Parenting magazine listed its best toys of the year for 2010 in its November issue, and the Chimp and Zee Shopping Cart Dash was one of the games receiving praise. Parents’ Choice also gave the game an award this fall, so the game seems to be racking up some honors.
This food-themed game teaches kids about foods and counting at the same time. Essentially, the players race to complete their shopping list and pay with coins for their items after each turn. The game is recommended for ages 3 and up and can be played with 2 to 4 players.
Pressman Toy was featuring this game in November as a give-away, so you can find a lot of ‘reviews’ of this product on the web. I was not a participant in this promotion, and I’m often a bit skeptical of these give-aways and the subsequent reviews, but this toy made the cut for me. It’s about food and I could see my daughter enjoying it.
With that said, out of all the reviews I read, this one from Enjoy Life, Enjoy Now seems the most sincere. The author is a foodie mom who wants to go to culinary school, and I trust foodies.
The game retails for around $15 at Amazon and I have just put in my order. If I remember, I will give a follow up review once I have had a chance to test the game out.
A few nights ago, I dined at a fabulous restaurant in Chicago called Alinea. I am not going to review the restaurant as it is well known as a great place to eat, and in 2006 Gourmet magazine named it the best restaurant in the country. It is good; very very very good, and I am not going to be able to contribute to that discussion.
What I will say is that the eating experience at Alinea under Chef Grant Achatz was a singularly amazing experience. And even though Chef Achatz’s style is often termed molecular gastronomy, I didn’t feel that to be the defining style. If I were to describe it I would say it is the foodie equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It was haute cuisine, molecular gastronomy, a gourmet theme park, and a food fantasy land — it was essentially food cabaret at its finest.
Even when you enter the restaurant, it is whimsical and amusingly confusing. The entrance is angular and narrows and the ceiling height also drops as you progress down the hallway. You are part of an illusion. In fact, it is very much like the part in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when they approach the tiny door entrance to Wonka’s factory. But here, as you walk towards the illusory small entrance, a motion sensor opens the real door to reveal a bustling restaurant full of food, diners, and wait staff. You have entered culinary Wonkaland.
But before describing the food, I have to say something about the service. It is impossible to compare the food service at Alinea to that of a regular restaurant; it is a different breed altogether. They take care of you in micro dining rooms within the restaurant, and their every move contributes to the wonder of your meal. At one point, a waiter asked, “I see you are drinking your wine with your left hand. Would you prefer to have your glass on the other side?” And that sounds absurd and made me chuckle at first, but once you eat there it makes sense. The staff setting the table were more akin to an architect drawing up plans or an artist constructing a mosaic. The placement of every dish was important and precise, so the placing of a wine glass was no less important. In other words — it made sense.
So now for the food. As opposed to most American restaurants, you cannot order off a menu. There is only a choice between a smaller ‘tasting’ menu and a larger ‘tour’ menu, and the menu changes about four times a year. The price and courses are set, and frankly the cost is not for the faint of heart, but save up and go at least once in your life if you take food seriously; the experience won’t disappoint. You can order wine from a wine list, but they also have a wine pairing menu that is amazing. It comes at a pretty steep price though, so be prepared to budget for it.
With that said, here are some of the wonder food highlights:
- A lightly breaded pheasant ball pierced with a small oak leaf twig and the leaves were smoldering to give a burning leaf aroma. You eat it like a twig skewer.
- A passion fruit injected with ingredients to make it taste like the famous New Orleans drink: a hurricane. The waiter uses a scissors to open the passion fruit top and you scoop out the fruit as it sits on a glass tube.
- A plate comes out on a pillow that is filled with nutmeg-air that slowly deflates and spreads the aroma of nutmeg as you eat.
- A gulp of potato soup in a small waxen dish comes with an acupuncture needle piercing the wax and suspending some butter, Parmesan, a potato ball and truffle shaving above the soup. You pull out the pin to drop the garnish into the soup and gulp it down. (This dish is pictured above.)
