the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news, movies, books, sf, media and culture, Macs, politics, humor, reviews, rants, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 12:04pm PDT, 5/30/2003

If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author.
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Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

April 2003 March 2003 February 2003 January 2003

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
pat and paul
roxi and merck
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   "Down Home" playlist
   Live MP3 audio stream

   Subscribe to the
   "Down Home" weekly
   playlist email service

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

Grateful Dead Radio
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KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

The Sazerac Cocktail

   (A work in progress;
   Martin Doudoroff &
   Ted Haigh)

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

Bar Asterie
   (Martin Doudoroff)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

Food-related weblogs:
Hacking Food
Honest Cuisine
KIPlog's FOODblog
The Making of a Restaurant
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu

à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

Click here for a new daily recipe from Chef Emeril!
In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine

Wally's Wine and Spirits

The Wine House

The Wine Spectator

Wine Today

Reading this month:

Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville, by Danny Barker.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Volume 1: The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Uncle Tupelo

Miles of Music

No Depression


New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

San Francisco Celtic Music & Arts Festival

Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project


Bloom County / Outland,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow Xquzyphyr & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

The Pianist (****-1/2) Chicago (****)

Lookin' at da TV:

"Six Feet Under"
"The Sopranos"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"Odyssey 5"
"The Simpsons"
"Iron Chef"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network

Weblogs I read:

The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
The Leaky Cauldron
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
Q Daily News
This Modern World
Web Queeries
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

Must-reads: (progressive politics & news)
Borowitz Report (political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Deduct Box (Louisiana politics)
The Fray (your stories)
Izzle Pfaff! (my favorite webjournal)
Landover Baptist (better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (news, opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (news 'n laffs) (not the actual White House, but it should be)

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple iBook 2001 running MacOS X 10.2 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

weblog and (almost) daily blather

  "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,
  From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me."
  -- Woody Guthrie

  Friday, May 30, 2003
Headline of the day.   Laugh, groan, whatever. I guess that headline writers should be allowed to have fun whenever they can. (Via Obscure Store)

French Fries Clog Artery

MINNESOTA -- A semitrailer truck loaded with McDonald's french fries overturned early Tuesday on Interstate 94 near Fergus Falls, Minn., closing the westbound lanes for more than two hours.

The driver of the truck, Eskender Dubale of Winnipeg, Manitoba, suffered minor injuries when the truck jackknifed and rolled over on its side, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

The incident took place about 2:40 a.m., and one lane of westbound I-94 was opened at 5 a.m. Some boxes of french fries spilled onto the freeway, and the remaining boxes were unloaded from the truck before it was righted.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, May 29, 2003
Rediscovering the lost art of bitters.   A favorite topic of this weblog, aromatic cocktail bitters are on the verge of a comeback, and need all the help they can get. One of the oldest, most venerable types of bitters, lost for a century, could be on the verge of a comeback as well. The catch is, you have to make them yourself.

This month's issue of Men's Journal goes into a bit more detail on Dr. Cocktail's recent recreation of the century-plus old Boker's Bitters (used in the original Manhattan cocktail), based on a recipe for them found in an 1898 tome entitled The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Receipts, Notes and Queries.

As it happens, there are a number of good reasons that a man should make his own bitters: They are very easy to concoct, requiring only mason jars, various common and strange aromatics, and a strong spirit as a base; they smell very potent, so they are good to have around in case there is an unconscious person in your home; and they will cure your colic, not to mention your diarrhea, dysentery, constitutional decay, and mental gloom. Such at least were the promises of Hostetter's bitters in 1867, when modern medicine was young and anyone with a garden could devise a botanical potion. It was also helpful that Hostetter's was 32 to 47 percent alcohol, good for extracting botanical essences, and also excellent for getting you drunk -- I mean, curing mental gloom.
The magazine is kind enough to provide the method for making the bitters, and the ingredients as well ... except this online version seems to omit the amounts. I'll dig around today and update as soon as I can. (Thanks, Steve!)

Inventing the Abbott's.   Another lost brand of bitters is our own Abbott's Bitters, made in Baltimore from 1872 until the late 1940s, and defunct since then. I managed to taste them once, due to the extreme generosity of a good friend, and the flavor is incredible -- very different from Angostura, rich and spicy and heady with many of the "apple pie spices" like clove, nutmeg and allspice; very complex, with lots going on, no doubt due to the fact that Abbott's was the only bitters that was barrel-aged (although for how long I'm not sure).

