Monday, July 27, 2015

My highly personal list of the best TV series of all time - part 2, the British Invasion

In this post I'm going to talk about my favourite British TV imports. I was first really introduced to British television by American public television in the 1970s. For many years PBS was the go to location for British television and in many ways it still is, the major American networks have over the years co-opted many British programs and given them American twists, almost always producing an inferior product, but PBS has remained true it's vision of providing the originals. Here in Canada the Knowledge Network is a good source for original British programming .

When trying to create my listing of my favourite British television shows I came up with a very long list and then agonized over cutting it down to workable top ten, there were some obviously incredible shows that didn't make the cut and I'm sure there will be howls of "How could he leave off Downton Abbey or The Office or Poldark or Upstairs Downstairs or Dr. Who ......." . The answer is simple, the list is, as the title states, My highly personal list . Please feel free to comment on your own choices but this is mine, so here are my top 10.

Monthy Python's Flying Circus 1968-74

It was a surprise to me, given the brilliance of British comedy, that so many of my selections were dramas. Monthy Python was simply brilliant, as with all comedy they missed on occasion but rarely and when they hit they were huge hits. The list of Python sketches that were legendary is just too long to cover, but must include "The Spanish Inquisition", "The Dead Parrot" and "The Argument". It was black comedy and satire at it's best and spawned a couple of great films and an ongoing musical, despite going off the air over 40 years ago it can still be enjoyed today, and that's incredible for comedy. Available on DVD.

The Sweeney - 1974-78

A ground breaking show The Sweeney was the first "gritty" police drama to air in England, starring John Thaw, who will show up again later on this list, the show portrayed London policing as a dog eat dog procedure. The show aired at a time when the police force it portrayed, London's "Flying Squad" were under siege for bribery and violence, just the type of actions the show featured. Almost 40 years later the show is still very watchable. Available on DVD

Fawlty Towers - 1975 & 1979

Twelve episodes, that's it, and yet Fawlty Towers is stamped indelibly in the minds of a whole generation. The show, all 12 episodes, was named by the British Film Institute as the best British television show of all time.......just think about that, all told it's just a shade over six hours of running time yet it was judged the best television series ever made in Britain. The show was written by, and stars, John Cleese and his real life wife at the time Connie Booth, along with Prunella Scales as Cleese's wife on the show with the absurd brilliance of Andrew Sachs as Manuel and portrays the life of running a hotel in the seaside town of Torquay. It's brilliant and if you haven't seen it I don't want to hear from you until you have. Available on DVD

Minder - 1979-94

How to describe Minder ? Well it's a comedy/drama set in the world of the London's small time criminals. It is ostensibly about an ex-con and former boxer who with limited employment options comes to work protection and odd jobs for a small time crook, con man and used car broker, but it's really just a chance to revel in George Cole's performance as Arthur Daley, the small time crook in question. Daley is one of the great characters in television history and watching him is always a great pleasure. Available on DVD.

Blackadder - 1983-89

Long before Mr. Bean Rowan Atkinson created the comic personas of Edmund Blackadder. The four seasons of Blackadder show four different main characters, descended from one another, in four different historical eras, the middle ages, the Elizabethan era, the Regency era of the late 19th century and WWI. Each "Blackadder" deals with social issues and while the first one is a bumbler the later Blackadder's are shrewd and cunning. The show sheds light on society in its' particular era but is mostly just a showcase for Atkinson and his comic foil played by Tony Robinson. Available on DVD.

Lovejoy - 1986-94 

Lovejoy was a six season, 71 episode, series based on the books by Johnathan Gash, a nom de plume of medical doctor John Grant. Lovejoy is the name of the main character, played brilliantly by Ian McShane, an antiques dealer with less than high ethical standards always one step away from either bankruptcy or the knick. The series taught me a bunch about antiques and the industry but as with most of the television I like was more about writing and acting. The books are more graphic in their portrayal of sex and violence, neither of which play much part in the tv show. Available on DVD.

