Friday, June 26, 2009

Taking Back Sunday

Sunday are happy to be ‘New Again’

When a band goes through as many high profile member changes as the beloved New York emo outfit Taking Back Sunday has, it makes sense to title your latest record “New Again.”

But like most of vocalist Adam Lazzara’s characteristically tongue on sleeve/ heart in cheek lyrics, there’s also a second meaning. Yes, there may be a new lineup, but the record also represents something of a rebirth — musically and interpersonally — says latest addition guitarist Matt Fazzi.
“I think the whole vibe is different all the way around,” the longtime friend of the band says.

Longtime fans will be happy to hear the band’s signature shouted melodicism and biting sarcastic heartbreak in tact. But there’s a sense of propulsion that charges the record, particularly on songs like “Lonely, Lonely” and the title track. Fazzi’s guitar playing is a departure too.

“Musically, my guitar approach is ... left of center for this style that we play,” he says. “A lot of that has to do with my liking to play a lot of jazz style chords. So instead of being this wall of sound power chords massive thing, my guitar playing is making a little more space so we can have more subtlety in the guitar and bass relationship. ... Taking away the wall of guitar and making something a little bit smarter out of it.”

In other words, making something familiar new. Again.

Barcode: Tea Cocktails

Being what you might technically call a dude, we never embraced the idea of having afternoon tea anywhere - never mind someplace as formal as Swan’s Cafe tearoom at the Park Plaza Hotel - as a way to pass a couple of hours.

But had we known it serves a selection of tea-based cocktails, we might have stopped by a little sooner. Turns out afternoon tea is just another way of saying happy hour with nice tablecloths.

“Tea has a tremendous culinary potential,’’ says tea sommelier Cynthia Gold. And cocktail potential, too. “That’s my agenda. To get the word out there.’’

A good place to start would be her Tea 101 class. The next installment, to be held tomorrow, will focus on summer iced tea blends and iced tea sangrias.

The two tea sangrias we tried are selling around the corner at the hotel’s Bonfire restaurant at the moment, but will soon migrate over to Swan’s Cafe or its adjacent bar and lounge. The Darjeeling and Pear (Riesling, Darjeeling tea, pears, $9) was light and refreshing. Darjeeling teas, from Northern India, are known for their astringency and natural floral and fruit tones.

“The Darjeeling had subtle pear under notes I wanted to bring out here,’’ says Gold.

Similar, but more complex and aromatic, was the Jasmine Tea Sangria (Yin Hao jasmine tea, Riesling, brandied fruits, $9). Here the fruits develop in brandy for a day before they’re added to the wine and tea infusion, where it then sits for another day, allowing the flavors to develop. (Want to try this at home? Don’t let them sit for too long, because the tea and fruits will begin to break down.)

Among the rotating selection of tea-infused white ports, we tried one made with black tea, lavender, and rose petals. The aromas on this one were remarkable, all floral and dark sweetness. The port itself is cloyingly sweet, but the tea adds layers.

“I’m not looking for an alcoholic tea, I’m looking to use tea to change the aromatics, flavor profile, and texture of the drink,’’ says Gold. The Yin and Tonic (gin infused with Ti Kuan Yin tea, $9) was a good example of this theory in practice. Here the tea rounds out the body and flavor of the gin, adding a touch of earthiness and complementing the juniper berries and spices. The Ti Kuan Yin is known for its natural smokiness and spice with a finish of stone fruit. This makes it ideal for pairing with spicy foods, so take notice if you’re looking for a tea cocktail to serve at your summer barbecue.

Elsewhere, the Keemun Cream (Keemun Hao Ya A tea slowly infused into vodka with a touch of cracked pepper, Baileys, $8.50) uses tea to balance the sugar you expect from a creamy Baileys cocktail. The Green Tea Martini (below left; vodka slowly infused with Chinese Dragon Well tea, dried peaches, quince, mallow blossoms, and vanilla bean, garnished with dried cranberries, $11) is pretty much entirely alcohol.

