Hobbies and Hopheads

For longer than I can remember, my hobby has been talking about the fact that I should get a hobby. As a jack of all trades and a master of some, the question that has plagued my ADD curiosity has been "what would I rather be doing than working?" Some people rush leave the office early to play golf, some to work out, some to ride their bike, and others to read fiction. And, while these things interest me from time to time, they and all other search results for the term "hobby" don't seem to fit into my life right now. So Annie, being the wise woman that she is, pointed out that I really like beer. And, while that is true, my interest in it really picked up last February when I realized that there were certain beers that I liked more than others and that there were quantifiable reasons why.  That revelation came while eating the best burger in all of New York (and therefore the world) with my friend Keith. When the Dumont Burger arrived, so did my Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic. Before sinking my teeth into the insanity that ensues for your taste buds when eating gloriously perfect burger, I raved about my beer. Keith pointed out that, if I like that beer and others in with the same taste, then I was probably a Hophead (one who loves IPAs.)I took that hypothesis and set out to prove it. For the next couple months, if I saw an IPA on the menu, I ordered it. I got to know the flavors and discovered that I was indeed a Hophead.

But, it wasn't until I downloaded Untappd to my phone in December 2012 that I started to know why I loved one beer over another. As they say, "What gets measured it what gets managed." With a way to keep track of the brews I was sampling, having a beer at the end of the week became more than just a way to kick back and relax. It became an event and intentional quest to know why I liked what I like and how to explain it. Going into this new year, I decided that I would try and focus on one type of beer each month and learn what characteristics made that beer unique. Being a Hophead, obviously January was a month full of IPAs.

All told, I tried 33 different IPAs last month. Sounds like a lot seeing as January only has 31 days, but, with three different business trips mixed into the conversation and some time to kill at airports waiting for the red eye back to NYC, it works out just about right. There were some definite winners and some incredible losers in this quest. There were beers that I sipped incredibly slowly to savor the taste and the moment and others that I sent back because they had as much character as a Bud Lite (worst beer in the world.)

Sampling that many different IPAs from around the world last month I began to truly understand what it was that attracted me to this style of beer and why I enjoyed each sip. The original IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) were crafted for British Troops stationed in Calcutta, India. The traditional English Ales wouldn't be able to survive the journey around Cape Good Hope in Africa and back up to the Indian ocean so extra hops were needed to prolong the life of the beer. The hops added a bitterness to the beer that became distinctive and recognizable. These original IPAs might be one of the better examples of the phrase "necessity is the mother of all invention."

But then American brewers got a hold of the idea of the Pale Ale and claimed it as their own in the 1980s. Because the microbrewery industry was at its infancy, the Pale Ale was an appealing option for a young California brewery because it was quicker to create than the traditional American Lagers and could take advantage of the West Coast hops available regionally.  As the big and bold West Coast hops made their mark on the microbrewery scene in America, the American IPA rose to preeminence and became the calling card of many small scale brewery operations.

As I sipped and tasted these 30+ IPAs last month, I was drawn to the bitter start, the malty middle, and the smooth finish that most American IPAs share in common. Hints of grapefruit and citrus flavors were common as well as aromas of pine needles and  black currents muddled in the mix. As I continued to be drawn back to the complex flavors that carried their way from start to finish in these amazing IPAs from January, I was curious why I was such a big fan. It wasn't until I went back and consulted The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver (head of Brooklyn Brewery) that I picked up on my natural inclination. The flavors and personalities of a good IPA compliment and pair perfectly with foods that carry heat, citrus, and strong starches in their cuisine. Specifically, Latin and Mexican food. The citrus from a carne asada plate mixed with the sharp cheeses of a spicy enchilada pair beautifully with the hints of grapefruit and the cutting bitterness of an IPA. The heat from this kind of food is cooled down by the smooth finish of the IPA.  My palette growing up in Texas and on Tex-Mex four times a week was shaped to love and appreciate what an IPA has to offer.

For a full list of the IPAs that I sampled last month, check out my tab on Untappd HERE.

There were obvious winners like Pliny The Elder and surprises like Greenport Brewing Company Other Side IPA. But all in all, it was a great first month of tracking a hobby I've had for over a decade but just now realized was a hobby.