Inspector Morse - 1987-2000 

British television does police procedurals much, much better than North American television, concentrating on procedure and characters more than special effects and shoot 'em up. There are man, many great British police procedurals but to my mind the Inspector Morse series, 33 two hour episodes based on the books by Colin Dexter, are in a class of their own. Morse is played by John Thaw and it's one of those roles that you can't imagine any one else playing, Thaw was a tremendous actor who left us much too soon at the age of 60. Morse is a difficult, sarcastic, hard drinking, condescending, anti-feminist curmudgeon but his flaws are what make him so watchable. Available on DVD.

Prime Suspect - 1991-2006

Okay so maybe Morse isn't in a class of his own, he probably shares the class with Jane Tennison, the star of the 7 mini series of Prime Suspect . Tennison is played by Helen Mirren and even within the vast scope of Dame Helen's career I think Tennison may be her greatest role. As with Morse the Prime Suspect series deals in great detail with the lead character's life and flaws and over the course of the 7 seasons, each between 3 1/2 and 5 hours in length the series deals with massive social issues like sexism, racism, paedophilia, prostitution, child abuse and alcohol addiction. Each of the seven series stands on its' own merits but I would advise watching Prime Suspect 1 first to get a fuller understanding of Tennison's character.Available on DVD

Cracker - 1993-95

Three seasons, nine cases, 25 episodes and 2 tacked on "specials" of Robbie Coltrane creating one of the most memorable characters in television history, Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald a criminal psychologist who works with the Manchester Police. The series takes its' name from the term used to describe criminal psychologists, "crackers" as they crack cases. Fitz is the classic anti-hero, in his own words "I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much", in addition he is foul mouthed, sarcastic in terrible physical condition and an overall train wreck but he's brilliant and unbelievably enjoyable to watch. The show deals with a wide array of issues, not the least being the human mind. Available on DVD.

Luther - 2010-13

With only 14 episodes spread over three seasons it's tough to call Luther a series but if Idris Elba never becomes James Bond he'll still have DVI John Luther to hang his hat on. Luther is a brilliant detective driven by his work, he's violent, anti-social and probably psychotic but boy is he fun to watch. Anyone with a distrust of the police should probably not watch this show as it, well let's just say it doesn't show them in a positive light. Season four has been confirmed so there will be more Luther in our lives. Available on DVD.

There were a number of series that just missed this list, notable A touch of Frost, Yes Minister, The Fall, House of Cards and The Avengers but I'll stand with these ten for now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wine Buys this Month

So it's scorching hot, by Vancouver standards, with daily highs consistently in the 25C+ range the past 6 weeks and dry as a bone by anyone's standards. Since May 1st Vancouver has had 17.5mm of recorded rainfall, to put that in perspective the average monthly rainfall for May & June are usually in the 60mm range for each month and July is around 40mm, so generally by mid July the rainfall for May, June & July would be in the 140mm range.

What this means for me is lots of salads and lots of grilled dinner. I generally prep a big bowl of Greek salad and another of coleslaw, undressed, keep them in the fridge and dress what we need at dinner, or I grill veggies after I've taken the protein off the Weber and let the protein rest. As for that protein it runs the usual course, fish (mostly tuna or salmon), pork (tenderloin or ribs) chicken and a bit of beef, but regardless the fact remains that grilled means bolder flavour and that means wines that will stand up to those flavours. For white wines that means Sauvignon Blanc and Rieslings, for reds the varietal doesn't matter as much as the balance . I am generally a huge fan of acidity in red wine but for the summer and the sweet, smoky flavour of food off the grill I tone it down and look for softer wines that won't duke it out with the robust grilled meats .

Anyway as you should know the BCLDB price changes happen generally on the last Sunday of the month and since stores are now open Sunday you can get there early and scope the deals. The other alternative is to check my blog a day or two afterwards, or a couple of weeks in today's case, for some of what I think are the better monthly price reductions. There are generally around 300 wines that are placed on sale each month, these are known as LTOs, limited time offerings, and come about by the agents for the wines choosing to release there price for a month to either stimulate a flagging brand, to capitalize on a hot brand or sometimes to introduce a product to wider audience. Often these reductions are in the $1 a bottle range and I generally don't test drive those ones but once you get up to $2 a bottle I may get interested. So given that it's hot and we want BBQ wines here are my picks for this month's wine buys, remember all prices will have 15% tax added on plus a 10 cent deposit so, for example, a wine that is on the shelf at $13.99 will ring up as $16.20.
Red Wine Bargains