“Sometimes people hear ‘Green Tea Martini’ and they envision iced tea with a little alcohol in it,’’ says Gold. “That’s not what this is.’’ Not by a long shot. “I look at cocktails as life in balance,’’ she says. “You have the alcohol to relax you, the caffeine to energize you, and a healthy dose of antioxidants to round it out. What could be better?’’ This was exactly the kick we needed after a long afternoon tea to get us up and out into the city. Sometimes this relaxing business can be a lot of work.

Swan’s Cafe, The Boston Park Plaza Hotel, 50 Park Plaza, Boston. 617-654-1906. 617-426-2000. www.bostonparkplaza.com

Boston Globe

Monday, June 22, 2009

Slacker nation at the office

Dealing with co-workers who don’t pull their weight

There are dozens of different types of annoying co-workers. People who don’t pull their weight around the office — especially when you are busting your butt — can be particularly problematic, says Lynne Eisaguirre, author of numerous career books including “Stop Pissing Me Off!: What to Do When the People You Work with Drive You Crazy” (Adams, $13).

So what’s the best way to deal with these lazy bums? Try focusing on specifics. “Chunk it down,” as she says, since a total personality transplant is not an option. “You have to start with small changes of behavior ... Saying ‘you’re a slacker,’ ‘you’re not pulling your weight,’ those kind of broad things, those just make people defensive, and they’re not going to get you anywhere.” If you want someone to turn their report in on time, for example, because their delay is causing you to fall behind, come at them from that specific angle.

The first step is giving someone understanding and appreciation. Try saying “I understand that you have a lot on your desk.” Coming from this position can help avoid a more direct confrontation that may be perceived as hostile. The second step is explaining your specific request. Say “I need your report by the 15th of the month or else mine will be late.” Thirdly, follow up with more appreciation.

If that doesn’t work, you have to escalate it, adding some sort of specific consequences. That doesn’t mean going directly to the boss, however. Save that as a last resort. Bosses often prefer employees to work out their differences on their own, anyway.

Take a lesson from one of her favorite books, “Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World’s Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers” (Penguin, $15).

“You don’t train a seal to bounce a ball on his head by nagging him, or yelling at him or accusing him of being a slacker,” Eisaguirre explains. “You use small behavioral changes and rewards to get him to do it.”

Sound advice, especially if your co-workers are already acting like animals, anyway.

New York Metro

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Luke O'Neil, of The Good North: "Six Underrated Songs I Wish The Good North Had Written"

Although this record came out long after The Good North had broken up, turns out I'd been trying to rip them off my entire career. Exactly the type of hard-charging, soaring anthem my own songs sound like in my head...only none of them are nearly as good as this. One of my favorite vocalists of the past five years. Only big in Canada, sadly.

2. Kent, "If You Were Here"
This track from what I consider the greatest Swedish rock band ever – no small feat – came out way back in 1998, and it still sounds like it was written tomorrow. It's the essence of longing distilled into a the ideal pop-rock format. This record got lost in the shuffle in the post-Bends-era imitators, but it should have been a huge breakthrough here. For a dude who speaks English as a second language, he writes better lyrics than most American bands. Huge in Sweden. Here, not so much.

3. Aerial Love Feed, "Doomsville"
TGN used to play with these guys in NYC all the time back in the day, and they had a big influence on us. We named our first album after one of their songs. Way, way ahead of their time, they were doing the shoegaze revival thing in the late '90s, then added in a thumping house electronic element just before dance music blew up again. Big in NYC, but never got the attention they deserved everywhere else.

4. The Sheila Divine, "Like a Criminal"
Definitely no surprise about this one for anyone who's ever heard TGN or talked to me for five seconds. And while they weren't underrated in Boston, they probably should have been a huge smash across the country. It still bothers me to this day. I've been trying to write songs like this one for years now.

5. Brand New, "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows"
This one was sort of a hit, but I highly doubt you gave a shit about it, so we're gonna call it underrated anyway. Best lyricist in the past decade or so. Just a huge anthemic, powerful song, full of sweet harmonies, hard-edged screaming, poignant lyrics, and blazing guitars. The type of song that can pick you up and carry you away.

