there comes a time in every man's life when it becomes absolutely essential that he challenge himself in order to progress as a member of the human race. for me, today is one of those times.
beginning with the release of his 2003 album michigan, twee indie-pop artist sufjan stevens announced his "fifty states project," where he planned to write an album for each of the fifty u.s. states. when he released illinois two years later, indie fans were abuzz, debating which state would be sufjan's next muse. would he explore their home state? unfortunately, a few years later, after no new state albums arrived, he declared the whole thing a "promotional gimmick" & abandoned the idea all together. although in retrospect the idea of stevens putting out fifty state-themed albums was a little bit far-fetched, i was one of many who was rather disappointed with the news. i myself had dreamt of new hampshire, an album laden with songs about franklin pierce, the old man on the mountain, adam sandler & al kaprielian.
in the spirit of this now-deceased gimmick, i'm happy to announce a fifty states project of my own. from now until some time probably post-2012 apocalypse, i'll be devoting precious column space to snack-drink combos from each & every state in this great nation. along the way, it's my hope that both you & i will learn a lil' something about the U.S.A. & in the process, a lil' something about ourselves.
i couldn't think of a better state to start with than my current neighbor to the west, the garden [chortle] state, aka new jersey aka dirty jersey. jersey's state slogan is "come see for yourself," a slogan that narrowly won out over the central-new jersey themed "get a whiff of us." i've dated a girl from bergenfield & had relatives in sparta & saw phish in camden, so over the years i've smelled & seen a good portion of the state for myself. overall, it's not all that memorable, but it's definitely interesting.
the state capital's in trenton, a city that ranks 47th in terms of exciting jersey cities. overall, they do have their share of notable cities, from hoboken to camden to atlantic city. there's newark, the city with the state's largest population, whose mayor is corey booker. last september, mark zuckerberg gave newark schools $100 million smackers. mayor booker was totally psyched that his city hosted part of the most recent round of the ncaa tournament. based on this past winter, if there's a blizzard & you're old & crusty, there's a 60% chance that mayor booker will come to your house & shovel your driveway. bonus! he's the main focus of the sundance channel's brick city, so if you're a lucky newark resident, there's also a good chance that your driveway will appear on a third-tier cable station. anyway, he's trying really hard to turn a shitty city into something special. i wholeheartedly applaud that.
i've had a lot of good times in jersey, but it's still a struggle to not think of new jersey as "the armpit of america." it's home to seven of the nine densest cities in the country. sure, a couple of them have great views of NYC, but for the most part they're awful. there's a stretch of turnpike around elizabeth where, if you don't roll up your windows tight, you'll be subjected to the scent of satan's wafting farts. coincidentally, this is just south of where the NJ devils play. MTV & snooki & the situation have turned the jersey shore into even more of a punchline than it always has been. perth amboy, NJ's jon bon jovi represents most of what i hate about the music industry, but bruce springsteen & titus andronicus sort of make up for it. i hear the pine barrens are stunning. the lightbulb was invented in jersey. the sopranos was set in jersey. there's a six flags amusement park in jackson, NJ. while i want to hate the state like it's shitty CT, i just can't. every time i want to hate it out of existence, it goes & does something & totally redeems itself. plus...jersey's where america's at.
snack: snack factory buffalo wing pretzel crisps
drink: flying fish brewing hopfish i.p.a.
since we're celebrating the state of new jersey today, we're doing so with an all-jersey snack-drink combo. from this point forward, that's how this column will work. get used to it. for our snack, we've got a bag of snack factory buffalo wing pretzel crisps. the snack factory is a forty-year old company based in princeton, the snooty, high-class new jersey home of the ivy league university with the same name. in 2004, they patented the "flat pretzel" concept & introduced pretzel crisps to the world. snackers who wanted a treat that appeared to be stomped on by a T-rex rejoiced. three years later, they rolled out buffalo wing pretzel crisps & last year they introduced a new, classy pretzel crisp packaging. all in all, i guess they've done pretty well for themselves.
the slogan associated with them (on both the front & the back of the packaging) is "rethink your pretzel!" since they're crisps, i rethought them for a few seconds. then i realized that there were many more things more worthy of my precious time & moved on. they're lighter than your average, everyday pretzel & preferable to regular pretzels & for whatever the reason, the flat shape makes them much less drier than a regular pretzel. i'm all in favor of that. the buffalo flavoring's sweet & pseudo-spicy & quite tasty. the packaging suggests pairing the crisps with blue cheese & celery sticks, but in my world, that'd require securing celery sticks, so i ate them plain. regardless, it was fine with me, as the buffalo flavor is well done & they're a snack that goes quite well with a jersey beer or two.
while new jersey pumps out a lot of beers, for my inaugural fifty states combo, i chose to go with a bottle of flying fish brewing hopfish i.p.a. that i picked up last week down in the L.E.S. at new beer distributors. flying fish was founded back in 1995 just across the border from philadelphia in cherry hill, NJ & at the moment, they put out a half-dozen year-round brews. according to the label, they offer brewery tours. the only drawback is that you have to wade through suburban cherry hill schlock to experience the brewery...sorry bout that. they're also known as the company who, since 2009, has been releasing their exit series, a crop of beers named for each of the exits on the NJ turnpike. the latest beer, the exit 9 "hoppy scarlet ale" was made in honor of the exit to rutgers university. i hear it tastes like mid-level college shame.
their hopfish i.p.a. is an english i.p.a. that pours a light amber color. as far as beers go, it's not too hoppy but there is a slight hop taste to it along with hints of both honey & citrus. i've had it a few times & both times, i enjoyed it quite a bit. i haven't seen it outside of new beer distributors, so i don't know how realistic it is for you to come across one, but if you do you can be sure that you'll be drinking a beer that tastes sweet & hoppy & is entirely free of fish bones. ultimately, you'll be supporting the cherry hill economy & the suburb's unrealistic middle class suburban dreams. if that's enough to keep you believing in america, so be it.