Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.
I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.
William Hamilton, the outstanding cartoonist for The New Yorker for decades, passed away last Friday. He had a marvelous style of drawing and my sort of a sense of humor. I doubt he will have a replacement. I include for your enjoyment a few of my favorite cartoons he drew...
It may come as a surprise to the Epic reader that I do not typically enjoy candy. In fact, I am not usually a dessert person despite what my neo-Edwardian physique might indicate. But that does not mean that I am immune to the siren's song of a great candy.
For example, when I was shopping at the Giant Discount Store the other day for Easter provisions I was exploring their tremendous annual display of Easter candy. On one corner was a pile of boxes of Sweet's "Orange Sticks". These caught my eye because they looked "old Florida". Like something my Dad would have bought from a road-side stand on the Tamiami Trail in 1948. Like something I would love. Man was my dining spider sense right on!!!
These little candies, made by the Sweet's Candy Company of Salt Lake City since 1945 are, without question, my favorite candy of all time. They are simple little bars of orange [or raspberry, or cherry, or BLUEBERRY] jelly covered in the MOST amazing dark [or milk] chocolate. That is it. Nothing fancy. And, just like me, very old fashioned without being too conservative. They go great with strong coffee. And with cognac. And with red wine. Or with nothing at all.
The Sweet's Company has a wonderful ordering option where you can buy a mixed case of Orange, Raspberry, Blueberry and/or Cherry sticks assorted however you like. Bespoke candy. And at very reasonable prices. I am in candy heaven. Suffice to say, I am laying in a case or two of "sticks" and I will eat them every day the rest of my life. They are that good. I am sure that any Epic would agree.
The regular Epic will know that although I love wine, I have a limited ability to describe it in a "winely" way. So I will just say this.There is this young fellow and his wife in California. They decided to chase a dream and open a very small vineyard which he says has kept him "out of trouble and in debt since 2009". They don't make a lot of wine every year but, man, what wine they make!
I bought three bottles of this 2012 Stori Vineyard Pinot Noir on a whim from an on-line retailer. The review of the wine was stellar including words like "decadent", "stacked with flavor", "rich and polished" and....the clincher...."bacon smoke". But I honestly bought it because of the story of the young couple, Vaughn and Duffy, the 2.25 acres the 75 cases of this wine comes from and...yes...the label and the wax on the neck of the bottle. As you well know, I am nothing if not a gustatorial and gourmandine romantic. So I bought three bottles early last year. Hey, my first bottle of Makers' Mark bourbon years ago was based solely on the wax. That choice seems to have turned out all right.
The first bottle of Vaughn Duffy was opened for my birthday and I shared it with two members of my blue ribbon drinking panel, Big D and the Mississippi Queen. A truly Epic couple. I owed these two a LOT after the notorious Chelada tasting debacle of 2010.I decanted. We waited, nibbling expensive snacks and occasionally staring at the decanter like we expected something to happen. I poured, just praying that I would not suffer the Wine Lover's Broken Heart caused by dashed hopes of a new wine. We toasted. We drank.
There were groans of delight as we were all blown away by this wine. I swear we all could smell the "bacon smoke" mentioned in the sales review. I immediately wished that I had splurged on a whole case of it despite the fact that my wine cellar cabinet would be completely taken up with that many bottles. This marvelous wine made my birthday last year very special indeed.
I was fortunate to drink quite a bit of good wine in 2015 and I made an effort to move my wine purchases up the scale a bit. But, contrary to Epicurean principles, I didn't open another bottle of Vaughn Duffy until my birthday this month. This year's birthday was riddled with familial medical stress and put in shadow just a bit by the fact that Big D and the MQ were not available for a re-test. But my son The Future Rock Star took a taste and said "Dad this is OUTSTANDING". I whole-heartedly agree. I was just as in love with the second bottle as I was the first despite the year that had passed and despite the other wines I had tried in the interim. I hereby crown Vaughn Duffy 2012 Stori Vinyard Pinot Noir as my 2015 "Bottle of the Year". Without hesitation.
The Original Empty Bottle--March 2015--Bottle Of The Year
In the gourmand's life there are certain watershed moments. The Great Meals. The dining experiences that you will remember the rest of your life. My first one occurred when I was around thirteen years old. The night I became aware that dining was more than eating. That food was more than fuel. That a fine meal could constitute a marker on the path of a life well lived.
My father's best friend was a larger than life fellow, Mr. "AJI". We used to visit him in Rockford, Illinois a couple of times a year when my father was forced to venture out of the northern woods on business. The evening in question, Mr. AJI took us all out to Maria's, an Italian restaurant famous for generations in that area.