6. Further Seems Forever, "The Moon Is Down"
Yeah, yeah, emo is gay or whatever. Good call. This seminal, but mostly overlooked record is the picture of a band hitting it so hard in all departments. Not least of which is Carrabba's amazing, yearning vocal here. Sort of a blueprint for most of the shitty bands that came out in the meantime, but still powerful and moving after all this time. Gives hope to dudes who can't technically sing well, but can force home the drama all the same.

The Good North play their reunion show at the Middle East downstairs on Saturday, June 27.


Boston Phoenix

Friday, June 19, 2009

Add herbs and shake

Everyone talks about using fresh ingredients, but it’s not every bar where you can walk out back to a greenhouse and watch the bartender pick the herbs he’s going to use in your cocktail.

“The farm-to-table thing is trendy right now,’’ David Greekwood of Summer Winter in Burlington told us. It’s something Summer Winter chef-owners Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier have been doing for years at their celebrated Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine. The picture-perfect greenhouse situated outside Summer Winter’s dining room is smaller than Arrows’s fields, but it gets the job done.

“You’d be amazed at the amount of greens and produce we’re able to take out of here,’’ Greekwood said, offering up basil, rosemary, lavendar, and multiple types of mint (pineapple, apple, pineapple sage). “Because we have this great resource for the dinner menu, I thought about herbal cocktails. What can I do to include fresh ingredients in the drink menu?’’

In the morning he comes out to see what they have a lot of - maybe some shiso, or kaffir lime - and plans drinks from there. “It forces you to keep your menu current and seasonal,’’ he said.

In that spirit, the Greenhouse Caipiroska (Hangar One Mandarin vodka infused with herbs and crushed ice, $12) is something of a “surprise’’ herb cocktail. The bartender picks herbs for it at random, Greekwood explained, while muddling some lavender flower, shiso, and pineapple sage with fresh lemon and syrup.

“You want to give this a good muddle, but don’t want to bruise the rind to the point that it’s bitter,’’ he said. The result, a vodka caipirinha, is a cavalcade of herbaceous flavors. And it’s pretty much straight alcohol. “I should call it that Caipiroska Smash,’’ he joked. Too many of these, and that’s what you’ll be.

For now, the fruit in the Blackberry Nightshade (below right; Skyy Vodka, Cointreau, blackberries, $12) comes from a local farm, but the bartender already has his eye on a little plot out back where he could grow berries soon. One look at the thick, dark color from the hard-shaken fruit and you can see where this one gets its name. Served up, it comes with a sparkling rosé chaser (below left) that cuts through the viscosity of the berries. Try throwing the shot of rosé in after a few sips to give the cocktail a totally new character.

For something entirely different, move on to the Watermelon Daiquiri (white rum infused with basil, fresh squeezed watermelon juice, $12). For this one, Greekwood purees fresh watermelons, then strains them through fine mesh. Watermelon’s good name has been ruined by too much cheap liqueur nonsense of late. This drink goes a long way toward bringing it back.

The Red Sangria (Grand Marnier, brandy, $12) is a match in natural flavor. Here Greekwood heats a variety of herbs from the greenhouse with a bottle of Rioja to release the oils. Then he lets that steep for a week or more before straining. “It gives it a real herby, earthy feel,’’ he said. That’s something you could say of the bar’s entire menu.

Summer Winter, 1 Burlington Mall Road, Burlington. 781-221-6643. www.summerwinterrestaurant.com

Boston Globe

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Viva la Margarita!

Mixing a margarita is simple, right? Just throw some tequila, lime, and a little juice in a glass, maybe add some salt, and you’re good to go. OK, but then how come the ones we make at home never taste quite as good as those we order at restaurants? We asked some of the more popular margarita purveyors around to share their expertise and secret ingredients.

