How To Open A Bottle of Wine When You Don’t Have A Corkscrew

Wine is trickling its way into my foodie consciousness: after dinner with Clotilde where the Babbo waiter paired some dishes with wine, I’m really starting to understand how wine enhances the overall dining experience. I like this Hemingway quote posted today on Gothamist Food: “In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.”

Friday night, I was too lazy to cook. It was hot and rainy or maybe it was cold and snowy: I don’t remember. All I remember is that I ordered a pizza again from Pizza 33. It’s a delicious pizza: crisp wood-fired dough; fresh cheese and sauce and basil. But a thought struck me as I opened the lid: “This pizza looks nice and all, but do you know what would make it better? Wine!”

I ran out the door and darted across 6th avenue to my nearest wine shop. I purchased a bottle of cheap Chianti—I wanted an Italian wine. I paid and ran back across the street, up the elevator to my apartment and through the door. Was the pizza still hot? Barely; now just warm—but warm enough.

Let’s get this bottle open. Where’s the corkscrew? Corkscrew, present yourself!

Instant recollection: a few weeks earlier, I was on the roof with friends drinking wine. We brought up wine and glasses and…the corkscrew! Now it’s gone forever, no way it’s still on the roof. And here I am with a bottle of wine: what do I do? The pizza’s getting cold!

I turned to the greatest resource available to us in the modern age. The internet! I googled: “opening wine without a corkscrew.” I came across a site that gave the following advice: put a butter knife in the cork, hammer it in and push the cork through. This seemed wildly dangerous, but I was desperate. Here are my tools:

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(Ignore the cat milk: that’s Lolita’s wine of choice.)

What can I say? It worked. I made a mess–wine splashed everywhere–but the butter knife pushed the cork down (I hit it very lightly with the hammer) and then I used my knife sharpener to thrust the cork all the way in. I then used my rubber cork stopper to stopper the wine after I’d drank my fill.

The moral of the story is that no obstacle, however large and/or daunting, should prevent you from celebrating life with wine. A corkscrew, however, makes the celebration just a tad bit better.

How My Mom Lost 21 Pounds On Weight Watchers

(“Say 22 because tomorrow I’m getting weighed and I think I lost another pound.” – mom)

I am in the bedroom of my mother, Heidi Roberts, who is eager to tell you about her method for shedding 21 pounds and counting. Over the last year, mom put on some weight (her diagnosis, not mine) and now she’s eager to shed it. How is she doing it? That’s what we’re here to tell you. What follows shall be transcribed verbatim.

ME: So, how ya doing?

MOM: (snorts)

ME: Tell us: how did you lose the weight?

MOM: You’re asking me?

ME: Yes.

MOM: Adam you can’t write that. Brad, he’s plagiarizing me! You can’t repeat that. BRAAAD! What’s he writing, can you look? He’s annoying me. He’s writing everything I’m saying. No, you can’t write all that.

ME: Tell us how you lost the weight.

MOM: I joined Weight Watchers.

ME: Had you been there before?

MOM : Many years ago…but now I’ve never done the new program where you count points. It’s called…(flips through book)…I’m doing the Flex Plan. There’s two plans but I’m doing the flex plan.

ME: Why is this better than other diets?

MOM: Because it allows you to eat anything you want in moderation…and it teaches you…(it wasn’t that I was eating the wrong things, it was just that I was eating too much of what I was allowed.

DAD: Portion control, damn it! Portion control!

MOM: I always knew how to eat healthily…but at my age I had to learn to eat less of what I was eating.

ME: So what do you eat now?

MOM: A combination of vegetables, fruit…

ME: What do you have for breakfast?

MOM: Usually an egg beaters omelet with vegetables in it…with either a Kashi waffle or a Weight Watchers English Muffin and omelet…

ME: What do you eat for lunch and dinner?

MOM: Usually a small piece of protein…sometimes shrimp, sometimes chicken…sometimes fish…but no red meat, I haven’t had red meat in a long time. The same for dinner. On the weekends I’ll allow myself to have a glass of wine…

ME: How important is exercise to regimen?

MOM: It is very important. I now exercise at least three to five days a week… I wear a heart monitor and it’s important to…don’t talk about that, I don’t know enough about it…. It’s important to do aerobic exercise three to five times a week.

ME: Is there any recipe or food from Weight Watchers that you recommend?

MOM: Yes, their garden vegetable soup.

ME: What’s so good about it?

MOM: It fills you up with very nutritious vegetables… and there are zero points. Only 42 calories. 0 fat and 2 grams of fiber.

ME: Sounds delicious!

MOM: It is.

ME: Can you tell us the recipe?

MOM: Are you ready?

