Lonely Man of Cake

August 7, 2007

Gary Trains Conan’s Palate

Filed under: Blogging,Culinary,Internet,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:37 am

As avid readers of my blog, you’ve definitely watched my all time favorite episode of Wine Library TV, where host Gary Vaynerchuk teaches ordinary folks like you and me to have the precise palates of professional wine critics. Well, Gary, together with his dedicated fans (the VaynerNation) are doing something right, as last week the veritable Vay-ner-chuk featured on Conan O’Brien’s Late Night. This clip is a bit shorter than what aired on TV, but it should do the trick:

UPDATE: My blog got props (and a nice quote) over at CHOWCheck it out.


July 8, 2007

Ode to Gary Vaynerchuk

Filed under: America,Culinary,Education,Internet,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:16 am

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV.  As I also mentioned, Vaynerchuk was featured in TIME Magazine in a piece which, some would say, makes him the “Wine Man of the Year.”

If you’ve had a chance to watch any of Gary’s video (I made a few recommendations here), you’ll notice his unorthodox style, which at least one critic (who I hold in high esteem) found to be lacking the dignity and sophistication appropriate for the wine-appreciating community.  Here is my response which I submitted elsewhere, but I would nonetheless like to share it here as well:

As one of the younger members of the forum, I feel that Vaynerchuk’s daily videos are responsible for opening up wine culture to the younger, less economically sound crowd in a way that no critic or publication has done in the past. I’m all for a more “sophisticated approach,” but the fact is that wine, through the ages, was always something shared by all segments of the population, only recently (relatively speaking) becoming the province of the elite and demanding “a more dignified approach.” I don’t see any good in the assumed exclusivity and elitism in contemporary wine culture other than concern emanating from those currently entrenched in the community that they will have to associate with people possessing less wine knowledge, and perhaps lower social stature.

A similar debate can be (and probably has already been) held regarding some of the shows on the TV Food Network. Emeril Lagasse was also considered unorthodox when he began with his antics, but his shows, and those that followed, allowed people a glimpse of the high-end food industry while being both entertaining and not breaking the bank.

Vaynerchuk is unorthodox in the same way. Occasionally, he can be crass. On Thursday night’s segment dealing with a wine called Beauzeaux (pun clearly intended), he compared the nose to a sweaty jockstrap dipped in mouthwash. Granted, that is undignified. But his entertaining approach has attracted a not insignificant mass of followers and enfranchised a population segment which would have otherwise been alienated by the prevailing stuffiness and exclusivity.

Watching the show on a pretty consistent basis, I think it’s safe to say that while there is a certain conflict of interest in reviewing the wines you sell, Vaynerchuk will often take issue with Parker’s high scores on expensive bottles (which people want to buy), dismiss all 3-4 bottles tasted during a given show, and will freely disparage bad wines alongside good wines with questionable QPR.

Vaynerchuk’s antics encouraged me, and gave me the know-how to train my palate, break out of my Sideways-esque Merlot boycott, and experiment with out of the ordinary varietals. But the “undignified” approach does not necessarily breed a generation of ignominious connoisseurs. It is a warmer, more inclusive approach. It encourages savvy shopping and experimentation. And Vaynerchuk knows he’s onto something. He closes each episode with the following line, occasionally throwing a cork at the camera for emphasis: “Because you, with a little bit of me, we’re changing the wine world, aren’t we?”

June 6, 2007

Merlot: Why it Sucks

Filed under: Culinary,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:18 pm

I had an oenophilic epiphany last weekend as I gallivanted around the country tasting fine wines: I can no longer tolerate drinking Merlot. OK, I’ll acknowledge that it was with the help of Merlot that I was able to build my palate and appreciation for wine. It is an easy drinking wine, light on the tannins, and is generally easy to decipher flavorwise. Merlot is certainly the entry-level wine of choice for many. So, thank you Merlot for being there for me at the beginning of my quest.