Jackson Triggs Reserve Merlot Okanagan Valley, reduced $2 to $9.29 - stupidly cheap, for BC, solid entry level Merlot

Errazuriz Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Chile, reduced $2 to $11.29 - good entry level fruity Cab with some smoke & peppers, medium length

Jacob's Creek Reserve Barossa Shiraz Barossa Valley, Australia, reduced $2 to $12.79 - this wine used to retail for $20, it's not as good as their Coonawarra Cab but it's a helluva bang for the buck $14.80 all in

St. Hallet's Gamekeepers Reserve Barossa Valley, Australia, reduced $2 to $12.99 - this beauty is a blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Touriga Nacional and has lots of sweet fruit and spice, great mouthfill

Red Rooster Merlot Okanagan Valley, reduced $2 to $13.69 - cooler climate BC Merlot with some nice chocolate and plum, some more Cancon

Yalumba Organic Shiraz - South Australia, reduced $2 to $13.99 - the rather generic South Australia appelation could give pause but this is a nice drinking soft Shiraz without the over the top fruit that many less expensive Aussie reds exhibit. I actually just had this with grilled grass fed striploin in the middle of writing this post and it was great.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot Columbia Valley, Washington, reduced $2 to $15.39 - this is just really, really good Merlot it's got all those mocha, cherry, red fruit flavours we love in Merlot with a big velvet finish save this one and the next one for the steaks.

Graham Beck The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon South Africa, reduced $2 to $16.29 - big, big Cab with a bit more Old World austerity than the other wines on this list it has a more tannic bite and a long finish with black fruits and menthol in the mix, crack it 20 minutes before dinner and have it with the leg of lamb.

White Wine Bargains

Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Riesling Okanagan Valley, reduced $2 to $9.29 - nice entry level Riesling it's fruit forward with enough acid to keep it fresh, finishes alittle short but at this price great for patio sipping or with spicy chicken
Santa Carolina Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Chile, reduced $2.20 to $10.09 - I like Chilean SB, it treads the line between the often overly assertive style of New Zealand and the blander California "Fume", this has hints of grapefruit and a nice finish at a great price

Sauvignon Blanc Sileni Cellar Selection Marlborough, New Zealand. reduced $2 to $13.29 - more on the tropical fruit/gooseberry end of the SB scale this is pretty textbook Marlborough for a good price. More assertive than the Santa Carolina it will be better with fatty fish like salmon

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling Columbia Valley, Washington, reduced $2 to $13.29 - oh it's just so pretty, blended from a variety of Columbia Valley fruit this is lovely off dry Riesling, white peach and lime on the palate with a little wet stone and honey on the end, great with spicy grilled chicken .

Wild Goose Vineyards Gewurztraminer Okanagan Valley, $2 to $14.29 - Gewurztraminer, called "goo" in the trade is great with spicy food and Wild Goose's goo is made with 25 year old vines producing something with spice and roses and grapefruit rind, big mouthfill, a little off dry and a lot delicious.

Sandhill Pinot Gris "Hidden Terrace" Okanagan Valley, reduced $2 to $14.59 - I'm not a big fan of Pinot Gris but this single vineyard bottling for Sandhill is an exception, it's not flabby like so many examples but has a nice acidity and crisp apple/pear flavours .

Chateau St Jean Chardonnay Sonoma, California, reduced $2 to $17.29 - it's big ticket for the BBQ at $20 with tax in but it's still a chance to have a really good example of why California Chardonnay has been so popular for so long, full bodied with lots of apple, vanilla and toasty oak it embodies the Californian "buttery" style without becoming oak soup.

Wow, that was a lot longer than I thought it would be, and before you ask about Rosé there are none on sale, plus overall the selection is hideous.

These wines are on sale until July 25th, I'll try and post about next month's bargains a little earlier than 2 1/2 weeks into the four week cycle.

I'll leave you with a photo of me grilling the grass fed strip loins mentioned above.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

My highly personal list of the best television series of all time, part one - Gone too soon

On Friday morning, after my hell day documented in the previous post, I met with Uncle Donny for coffee. Theoretically the meeting was designed for us to go over my career options but you have to understand that was just the jumping off point for 75 minutes of free styling conversation on topics that vary from politics to real estate to food and restaurants, to pretty much anywhere. These conversations allow Don to voice his thoughts in the politically incorrect manner that he can't do in his professional life so I really feel they are cathartic and he should be paying me, but he did pick up the coffee so whatever.

