Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Food Day - No Joke

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold,
it would be a merrier world."

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)

Today is the first April Food Day; as I posted on Monday, this is a very important effort among bloggers to help raise hunger awareness and raise money for Feeding America. Please take a minute to visit Feeding America's website to learn about the good work they do to feed as many as 4 million hungry Americans each and every week.

My challenge remains, for every comment posted on these two April Food Day posts, I will donate an additional dollar to my already planned gift. Please leave a comment then visit Feeding America at the link below to make a donation, even if it's only a dollar.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White House DIY

New York Magazine this week reported that Barack and Michelle Obama have decided not to use taxpayers' money to renovate the White House family living quarters. Traditionally new presidents are allotted $100,000 per term by Congress to overhaul the White House personal quarters and the Oval Office. Camille Johnston, director of communications for the First Lady has said that “[they] are not using public funds or accepting donations of goods for redecorating their private quarters.” Also, the Obamas are not using White House Historical Association (a private charity dedicated to maintaining the White House) funds.

It's not clear whether the Obamas will spend more or less than the traditional $100,000 from their private funds, but given Michael S. Smith's past projects it's quite possible that the budget could far exceed $100,000. Smith's client list includes Rupert Murdoch, Steven Spielberg, and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain—for whom he procured that infamous $87,783 rug while Merrill was being acquired by Bank of America under the guidance of Federal Officials. We'll likely never know the budget as a result of the Obamas’ decision to absorb the cost. While not in the same league as Murdoch, Spielberg, or Thain, the Obama's have been quite comfortable the last few years; the couple reported $4.2 million in household income on their 2007 tax returns.

This won't be the President's first White House project, President Obama has already surprised his daughters with a swing set outside the Oval office and Michelle has been working with White House staff on a vegetable and herb garden on the grounds.

Monday, March 30, 2009

April Food Day

The wonderful authors of Pigtown*Design and Easy & Elegant Life have set into motion a brilliant plan to help raise awareness and dollars for Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest), a national food bank with 200 member banks across the country. They're calling April 1, 2009 April Food Day and asking bloggers to post on the great work that Feeding America is doing during these difficult times.

This is a cause that I started with in kindergarten and have never stopped giving. I posted on the struggles facing foodbanks in December and asked readers then to help Feeding America and/or their local foodbanks at that time. Needless to say not much has improved since the holidays for many Americans and the December donations are long gone. It's time for bloggers to unite in this effort to donate what we can to help fill the shelves of these very important resources.

Feeding America is very efficient (we should all do so well with our grocery shopping) with every dollar you contribute providing seven meals or 10 pounds of food. A $25 gift provides 75 meals. In fact Feeding America has a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator with nearly $0.98 of every dollar given spent on doing the good work of getting food into the hands fo those who need it.

In addition to my planned donation I will donate an additional dollar for every visitor who comments on this post between now and April 2nd up to an additional $100.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A New Owner for Troubled Greenbrier

In January I posted about the struggles facing the historic Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Last Thursday, March 19th, the 231 year-old Greenbrier succumbed to the current recessionary pressures and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. According to court records the resort has lost more than $90 million in the last five years including $35 million last year alone, though it's unclear if any of this loss is attributable to the extensive renovations done in 2006 and 2007.

The landmark property, which has hosted 26 Presidents and some noteworthy royals including Monaco's Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, has been owned by the railroad CSX since 1910. According to a statement released simultaneously with the bankruptcy filing the Greenbrier Hotel Corporation said it has struck an agreement to sell the resort to Marriott, pending the bankruptcy court’s approval and contingent on its renegotiating labor contracts before the sale. Labor costs associated with union contracts have been but one major hurdle in recent years.

If the deal goes through Marriott would receive $50 million over two years from CSX Corp. to operate the resort. Marriott in turn would pay CSX between $60 million and $130 million within seven years, depending on timing and the hotel's financial performance. CSX would be cutting loose a n0n-core asset blamed for a 32 percent drop in CSX's fourth-quarter 2008 earnings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar XIII

Top of the morning to you!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day today's post, the latest in the Well Stocked Bar series is dedicated to Irish Whiskey. Unlike the Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese who spell Whisky without the 'e', the Irish just as the Americans use the 'e' as a way to differentiate their product.

Although akin to Scotch Whisky the differences begin very early with the grains utilized in making their whiskey. Scotch Whisky is distilled principally in that it was distilled primarily from barley while traditional Irish whiskey is distilled from a mash of mixed grains including barley.

Today, most Irish whiskey is blended from a mixture of pot-still whiskey and cheaper grain whiskey produced in a column still (it's also more mild in flavor). Bushmills is the exception in that it produces its whiskey purely through a column still rather than a blending with pot-still spirits. Most Irish whiskey is distilled three times, but so is the Scottish single malt Auchentoshan; thus it is a common myth that triple distillation is the main distinction between the two varieties. To my mind and palette the principal difference between the typical spirits of Scotland and Ireland is that peat is almost never used in the malting process in Ireland while it's used in the majority of malts in Scotland imparting the smoky, earthy overtones loved by many, but not all whisk(e)y drinkers. I like to think of Scottish Whisky as the beverage of fall and winter while the lighter whiskies from Ireland are better suited to spring and summer.