But when you’ve learned to finally ride your bicycle, you remove the training wheels with no pretension of ever reattaching them. There is always a place for the guitar soloist, but there is nothing like the aurally transcendent experience of big band jazz or a symphony orchestra. One boutique vintner, when presenting his wines to us last weekend, called the Merlot “the queen” and the Cabernet “the king.” I will often say that Merlot feels two-dimensional while Cabernet and other powerful full-bodied wines feel three-dimensional.

I am not alone here. Growing popular distaste for Merlot was canonized and perpetuated in Sideways with Miles’s notorious exclamation: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!” A survey conducted by AC Nielsen examining wine purchasing trends in the US showed that while Americans continued to purchase Merlot, even in the aftermath of Sideways, 3% fewer households were repeat purchasers of the varietal. And it goes without saying that popularity of Pinot Noir, an exciting, full-bodied cherry-berry varietal, skyrocketed in the wake of Sideways, with 14% increases in both household penetration and frequency of purchase. In general, this two year-old article from the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the Merlot dislike phenomenon from a historical perspective and the author hypothesizes that the bad rap Merlot has taken of late is a function of the rate at which the varietal was planted during the period which saw a surge in the popularity of dry reds in the States.

Just to make sure that I wasn’t blowing things out of proportion, I decided that even after tasting lackluster Merlot after lackluster Merlot last weekend, I would try one last time.  I saddled up a Carmel 2004 Regional (Upper Galilee) Merlot, let the bottle breathe for an hour, thereafter decanting into glasses to allow for additional oxygenation.  The color looked good for a Merlot.  On the nose, the first thing that hit me was the strong smell of alcohol, and indeed, the wine’s 14% alcohol content is on the high end for a Merlot.  The smell of oak was also very strong (12 months in French oak barrels), with a very vague hint of cherry.  The first sip that I took was very aggressive on the tip of my tongue (i.e., acidity issues), and the wine felt like an “oak bomb.”  The oak overpowered any of the other potential flavor components of the wine, which was a real disappointment.  When I tasted the wine the next day, it had opened nicely and was much more tame, with a distinct cherry bouquet and taste.   That was it.  Oak and cherry.  Not a very impressive wine.  My score: 82, and that’s only after the wine has been allowed to breathe overnight!

April 10, 2007

Passover Prohibition Predictions

Filed under: Culinary,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:24 am

I predict that 50 years from now, the following will have become normative prohibitions on Passover:

  1. Potatoes: There is no reason that potatoes should not be included in the same category as kitniyot. As potato flour can be easily confused with wheat flour, one should be able to consume neither potato flour nor potatoes.
  2. Matzah: Same as above. Ashkenazim will no longer be allowed to consume matzah as it will be considered kitniyot, given that matzah meal and flour can be confused.
  3. Matzah II: If you don’t eat gebrochts, you won’t be able to eat matzah either. Why? Because your saliva is no different than any other fluid that, according to this specific custom, can potentially cause fermentation (!) in the already baked matzah. Potential solution? Eating matzah with a dentist type suction device.
  4. Sugar: Potentially kitniyot. Why? Can be confused for flour.
  5. Cocaine: See above.
  6. Cranberries: Some folks refrain from eating pickles on Pesach because in Hebrew they are called חמוצים (chamutzim), and they have fabricated a custom which prohibits the consumption of foods containing the three letters of חמץ. Cranberries are called חמוציות (chamutziyot) in Hebrew…
  7. Oxygen: See above (חמצן).

Please share your ideas. I’ll update this post as soon as I can think of more.

March 27, 2007

Matzah Bus

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 3:28 pm

Read about the matzah bus, or watch the video.  And is it just me, or do local news shows take themselves way too seriously?

March 25, 2007


Filed under: Academia,Culinary,General,Israel,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 5:02 pm

Balashon has a nice piece regarding the etymology of the word חזרת (hazeret), which is said by the Mishna (Pesahim 2:6) to constitute one of the viable alternatives for Maror, the bitter herb which was once consumed together with the Pesah sacrifice and is nowadays eaten symbolically at the Seder.