Somewhere, somehow we wandered into television, it started with an Angel Martin reference which got us wondering where Rockford Files stands in the "greatest tv shows ever" rankings, here's a hint .........really high . We spent three or four minutes discussing our thoughts on this topic, mostly the various merits of Seinfeld vs Larry Sanders vs Sgt. Bilko vs the Friendly Giant but then somehow we were back talking about bandwidth, Vancouver real estate and the horrible choices we have to make at election time.

Long after the coffee session ended and I was back at home I began to wonder more about the best television shows of all time. I've had an interesting relationship with television, I grew up in small town in Eastern Ontario and until I left home for University at 18 I lived in a house with only one television and one television station, the local CBC affiliate . As a result I didn't watch much TV, other than Hockey Night in Canada, though as a young child Sunday night television with Bonanza and The Ed Sullivan Show was a sacrosanct event. Once I was in University there were really too many other distractions to watch much TV, though some shows I generally took the time to watch, like the above mentioned Rockford Files and then of course I spent a good portion of my adult years working at night. Still as with most adult North Americans in their fifties I have a long and enduring relationship with the tube.

Anyway I spent a couple of hours the past two days putting together a short list, that I realized actually wasn't that short, of what are my must see tv shows. Essentially this is a listing of the shows that I always tried to watch, that I really enjoyed when I did watch them and that I would love to own the entire series of, just to be able to watch when I wanted.

There is very little on television right now that fits into this category and since I don't subscribe to HBO my choices are further limited, there are a number of shows that friends of mine say I should be watching that I'm not such as Ray Donovan, Veep, True Detective and The Newsroom. Anyway over however long it takes me to go through this list I'm going to blog about television shows for awhile, though not exclusively television shows, I'll still try and spend some time writing about food, wine and life in general.

Today I'm going to talk about shows that never got the chance, shows that I found really, really good but that just didn't stick around very long either through lack of audience, cost of production or network mishandling.

Gone too Soon, in no particular order

Firefly - 2002, 14 episodes

Many, many articles have been written about the too soon demise of Firefly, Google it and over 8.6M results show up. It has a cult following that persists today despite having a run of only 14 episodes, the demand for closure was so great that in 2005 Universal Pictures produced the feature film Serenity to wrap up the plotline. In truth the Space Western set 500 years in the future was really, really watchable, it came from one of America's hottest commodities at the time Josh Whedon and was his first "non Buffy" project. Whedon has gone on to great things as have many of the cast. Available on DVD

Life - 2007-09, 32 episodes

This was my first introduction to Damien Lewis' work as an actor, the show was riveting to me and I was pissed off that it was cancelled . The show followed Lewis' character LAPD Detective Charlie Crews, Crews had been wrongfully imprisoned for murder and is released after 12 years, despite a huge financial settlement Crews returns to work as an LA detective. The show is loaded with conspiracy theories, zen philosophy and themes of loneliness, the effects of imprisonment and the speed of technology. Writing and acting was superb with the cast also featuring Adan Arkin, Sarah Shahi and Donal Logue. Available on DVD

Carnivale - 2003-05, 24 episodes

This show was just strange, set against the backdrop of the depression it revolves around two different storylines that eventually converge. One thread deals with a faith healer, who has real healing powers, in a traveling carnival while the other thread involves a fire and brimstone Methodist preacher. There is so much mysticism and good vs. evil going on it's hard to keep track and the show is over reaching in it's message but it was just so atmospheric and well written that I really, really liked it. Costs were huge, over $2M per episode and though it debuted with a huge audience it couldn't sustain it with overly complex plotting and dark themes. Available on DVD

Boomtown - 2002-03, 24 episodes

This show's failure was a mystery to me, it was a police procedural set in Los Angeles, had a great cast, including Donny Wahlberg, Mykelti Williamson and Neal McDonough was well written etc. but it never caught on. The show won a Peabody award among other acclaims but couldn't sustain and audience. Unavailable on DVD

