molinillo

molinilloA molinillo is is the traditional Mexican turned wood whisk used in the preparation of hot beverages such as hot chocolate and champurrado. Held between the palms and rotated by rubbing the hands together it creates a creamy froth in the drink that makes the addition of milk unnecessary. And while I don’t make a lot of hot chocolate myself, I nevertheless found myself transfixed by the artistry as well as the mechanics of the molinillo on display at Mucho Mundo Chocolate. Rest assured I’ve got one safely squirreled away in my luggage.
molinillo falling from the sky

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mucho mundo

muchoMucho Mundo Chocolate is the first museum in Mexico dedicated to enhancing the experience of chocolate – as if chocolate needed any help. But beyond the purely hedonistic aspects of consumption, the museum puts chocolate in a historical context, tracing its origins back to the Mayans, who first fermented the seeds inside cacao pods and used them to create a hot bitter drink we’ve come to know as chocolate. The favored drink of kings and priests, it was considered food fit for the gods. When the Aztecs gained control over the Maya, cacao seeds were elevated to the level of currency, making drinking chocolate a luxury few people could afford. The arrival of Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate to a wider European audience, yet is still remained a product almost exclusively consumed by the wealthy until industrialization brought about the arrival of solid, mass-produced chocolates. Today we take the ubiquity of chocolate for granted, but a demonstration in Mucho’s test kitchen made clear to me how labor intensive making chocolate the Mexican way once was: first you heat the metate, a traditional grinding stone, while shelling as many roasted cacao pods as you need. (Hint: more than you think.  Roasted cacao seeds are as addictive as cocktail peanuts.) Then grind them on the metate by flicking your wrists with a mano, an elongated pestle. Add a handful of raw almonds to the mixture – their natural oils will slowly release and bind the cacao together – and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. After a bit of sweat you’ll have a crumbly paste, which can be added to water to make drinking chocolate, or serve as the base for baked goods and, after further processing and tempering, chocolate bars. I scooped up a bag of the crumble and munched on it as is; savory, slightly sweet and spicy, it was a tart reminder of why I hate milk chocolate: the fat in dairy dilutes the pleasing bitterness of the cacao. Which, I guess, is why the world is divided between devotees of milk and dark chocolate. On some things we must agree to disagree, however; after experiencing the effort involved, I won’t pop a truffle into my mouth with casual disregard again.

mucho metate

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lost in space

apollo11aThe most iconic photos from the manned exploration of space come from the monumental Apollo project. But if you’re not a camera buff or a space-history enthusiast, you may not know that nearly every single famous photo from that program was taken using Hasselblad cameras. See more (inter) stellar images here, courtesy of Wired, which is presenting a gallery of some of the best shots that astronauts took from the moon and space with Hasselblad cameras in honor of the 44th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic landing.

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bush tea

IMG_1774Just as I’m gearing up for a challenging morning, a parcel from Down Under arrives at my desk. Inside: tea towels. Sturdy linen and corny as Kansas in August. (Somebody knows my predilection all too well.) If the week gets too rough and tumble I’ll simply close my eyes and think of a magically kitschy place called Jindabyne, or imagine myself foraging in the bush with an aboriginal food carrying bowl. Like I’ve always said: a good tea towel is more than practical, it’s instructive, too.

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time for tea (towels, that is)

thornback & peel

If you’ve seen my kitchen, you know there are only two things I collect with anything approaching regularity: silver teaspoons (mostly stolen from hotels) and tea towels (the kitschier the better). Nothing beats a commemorative tea towel with the faces of Wills and Kate smiling up at you or a view of the Horse Guards on parade outside Whitehall. The English really know how to do a proper tea towel. (The French on the other hand – though their linens tend to be superior - are infinitely more subdued, favoring botanical images and oenophilia over the pageantry of empire.) Tea towels are an entirely maligned yet practical item of kitchenalia, too: more than just a dishrag, they can be used for wrapping sandwiches and bottles of wine for a picnic, for coddling a pot of tea, and if you’re of the mind that an apron should be worn while cooking, a clever, colorful tea towel makes a smart and handy addition to your ensemble. Suffice it to say that when I recently discovered the fabrics at London’s Thornback & Peel, I went as mad for them as a hatter late for a tea party. Victorian-inspired images, hand-screened on linen, they are an eccentric celebration of quirky British humor and design. Who could resist a noble stag gazing heavenwards, a stalk of objectively humble Brussels sprouts, or a wood engraved rabbit having a jolly traipse through the cabbages? Not me.

thornback & peel detail

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new toy, two ways

lytro camera

Happy birthday to me. I just got the new Lytro camera and I can’t wait to start experimenting. It’s the first consumer camera that records the entire light field — all the rays of light traveling in every direction through a scene — instead of a flat 2D image. And that changes everything. By capturing the light field, you can do incredible things: like refocus pictures after you take them. Tap the touchscreen viewfinder on whatever part of the picture you want to bring into focus or, once the picture is imported into a computer, click to refocus. For example, check out the two versions of the same rudimentary photo below. Even on an overcast, light-less morning – and without bothering to read the instructions, natch – the premise behind the Lytro camera is clear: in the first photo the focus is on the foreground; in the second it shifts to the building in the rear. It’s the same digital file but the amount of light the camera absorbs from the field of vision allows me to essentially re-conceptualize the image after I take it. This is going to be fun – especially after I read the manual.