MARC KADISH

Owner of Sunset Cantina, 916 Commonwealth Ave., Allston

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “We sell a lot of Patrón, it seems to be the tequila of choice. At the same price point there are so many other alternatives though. It’s a shame that people buy the same ones when they can try something new.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “To me it’s the sour mix. We use a lemonade base with fresh squeezed limes to give it a fresh flavor. Some people grew up drinking that powdered sour mix and they consider that to be the taste that they know.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “We’re using the agave sweetener, made from a tequila agave plant. That’s one way to get some sweetness into it. There’s a new pink port that we’re throwing a splash of into our margaritas. Honey is a good thing that can go in there if you dissolve it right. The creativity is endless in terms of how far people want to go.’’

MO EL ZEIN

Co-owner of Masa,

350 Cambridge Road,

Woburn

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “My favorite to use in a margarita is a reposado, which is a tequila that is aged between two months and a year. Reposados in my opinion make the best margaritas because they aren’t as peppery and spicy as silver tequilas, and not as smooth and refined as añejos. Chamucos Reposado is my favorite type of a reposado. They’re aged in former whiskey and bourbon barrels that have been shipped down to Mexico from Kentucky. They take on the characteristics of the oak and the sugary flavor of caramel and nutmeg that you find in whiskey and bourbons.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “It’s really about the portions that you use of each thing. When making a good margarita, use the right orange liqueur - Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier. Cointreau isn’t as sugary as Triple Sec, it’s a better quality liqueur to have in a drink and not as sweet and refined as Grand Marnier. Using Cointreau makes the perfect margarita. Fresh lime juice is very important, too.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “I do a habanero watermelon margarita. You use a good two ounces of real watermelon cubes, seedless and pureed, strain it, then use that juice, habanero-infused tequila and Cointreau and touch of lime juice and agave nectar. It’s a lot of ingredients, but you need a lot to tone down that heat level. It has a faint after effect that creeps down your throat.’’

SHERRI WHITE

Bartender at La Paloma,

195 Newport Ave., Quincy

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “We use Sauza Gold for our house margarita. If you’re getting a straight margarita that’s the best. We use the white tequila if we’re making a flavored one like with raspberry or Blue Curaçao.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “The sour mix is the key to a good tasting mix that’s not too sour or sweet. Having it mixed the proper way, that makes all the difference in the world. If the sour mix isn’t good you can have the best tequila in the world but it won’t taste right. We mix it by hand at the restaurant here as opposed to buying it by the gallon.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “My favorite margarita that we have is called a Pepper Rita. It’s got white tequila, Triple Sec, jalapeños and red serrano peppers. It’s got like a sweet and spicy type taste with the peppers, and the Triple Sec. The fresh jalapeños are marinated in the tequila. It bites!’’

WAYNE DUPREY

Director of Bars at Intercontinental Boston, including Sushi-Teq, 510 Atlantic Ave.

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “My favorite is Cazadores Reposado. I like the balance of the way it’s aged in oak with the lime and syrup in a margarita. Most people don’t think oak and lime go naturally well together. It’s important to get the balance right. I’d probably use a nice middle end like a Herradura, or Don Julio Blanco if I was making margaritas for friends at home.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “The key thing is the lime juice. It’s got to be fresh. It’s a painful task to squeeze a bunch of limes, but it makes a difference. A lot of places stick to Rose’s lime juice. To me it’s like a cardinal sin.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “Tequila has a pretty strong aroma and flavor profile. The lime juice cuts a lot of the harshness out of the tequila. Together it can be a little bitter sometimes. I like to sweeten it up with agave nectar. It tastes great and it adds more body to a margarita as opposed to just sugar or simple syrup.’’

BRIAN GAUDET

General manager and

bartender at Forest Cafe,

1682 Massachusetts Ave.,

Cambridge

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “Milagro Reserva. It’s real smooth, almost a little smoky. That would be to drink straight. It would be a ridiculous amount of money in a margarita.’’ In that case, he uses Milagro Anejo. “It’s got a real smooth smokiness, and when you add the Grand Marnier it makes for a real tasty margarita.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “The key is just to make a good, strong drink. You don’t want to overpower, but not too weak either. A good balance of alcohol to mix. Orange juice makes a big difference; it gives it a little sweetness and offsets the sour. Keep it simple.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “We just put out a black raspberry pomegranate margarita. It’s got muddled fresh blackberries, pomegranate liqueur, Gran Marnier, and sour mix. It’s got a lot of sweetness. We also have a purple margarita with Milagro Silver tequila, Chambord, Blue Curaçao, cranberry juice, and sour.’’