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - 2006-07, 22 episodes

Sigh, just another example of how great acting and clever writing so easily fails in mainstream television. The "show within a show" about an LA based Saturday Night Live style program was maybe just too clever for its' own good, an Aaron Sorkin project with, not surprisingly, great acting and writing it didn't make it past season one, too smart and too expensive. Available on DVD

Sports Night - 1998-2000, 45 episodes

Another Aaron Sorkin series loosely based on real life, ESPN's Sportscenter,  Sports Night again featured great writing and acting, a cast that included Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Robert Guillaume and Felicity Huffman. Gassed after two season Sorkin had offers to take it to other networks but chose to keep his focus on The West Wing so Sports Night went away. Available on DVD but insanely expensive.

Brimstone 1998-99, 13 episodes

Oh I knew this one was doomed from the get go, it was just waaaay to dark for regular consumption but the play between John Glover, as the Devil, and Peter Horton as Ezekiel Stone was fabulous. Stone is a cop who plants evidence to get a conviction against his wife's rapist, who is then murdered, when Stone is killed in the line of duty he is sent to Hell but when 113 souls escape Stone is dispatched to bring them back. The carrot for Stone is if he brings back all the escapees he gets a second chance at life. Unavailable on DVD.

Rubicon 2010, 13 episodes

Honestly not as good as many on this list but had potential, it was a classic political conspiracy theory plotline with good writing and acting but it just moved too damn slowly to keep an audience, it was AMC's first miss, lasting only 13 episodes despite critical acclaim. Available on DVD

Millennium 1996-99, 67 episodes

Okay so it really probably wasn't "Gone too Soon", Millennium was dark, weird, unfocused and far too serious for it's own good but anytime I have the chance to have Lance Henriksen come into my living room for an hour a week I'm all over that shit. This was Chris Carter's vanity project rewarded to him for the success of X Files and it just wasn't good enough but still.......Lance Henriksen. Available on DVD.

Terriers 2010, 13 episodes

This one hurts the most, Terriers was simply brilliant, it was essentially a much grittier Rockford Files for the new age. Starring Donal Logue as a disgraced ex-cop and recovering alcoholic operating an unlicensed private investigation business it has humour, drama, real life issues and just great writing and acting. Somehow it was on FX and between the wrong network and the totally confusing name it just got lost in the cracks . Despite high critical acclaim and a rabid, though very small, fanbase it was a one & done. There have been innumerable rumours of a tv movie/mini series to wrap up the plot but it's been five years so I think it's time to admit it's not gonna happen. Unbelievably Terriers is not available on DVD .

So that took way too long, at some point I'll come back to this with a list of British imports you should have watched, and maybe can watch on DVD or streaming.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

I can't catch a break to save my life right now

So I've been taking some down time, more by now than I'd really like to but I'm trying very hard not to go back into the front end service portion of the restaurant business. There is a shelf life on this sort of thing and I'm pretty sure if mine hasn't expired it's at least reached "Manager's Special" level. It's a tough business and when you are my age, with my level of experience and the fact that I do not suffer fools gladly there are limited options as to where you can work and prosper and not commit any felony violence, toss in the fact that I am determined not to return to working nights and the well is very, very dry.

When the bistro closed I was in good shape financially and poor shape mentally so I figured three or four months of down time while I figured out what to do with my work life was a good idea, but the problem is I'm now six months in and while I've eliminated a number of career paths little that is viable has emerged, sadly it appears that nobody is going to hire me to read cookbooks, shop for food, menu plan, cook and drink good wine, . I've had a couple of offers but various combinations of terrible money, uninteresting jobs or lack of faith in the company  have so far kept me from a new career.

Today, however, dawned with a new hope as a position that I was interested in, and was interesting, presented itself to me and after a great meeting I was offered the job on the spot .......except the hours were not at all what I had been lead to believe and as a result I've chosen too pass, putting me back at square zero. In between that shitty piece of news and coming home I spent 90 minutes interviewing for a position that I still don't fully understand exactly what it's responsibilities are and neither, it appears, does the prospective employer.