iPhone Lytro4

iPhone Lytro3

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wish list: grub hub

grub hub camp kitchen

Eight years in development, the Grub Hub provides a complete outdoor kitchen, including side tables for cooking and prep, an aluminum table that holds a two-burner camp stove, a molded back table for dining, tower organizer, all terrain tires, and a sink to make clean-up easy as it gets in the wild. The whole contraption sets up in just a few minutes and – even better – folds up into a backpack for easy portability. Light enough to haul across the Pembrokeshire Coast Path yet rugged enough to handle the Salcantay Route, I think I might need this for my next hiking adventure – because, you know, finding my way back to the Four Seasons can be grueling. Check out the unbelievably quick set-up HERE.

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textile thursday

It’s not every day I get excited by a new handkerchief. Today is one of those days.

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it’s the thought that counts

I’m a luxury hotel junkie. If I had my druthers I would live in one permanently. Some people find it impersonal – I think it’s heaven. The friendly faces, the room service, the myriad little extras designed to be  not-so-surreptitiously slipped into an outward bound valise. Once upon a time a good hotel was heralded by two essentials: intuitive staff and bespoke toiletries. (To this day if I close my eyes I can instantly recall Claridge’s in London, the bars of Floris soap sensuously wrapped in a wax-coated paper. Tokyo will forever be associated with the Park Hyatt in my mind - and miniature bottles of a then-unknown Molton Brown, as exotic as the ingredients inside.) It holds true today, for the most part. Yet at the same time more and more hotels are falling over themselves to lure back guests with in-room trinkets and takeaways. Some of them are practical, like the personalized business cards on my desk at the Washington, DC Fairmont. Some are fanciful, like the monogrammed robe that was waiting for me at The Plaza. What’s impressive, ultimately, is the thought that goes into each – elevating a run-of-the-mill hotel stay into something memorable. My pick for this month’s best of the best comes courtesy of the DC Fairmont. An elegant and portable solution for gentleman: credit card collar stays.

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live blog: down in dc

20120212-083520.jpg

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three little words

I never expected to hear in the same sentence: Thierry Mugler toiletries. So, so sad.

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nut milk for dummies

I’ll admit that the idea of making my own milk seemed a bit, um, radical to me at first. A little too off-the-grid, angry-vegan perhaps?  Yet I’ve been trying to wean myself off consuming so much soy – and finding a brand of store-bought almond milk that doesn’t leave me totally cold has proved fruitless. Enter the Vitamix: a recent gift, and one of those magic machines that changes your life as soon as you allow it. Dump in two cups of water, one cup of raw nuts, one pitted date, give it a whirl and voila: fresh, organic almond milk. Or mylk. Okay, maybe it’s just a little trickier than that. You need to soak the almonds overnight to get the bitterness out of the skins. And for a smoother texture, you’ll need to strain the puree through a sieve or nut milk bag. With the awesome horsepower of the Vitamix doing all the grunt work, however, it’s a minimal effort enterprise. It’s also got me thinking about all the different flavors of mustache I could experiment with, like cashew, hemp, and coconut.

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born in a trunk

Maybe it’s the dandy in me but I could easily spend all my money – and then some – shopping my way across London. (Is there another city in the world that takes its waistcoats and collar stays half as seriously? I think not.) Luckily the concierge at The Langham didn’t put me on to Trunk Clothiers, a recently-opened menswear store in Marylebone, until I was halfway out the door for Heathrow. Swedish-born Mats Klingberg is behind the impeccably curated boutique at 8 Chiltern Street where only a few of the handmade modern classics are well-known labels, with highlights including Japanese label Tabio and Porter, Boglioli jackets and suits, Edwin jeans and very appealing flat caps from Wigéns. They say good things come to those who wait. Good thing I’ve got a plane to catch.

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wishlist: the perfect (un) cube

When it comes to ice – to paraphrase a famous ecdysiast - you either got it, or you ain’t. (And boys, I got it.)  Or rather, I want it. Let the 2011 holiday wishlist begin with this Ice Ball Press Kit from Cirrus. For years I’ve been prattling on about substandard ice and you wouldn’t believe the curious looks I get – as though all ice was created equal. Ha! Too long a staple of only high-end cocktail bars, where a bartender would actually hand-carve them out of frozen blocks, these ice spheres have way less surface area than cubed or crushed ice. Which means they melt slowly, chilling your drink instead of making soup. If you think that sounds just a bit too precious try splurging for an aged single-malt whiskey. It’s something you want to savor, not slurp – and that, dear reader, is what proper ice is all about. The 16lb, gravity-powered, aluminum presses come in 2 sizes to produce either 2”- or 2.75”-diameter balls, and’ll turn out the perfectly round drink-coolers in just under a minute with next-to-no cleanup or attention. Santa, I’m ready to be bowled over.

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new week, new shoes

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