ANITA REGAN

Bar manager at Solea,

388 Moody St.,

Waltham

TEQUILA OF CHOICE: “We predominantly sell Patrón Silver, on its own or in a margarita. We do the Añejo, and Reposado too. It’s what people ask for the most, so that’s what we started carrying.’’

KEY TO A GOOD MARGARITA: “Fresh ingredients, I would say. Especially not using premix mixes; making things from scratch. Fresh lime, sugar. Cocktails to me are just like recipes in food, you use the best ingredients for food, you should use the best ingredients for cocktails.’’

SECRET INGREDIENT: “Agave nectar as the sweetener. My inspiration for margaritas is not too sweet, not too tart [and] with a little bit of attitude. Being both sweet and savory gives more character to it. For our Agave Margarita we use fresh lime and fresh oranges muddled, almost like a caipirinha or mojito.’’

Boston Globe

Monday, June 15, 2009

When you have to aim low

How your lengthy résumé can be an interview issue

Does the quote, “You seem to be overqualified for this particular position,” sound familiar? It’s become a frequent refrain in job interviews, says Martin Yate, author of “Knock ’em Dead 2009” (Adams, $15). Too few job openings mean many people are applying for jobs that are beneath their skill levels.

And although you might think having a ton of experience can help in landing any job, it can also backfire. As Yate points out, sometimes your impressive résumé can put interviewers in an awkward situation. Why? Because they’re thinking: “One: I think you’re good. Two: I think you’ll be after my job and we don’t want that! And three: I think you’ll be a management problem,” Yate explains.

But if you’re desperate for work at this point and don’t mind dumbing yourself down, there are ways to get over this hurdle. The first is to tailor your résumé to the job at hand and not oversell yourself.

“If you’re in a situation that you need to go after a job that you can do with your eyes closed and hands tied behind your back, then you have to make yourself look like the best candidate for the job in question,” Yate advises. “Figure out how the employer is hiring for this job — how are they prioritizing their needs?”

Yate suggests writing a version of your résumé geared toward that target job. “Show that you’re qualified for that job, speaking to the issues that are important. And leave the other stuff out.”

Because it is typically older professionals who find themselves deemed overqualified, it’s important not to show overconfidence in the interview. You may find yourself interviewed by someone younger than yourself.

“You might feel crappy about that,” says Yate. “But you don’t realize that the young person across the desk might misinterpret your chutzpah and be intimidated.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but remember — you don’t have to come off as Superman. You just need to find work.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Barcode: Harvest

With the buzz of the impending commencement ceremony in the air in Harvard Square last week, we couldn't help thinking back to our own graduation 10 years ago this month. There's a lot we don't remember about that week, (which may have something to do with a few too many shots), so what better way to relive the glory days than by throwing back a few for old time's sake?

It's pretty safe to say the smuggled plastic cups of warm booze we had back then don't compare to the new Ice Flights (three 1-ounce shots of housemade liqueurs, $12, below) created by Harvest libations director Eric Cross.

Made from frozen filtered water, and served on a bed of ice, the trio of "glasses" is a cute gimmick, but it also serves a function as well. "Liqueurs taste better when they're super cold," Cross says. "Especially in the summertime." Besides that, he adds, "it's kind of fun."

Most of the infusions Cross has designed here are thoughtful enough to sip casually, but you'd better drink up fast before the ice melts. The Blueberry Brandy (center) retains the heat of the brandy even at these low temperatures, and the fresh fruit component is strong and clean. Cross hits the blueberries with a superheated simple syrup to bring out as much of the flavor and color as possible. There's plenty of heat left over in the Strawberry Tequila shot as well, although the strawberry is subtle.