After two years of watching and trying, I finally found a full bottle for sale on eBay, won my auction, and now a bottle of late 1930s-era Abbott's Aromatic Cocktail Bitters resides in my bar. The Manhattan I made using them, based with Sazerac 18-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, may have been the best one I've ever had.

It's doubtful we'll ever see a true resurrection of these bitters, despite the nascent bitters renaissance spearheaded by cocktailians like Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh and Gary Regan; apparently the Abbott family, including octogenarian C. W. Abbott III, no longer remember the recipe. All we can do, I suppose, is to savor what little supply is left, smell and taste, and experiment to see if we can recreate those smells and tastes in homemade bitters.

Robert recently acquired a 1-gallon charred American Oak barrel for his next batch of bitters, and I think that's the way to go. If I'm going to refine my last attempt at bitters-making I'll need to get one too. I'll post updates as things happen.

The Cocktailian.   In Gary Regan's column today, the Professor offers a new (old) drink to one of his regulars, bringing out the Dubonnet and making a Phoebe Snow (nope, not named for the singer).

Quote of the day.   The setting: Craggy Island Parochial House, Craggy Island, Ireland. Mrs. Doyle, the housekeeper, and the pastor, Fr. Ted Crilly:

MRS. DOYLE: Are you looking forward to your lunch tomorrow, Father?
FR. TED: Hmmm? I suppose so.
MRS. DOYLE: You do like pheasant, don't you Father?
FR. TED: Pheasant? I love pheasant.
MRS. DOYLE: Well there's a little clue. The thing you'll be eating likes pheasant as well!
[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Pig pig pig.   It is both I and what I ate on this nice, long Memorial Day weekend. We went to a barbecue on Saturday in which the pig of honor, who was expected to arrive at about 12 pounds, turned out to be 22. That's a lot of pig, and pig fat, and cracklins. We made a valiant dent in it, and good lord, was it good. No seasoning or rub of any kind, just pure, unadulterated, smoky grilled pork shoulder, the pure flavor of the meat. We tore it into three huge bowls of pulled pork and piled the shredded meat on buns, topped with a tangy, vinegary, mustardy barbecue sauce. Heaven.

Pork. Nature's perfect food. (I should get a job writing slogans for the Pork Board, or for whomever produces those "other white meat" commercials.)

Défense de ramasser des escargots!   What to do with all those slimy garden pests? Well, just prepare some butter and garlic, then eat 'em.

Anything that has butter, olive oil, garlic and parsley in it is going to taste delicious. Tennis shoes would taste good with those ingredients.
Heck, if it's good for tennis shoes, it's certainly good for garden snails, which are apparently the same snails as the French delicacy.

Incidentally, the header comes from a favorite photo of mine, which depicts a sign posted on a fence outside a private garden in a small French town. It says "No snail-gathering!" and was presumably erected by the garden's owner, evidently fed up with people climbing his fence and tramping his plants to steal snails for their dinner.

Quote of the day.   "Little baklavas pulsate in the oven. It's scary and somewhat erotic." -- from a soc.motss .sig file attributed to "BBC". It's unclear as to whether the attribution belongs to the British Broadcasting Corporation or to longtime poster Bob Donahue; I suspect it's the latter.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, May 22, 2002
Cocktail of the day.   Wes found this one on Robert's site yesterday -- I don't know how I missed it -- and decided that "what the world needs now is more rye cocktails." Amen. This drink was fabulous.

The Old Pal

1 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce dry vermouth.
3/4 ounce Campari.

Stir the ingredients with cracked ice. Strain into
a cocktail glass. Garnish with a curly twist of lemon.

Of course, I was not told what drink he'd be making, and I was not allowed to watch as he mixed. As we often do when we make new-to-us drinks, I had to guess what was in it. I successfully guessed the Campari (which was easy) and the rye, and cheated 'cause I saw him take the dry vermouth out of the fridge. Unfortunately, as I was tasting and smelling the drink, I got my nose a little too close to the surface of the drink and ended up inadvertently snorting some of it. I do not recommend this technique for evaluating a cocktail.