I watched as we walked into the crowded dining room. The maitre'd knew him of course and greeted him warmly. A waiter showed us to a table in the back. People glanced at us trying to figure out who we were. As we settled in and the adults ordered drinks, Mr. AJI announced that "tonight every dish is not on the menu". I had little idea what this meant but it sounded important. I felt like we had become movie stars. I really felt that way when the waiter brought the cocktails including non-alcoholic ones for Mr. AJI's three pretty daughters and my brother and me. Had I known who Frank Sinatra was at the time, I would have felt like we were dining at his table at Jilly's. I remember Mr. AJI's expensive suit, his diamond pinkie ring and his gold lighter. My Dad's black alligator shoes that matched his watch strap.
The food was superb. We started with baskets of toasted bread drizzled in pesto. Do you recall the first time you tasted home made pesto? I do. Then course after course began to appear, my Dad eventually complaining that it was too much, that we weren't the royal family for Pete's sake. Mr. AJI just gave his deep resonant chuckle of a laugh and the food kept coming. Along with wine in funny straw covered bottles from a place called Tuscany. Several bottles of this wine were dispatched by the adults during the long meal.
Somewhere during this feast a small casserole dish was placed in front of each of us. I remember the wonderful way this course smelled to this day. Garlic, butter, parsley, Mr. AJI was watching me closely since I imagine that it was obvious that everything in this meal was a revelation to me and I was absorbing everything I could from the experience. Perhaps he recognized a nascent bon vivant. I pushed through the browned bread crumbs with my fork and found that shrimp were baked under them in a sauce of garlic and butter and a bit of sherry. The flavor of this dish amazed me. My first experience of the towering dish called Shrimp De Jonghe. The James Beard Foundation says that it is one of the earliest known Chicago area specialties dating to around 1900. Forty-three years later, I remember how this tasted. Too rich for an entree, perfect with a glass of dry Champagne, it is still my favorite appetizer of all time.
Shrimp De Jonghe.
The main course for the evening was garlic rubbed rib eye steak with spaghetti and "red gravy" on the side. I was full to popping by then but there was no way I was not eating that steak. Also, it was the first home made marinara sauce I had ever had. Do you remember your first real marinara sauce? I do. My taste buds were firing like the pistons in one of Mario Andretti's Formula One racing cars. Dessert arrived. Spumoni ice cream, still one of my favorite desserts.
I don't know how long we were at the table for this tremendous meal. I have no idea how much it cost Mr. AJI but it must have been a lot. He wouldn't let my Dad pay anything which caused more protest although my Dad's words were not as clear as at the start of the night. Finally the meal was over. A baronial feast if ever there was one. The maitre'd helped the ladies with their fur wraps. Even Mr. AJI's three daughters had wraps. It was one of the only a few times I ever saw my Dad tipsy. It was the only time I ever saw my Mom drive us all anywhere. I remember my Dad trying to prop his head up and his elbow repeatedly slipping off the leather arm rest of his Cadillac on the way back to the Howard Johnson's "motor lodge" where we were staying.
1972 Cadillac Sedan DeVille
The Rockford, Illinois, Howard Johnson. Still in operation.
I learned many things that evening. Graciousness. The value of treating restaurant employees as special people and of being a "regular". The joy of wearing a blazer and dining well in the company of pretty women. The glories of marinara, fresh pasta, pesto, Spumoni, And, most of all, Shrimp De Jonghe. My family didn't dine out much. I never made it back to Maria's again.
Last summer, I was sitting at my table at Cape Cod, the marvelous restaurant of The Drake Hotel in Chicago. Shrimp De Jonghe arrived as my appetizer. I was dining alone but I was wearing a much nicer blazer than that night at Maria's years ago. When the scent of the dish hit me I felt like my Dad and Mom and brother and Mr. and Mrs. AJI and their wonderful daughters were right there with me again. I took a sip of champagne, smiled, breathed in the wonderful aroma and was again transported back to the first great meal of my life.
P.S.: Sadly, Maria's closed in late 2013. The restaurant's last Facebook post says: We will truly miss serving you. Remember the good times at Maria’s and may they always make you smile and bring you happiness. And always remember Maria’s philosophy….
“After all is said and done, really, can there be anything more beautiful, more enjoyable, more memorable than good food, good wine, good conversation with family and friends?”
In my experience Valentine's Day is either one of the best days or one of the very worst. I've seen the latter, but I have been very, very blessed to have outstanding Valentine's Days for a long time now.
I always post a Stevie Wonder video of "Ribbons In The Sky" on this day because I think it is the best love song I know. To my wonderful Irish Redhead.
I am thankful that I have a pretty great car. The first new car I have ever owned. And it has lots of cool gadgets typical for the price range. One thing mystified me however. The Bluetooth telephone connection for my cell phone is instantaneous and perfect in my car. Not so for the music on my phone. I have a new cell phone too, that my son described as "sick". So I suppose that is very good. But the music on my phone will not play on the car audio system.