2/3rds a cup of sliced carrots

1/2 cup diced onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups fat free broth beef, chicken, or vegetable

1 1/2 cups diced green cabbage

1/2 cup green beans

1 Tbs tomato paste

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup diced zucchini

1. In large saucepan spray with non stick cooking spray. Saute the carrots, onion, garlic over low heat until softened–about five minutes.

2. Add broth, cabbage, beans, tomato paste, basil, oregano, and salt; Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until beans are tender.

3. Stir in zucchini and heat 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot. Makes four 1 cup servings.

42 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber.

Sometimes I put in a little Equal or Splenda to give it a sweet taste.

ME: BLECH!

Mom: Don’t go by her, she’s a terrible cook.

ME: How often have you made this soup?

Mom: (laughs) Once every few weeks.

Me: Really? How often have you made this REALLY…

Mom: Well I made it once and I froze a bunch of it…

Me: How long ago was that?

Mom: I used it up… I don’t remember…. he’s harassing me.

Me: This interview is over. I do not support this diet…

Mom: Wait, I want to give you more food suggestions…

Me: I am not impressed. Go eat a salad.

Grandma’s Hiccup Cure

Grandma got the hiccups at Thanksgiving and then proceeded to pour sugar on to a spoon and then lick it.

“Grandma! What are you doing!” we shouted.

“It’s my hiccup cure,” she explained. “Take a picture and share it with your internet audience!”

Incredulous, I did…

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…and sure enough, her hiccups went away. Just something to think about next time you hiccup at the table. The key, apparently, is to put the sugar on the tip of your tongue. Make sure to thank my grandma next time you see her.

How To Throw A Last Minute Passover Seder

My father jokes that our synagogue is “so reformed it closes on Jewish holidays.” That isn’t too far from the truth. And to be even more truthful, it’s been a long while since we’ve been in a synagogue. We’re Jews in spirit, we’re Jews in appearance (check out my nose!) but not always Jews in observance. To put it another way: we’re not Jews who build sukkas on Sukkot.

Many scholars have studied the baffling fact of Jewish survival in the face of such adversity. We have seen oppression in Egypt, in Spain, in Europe, in Russia and basically anywhere you put us. I’m convinced that the key ingredient, the key evolutionary advantage that lets our people endure is a weapon wielded lovingly by our women: that famous, infamous commodity known as Jewish guilt.

“Fine, Moses, don’t lead us out of Egypt,” said his mother at some point. (Ok, his mother put him in a basket and never saw him again, but you get the idea).

Or here: “Fine, my son the Spanish Jew, convert to Christianity for King Ferdinand and Queen Whats-Her-Name! See if I care! Why shouldn’t my heart break into a million little pieces?”

Or tonight: “What are you doing for Passover, Adam? Fine, don’t have a seder!”

Well, to be fair, my mother didn’t guilt me tonight. She just conspicuously broadcast the fact that SHE was having a seder; slightly probing my plans. What were my plans? It was 5:15, I was leaving my Sexuality and Parenthood class. Would I grab a salad from Whole Foods?

But then I saw a burning bush in my brain. “MOSES!” said a voice.

“Umm, God, this is Adam,” I replied.

“OH SORRY,” He apologized, “THE CARDS STICK TOGETHER IN MY ROLODEX. ANYWAY, YOU SHALL HAVE A SEDER! YOU SHALL INVITE JOSH AND KATY! YOU SHALL MAKE A CHICKEN!”

“Yes God!” I responded.

“OH, AND KILL YOUR SON ISAAC,” he added.

“Umm, I’m childless, God,” I reminded him.

“OH, RIGHT, RIGHT, SILLY ME. OK, I’M OUTTIE!”

I quickly called Josh and Katy on my phone and invited them to a seder. They quickly accepted.

I got home and whipped out Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America.” I also whipped out my Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks and pulled out recipes for roast chicken, roasted garlic potatoes and roasted carrots. We would be doing a lot of roasting tonight.

I ran out to Whole Foods, bought my ingredients, and returned with t-minus 2 hours to prepare. This would be a very last-minute seder, indeed.

I began with the chicken.

The Barefood Contessa’s roast chicken recipe is brilliant. It’s so easy and comes out so delicious. Basically, you take a lemon cut it in half; a head of garlic, cut it in half; and a bunch of Thyme (the store was out of Thyme, so I used Poultry Herbs, prepackaged) and stuff them in the chicken:

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Here I have trussed my chicken for the first time. Before, I had trussed issues. (Haha, get it? Trussed issues? Like trust issues? Ok, sorry).

I painted the outside with butter and sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper and popped it into the oven at 425 degrees for 90 minutes.

Next, I prepared the carrots.

Here, things couldn’t be easier. You just cut up 12 carrots on the diagonal, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet. Pop it into the oven for 20 minutes and you’re done!