While I was out at the meetings my landlord's handyman showed up to look at our dryer, the dryer started making a sound like cats in heat trapped in a cage last week and so I thought maybe some maintenance was in order. My landlord is a great landlord in many ways, I've previously mentioned this, but he doesn't like spending too much money so he uses his retired father as the handyman. His Dad is a good handyman but he's also extremely frugal with his son's money, he has an indifferent grasp of the English language and he seems to feel that since we are tenants we somehow should be available for him at any time. This morning at around 9 he called to say he was coming by in twenty minutes to look at the dryer, I said fine but I wouldn't be there but my daughter would be able to let him in ......pretty straight forward.

When I got home from my crushing "We'd like to offer you a job/yeah but it's I can't take that job/what exactly is this job I'm interviewing for ?" morning I discovered my laundry room/storage room has migrated into my dining room as apparently putting shit back isn't part of the repair process. So I spent half an hour tidying up and then daughter walked in and said "Oh Chen said the dryer might not be fully fixed and he might have to come back but I can't remember when he said he would do that, or if we can use the dryer or not", let me tell you something, leaving a message with a 16 year old about appliance repair, unless the appliance is a hair straightener, is useless. You might as well leave the instructions with the cat, they will both look you straight in the eye while you tell them and neither one of them will remember anything that you said 30 seconds after you leave.

So now it's after 3 o'clock, it's a couple of hundred degrees outside so I fix daughter a cold plate so she can eat something before heading off to her job, she has her first summer job and OF COURSE it's in the restaurant business, but fortunately it's her Uncle's place so she will be sheltered from the seamier side for at least this summer. Fed and showered she manages to convince me to drive her to work so we head off, six blocks from home I get rear ended . It's not a big hit but I pull over to get insurance info and this is when I realize I'm not dealing with a fully rational individual, first she claims there's no damage so when I point out the dent in the back of my car she says "well you pulled out right in front of me", I then explain that she actually changed lanes and that a rear end collision is always the fault of the driver in the rear. She then gets on me because her mother was just admitted to emergency and so she's upset, I say I'm sorry about her mom but really all I need is her driver's license, she then starts yelling and I just go "You know what, I've got your plate number and a witness so see ya", and head away.

Finally back home I realize that it's going to be 4-5 hours before I have to pick up daughter from work and so I can bend my "zero tolerance when driving with daughter in the car" policy and enjoy a cold beer on the front porch, that's when I find out that I forgot to put beer in the fridge.

Gotta be better tomorrow, right ??

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Costco List - Again

** This post disappeared while I was trying to edit it this morning so here it is again **

I have been a Costco member since 1999, the same year I became a father and yes it is no coincidence, my daughter was a Kirkland diaper baby, we had massive boxes of Q tips, tubs of powder the size of the baby herself etc., etc.

I remember my first voyage to Costco, I had to drive 25 minutes to a suburb, and then spend what felt like another 25 minutes in the lot looking for parking, to do my Costco shopping so it was a "once every 6 weeks" type of adventure. I recall being sensory overloaded with the quantity of goods, and remember they don't even sell wine here, but the deals were too good to pass up, we paid for our membership in diaper savings alone for the first two years. After daughter was out of diapers though things changed and I recall on more than one occasion wondering if it was worth the annual membership fee plus gas plus parking lot frustration . Then in 2006 everything changed when Costco opened their first ever Canadian "urban" location, not only was the store located in the downtown area, right beside a skytrain station but it marked a departure from the products in the suburban stores. The "urban" Costco stocked a wide range of organics, a vastly expanded produce section, many more upscale food items, a broad selection of good quality frozen foods and a huge section of deli foods and HRMs (home ready meals) to cater to the condo living locals. Along with the improved product line was the fact that it was now only a seven minute drive and a had MASSIVE underground parking garage that was not free but was very reasonable.

So I reupped and now I can't imagine groceries without Costco, the store is so convenient that I usually shop there every couple of weeks. Still there are pitfalls, first there is the size of packaging it's large so fresh produce is often not a good idea for a small family but there are some go-to items even in that category. You also have to be careful about impulse buying, especially when you see great prices and then 2 months later are still trying to eat your way through the 7 kilo box of cookies, just kidding (I think) and the lineups at the cash register can be brutal. I've often advocated an Costco "express" line, less than $250 worth of goods, but I don't see it happening any time soon. To me though the benefits outweigh the pitfalls, especially if you can avoid the pitfalls, and one of the biggest benefits is the quality of goods. Costco does not stock crap, their house brand Kirkland Signature is always top quality, believe me I would never have let inferior nappies touch my daughter's butt, so you can shop with confidence. They constantly upgrade their product line and the non House Brand staples they sell are always from top suppliers, though I have heard complaints that their potato chips are stale but I've never bought them so I don't know.