He notes that none of the great lexicographers offered an etymology for the word, which he suspects might be related to the root חזר (to return).

Immediately upon reading his post, I felt a sneaking suspicion that the word derives from the name for a Greek vegetable. After poking around a bit, I came up with a suitable candidate – the horta (pictured), which is said to be a little bitter.

At this point, I hypothesized that חזרת is a corrupt Hebrew transliteration of the Greek horta (χορτα). If transliterated correctly into Hebrew, the word should resemble this:חורת. There is already a resemblance between the word in question, חזרת, and the Greek vegetable, חורת.

You’ll then ask why our pronunciation of חזרת (hazeret) sounds nothing like hort(a). I consulted with one of the better manuscripts of the Mishna, MS Kaufmann (excerpt below, courtesy of the Jewish National and University Library Online Treasury of Talmudic Manuscripts). You’ll see that the difference between the vav and zayin, is quite subtle, much like it is in modern Hebrew print; the difference of one small jutting piece.

As for the pronunciation of the word, we know that MS Kaufmann was vocalized secondarily, i.e., not by the scribe responsible for the manuscript, but by a later hand. Thus, he may have pointed this word not according to a received tradition, but according to his own judgment.

Though pure conjecture, and though I have not looked in any books, which would be the responsible thing to do before making such a sweeping assertion, I think that this theory might actually hold some water. I’ll annotate as soon as I get to the library.

March 19, 2007

HOOTERS Coming to Israel

Filed under: Culinary,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 8:14 pm


You heard me right. HOOTERS is coming to Israel. I leave it to you to say something witty in the comments. (Via News-Israel)

(UPDATE: Someone tipped off Reuters, as well as the folks at Jewlicious and Jewschool.  It’s only a matter of time before they start blogging about biodiesel too!)

Hooters Israel

March 15, 2007

‘Tis the Season

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 11:21 am

If you live in the American Diaspora, these days you can get a taste of “authentic” Coca-Cola now that the yellow-capped Kosher for Passover Coke–made with sugar and not HFCS–has hit supermarket shelves.  It’s also a taste of Israel, where Coke is made with sugar year round, albeit without the discourteousness, corruption, and taxes.

(via Jewschool)

March 7, 2007

Crazy Taxes

I enjoy sharing with folks some of the more creative ways various legislative bodies have cultivated in order to take our money. The illegal drug tax was probably the most creative/ironic/offensive one. That petrol in Israel is charged a 100% excise tax also gets points for creativity.

Here is the story of a 79 year old fellow, David Wetzel, who is a biodiesel pioneer and activist. His converted 1985 Volkswagen Golf has consumed, according to Wetzel’s records, 1134 gallons of waste vegetable oil. A short while ago, Wetzel was visited by two agents from the Illinois Department of Revenue, who demanded that Wetzel pay retroactive “gas” taxes (about 20 cents per-gallon) on his bio-diesel, and file for “special fuel supplier” and “receiver” status from the state.

While the sum of the taxes is somewhat negligible, and Wetzel complied with that request, the principle behind Illinois’ harassment of Wetzel is downright offensive. Never mind that restaurant owners paid tax on the vegetable oil when they bought it for its intended use. (Can taxes even be levied on used goods?) Wetzel’s car was able to achieve 45 MPG utilizing a domestically produced fuel which is estimated to produce 60% less emissions than regular petrol.

Could it be that the US government fears fuel efficient vehicles because it means less revenue from gas sales? If so, then Wetzel wants equal treatment for hybrid cars: the miles traveled on the electric part of the motor should be assessed and taxed as well!

March 6, 2007

(Temporary) Fall of a Fortress

Filed under: Culinary,General,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 1:49 pm

I was jonesing for some Schwarma this afternoon, so naturally I headed over to my favorite Schwarma joint, Maoz (lit. fortress), on King George Street. Needless to say, I was shocked when I saw that the store was shuttered, unfortunately because of a death in the Badihi family. I wonder whether they’ll be closed for the entire shiva. Here’s a picture of what the storefront looks like:

Maoz Closed

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