But I think the most amazing dish came at the end. A waiter came over and said, “Can I please remove your water glasses; it will be better that way.” So they clean off the table completely, and you are left to wonder what will come next. Then they place in the center of the table a silicon tablecloth, and two staff unfurl it to leave you with a rubberized table top. Yes, a rubber table. And you just sit there waiting expectantly for the next food wonder to arrive.
Next a young attendant comes out and organizes a set of dishes with zen-like precision on the far end of the table so we can’t see inside. Again, food and wonder are key. Then a chef comes out and proceeds to construct a desert that is placed directly on the rubber table top. He takes broad utensil strokes with a sauce here and there; dribbles tiny droplets; and describes each stroke in the process. It is more like a painting than a dessert. Then they deposit some chocolate that was chilled with liquid nitrogen right in the middle along with other ingredients in piles. That is dessert, and you eat it directly off the table.
At this point we were the first in the room to have dessert, and all eyes were looking at our table. People laughed, stared, and wondered and then did it some more. We were part of the entertainment, and it was an amazing dessert.
So that is Alinea: it is food and entertainment in the best of unimaginable ways, and you are part of it. Chef Achatz will almost literally bring out the snozberries and everlasting gobstoppers and you play your part and eat with amusing surprise. And though the staff aren’t Oompa Loompas, they provide just as much whimsy and wonder as they convey the food to your table. To this day it has been the most amazing eating experience of my life.
For those interested, there are a several online resources focused on Alinea. Two sites: Alineaphile and Alinea at Home are dedicated to all things related to the restaurant’s food and reproducing the dishes at home. They are great resources if you want to experiment with this style of food.
You can also visit the the official sister sites to Alinea such as Alinea Mosaic and Alinea Oenophilia. These sites will give recipes and information about the wines and equipment that accompany the restaurant’s food. You can even subscribe to a wine club where they will send you the wine-pairing bottles for each quarterly menu.
Lastly, if you want to know more about Chef Grant Achatz and his recent battle with tongue cancer that left him temporarily without the sense of taste, there is a good NPR story on him. It is very interesting.
There are a hand full of items in the kitchen that really are important because they get used all the time. A good chefs knife, baking pan, stock pot, among others but the pepper mill is probably used as much as any item in the kitchen. From start to finish, a meal often involves the use of pepper.
After having a Unicorn Magnum Plus Pepper Mill for a couple years, I realized what real pepper grinding was. It was and is an excellent pepper grinder, but there were a couple of things I didn’t like about it. I previously posted on my site about the Unicorn and the substitute pepper grinder I have been using since.
The substitute was fine for a while, but I still needed a good pepper mill. I remembered seeing an intriguing, well-designed spice mill at The Building Museum store in Washington, DC a few years back and searched for that. It was an Oliver Hemming designed pepper mill called the “Spice Boy” made out of wood (unlike the acrylic ones above). The wood ones are stunning, but I couldn’t find them for sale in the US, so I decided on a light blue acrylic spice boy instead. The mills come in a range of vibrant colors. On Amazon there is one black Spice Boy Mill available but you can find more options at Unica Home. I bought mine on eBay for a very good price.
Now I must admit that I have only had the pepper mill for a short period of time, but here are my initial impressions. Later on, as repeated use allows me to give better commentary on durability and other quality factors, I will update this post.
Design: The design is brilliant, and the modified mortar on top of a grinder works impressively well. It feels great in the hand. There is no other way to describe it. It’s balanced and the proportions are just right. My hand cups the wide top perfectly, making the grinding very comfortable. It also looks stunning, and that is why it has won several design awards.
Speed: It grinds fast, but probably not quite as fast as the Unicorn. The unicorn is a literal pepper buzz saw, so it is hard to hold all grinders to that standard, but even though I don’t have my Unicorn with me anymore, I think it comes very close to it in speed.