(Gawd, I can be such a spaz sometimes.)

The physics of the mint julep.   Or, why we get frost on the outside of julep cups, by Professor Robert Wolke of the University of Pittsburgh.

America: A culture of lies.   Well, that's what we're becoming, isn't it? The pseudopresident and his minions lie to us every day (and the scary thing is, they probably believe every lie they utter). A federal judge has ruled that FOX News (the most egregiously biased television news there is) has the legal right to distort news and lie to its viewers.

Why then should we be surprised when we read that Texas now requires doctors to lie to pregnant women?

Texas approved one of the nation's most sweeping abortion counseling laws Wednesday, requiring doctors, among other things, to warn women that abortion might lead to breast cancer.

That link, however, does not exist, according to the American Cancer Society and federal government researchers, and critics say the law is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate, frighten and shame women who are seeking an abortion. Proponents say they are merely trying to give women as much information as possible, and argue that research into the alleged link between abortion and breast cancer remains inconclusive.

After years of failed attempts to outlaw abortion outright, social conservatives across the nation are now finding success in limiting abortions by requiring so-called counseling of patients. Among the most aggressive tactics is the attempt to link abortion with breast cancer, a move that many conservative organizations have undertaken, but rarely with the success they have found in Texas.

"They don't care what science says," said Claudia D. Stravato, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. "It's like talking to the Flat Earth Society."

Pssst. Newsflash. The Earth is round.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Death from Louisiana.   They're aggressive. They eat everything, including their own. They're ecosystem-destroyers. Yes, they're the evil, insidious Louisiana crawfish, which are apparently wreaking havoc in Italy.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Yes!   Yet another wonderful bit of research from The Best Scientists Ever, who've found that "[a] daily dose of the alcoholic beverage of your choice can help keep your arteries healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease or even death. New research shows wine, beer, and liquor are equally effective -- in moderation, of course -- in preventing stiff arteries, which can lower the risk of heart disease."

I'll take me a Sazerac; what can I get you?

No!   Because some things are just wrong.

Faced with the smoking ban, several New York restaurants are putting tobacco in their food and drinks.

As I write this, I am guzzling something called a Nicotini, which, as the name suggests, is a cocktail with a smoker's cough -- an ethereal blend of vanilla-flavored vodka, the coffee liqueur Kahlua and a splash of tobacco juice.

That sounds to me like something suitable only for depositing in the nearest spittoon, with great force. Blecchhh.

Are nicotine-addled New Yorkers really that crazy and desperate? I don't recall anyone insisting on tobacco-flavored cream sauces once smoking was finally banned in restaurants and bars in Los Angeles years ago.

"It's just an announcement of flavor," [Serafina Sando restaurant] owner Vittorio Assaf said. "We use it as a spice, not an ingredient." Would you want to eat a spice described thusly?

On the tongue, tobacco is harsh and stinging -- and tastes like chili powder that's been buried in a wet leather pouch in a dank underground cavern for a year, removed from the pouch, dried and rolled around in some dirt... Suba's [chef Yann] De Rochefort said his bartenders "experimented" with many different techniques before figuring out how to make a "tea" out of tobacco leaves that, when mixed with the right alcohol, becomes a Nicotini. I tasted the unmixed tea, which was a little like Earl Grey (if Earl Grey was kidnapped, bound, gagged and imprisoned for six months in a salmon smoking plant, that is).
Fortunately, Chef Wendy Malouf is probably right when she describes it as "just a fad." (Bleuccchhh.)

Speaking of Earl Grey   (a tea which so far I don't care for, despite its recommendation by Jean-Luc Picard), master bartender Colin Field of Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris makes a cocktail containing actual Earl Grey tea, which sounds fascinating. I'll dig it up and post the recipe tomorrow.

The Cocktailian.   It's always a pleasure to direct you to Gary Regan's fortnightly column. This time The Professor, after having acquired some fabulous (and fabulously expensive) bottles of 38-year-old Bowmore single malt, offers us a Copper Swan. Will this concoction put an end to that oft-repeated rule "NEVER use a single malt Scotch in a cocktail"? (We'll be trying one this weekend, to the exact recipe, and I'll let you know.)