Though Ireland produces and exports whiskey on a grand scale it's done through only three distilleries compared to Scotland's more than 80 (though many of these are owned by conglomerates). The Big Three Irish distillers are: New Midleton Distillery (Jamesons, Powers, Paddy, Midleton, Redbreast, and Green Spot), Old Bushmills Distillery (Old Bushmills, Black Bush, 1608, and Bushmills 10, 12, 16, 21 year-old single malts), and Cooley Distillery (Connemara, Knappogue, Michael Collins, and Tyrconnell). Of the three only Cooley's is completely Irish-owned. New Midleton distillery is part of the French beverage giant Pernod-Ricard while Bushmills is owned by rival giant Diageo.

In celebration of all things Irish (in a single pint glass) here's a recipe for an Irish Car Bomb:

3/4 pint of Guiness stout
1/2 shot of Bailey's Irish cream
1/2 shot of Jameson Irish whiskey (substitute as you like)

Add the Bailey's and Jameson to a shot glass, layering the Bailey's on the bottom. Pour the Guinness into a pint glass 3/4 of the way full and let settle. Drop the shot glass into the Guinness and drink immediately with great speed, exercising caution not to damage your teeth with a sliding shot glass; if you choose to sip the mixture it will curdle and lose whatever pleasantness it had during the first moments after its creation. While I've never fell victim to this beverage I have seen many who have, limit yourself to one then return to your whiskey or beer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Well Stocked Bar XII

The Angel's Share - The whisky that is lost to evaporation during it's time in the barrel is referred to as the Angel's share.

This post, the latest in a series dedicated to the necesseities and niceties of a Well Stocked Bar. The previous posts on Scotch Whisky have included VI - Blended Scotch Whisky, VII - Speyside Single Malts, VIII - Highland Single Malts, IX - Lowland Malts, X - Islay Malts, and XI - Island Malts. This post is dedicated to Campbeltown, a once great Whisky producing region. Today only two distilleries are in operation, though combined they produce whiskies under the names of four classic distilleries.

Glen Scotia is one of only two distilleries in Campbeltown, with Springbank being the other. This small geographic area was once the home of over thirty distilleries, the majority of which closed between the first and second World Wars. First registered in 1835, it was overhauled in the early 1980's and has passed through the hands of several owners over the years to various degrees of success and failure. Glen Scotia is housed in what appears to be a small townhouse which has the added distintion of being home to a ghost - a previous owner who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after being falling victim to a financial scam.

Springbank, in addition to its own label, also produces two additional malts in their original style though their original distilleries closed many decades ago. The "original Longrow" was produced by Longrow Distillery, which was closed in 1896. Today Springbank Distillery produces Longrow single malt whisky in the same distillery equipment as it does its namesake malt. Despite this the malts have very different characters with the Longrow's much more heavily peated and drier character (think Islay malts) than the more floral Springbank. Springbank also began production of Hazelburn in 2005. Hazelburn was once the largest distillery in Campbeltown producing as much as 192,000 gallons per year at its peak, though it shuttered its doors in 1925 due to financial difficulties.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Make Furniture?

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
Winston Churchill
Over the last week or so I've seen two different stories about luxury marquis in two very different industries making furniture in order to keep their factories busy.

The first, and more logical company to take this step is Petrof, the Czech piano maker founded in 1864. Over the last year as the economic climate has worsened and the demand for hand made pianos has seen similar declines the company has begun to make furniture and furniture grade kitchen cabinetry (pictured above). Currently their factory's production is 50% pianos, and 50% casework. It's not the first time the company has produced other products as a way of surviving difficult economic times, in the 1930s it produced wooden railway sleeper cars and in times of war it made grenade boxes.

The second, is the venerable luxury car company, Bentley. Their skilled woodworkers in their factory in Crewe has long been making gleaming walnut Bentley dashboard and wood trim. After an extended holiday furlough, the Daily Telegraph reported that these same craftsmen, 140 in total, have started using walnut off-cuts to make cabinetry, occasional tables and reception area furniture. The company, a division of Volkswagen, plans to use the furniture in Bentley showrooms. If the demand for these pricy pieces of rolling art remains depressed and the furniture is well received there are rumors that Bentley might come out with a line for the public. The company has been offering humidors, jewelry chests, and similar items for the past few years as custom order items with 20+ week lead times.

A Bentley Executive with a piece of their select burled walnut.

The upside for both of these firms, beyond the bit of revenue they receive from these side projectes is that they can keep these very skilled artisans employed in their workshops, many of whom are second and third generation craftsmen with very specialized skills. The danger in this strategy is that the demand for furniture is also less than robust.