Despite the buzz over Obama's NCAA picks (Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, Pitt), which are either perfectly practical or ridiculously boring depending on how you call your political shots, we focus our March Madness betting headaches elsewhere. For us, game days are all about having the right tools on hand to maximize game day enjoyment (food/alcohol) and alleviate unexpected disappointments (food/alcohol). The key is avoiding silly theme eats like basketball hoop cupcakes. We'd rather have that coffee-rubbed "Barely Buzzed" cheese with our morning recap, thank you very much.
And so we bring you our Top Ten March Madness Food And Drink Picks in time for today's second round games...
10. Smoked Olives From Orgasmo de la Boca:
For halftime fun, Venice Beach-based Alessandra Innamorato has added two new flavors to her smoked olive line, a pickled garlic and a tandoori-spiced version. Sure, the name is a party eye opener, but it's much more tasteful than flipping through the latest Bleacher Reports picks of the tournament's hottest cheerleaders.
9. Milagro Silver Tequila:
March Madness is no time to pull out the slow-sipping, aged añejos. You want a blanco (or a plata/silver) tequila that can be sipped at a speedy pace as the game picks up. Shots work, too. For around $25 (at K&L Wines), this Milagro is a great deal for a 100% blue agave, smooth sipping tequila.
8. Fresh and Easy's Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts:
Part pleasure, part pain, these nuts ride the wave of killer three pointers and missed free throw shots exceptionally well. So what if we aren't particularly fans of the name Fresh and Easy? We could say the same of many team mascots. Besides, these candy-coated chipotle-spiced almonds, habanero peanuts and jalapeno-doused pepitas are a hefty bargain in a very sharable 16-ounce pack for all of $3.29.
7. Blood, Bones and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton:
This book's dust jacket descriptors could just as well apply to those Final Four moments: unflinching, fierce, epic. Or so we hope. (Review coming soon.) In the meantime, what better way to wait out those time-outs than with a few page turns?
6. Franciscan 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon:
For those clock-countdown moments that require divine intervention, this Cabernet is intense, bold, and fruit forward. If you drink a lot of Cab, you already know what that means -- love it or hate it, depending on where your wine tasting wheel loyalty is tuned. Sort of like that basketball game. It has a $27 list price, though we found it for $22 locally (at The Wine House).
5. Amano Chocolate Bars:
Because presumably, at least one person "watching" your most anticipated game is going to be bored out of their mind. These handmade, small batch chocolate bars from Amano (more on the chocolate maker soon) are so farmer-specific, their descriptions begin with phrases like "accessible only on horseback" and "if you follow birds on their annual migrations in Venezuela." Instant back-of-the-box entertainment for the sports averse.
4. Homemade Jalapeño Poppers:
We swore we'd never make jalapeño poppers in our own kitchen after one too many 1990s chain restaurant renditions. Then again, we also harbor one too many 1990s college basketball sport allegiances. So when we recently saw this recipe in O Magazine (guilty pleasure) from chef Traci Des Jardins , we decided to give those poppers a second shot. These are fantastically hot and gooey with a generous masa harina crust, the only downside being they require a bit of prep time. But you can roast and stuff the peppers ahead of the game, then just coat and fry them all at once (keep them warm in a low oven). Recipe note: We needed a little extra water in our batter to keep the dough from being too stiff.
3. Homebrewed beer:
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2. Charles Krug 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir (Or Fine, Merlot, It's Your Game):
This year is the 150th anniversary of the Charles Krug winery, which has long been a Mondavi-owned property (the "other" Mondavi, Peter). Consider this Charles Krug Carneros Pinot an anniversary celebration bottle if your team got into the NCAA yet again this year (good for you). Like basketball loyalty, those Mondavi family relationships are complicated. Or as Eric Asimov described, their winery spats have rivaled "Biblical strife." But that's what end-of-game handshakes are for, right?
1. Black Forest Bison Jerky:
Keep this jerky on hand to pretend you're having all the road trip playoff game fun from your sofa. From a small family-owned operation, Black Forest makes some of the best jerky we've tasted, no doubt thanks to that free-range, grass-fed sort of thing. Their classic Gunsmoke is great, but we recommend the Black Forest Caliente Canyon for the Final Four. Because you've got to be hotter than hell game day mad to want to eat something so spicy. Scovie Award-winning hot. Hell, maybe that's a good luck omen.