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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the gift of christmas

May your days be as merry as At The Shipyard – from the esteemed Martin Hayes.

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in the market for jade

To my amusement I’ve discovered in just a few short days that it’s common to think you’ve arrived at one of the city’s famous markets – and trust me, there are dozens of them – only to discover in short order that you’ve come up along the fringe. Today’s example: the jade market. After wandering a few streets scattered with merchants selling all sorts of jade objet in the Yau Mae Tei neighborhood, I figured I had visited what was an overhyped version of New York’s diamond district. Then I noticed a covered compound literally just across the street from where I was standing. It had a large sign out front that read Jade Market. Duh. (And not for the last time, might I add.) Inside were hundreds of stalls – plus an annex out the back and across a parallel street – selling jade trinkets, jewelry and tchotchkes of all kinds. This was a proper market – virtually a commodities exchange. Karen, above, a vendor, even took the time to teach me the difference between real semi precious jade and the various knockoff varieties of jade-colored glass and nephrite which are often passed off as the real thing. For one, true jade has a weight to it. Another good test is to lightly ding two pieces together: they should produce a clear high-pitched ring and not a metallic clang. In the history of Imperial Chinese art jade was comparable to gold and diamonds, used for the finest objects and furnishings. The rise of a moneyed middle class in China as of late has given the formerly flat market for many shades of jade a serious boost. For example, the creamy white jade known as “mutton fat” has seen a tenfold increase in value over the past decade. If you’ve never taken much notice of the gemstone this market is certainly a good place to gain an appreciation. Just be wary – especially if you’re thinking of spending substantially on something that can’t be authenticated. Inexpensive souvenirs are a safer bet – the only expertise you’ll need involves haggling.

 

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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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live blog: handy dandy

Ruin your tie with a splash of soup at lunch? Forgot about that event tonight and you’re without your favorite pocket square? Has your toe finally poked through that pair of socks while at work?  Breathe easy, gents. One of my favorite websites for dapper accessories, Fine And Dandy, now offers a semi-secret same day delivery service to offices in Manhattan: 14th to 89th Street, river to river (If you’re just outside of the delivery area just ask and they’ll do their best to accommodate you). Best of all it’s free for the price of a tie. Anything less it’s $4.99 – which is a small price to pay for staying sartorially smart when duty demands. To keep the not-so-secret-anymore, contact them directly at: [email protected]

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set in style

Who doesn’t love a pretty piece of jewelry? Yet the recent retrospective of Van Cleef & Arpels at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum makes it as clear as a cabochon that there’s a lot more to those bright and shiny baubles than just a cut ‘n’ polish. Founded in fin de siecle Paris by brothers-in-law Alfred van Cleef and Salomon Arpels, the prominence of inspired design as a cornerstone of the company’s philosophy provides a unique opportunity to view the evolution of 20th century jewelry in the context of decorative arts. (For instance, some of its Art Deco-style jewelry anticipated the official initiation of the Art Deco style by more than five years.) Many of VC&A’s innovations were both technical and stylistic, with advancement in one area often leading to leaps in another. Among the most notable are the groundbreaking Mystery Setting, above, in which matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels so the setting remains invisible; and the Minaudiere, a ladies’ vanity case the size of a small clutch which was patented in 1934. Innovative use of materials, methods and motifs has made the company a significant force for over a century, creating transformative works of art far greater than the sum of their parts. Like the stunning Walska Brooch, pictured below: the wings come off to form earrings, the tail comes off to form a brooch, and the pendant can be detached and worn separately. Who’d have thought that pretty could be pretty practical, too?

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it’s a bird, it’s a plane ….