Quotes of the Day.   From "The Thin Man" (1934), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, that sophisticated, glamorous and constantly cocktail-quaffing husband-wife detective team.

Nick:  You want a drink?

Nora (as if he were insane):  What do you think?!

I could quote from this movie all day, but here are a couple more:

Nick (to a trio of nonplussed bartenders):  The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you always shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.
(How does one shake to foxtrot time, I wonder?) Okay, one more ... Nick and Nora were confronted by a late-night intruder, who shot at Nick and grazed him. The next morning he reads about the previous night's assault in he paper:

Nick:  I'm a hero. I was shot two times in the Tribune.

Nora:  I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

Nick:  It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

America's short attention span.   So we're "Bored with Baghdad, already." In this article, Thomas Friedman says, "The U.S. networks changed the subject after the fall of Baghdad as fast as you can say 'Laci Peterson,' and President Bush did the same as fast as you can say 'tax cuts.'

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, May 16, 2003
Read SF!   You can read some Hugo Award-nominated short fiction online, courtesy of their publishers, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine> and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is rather nice of them. (Via BoingBoing)

New Wilco EP.   There's a new Wilco record out, but only available online for people who bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -- you have to enter a code number from the booklet of the album to access the downloads (which includes MP3s or MP4/AACs plus cover art in PDF format).

UT reissues   I didn't mention these earlier, as they came out on tax day and I was a little preoccupied with that. Uncle Tupelo's first three albums, long out of print, have been reissued by Columbia-Legacy Recordings, completely remastered and with extra tracks and new liner notes. They are, of course, absolutely essential.

An interesting day.   September 11, 2001, and what George W. Bush did that day (and what he didn't do).

Statistic of the day.   "Number of Democratic supporters that qualifies a congressional vote as 'bipartisan,' according to Ari Fleischer : 1" -- from Harper's Index.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Sausage and Red Chard Soup.   Last night's dinner. Not bad at all.

We got a nice, huge bunch of red chard in our last box from L.A. Organic Vegetable Express, and I was looking for something to do with it other than a salad or sauté. One Google search later and I found this lovely recipe, to which I added a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.

The quick method -- chop an onion and 6 cloves of garlic and sauté in olive oil with 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves. When they're soft and slightly browned, add 6 cups chicken stock and about 2-1/2 cups peeled, cubed Yukon Gold potatoes, then simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Take the taters out with a slotted spoon, mash them coursely, return to the pot and stir. Add 1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes (crushed by hand), 1 can cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) and 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage (cooked and sliced). Simmer for 15 minutes. Add about 1/2 pound red chard (washed and chopped into 1/2" pieces, and thinly slice the stems), red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper to taste. To serve, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a grating of Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese. Ladle into big bowls with lots of crusty Italian bread on the side ... it's a whole-meal soup.

The Prince of Polyester plugs back in!   One of my most very favoritest musicians in the whole wide world, David Lindley, is reactivating his band El-Rayo X, which made three albums in the 1980s (El Rayo-X, Win This Record! and Very Greasy). The press release sayx that "returning to the fold are former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, guitarist Ray Woodbury, bassist Jorge Calderon and drummer Walfredo Reyes Jr., joined by recent Lindley regular percussionist Wally Ingram for the group's first shows in 13 years. Plans are being made for a brief launch tour including L.A. area dates most likely in August." Woohoo! Seeya this summer, Mr. Dave!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, May 13, 2003
No wonder my pants don't fit.   Well, among many other meals over the last two weeks, there was that BBQ pork plate at The Pig Stand in Ville Platte, Louisiana. The beautifully seasoned and smoked pork steak (coated with The Pig Stand's own BBQ sauce, which is not unlike Jack Miller's except lighter and a bit sweeter) was nearly a foot long and over six inches wide, was served with green salad, potato salad, baked beans and a big scoop of rice dressing (kinda like boudin out of the casing) and the entire plate was only five bucks. Just about the best darn barbecued pork I've ever had.