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[One caveat: The BC advises you to cut the large ends of the carrots in half; and now I wish I’d followed that advice. The smaller pieces were tender and delicious; the big pieces were a bit too crunchy.]

Next, I prepared the garlic roasted potatoes.

This is really easy too. You just take 3 lbs of small red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss them on a cookie sheet with 6 chopped cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil.

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This goes in the oven with the chicken and cooks for an hour; you have to stir them around twice.

Now, I got on with the Haroset.

For the non-Jews among you, Haroset [like many other things at the Passover seder] is a symbolic mixture of apples, nuts and wine. Here’s what Joan Nathan has to say:

“To my mind, haroset, the last symbolic food, represents not only the mortar with which the Israelites, as slaves, used in building Raamses and Pithom in Egypt, it also shows the diversity of the Jewish people. With the dispersion of Jews throughout the world there must be seventy variations of harosets with new ones being created every year in America by our Jewish superstar chefs.”

Is she talking about me? Because I just followed her recipe for American Haroset.

I cut up 6 apples (3 red, 3 green; though they wouldn’t all fit); 2 Tbs sugar; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1/2 cup pecans; and since Katy and Josh hadn’t arrived with the wine (Manishevitz) yet, I added honey instead. Plus I used Mandy Patinkin’s mother’s trick (it’s in the cookbook) of adding ground cloves and ginger.

Here it is pre-blitzing:

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And after blitzing:

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It tasted great.

Now, with most of the food prepared, I hid the afikomen.

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What this means is you take a piece of matzah, wrap it in paper towel and hide it. As you can see, I hid it (rather badly) in my CD rack. Why do you do this?

Well, the Hagadah (seder guide) that I downloaded doesn’t offer much help:

“Toward the end of the meal, the children look for the afikoman, which the leader has hidden. Since neither the meal nor the Seder can be concluded before some of the group has eaten a piece of it, whoever finds the afikoman may demand a reward. nothing is eaten after the afikoman, so that the matzah may be the last food tasted.”

In any case, with the afikoman hid, I returned to the kitchen.

Ah, the chicken is done!

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Ah, the potatoes are done!

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Ah, the carrots are done!

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I quickly set the table:

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Just as our guests arrive.

“Mmmm, smells delicious!” say the guests.

“Where’s the food?” says Lauren coming from her room.

“Ah, ah, ah!” I say, “First the seder!”

I sit everyone down, and begin my charming reading of the Haggadah.

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There are prayers over wine, prayers over matzah, and prayers over the cancellation of Sex and the City. My audience is completely captive:

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Here is Passover in a nutshell:

The Jews were in bondage in Egypt. God led us out of bondage. Moses, as played by Chartlon Heston, was his vehicle for doing that. The Jews are very grateful. We sing a song called Dayenu. This has got to be the greatest Jewish holiday song ever. It translates as: “It would have been enough.”

So the translation goes:

“Had Adonai [God] brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us…”

“DAYENU!” which equals: “It would have been enough!”

“Divided the sea and not permitted us to cross on dry land…”

“DAYENU!”

“Permitted us to cross on dry land and not sustained us for forty years in the desert…”

“DAYENU!”

Except there’s this really great chorus that’s hard to recreate. It goes like this: “Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy dy enu! Dy enu Dy enu Dy enu!

It was my favorite part of Passover growing up. We would go to my Aunt Rhoda’s house and sing out joyously. I’d sing it in the car on the way home. My parents would throw matzah at me.

In any case, Josh, Katy and Lauren began throwing Matzah they were so hungry. So we quickly skipped to the part where you put horseradish and haroset on the Matzah to symbolize…

Well the horseradish is maror, and to quote the Haggadah: “We eat maror, or bitter herbs, to remind ourselves that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our people.”

And I already told you about the haroset.

After that, it was a free-for-all for the food.

Josh carved up the chicken:

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And did an excellent job:

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Our plates runneth over:

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We ate and kibbitzed. Josh and Katy, who aren’t Jewish, found our seder to be most accomodating.

“We once went to a seder that was five hours long!” said Katy.

After scarfing down our food—[I think everything went over really well; the haroset was a big hit, as were the potatoes. And the chicken. The carrots were a little too crunchy.]—Josh and Katy found the afikoman:

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We immediately kicked them out, so they wouldn’t figure out the whole “Find the Afikoman win a prize thing!”

I spent half an hour cleaning up, and with 8000 dishes in the dishwasher, my first self-made Passover seder was over.