On the other hand, there's nothing subtle about the Pineapple Bacon (right). It's the same salty-savory-fruity flavor of a pineapple and ham pizza. Most bacon bourbons are based around the flavors of a BLT these days, explains Cross. "Me, I love the flavor of a charred pineapple on the grill." The Smoky Pineapple Sour (bacon-infused bourbon, pineapple, fresh lemon, sweet and sour, $10) is basically a barbecue in a glass. Ideal for sipping on Harvest's secluded outdoor patio.

Bringing traditional food flavors into the realm of liqueurs seems to be Cross's specialty. The Cilantro Gin (left) might be the most effective.

"To me, getting that bright green fresh cilantro flavor, that's spring and summer," he said. It's got a pure vegetable flavor and almost drinks like a clear salsa. Which is where the inspiration for the Salsa Gimlet (cilantro-infused gin, fresh lime juice, tomato garnish, $10) cocktail comes from.

"I was thinking, what do we think about when we think about cilantro? The first thing was salsa. I add a couple hot peppers into the infusion as well to give it a very subtle heat. Basically, the tomato is the garnish. We're just missing onion."

It pairs well with food, although we thought there was a touch too much lime juice distracting from the other flavors. Normally, it's chips at a bar that make you thirsty for a drink. This one works the other way around.

Back in college, we might not have appreciated the flavor creations going on here. But as they say, with age comes wisdom.

Harvest, 44 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-868-2255.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Barcode: RumBa

Running with rum

Without rum, none of us would be here. The history of the rum trade is a complicated one, and pivotal. In Colonial times, rum played a crucial role in the development of both America's and the world's economies, ushering in an era of globalized trade.

One of the earliest rum distilleries was, in fact, built in Boston in the late 17th century. And given the historical importance of this complicated distilled beverage, we headed to RumBa, the bar in the Intercontinental Hotel, to try a few of theirs. You know, for research.

With 100 rums to choose from, RumBa has the geographic spectrum covered. Our first stop was in Venezuela, for Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Platinum ($11), a smoky and tropical fruit-forward rum that was the smoothest and easiest drinking we found all evening. Big notes of banana and vanilla, and a syrupy consistency, make it well-suited to any number of uses.

"It's the most versatile," said bartender Jay Lombardo. "It drinks easy or on the rocks, and mixing it with Coke isn't really a sin."

Another favorite was Gosling's Family Reserve Old Rum ($18). A Bermudan rum that drinks like a cognac, it smelled and looked like heavy, dark molasses. But try Gosling's Black Seal ($8) in a Dark and Stormy ($10). The vanilla and caramel go well with the spice of the Bermudan ginger beer Barritt's.

One rum you wouldn't want to mix in a cocktail is the British Royal Navy Imperial Rum ($120). This Jamaican rum, said Lombardo, "is supposed to be the best rum in the world." We took a tiny taste and found big oak and a mossy nose. It brightened into a floral and inviting bouquet the longer we let it sit.

Barbados-made Mount Gay Tricentennial ($75) was another rare treat. "You can't buy this anywhere," said Lombardo. An amber rum, it had a burnt wooden nose and a spicy heat on the back of the throat. It's like a Scotch or a cognac, bartender Wember Castillo explained of the aging process.

"You can age rum as long as you want," he said. Lighter rums, or less mature rums, he said, are better served for mixing, while darker, aged rums are best for sipping on their own. Although that didn't stop him from mixing us a Between the Sheets (cognac, Ron Zacapa Centario 23 Anos Guatemalan rum, fresh lemon, $14), a cold mix of spices and citrus.

"Dark rum is good for wintertime, like red wine. In summer, you switch to white wine, or a clear rum," said Castillo, who brought us toward the middle of that spectrum with the next two selections. The Pyrat XO Reserve ($9) from Anguilla was a medium amber with heat up front but a smooth finish that wafted into the nose like spiced, warm smoke and honey. A bit clearer than that was the subtle vanilla bean and hint of pine and cinnamon in the Ragged Mountain Rum ($13). A hand-crafted rum made locally in the Berkshires, it is the 100th on RumBa's list. You might call that historic.

RumBa, at the Intercontinental Boston, 510 Atlantic Ave., Boston. 617-217-5152. www.intercontinentalboston.com

Boston Globe