Then there were the two brunches at Elizabeth's in the Bywater, where on the second Saturday of our stay I had the legendary Lula Mae Breakfast Po-boy. Big. Filled with a split, grilled, very spicy link of smoked sausage. Scrambled eggs and cheese, and we're talking about probably six eggs and two cups of shredded Cheddar. Then dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The cheesy eggs that fell out of the side of the poor boy (leaving plenty enough inside, believe you me) were enough to be a huge breakfast all by themselves. This creation was only four bucks and some change. Fabulous beyond words, but light it ain't.

I was actually thinking of an improvement on the breakfast poor boy (with all apologies to Heidi, whose creation is indeed superb). I prefer fresh Creole hot sausage to hot smoke for something like this, so I'd fry up some hot sausage patties as if I was making a standard hot sausage poor boy, then add the scrambled eggs and cheese (three's probably enough, really) and maybe some grilled onions or even some fried potatoes. Worth experimenting with, as long as I don't eat anything else that weekend ...

Cocktail of the day.   How bout the perfect Martini, à la Chuck? (No, not the "Perfect Martini", which would include equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth.) Everybody says theirs is perfect, and there are probably a million of 'em. This one really is perfect. (You may roll your eyeballs and giggle now.)

All in my own humble opinion, of course, after trying it myriad different ways and proportions, and spending a few years working up to drinking that much gin in a single cocktail. (Oh, and Martinis are made with gin, in my book. A very dry vodka martini with little or no vermouth isn't going to taste like much of anything!)

There are several components -- a good gin, at least some vermouth, and a sufficient amount of dilution. I've seen someone describe his "perfect Martini" made with gin he keeps in the freezer, so you don't have to dilute it with ice. Gadzooks! That'd make a very harsh drink, I should think. Proper cocktails always have water in them that results from dilution during the shaking or stirring (which also serves to chill the cocktail as well). Water takes the harsh edge off the alcohol, opens of the flavors of the base spirit and helps bind everything together; it's really essential to a properly made cocktail.

Use good gin, not bottom-shelf stuff. Beefeater is a very good everyday dry gin, and if you're interested in top-shelf brands, usually containing more botanicals in the mix of flavoring components, try Plymouth, Tanqueray No. 10, Bombay Sapphire, Citadelle, or even some of the more exotic gins like Hendrick's (which includes rose and cucumber in its blend of botanicals).

Vermouth -- Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth. Accept no substitutes.

The proportion I've arrived at that I seem to like the best is 7:1, on recommendation of Dr. Cocktail (who knows everything, pretty much). The technique came from watching Dale DeGroff make a Martini when he was in town last year, and it was the finest one I had ever tasted. He uses a little less gin and measures by eye; you can also learn to measure your preferred amount by eye as well, with enough practice. Or use a graduated pharmacist's shotglass or even measuring spoons, if you're not in a hurry. (The double garnish is a Dale touch as well.)

The Martini
(Chuck's favorite version)

2-1/2 ounces fine gin.
2 teaspoons dry vermouth.
1 dash orange bitters.

Fill a mixing glass 3/4 full of cracked ice.
Add the ingredients, then stir for at least 20 seconds.
Strain into your finest Martini glass, chilled (we
bought some Riedels for sublime Martini moments),
then garnish with two olives speared on a cocktail
pick, plus a lemon twist. Savor, and raise
your glass to Nick and Nora Charles.

For further reading and some terrific ideas for taste-testing different gin-vermouth proportions in a Martini to help you find our own "perfect" Martini, read Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess' most excellent essay on the subject.

Who says irony is dead?   Hypocrisy certainly isn't. From The Carpetbagger Report:

In an interview with Tom Brokaw last week, President Bush was asked about the likelihood that Iraqis, when given an opportunity to vote, would choose an Islamic theocracy via the ballot box.

Bush responded, "What I would like to see is a government where church and state are separated."

For those of who've followed Bush's disinterest in maintaining government neutrality on religion here in the U.S., the answer was amusing, if not surprising. This is a president, after all, who has touted an aggressive "faith-based" initiative intended to direct tax dollars to religious ministries, supports posting the "standard version" of the Ten Commandments in government buildings, voiced support for a constitutional amendment on school prayer in 1994, and sees no problem with public school science classes teaching students about creationism.

For crying out loud, the same guy who now wants Iraq to remain a strict secular democracy also issued a gubernatorial proclamation on June 10, 2000, declaring it "Jesus Day" in the state of Texas.

