskey rests in a puddle of your own hopelessness next to a snickers bar, you have a problem and should soon seek help. With that in mind, there will also be times in our life where this distinction is greyed by an impromptu binge. For me that is usually Sunday. For others, perhaps an unusually harrowing Monday will be all that it takes to turn a regular afternoon into a good ol’ fashioned bender. It does not matter which among us find ourselves in that endless thirst, so long as we remember that once drinking, the only difference between yourself and a problem drinker is what you eat. So, let’s start with breakfast. For many- myself included- the morning beckons coffee. On my perfect bender, though, I need only black tea spiked with bourbon whiskey. Add as much lemon and honey as you like to flavour this warm drink but for obvious reasons withhold the milk. NOTE: For those men of lesser conviction requiring some good reason to sip a cocktail at this hour, I would remind him that we are taught from a young age to celebrate the more important events in our life so that we remain always humble and appreciative of our own unique realities. Breakfast- being the most important meal of the day- is cause for a toast.
To compliment this hot beverage, try fixing yourself a lox bagel. There are a few variations in its preparation but so long as you have smoked salmon and your favorite cream cheese on a dense bagel you’ll get the idea. Top it with a little tomato, spinach, red onion (raw or pickled), a few caper berries and a lot of black pepper. It’s one of my favourite things to eat at any time of day but most of all in the morning with a hot, lemony tea to offset the cold smoke of the fish. The breadth of this sandwich will serve nicely as a base for the drinks and day to come. If you’re more of a traditionalist and prefer only eggs in the morning, cook them as you normally would but top each with a spoonful of salsa and queso fresco (or other mild cheese) alongside a few slices of avocado and garnish with cilantro. It’ll make you happy, especially when paired with a Smoked Mary rimmed in bacon or herbs. For brevity, apply these same suggestions to brunch.
Breakfast may be the most important meal every other day of the week, but on this day of indulgence that title belongs to lunch. Not only is it boundless by both size and span, it is also a much more socially permissible time in which to drink. I try to spread this meal across multiple venues when aloof to cost and calorie intake. Last Sunday, I managed to score two dozen fresh oysters from my local monger and invited friends over for a shuck around midday. You can do up a quick mignonette beforehand to serve alongside the shells but I enjoy just a drop of lemon. I also prefer to follow each opulent mollusc with a mouthful of cold absinthe. If this bottle proves hard to find, however, then mix up a classic Gibson or find a strong beer with heavy citrus notes. Flying Monkeys’ Hoptical Illusion is local for me, and delicious, but any other IPA/APA will do. I would also highly recommend Brooklyn Brewery’s Dry Irish Stout, which is surprisingly bright and pairs beautifully with the side of mussels and fresh bread with warm marinara I served. After eating, the spell of the oysters took hold and I propositioned my wife with a more-than-expected but still limited success. I’m now hungry.
In the common world of fact, the Italian people do lunch best. If you don’t yet have any Italian friends, make a few and get invited to their home for food and wine. In the meantime, get to an Italian restaurant with a brick oven for the rest of lunch and preface your main plate with an order of cheese, olives and olive oil, crusty bread and antipasti, large enough for the table. This style of eating should be a slow and shared experience so you can afford to match it with a heavier wine as you snack and converse with full mouths. I’d recommend a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. It’s a medium-bodied wine known for its subtle, rustic notes and is great for pairing with this type of Italian fare. I’m compelled to order the pizza afterwards because my wife, being from New York, makes that decision for me. It’s become our bread and butter. We get one topped with tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños, shaved pineapple and ricotta. Yes, it’s a fancy Hawaiian, and it’s delicious. We also split a smoked duck salad that was on par with the gods. I ordered two bottles of Pinot Noir for the table but could have easily switched to a clean, lighter tasting beer; a pale lager or a pilsner like Amsterdam Natural Blonde. If you opt instead for a pasta dish, the pairing is straightforward. Just remember that when dining on heavy foods, keep the wine light to medium bodied, no more. If your pasta sits in white sauce, have a white wine, and a glass of red with a red sauce. Personally, I would look for a Riesling with the former and a Valpolicella to accompany the latter. Ask the waiter if you’re unsure the weight to a particular set of grapes.
Though unnecessary we ordered lemon ricotta cake for dessert. To lighten the effect, we got ourselves a bottle o’ prosecco to wash it down. I usually reserve this drink for the days after a bender but it’s terrific with most desserts as well because of its high acidity, allowing it to cut through the inherent richness of this and many other desserts. It serves doubly as a much cheaper alternative to champagne for anniversaries and other such fancy occasions.
As that all settles and the day moves toward dinner, we find a bar for happy hour. There are no rules at this time of day so pick your poison but with forethought of the food to come. Mine is a rye with bitters and a splash of ginger ale, on rocks. It’s a safe cocktail that won’t conflict with anything I throw back later at dinner. We skip the food pairing for now and elect instead to get tipsy. For dinner, we head to a smokehouse downtown to gorge on the remains of dead cattle. It’s an ugly business- barbecue- but it’s one in which I have become deeply affectionate. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent much of my adult life abroad with access to all the food this world has to offer, but will always come home for American BBQ. The cooking process is slow, savoury, methodic and the end results can appear divine to an unfaithful man. It is here, I feast. I choose to eat half a smoked chicken with collard greens, coleslaw and a side order of mac n’ cheese. Barbecue is brown so it’s best to keep to a brown bottle. Whiskey or beer will serve you well with this regional cuisine. I start dinner with a rarely available Chimay but cocktails also pair well in the south, so if inclined get yourself a bourbon iced tea with strawberry and basil or a Pimm’s Cup if you’re into the chicken.
Dessert is not necessary here. If you must, ask for water. Otherwise, hail the barkeep for a pickle back at the end of the meal. It’s a shot of whiskey and another of straight pickling brine; take them back in succession. I do this to help regain sense of purpose but the buzz I had ahead of the meal has since yielded to the filling effects of dinner and begs for a full resurgence. What you drink from now to the next hunger pang is of little concern to me… it`s the point in the night where lines get blurred and my recommendations are lost anyway. I chose to stay with brown liquor but it was only by choice, not necessity. When the alcohol in your system finally does spike your blood sugar- and insulin in turn- you will again succumb to hunger, and I DO have an opinion for how best to handle this part of the night. If you’re staying out, head to a Korean restaurant for the samgyeopsal. It’s their simple take on pork belly and there are but a few things in this world that pair better with a strong buzz than the fat off a pig. This dining experience should have you and the gang nestled around a charcoal grill under thick slices of uncured bacon, drinking maekju and soju until we, the fat ladies and gentlemen, sing at 2AM. I lived in Korea for roughly two years and now cherish the communal aspects to eating most of all. As Korean food can be inconvenient, in its place serve charcuterie in your home. Assemble all of the cured/cooked/salted meats available to you alongside every cheese, paté, and pickled vegetable at your disposal. Work one or two sweet and savoury jellies and a grain mustard into the arrangement as well for the contrast… you could also just order another pizza. Pair the decadence with your finest malt beer or a big, busty wine like what you would expect from a bottle of Chianti; something heavy that`ll sing you to sleep. For me, just a final cup of 7-year aged whiskey is all I need for the worn, dusty trail. In the morning, repeat.