One night when I had NOTHING better to do I ran this problem on Google and discovered that it is pretty common. It made me feel good to see that there are cars costing a LOT more than mine that have the same problem. Some sort of electrobabble about different types of Bluetooth signals or whatever. No amount of Scotch was going to make that interesting. In one of the comments to a post about this issue however a fellow mentioned that Blackberry made a little device that, when plugged into the accessory jack in his car allowed his phone to play over his audio system. I looked for the gadget on Amazon and saw it was under $30.00!!!! [It is under $20.00 today.] Of course I "one clicked" it and it was winging its way to the hinterlands.
I have to say, this thing, whatever it is, works perfectly. It is the size of a large pack of matches, requires no tech savvy to start using, doesn't take up any room, and does exactly what it is supposed to do. I LOVE IT. It allows me to play all my cell phone tunes through my car audio and I can also stream Pandora or Slacker or whatever through the car too using this and the app on my phone.
This little thing comes with the highest EPIC recommendation!!! Trust me, if I can use it ANYONE can use it. Enjoy!!
Drafted late at night after watching "political television". And after drinking some bourbon...
He lacked formal education but his intuition was keen. He was at times envious of his elder brother. Unable to inherit his father's estate he turned to a military life under British rule. He was a spectacular horseman but as a young commander he failed rather spectacularly. With legends trailing him. He could not be killed. "Did you see him ride in front of that fusillade...not a musket ball touched him." More than one time in his life a sea of gunfire seemed to part to allow him to pass unscathed.
He eventually married well, loved his land, cherished his wife. Loved her son as his own. He rode, brewed whisky, drank wine and ale. He was known when provoked to curse creatively. Then one morning it was 1776 and something more was required. Deeply believing in the notion that one's privileges came hand in hand with equal levels of obligation to the world, he grudgingly accepted command of a rag tag band of amateur soldiers. He freely admitted that he was unqualified for the task at hand. Which was merely to attempt a fight against the finest war machine the world had ever seen. Much of the Upper Crust was against him. And the Politicians....they schemed and undercut and criticized at every turn. Even some of his own officers tried to depose him. He had to beg a bickering collection of "sovereign" states for guns, for uniforms, for boots, for food for his Army. But throughout it all he and his wife stayed with the troops. Many went home as was their right. Many deserted. The ones who remained did so for the independence of their homes from the overarching control of a king....and they stayed for him as well.
He was able to press down his ego to accept the help of several professional soldiers from other traditions who eventually turned his band of deer and rabbit hunters into a worn but formidable army. Not afraid to fail, he took chances and, eventually, began to win battles. Trenton. Princeton. The rest, as they say, is History.
Afterward he was almost horrified to see that he was the primary choice to lead the nascent country. He was absolutely horrified that the proposal was for him to become King George I. When offered a kingdom he was unique in history to refuse. He became the first President of the United States of America. President Washington knew he was a rural man of action sinking himself into a world of people who sat around indoors all day. A world of political intrigue for which he was very obviously unsuited. In his inaugural address he acknowledged that the smartest citizens would properly have a "distrustful scrutiny" of his qualifications; that duty was bound to privilege; and that by undertaking to be a new and free nation, he acknowledged that Heaven had ordained that "the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of government were deeply...and perhaps finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." He also announced on the first day of his new job as President that he would work without compensation other than for reimbursement of proper expenses as allowed by Congress.
He was too different from what they really wanted which was a tall, famous figurehead that they could push around and tell what to do. That was one game they should have known he would refuse to play. So the Politicians, back biters and anonymous editorial writers set upon him and made him suffer. Abused him in the public eye without the opportunity to defend himself. Modern social media attacks have nothing on the newspaper editorials of Washington's day. After suffering through two terms in office he walked away from government, retiring to his beloved Mount Vernon.
What can this man, gone since 1799, possibly have to teach to us? We are so much more "sophisticated", "advanced", "educated". We have connections to outer space in the palms of our hands for goodness sake. How about notions of civility, of honor, of privilege leading not to more privilege but to the obligation to serve. Sacrifice. Rejection of absolute power. Standing strong in the face of brutal adversity with the Faith that there is a Divine Reason for you to be there to take the punches.
A great historian has called George Washington America's "indispensable man". Certainly true in the 1700s. And if we care to pay him a bit of attention equally true today. I will raise a glass on February 22 and toast him a Happy Birthday as I always do. I, for one, miss him rather a lot. Those other people--the ones who hated him then--would still hate him today. That would probably be a very healthy thing. In his farewell address he said...
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Two-hundred and twenty years later, nothing seems more true.
In my mid 50s, husband, father and itinerant storyteller. I am a putative jazz singer, poet and novelist, dedicated to mining every minute of life for the veins of pleasure they contain. My motto is "Dum Vivimus, Vivamus"..."While we Live--LET US LIVE".