Mmm hmm. I guess this is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" thingys, right?

The tyranny of the majority.   "I'm a uniter, not a divider" was a lie when it was first uttered by George W. Bush, and it's getting to be more so every day. Take what's happening in Texas today.

The Texas Republican Party apparently aren't content to merely slash Medicare for 56,000 elderly Texans, eliminate most health benefits for teachers, and remove a quarter of a million children from the Children's Health Insurance Program ... nope, that's not all, folks! They're also planning to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts in the state (only two years after the last census-mandated redistricting), which will quite probably eliminate as many as seven Congressional seats currently held by Democrats.

In a ploy audacious even by the standards of Texas politics, one of the GOP's new congressional districts would be composed of two Republican-leaning areas, one north of Austin and one in the Rio Grande Valley -- 300 miles away. The two areas would be connected by a mile-wide ribbon of land and have been dubbed a "community of interest."
So, rather than stand for this arch-right wing agenda and the last straw of atrocious gerrymandering ... 53 state Democrats left Austin and spread themselves around the southwest so that the Republicans don't have a quorum to pass their divisive agenda by Thursday's deadline. The Republicans responded by sending the Texas Rangers across three states looking to arrest them and bring them home. (Wow, Democrats with spines ... who'd'a thunk it?)

"Democrats don't seem to know how to be in a minority," [said conservative activist Peggy Venable]. It is time they grow up."
Conversely, the Republicans have no idea how to be in a majority. Eliminating your opposition to further cement your long-term power isn't what a "uniter" does. It's pathetic that it's come to something like this, but I have to admire the Democrats' spunk for not letting the Repubs run roughshod over everyone else. I also have to admit that it's kind of hilarious, too.

Here's more coverage from the Houston Chronicle, and The Burnt Orange Report is keeping a close watch on the situation.

Gerrymandering = fraud. Why is it legal?   Why indeed. Here's an excellent site on gerrymandering and redistricting fraud that warrants reading.

The U.S. Constitution requires that every ten years a national census be taken and the results of that census be used to reapportion representatives in Congress among the states according to population. After reapportionment, each state must perform redistricting, the process of re-drawing the election district boundary lines for each type of state or federal office (e.g., state senator, state assemblyman, congress representative, etc.) so that all districts for the same type of office have nearly identical voter population. Local governments such as cities and counties also perform redistricting for their elected offices. The purpose of reapportionment and redistricting is to preserve the one voter-one vote fairness principle.

Gerrymandering is a form of election fraud that misuses redistricting to violate the one voter-one vote fairness principle that redistricting is intended to preserve. Gerrymandering is the process where the majority party draws a map with election district boundary lines that maximize the number of districts with a majority of voters from their own party. A gerrymandered redistricting map concentrates minority party voters into the fewest possible number of election districts (packing), and/or distributes minority party voters among many districts so their vote will not influence the election outcome in any one district (vote dilution).

Bizarre election district boundaries are drawn to connect distant disjoint areas with thin strips of land running through unpopulated areas such as industrial parks and cemeteries, down highways and railroad tracks, and through bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

Sound familiar? Democrats have been guilty of this as well, but what the RP is trying to pull in Texas now is ridiculous.

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  Monday, May 12, 2003
"Morning vodka"?   "Energy cocktails"? Here's a press release for a new spirit which sounds mildly interesting in its flavor compounds -- vodka infused with mandarin orange, juniper, peach and vanilla (but won't the juniper make it taste like gin?) -- but has something no other spirit has so far:

Zygo, The Morning Vodka, is the first and only energy spirit (70 proof) and a fresh new concept in the vodka category. It is ultra premium vodka that is distilled from American potatoes and boosted with a blend of taurine, d-ribose, guarana and yerba mate. These functional, revitalizing ingredients give you the energy to keep you going long into the night (or morning!). Now you can turn any traditional vodka drink into a sophisticated energy cocktail.

Icon Brands president, Ron Zier, says, "The introduction of Zygo marks the first branded offering of functional ingredients within the spirits category. Now men and women have a great tasting, mixable alternative. This marks a new age of cocktail drinking."

Let me get this straight -- this stuff supposedly gives you more energy ... so you can stay out later, drink more and get more thoroughly shitfaced? Ohh, I dunno, Crow ...