So here's to the great IPAs of January and on to the strong Stouts of February. If you have any suggestions on either style of beer, or want to recommend what style I should sample in March, let me know in the comments below.


Andy Dreams Of... What?

Last night I watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary featuring 85 year old Jiro Ono, arguably the world's greatest sushi chef. The movie chronicles his life, his restaurant, and the challenge that lies ahead as he and his 50 year old son work through a succession plan that will keep the legacy of his father's work preserved. The opening scene, Jiro explains his life work:

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."

He was sent out into the world at the age of nine and became an apprentice at 10. He has been making sushi for over 75 years and for 75 years he has been searching for an even better version of his work. He says in the movie that every piece of sushi he serves is better than the one before. That when he does his work, he feels victorious. Every single day, repeating the same steps to create the same excellence, and pushing just a little bit harder to make it just a little bit better. Never settling.

His persistent and consistent work to create excellence and the expectation of his staff (minimum of ten year apprenticeship before they are allowed to be in the front of the restaurant) got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule." It would certainly seem to apply here. But that rule also always gets me thinking, what have I spent 10,000 intention hours work to become the best at?

My career has been much more dynamic than Jiro's and anyone on Gladwell's list. The skill set that I've been asked to bring to the work I do can and does change with the task at hand. My aspirations of being a renaissance man seem more realistic than an master craftsman like Jiro. And there is nothing wrong with that, but, it does beg the question, of the skills that I use today and know I will use for the rest of my life, am I obsessed with making everyday's efforts better than the day before?


The Five Stages of Refugee Status

The Kubler-Ross model for grieving seems to apply to being a refugee at the hands of Hurricane Sandy as well. Denial: The following tweet might have been a little bit cavalier of me:

Anger: As the storm raged outside and the power plant in our neighborhood blew up and knocked out all the entirety of lower Manhattan, the denial that we would be effected quickly switched to anger that our preparations for a day or two wouldn't be near enough to last the early reports that it would be at least 3-4 days before we had power and water, if not a full week.

Bargaining: As the reality of our situation set in, Annie and I just had to get out and walk it off. We headed north for more than a mile before we say the first flicker of power or a working stop light. I also figured that this was the best excuse ever to satisfy my recent urge for some unlimited salad and breadsticks at the Times Square Olive Garden. That bargaining worked but when we arrived we found out that they, like apparently every other organization not run by an immigrant Mom and Pop were closed.

Depression: The most common phrase yesterday was "Wish I would have known...." and then the sincere feeling of ignorance, naivety, and actual depression about my complete lack of preparation. It was a lot of internal reassuring that there is no way I could have known having never actually lived through a hurricane or dealing with days upon days of power and water outages. While I would say that I've pushed through this one, it is still lingering when I look at my suitcase and realize that its contents are the only things I'll have access to of my own for days to come.

Acceptance: The closest thing to a turning point in the depression stage was when we just decided that we had to leave our apartment and make plans towards that end. We were overwhelmed by all of the friends around the city that weren't hit as hard as we were that offered us a place to stay. While you never want to need help, especially as New Yorkers, it was pretty amazing to see how many folks reached out.

There are a ton of thoughts swirling in my head right now about what I would do differently and how this storm has a ton of parallels to real life, but I'll leave those for another day. But, in a effort to establish a little bit of order to this chaos that is my reality for the foreseeable future, I did the only thing I knew for a fact would help: I made breakfast tacos. 

The Two Day Breakfast Taco

"Good things come to those that wait" goes the saying. And, while there might be some truth to that, I prefer Abraham Lincoln's version, "Good things do come to those who wait, but only the things left behind by those who hustle." And, this weekend, in a bit of a culinary hustle, I found an amazing new take on my favorite morning meal: The Two Day Breakfast Taco. Not wanting to keep my new found discovery selfishly to myself, here is the recipe:

DAY ONE: Go out for BBQ with great friends. Order 1/4lb pulled pork or beef brisket more than you need. Take home in a to-go bag.

DAY TWO: Make Breakfast Tacos with the left over BBQ from Day One.