Price wise you have to know your pricing, it's not always the cheapest though generally it will be, and you don't have to hunt for sales, if you want baby back ribs, and there are going to be 6-8 for dinner then just go and buy a slab.  Costco is a better value for larger households but even with just two of us there are certain items that I will likely always buy at Costco, these are staple items that are always much less at Costco, they are the items that pay for the membership so here is my:

"Costco Essentials Shopping List"
  • Butter - Costco sells butter for roughly 60% of regular chain grocery price, apparently all dairy but we use very little milk/cream so it's not worth it for us
  • Cheese - again it's not close roughly 60-70% of RCG (regular chain grocery) with a broad selection and excellent quality, I'm not talking about picking up your post dinner cheese plate stuff here, leave that to "Les Amis", but for sandwich cheese, Balderson's cheddar and good quality Romano for pasta etc. the big box can't be beat
  • Olive Oil - Kirkland Signature Organic EVOO is just great olive oil at a price that is 30-40% less than anything comparable on the market
  • Frozen fruit - both regular and organic, great for when I feel up to smoothies plus excellent for baking
  • Frozen fish - we eat fish generally twice a week, Costco carries a broad selection of frozen wild fish, often line caught, at prices that are cheaper than anyone else. I currently have  Yellowfin Tuna and Barramundi in my freezer that I would not generally be able to afford.
  • Cucumbers - 3 pack of English cukes so not unmanageable, always good quality at a regular price that pretty much is the same as RCG sale price
  • Peanut Butter - okay it's a big package, 2*1kg jars, but it's all natural, unsalted and organic plus we eat lots of Peanut Butter and the price is less than 1/2 of what you would pay for a similar product.
  • Nutella - daughter's one true love. Again mere mortals might find the package size daunting but it's a laugher for us and 1/2 price
  • "Happy Planet" Smoothies - it's a convenience factor, we could, and do, make our own but some morning having an organic smoothie in a bottle in the fridge is just good sense, and 2*1L for $7 is too good to pass up
  • Stuffed Pasta - they stock a wide variety, it's all good, much of it is organic and it's 1/2 the price of anywhere else plus the selection is better. I just bring home the massive package and parcel it out into one meal portion sizes and freeze them.
  • Brita water filters - 25-30% cheaper than anywhere else
  • Stoned Wheat Thins - again, not for everyone 'cause it's a huge package but we eat lots and they are 1/2 RCG price
  • Bacon - again, big package but c'mon ............ it's BACON
  • Rotisserie Chicken - like the smoothie it's a bit of a cheat but the Costco birds are big, perfectly cooked and much cheaper than anywhere else. Particularly in winter I will grab one bring it home and strip the meat, having the roast chicken for one meal with enough left for at least one more meal plus a couple of sandwiches plus the carcass for stock. Once again it's real value is the quality, not just the price.
I'm sure there are some others but those items alone make me a Costco member, toss in the fact that unlike Walmart or Target Costco actually pay their staff good wages and provides excellent benefits and it's an easy choice.

Plus don't get me started on the electronics prices, thankfully I can't afford any new toys so I don't even wander down that aisle anymore. Anyway, leave me a comment on what your Costco essentials are, maybe I need to expand my list.

My Blog has lost its' Mind

For those of you on the email list I aplologize.

I attempted to edit one of my posts but Blogger decided to publish 1/3rd of the post and then delete the rest so if you get a strange partial Costco list from me today I'm sorry.

I'm even sorrier that the rest of that post is now lost somewhere in cyberspace but if I get a chance today or tomorrow I'll try and repost it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Canada Day Menu, and Beverages

Yesterday was July 1st, Canada Day, which celebrates the enactment on July 1st 1867 of the British North America act. The act joined together the three territories of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada into a self governing federation, the Dominion of Canada. Although the British government didn't give up full control at that time it is the date that my country became a country and it's celebrated in many varied ways.