I'll bet the boss is a Republican, too.   Always willing to support the regular Joes.

About 340 workers at an Omaha plastics factory will lose pay or have to work next Saturday to make up for time lost during a visit by President Bush today to promote his "jobs and growth plan," their boss said this weekend.

Brad Crosby, president of Airlite Plastics Co., said about 170 of his workers will lose a full day's pay and another 170 will be docked for part of their pay for today unless they make up the time they spend attending Bush's speech.

Airlite, which will shut down for its first shift and part of the second shift to provide a photogenic backdrop for Bush's speech, will be the afternoon stop on a two-day swing by Bush to pressure senators to support a large tax cut as the measure heads to the Senate floor.

Wouldn't it be funny if none of them showed up to be Shrub's backdrop?

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  Friday, May 9, 2003
My new favorite place to hang out in the Quarter.   Who'd'a thunk that the folks behind Tropical Isle, that cacaphonous Bourbon Street bar whose sole purpose in life is to cause tourists to increase the amount of Everclear-laced vomitus that they deposit onto the streets of the French Quarter, would also give the Quarter something as sublime and elegant as the Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro?

In fact, when the new establishment was first proposed, the neighbors fought it tooth and nail, fearing an extension of the rowdy Tropical Isle in their neighborhood. Now that a year and a half has gone by and it's obvious that the two places are 180 degrees different from one another, I think they've finally relaxed, and I'm hoping this place will thrive.

Quiet, elegant, with subdued lighting and a player piano in the corner. A U-shaped bar that seats about 12, plus several tables. An enormous wine list, many of which are available by the glass. A menu of classic cocktails called the "Hollywood Cocktail Menu", taken from the book Hollywood Cocktails and with a descriptive line under each cocktail naming the old movie in which it was quaffed and who was the quaffer (included are the classic Champagne Cocktail, Kir Royale, Bellini, Martini, Manhattan, Gimlet, Rob Roy, Rusty Nail, et al). Very friendly, conversant, attentive and expert bartenders, some with over 20 years experience (John, Tom and Brandon took very good care of us).

There's an excellent bistro menu as well -- we had a fabulous fresh Creole tomato soup with goat cheese croutons, the "Gumbo du Jour", which that week was chicken and tasso, an excellent house-made charcuterie plate of various sausages, patés and sausages, and a light entrée of crab cakes with a mango salsa and jicama-tarragon slaw. Dessert was fabulous as well; we tried a warm apple, mascarpone and walnut turnover, and a superb white chocolate bread pudding with blueberries and a sweet Cabernet sauce.

It has none of the tack of the tourist joints, none of the smelly overindulgence of Bourbon Street; just a small, quiet, friendly place with great drinks, wine and food. I'll be there every time I'm back home.

Cocktail of the day.   Recently invented by Dr. Cocktail, who then talked bartender extraordinaire John Greer at Orleans Grapevine through its construction. Three of them were placed on the bar in front of us. Quaffing commenced ... mmm, mighty tasty. It'll kick your butt, too.

The cocktail is named in honor of Mr. Lemony Snicket, author of the wildly popular children's book series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. Mr. Snicket would undoubtedly warn the unwary imbiber to stay away from such an unfortunately concoction at all costs, if he didn't want something terrible to happen to him. (Perhaps it's what did Beatrice in.) I rather like it, myself.

The Lemony Snicket Cocktail

2-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce limoncello.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.

Combine all ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker.
Shake vigorously, then strain into a frosted cocktail glass.
Garnish with one stemless cherry.

Unfortunately, it's a rather cheery looking cocktail, not gloomy at all. Still, I doubt it'll be cheery enough for Mr. Snicket, who should probably be offered a nice cup of tea instead.

Mmmm, fast food salads. Good for ya!   Think again.

Apparently one of the salads currently offered by McDonald's has more fat and calories and just as much cholesterol as a Big Mac. Oh, I guess all those greens mixed up in it make up for it, eh?

If you're going to eat a fatty salad, don't eat that McDonald's crap. Go get yourself a classic bacon and spinach salad, or top your greens with fried oysters and a blue cheese vinaigrette. Now we're talkin' salad ...