Enjoy pulled pork and beef brisket Breakfast Tacos with sunny side up eggs, avocado, tomatoes, cheese, and a little sour cream. Highly recommend pairing with a large cup of black coffee.

The Buffet of Awesome

On Thanksgiving, I fill my plate. Stacking white meat on top of dark, sweet potatoes on top of stuffing, by the time I take my first bite, my plate has some impressive height and width. At the Whole Foods salad bar buffet, I fill my to-go box with just about as much green leafy goodness with a side of craisins as I can.

When I pour my morning coffee, I fill my cup to the top, no room for milk or any other substance to detract from how coffee was meant to be consumed: black.

As I look at the way I consume, I realized one thing: the amount I consume is decided when I pick the vessel to transport my meal or coffee. The idea of only filling half my plate or pouring a half cup of coffee doesn't resonate with me.  And as such, I've learned that, if I want to have a lighter lunch, I need to grab the smaller to-go box or if I want to twitch a little less in the 10 o'clock hour, I should use a smaller cup for my coffee.

But, in this realization, the thought also came to me that the amount of awesome that we get out of any day, week, or new opportunity is directly proportional to the vessel of our expectations. Whatever size plate we show up with, we'll fill. Whatever size cup we carry into it, we'll get all the way up to the brim.

So, if that is the case, why not show up with a big plate and a huge mug and have ourselves a feast?

When you expect more than others you will work harder than others to make sure you get everything that you can see. When you carry a bigger plate to the buffet of awesome, it may take you a little longer to fill it up, but you'll be able to see how to fit a little bit more cranberry sauce on your plate and, if we're being honest, isn't that what makes this buffet called life so great?

Best Breakfast Tacos in NYC?

I think I may have found them. The long awaited search could be over. Today, I had the best Breakfast Tacos I've ever had outside of Texas. My search has been documented HERE and HERE to find Breakfast Tacos in NYC, but today might be the day I call it off. Today, I made the best Breakfast Tacos ever.

Three eggs, one link of fresh chorizo, grilled tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms, with sharp white cheddar cheese in flour tortillas.

So good I felt bad not inviting anyone over to eat them with me.

So good I might just give up on other people doing it right and rely only on Citerella to keep stocking fresh chorizo.

So good, the world's cutest beggar almost made me share.

Best. Burger. Ever.

The hunt for the best burger in NYC is a quest that ever carnivore should attempt. It is a long a grueling adventure with extreme highs and disappointing lows. But, for those that persevere past the tourist traps and the generic burgers with an undeservedly high level of praise from local magazine editors, there is something special waiting for you. I began my search just over a year ago after completing my hunt for the best pizza in NYC. Burgers were the next logical choice and in a future post, I'll give them all the run down. But, this past weekend, I made the journey back to Williamsburg with a fellow discerning meat lover to confirm that I had in fact selected the rightful owner of the BEST BURGER IN NYC crown. And, much to my taste buds delight, I had.

The DuMont Burger at DuMont Restaurant is the BEST BURGER IN NYC. 

Everything about eating this burger is incredible and thoroughly thought through by the geniuses in the kitchen. The brioche bun sops up the juices from the burger, but never gets soggy in your hands. The pickled onions and bread and butter pickles create an amazing sweetness that is balanced our by the heartiness of the organic beefsteak tomato and crispy romaine lettuce. And of course all of these components rise up together to shine the tastebud spotlight on the perfect patty of meat. The meat is juicy and tender and has a complexity of flavors that we learned is partly responsible to the brown sugar and hoisin sauce that are mixed in. The char that is on the burger gives it the real backyard grill flavoring that is rare in a city burger. And, if you love bleu cheese on your burger, here you won't get some crumbles, you'll get an entire quarter inch slab of it sitting atop the patty accenting the incredibleness that you're about to partake in.

Both me and my friend Keith who joined me for this experience never put the burger down once we took the first bite. It is so good, you can't help yourself. As he looked up from taking the last bite, he smiled. And then, with a seriousness that was almost chilling, he said, "If I committed a heinous crime and was getting the death penalty by lethal injection, this is what I would order for my last meal."

That's how good it is.