 

Actually, no; it’s my new piece of Japanese fetish kitchenalia: a coffee syphon [sic]. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a coffee siphon since I first visited Blue Bottle in San Francisco.  Their version looked more like a renegade backyard pot still than something suitable for the home brewer, yet there was no denying the wonderfully rounded taste of the coffee.  In Philadelphia for the weekend, I stopped for lunch at a little hole in the wall in Chinatown on the recommendation of a friend.  She said I wouldn’t believe it at first, but their coffee was amazing.  I didn’t – and it was.  Aside from serving up inexpensive and tasty Cantonese food, a small section of the front counter was devoted to a handful of siphons and specialty coffees, like Jamaican Blue Mountain and a Japanese charcoal roast I had never heard of before.  The diminutive proprietress took pains to explain the entire process as she performed it before serving the coffee in tea cups laid out formally on a tray with accompaniments.  It was a little like witnessing a tea ceremony without the geisha. I love a good ritual and knew I’d be hooked from the moment she started to fresh-grind the beans.  The  resulting brew was dark and steamy, with a faintly acidic bitterness from the charcoal roasting.  This was no morning java jolt but more like a digestif.  At $6 a cup – and $70 a pound – I wasn’t about to start experimenting with that particular roast but I did opt to indulge myself with a new toy. Stay tuned for future updates as I expound on the ritual of the coffee siphon along with what I’m sure will be a multitude of experiments, too.

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smoke this

An unexpected prezzie arrived at my desk yesterday:  my very own smoker!  Which is funny because just last week I was rambling on about how I wanted to smoke my own my meat.  It’s electric, so no open flames or burning coals, thankfully.  The question remains:  do I attempt to use it inside my apartment or snake a power-cord  out onto the fire escape?  Or up to the roof? Plus, there’s the excitement of what do I smoke first!  Stay tuned – my new toy should make for a fragrant fall weekend.

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monocle’s 20/20 top fifty

I’m a little bit late in picking up the new issue of Monocle, the frumpy/august British mash-up magazine of arts, ideas, manifestos and debate.

The December/January Forecast issue looks out and across 2010 and beyond.  But even more interesting for the purposes of this blog is the Travel Top Fifty insert.  With typical editorial flair – and candor – the Monocle travel desk chooses the Best pre-flight meal: JAL’s fiery beef curry; the most promising hub: Munich; the best inflight freebie:  Icelandair’s Nordic-inspired playing cards; and the Best life improvement: ANA’s upcoming TOTO washlet bidet bathrooms aboard the airlines’ new Dreamliners.  The editors even boldly go so far as to pick a Best flight attendant:  Frau Wakamoto, who services the first class cabin on Lufthansa’s Munich-Tokyo route.

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great scott (and shackleton, too!)

I came across a fascinating book yesterday that would (hint, hint) make for a great upcoming birthday present:  The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton, and Antarctic Photography.

As a massive fan of Antarctic adventures, the title alone gets my juices going but it’s what’s inside that’s really exciting:  a treasure trove of photos – many never before published – from two of the greatest Antarctic expeditions of the 20th century.  Epic failures (Scott perished during his 1910 expedition, while Shackleton’s epic open sea voyage and subsequent rescue of his entire crew is the stuff of legend) they were both coincidentally well documented by Herbert George Ponting and Frank Hurley, respectively – two photographers whose struggles with bulky cameras and glass plate negatives in one of the most hostile environments on the planet were nothing less than heroic.  How these photographs survived and made it back to England is a miracle.

It’s a bit of a disappointment that the book is not in a larger format.  Nor does it compare to the exhaustive catalog of Hurley’s photographs that was published a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting contrast to see the two expeditions juxtaposed.  I’m hoping I get the chance to peruse it more thoroughly once February rolls around.

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what every guy needs

Another cool prezzie suitable for travel whores everywhere arrived for me the other day:  John Bartlett‘s limited edition kit bag, made of recycled flannel in collaboration with Rogue’s Gallery.  It may not conform to TSA standards, strictly speaking, but what guy wants to carry around his bits ‘n’ pieces in a baggie?  Solidly masculine, it’s the perfect size for toting around lotions, potions and the unmentionables every man needs to keep handy while on the road.

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