Canadians are known for low key, polite behaviour and our national day celebrations don't go too far off the rails, unless you are in Ottawa, but the holiday is marked by parades, fireworks and, due to the timing, countless back yard barbecues. Pretty soon if the trends continue we'll be forced to choose between Canada Day celebrations and game seven of the Stanley Cup final but for now we are fine. The back yard bbq, or grill technically, is a bit of an issue this year as I try to stay regional and since it's the start of Sockeye season generally a whole fish, stuffed with lemons and fennel and bathed in olive oil would go on the Weber but this year I have dinner guests who "aren't fond of fish" plus two non red meat eaters so .......what to do ? Fortunately the Fraser Valley is home to any number of free range chicken producers so I grabbed a couple of 4 pound birds and brined them overnight in a simple salt water brine with the addition of peppercorns, garlic cloves and lemon peel.

Once out of the brine the birds were patted dry, spatch cocked and rubbed with a dry rub of salt, pepper, sage, ground fennel seed and mustard powder and left to come to room temperature while the grill heated up . I am a traditionalist and use lump charcoal and hardwood in my grill, no gas and certainly no briquettes, so it takes about 30 minutes for the fire to reach  searing hot. While the grill heats and the birds sit I trimmed and blanched green beans and julienned bell peppers and tossed them lightly in olive oil, kosher salt and lemon zest for later grilling. Once the fire is hot the chicken gets grilled, my Weber is not big enough to cook both birds at once so one was cooked then put in a low oven while the other was grilled then the first one got a short re-grilling to bring the temperature back up.

Grilling skin on, bone in chicken is a much discussed topic in the world of outdoor cooking, you can easily go blind reading the various permutations and combinations of how and why but for whole bird here is my method. The idea is to have a bird with crispy charred skin that is still moist inside so this involves two different heat components, searing high heat for the crisping and moderate heat to cook the bird through while leaving it moist . To accomplish this on a wood grill you simply stack your coals on one half of the grill, meat placed directly over the coals get very high heat while meat placed on the side without coals gets "indirect heat" less hot but still hot if you get my drift. A whole bird needs both and the intuitive method is to sear first and then move to the indirect heat to finish ....... this is wrong. A bird cannot start to crisp until most of the fat and moisture are rendered so by placing the bird on the indirect side you allow the rendering to take place first, I place the bird skin side up on the cool side with the legs facing the heat to get that dark meat a little jump start.

Grilling chicken really needs a meat thermometer, otherwise it's just guess work and disasters will happen, check the bird at the thigh joints and when it gets to about 140 degrees then flip the bird, not in the English style but actually turn the bird over and place skin side down over the hot coals until the skin crisps and chars, remove the bird and let it rest 10 minutes then carve and serve. I generally use the resting period to grill the veggies and that's what I did yesterday. Also as soon as I take the bird off the flame I brush it with a compound butter, yesterday I used garlic, lemon and Italian parsley. Along with the grilled birds were the grilled green beans and peppers, Caesar and potato salads, sadly no bacon, and dessert was fresh blueberry tarts.

The beverages were all Canadian, craft beer and hard cider to start and then Tinhorn Gewurztraminer and Osoyoos Larose - Petales D'Osoyoos with dinner. The Gewurztraminer is a classic Okanagan style, featuring crisp lychee, peach and ginger spice, it is dry but floral and while I personally would like a bit more acid it was a nice partner with the bird. The red Bordeaux from Osoyoos-Larose was from the 2011 vintage, a cooler more difficult vintage for the Okanagan, the blend is heavily weighted toward Merlot, 67% with almost equal parts Cab Sauv and Cab Franc then a little bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot. I have always enjoyed this "second label" blend and two plus years of bottle aging, after 16 months in oak, have softened out the edges nicely. Red berries are dominant in the flavour with a touch of vanilla from the oak and a little mocha in the mouth, the added bottle age has softened out some of the greener, leafy Merlot character I noticed when I tasted this last in October 2014 and with 15 minutes of air it was really quite delicious, it's tough for me to really get behind BC Bordeaux blend at $25 but this is awfully tasty.

All in all a good day, finished off with the blueberry tarts on the front porch with the sun down but still enough light not to need candles at 9:30pm. Oh Canada indeed.