Grind: It uses a tested corrosion-free crush/grind ceramic mechanism that is apparently guaranteed for 25 years. The mechanism at the bottom is easily adjusted, but I found that it took several times to figure out the coarseness of the grind. You have to get used to the ‘tension’ of the knob. Very loose is coarse and very tight is fine — and the middle is some kind of medium. But with that said, I was able to get fine, medium, and coarse grinds very easily, and I found the shower of pepper coming out of the grinder very even — more so than the Unicorn. I will be interested in see how it ‘holds’ a grind, especially at the medium setting as the mechanism is fairly loose and I could see it loosening on its own with repeated turns, thus giving a coarser grind. We will see, but I also had problems with the Unicorn going to a coarser grind.
Capacity and Loading: The mill probably holds about 2 ounces of pepper corns, which isn’t that much but enough that you won’t have to refill it constantly. The upside with this grinder is that it is extremely easy to fill with the mortar on top that acts like a funnel. But it does not hold nearly as much as the Unicorn Magnum Plus grinder. Chefs grinding a lot of pepper during one cooking session might want something with a bigger capacity.
Cleanliness: It is very clean, and that comes both from being very easy to fill and limited pepper release after grinding. One of my complaints about the Unicorn was that it left ground pepper all over and a special cup was to be placed underneath. This mill sheds a fraction of the pepper that the Unicorn did after grinding. I ground it, then smacked it on my hand and even then very little came out, maybe a fifth of what the Unicorn would leave behind.
Versatility: The grinder can be used for all kinds of spices, spice blends, salts, and pepper. The product description says it will grind anything as big as a coffee bean, but I even took it a big step further and it performed admirably. I used Indonesian long pepper which looks like miniature pine cones and range in half inch to inch long pieces. I probably wouldn’t want to use them all the time in any grinder, but the Spice Boy took them on very well.
Price: The cost is about $38 on most sites, but I purchased mine new on eBay for $15. The Unicorn Magnum Plus sells for $45 and the smaller Magnum retails for $31. I think the price is quite reasonable considering how expensive grinder can be.
Ease of Use: This is an easy piece of equipment to use, but it is a two-handed grinder. Those who want one-handed grinding will have to turn to other products. Elderly people or people who have hand problems may prefer this model to other manual grinders as the wide top is easier to grip. Think about the difference between gripping a screwdriver with a fat handle and one with a narrow handle. Also, those with less than steady hands or poorer eye sight will appreciate the wide loading cup.
My overall impression couldn’t be more positive about this grinder. For those who want design, this is a great choice, but even for those who just want to grind pepper, this will be an excellent choice too. So far I prefer it over the Unicorn Magnum Plus, which I used for two years. Maybe in two years time I will change my mind, but for now I would highly recommend this product.
I grew up in the ’80s and had tupperware everywhere, and a brief look through my parents’ cupboards will reveal a tupperware time machine much like the rings in an old tree. Primary blue, red, and orange — those where the elementary school years. Pastels were later on. Other versions came after I graduated. But it is all still there, and my daughter is using the same dinky plastic cups I used in my day. And I can still remember when my mother hosted those tupperware parties, and I had to shuffle off to some back room while grown ups secretly haggled over plastic. The currency of the ’80s was not in oil or junk bonds, it was in plastic push-down lids, butter trays, and kool-aid pitchers.
This summer, however, I was driving around my small town going to some garage sales and a woman was selling tupperware in her garage. I kind of looked around and thought to myself: “Do they still sell this stuff?” I didn’t know.
Well, to my surprise Tupperware is more than alive, and this year it won a Red Dot Design Award for kitchen products. And this Allegra serving bowl set shows why they won it. It looks great, and I even tried finding a place to purchase it on the internet, but it must not be in production yet.
And to top that off, Tupperware also took home the Red Dot Design Team of the year award joining the ranks of BMW, Apple, LG, Bose, Nokia, and Siemens among others. I’m impressed. You can find out more about this innovative product line and the Red Dot Awards here. Congratulations to Tupperware, and I will be waiting for this serving bowl set to go on sale.