How To Throw An Elegant Party in Less Than 8 Hours

by Amateur Gourmet Staff Reporter Tallulah Backwash

Tallulah Backwash here with an instructive primer on party-throwing and deep deep reveling. For those of you who have read my other essays—“Therapeutic Bathing: How To Fight Loneliness With Suds” and “No, You Don’t Have To Love Your Baby”—you are probably already familiar with my sassy, irreverent style. So call out the sass police, Tallulah’s here and she’s ready to spread her legs. I mean information! ‘Scuse me while I shed my Freudian slip.

Parties aren’t parties without cleanliness. Which is why your first step should always be to drink half a pint of vodka and to call up your favorite male escort to come scrub away. And by “scrub away” I mean: do the nasty! Tallulah, you’re bad! Put those demons away! Quiet, witch, I’m writing here.

Here’s my favorite boy toy working up some elbow grease, de-furring the couch with a cat-hair-catching sponge:

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Grrowwwwwwwl! He can defur my couch any time! Tallulah, bite your tongue. Oh hush you gorilla.

Next step: have your boy go out grocery shopping. Tell him to grab one of everything, it’s easier that way. And tell him not to worry about paying. Our capitalistic society is framed on the illusion that paper bills have significance beyond their societally imposed meaning. Nonsense! I never pay for anything!

Here’s what our boy brought back:

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Then I set him to work. “Make some dip!” I said, cracking a whip.

He quickly set out to make the Barefoot Contessa’s “Sundried Tomato Dip.” Look, I’ll confess: the Contessa and I go way back. There were some food experiments in college, and I’ll never shake the memory of that giant tentacle and the Bechamel sauce. But her dips are fabulous, and I quickly instructed my boy to double the quantities because our guests would go mad for it.

Here are the tomatoes being sliced:

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Here’s everything in the food processor, pre-blending:

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And here’s the finished product:

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Scrumptious! The thing was more tasty than a night at the beach with Alec Baldwin. And I don’t even like Alec Baldwin!

Next I instructed the boy to conjure up some guacamole.

“And do it like a Mexican!” I told him. “Wear this sombrero!”

He obliged but wouldn’t let me take a picture.

“Come on now boy,” I urged.

“Not unless you let me wear it on my head,” he responded.

The help can be so difficult these days.

He also used a Contessa recipe for the guac and it turned out splendid. First he chopped the onions and a clove of garlic:

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Then he sliced open the Haas avacados:

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And then he mushed everything up in the bowl:

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Gorgeous! I asked him to slather it all over my body, but he refused, saying that it wasn’t in his contract. Who did he think he was, a lawyer?

Finally, he set about making nuts. And I know what you’re thinking: Tallulah, you’re choc full of sexual jokes today, will you make one about nuts too? No, dear reader, I won’t. There is a certain thing called tact, and I’ve got in spades. Besides: I prefer the word scrotum.

These nuts are a recipe from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook, and they are world famous. First our boy chopped some Rosemary:

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Then he added it to a bowl with cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and brown sugar:

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He added some melted butter, added the warm nuts straight from the oven and presto! I asked him to pour the nuts on the floor, so I could roll around on them, and again he refused. These boys can be so prude nowadays.

Then we set about arranging the food. Here’s a buffet with everything and a little something the boy brought involving a cupcake and a breast. I didn’t ask any questions, but naturally I was impressed:

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Here’s a closer look at the dip and chips:

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Here’s the guac on the table: (notice how we sliced the top of the bags off, to save on serving dishes):

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And last, of course, the drinks. Plenty of alcohol for everyone! That’s my motto. This is my own private table, the guests table was located elsewhere:

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At last, the guests began to arrive. Here are two strapping youngsters beholding our mighty counter of foodstuffs:

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Here are some guests enjoying the guacamole:

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(Although some nervy specimen of existence bothered to say: “This guacamole has no cilantro!” I immediately booted him from the party, ignoring his cries of “But mommy! Mommy! I’m only 3 and i’ts cold outside!”)

Here are party guests striking up a conversation:

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And here’s one party guest showing off his Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake pin (sent to us by a loyal reader):

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For entertainment, our guests watched Channel 21: the guard gate channel. It allows us to spy on who’s coming in at the callbox. How funny to laugh as others foible at the gate! I love mocking the powerless.

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Some more arrivals:

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A deep conversation about the moral implications of breast cupcakes:

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The dip is gone!

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Lauren shows off her bridesmaid dress bra stickies:

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Pancetta serves up some ice:

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Finally, the guests begin to leave. At this point, it is crucial that you get the names and numbers of all the attractive ones. The ugly ones you should hug firmly but then whisper: “A sexual encounter with you is most unlikely.”

At last, the party’s over. How was it? Splendid, naturally. Did I fix myself a nightcap? Honey, I fixed myself a nightbucket.

This is Tallulah Backwash wishing you and your family a blessed holiday season.