Only in New Orleans ...   One of the bigger local news items while I was home during the last two weeks was the sad tale of Jeff Theisen, who woke up a week ago Thursday to find his house was on fire. He fled in hi bedclothes and stocking feet, then while watching his house burn he felt nature's call. As his bathroom was consumed in flames, he relieved himself behind a tree in his backyard ... and was promptly arrested by New Orleans police for lewd conduct.

The world's most recognizable film location?   You've seen it a zillion times in a zillion movies and TV shows. It's right here in L.A., and I'll bet most of my fellow L.A. residents have never even been there. It's Bronson Canyon and "caves", and I'll bet you'll recognize it when you see the pictures. (Holy cave entrance, Batman!)

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  Thursday, May 8, 2003
You can now donate via PayPal   if you want to lend some financial support to Looka! and The Gumbo Pages with your lovely micropayment. There's a new DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar, or you can just click this link. PayPal doesn't deduct that awful fee the way Amazon does, and if this works out better I might just get rid of the Amazon link altogether.

A buck, two bucks, five bucks, ten bucks, twenty, fifty, forty-three million ... whatever you can afford, we appreciate. My huge, hardworking staff of invisible elves and I thank you!

A new weblog is born.   Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess, in addition to running his main site and The Community for the Cultured Cocktail via MSN Groups, has embarked on what I hope will be an almost daily weblog focusing entirely on cocktails and quality quaffing. The most recent entry, on aromatic cocktail bitters and the near-death thereof, is excellent.

My new favorite jazz clarinetist.   Well, living jazz clarinetist; Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Willie Humphrey and all the rest of the deceased jazz clarinetists get their own category.

Evan Christopher is 32, looks 22, is from Long Beach, California, lives in New Orleans, and is one of the finest musicians in that fair city. Amazing tone and control, amazing and vast repertoire of jazz going back to the pre-jazz influences of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, ragtime, Brazilian choros and well-versed in masters like Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet. His newest album Danza, with pianist Tom McDermott, features the pre-jazz influences plus a little jazz, while his newest Clarinet Road, Vol. 1 begins an exploration of the jazz clarinet repertoire with traditional piano-based accompaniment as well as a string ensemble.

We saw Evan twice during Jazzfest, both times with Tom McDermott on piano with varied ensembles (and both featuring the superb percussionist Michael Skinkus). He plays every Thursday at Donna's Bar and Grill on North Rampart when he's not touring, so if you're local, go see him. And if you're a jazz lover, particularly a jazz clarinet lover like me, you've got to get all of Evan's albums. Like, now. So get busy!

The Cocktailian.   Gary Regan's bi-weekly column focuses on mint juleps this time around, and a timeless argument -- to muddle the mint, or not to muddle the mint? (I bruise the mint slightly.) How much sugar syrup to put? (Depends on the whiskey.) My favorite part of the article was the argument over using top-shelf Bourbons normally thought of as sipping whiskies in a Mint Julep:

"Here's a newish whiskey that I'm dying to use in a Mint Julep: George T. Stagg 15-year-old."

"A 15-year-old in a Julep?" questions John.

"Garbage in. Garbage out," recite Jen and The Professor in unison.

Heh. As Isaac Hayes would say, daaaaaamn right.

Tonight on "Down Home":   Part Two of our annual Jazz & Heritage Festival special, featuring music from Evan Christopher and Tom McDermott, Sonny Landreth, The Basin Brothers, Balfa Toujours, Bois-Sec Ardoin, Geno Delafose, Banu Gibson, BeauSoleil, Marcia Ball, "Deacon John, Los Lobos, The Red Stick Ramblers, La Volée d'Castors, The Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Topsy Chapman, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Fredy Omar con su Banda, Irma Thomas & The Professionals, John Mooney & Bluesiana, The Neville Brothers, The Radiators, The New Orleans Jazz Vipers, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, plus a tribute to the late, great Earl King, les musiciens de Chouval Bwa of Martinique and more!

Why Howard Dean's probably got my vote so far,   and why he probably doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning. What he has to say makes that person currently in the White House look very, very small. (Via Medley)

Senator Santorum asserted that the government has the right "to limit individuals' wants and passions." While the government has the right to protect citizens from the harmful acts of others, as well as an obligation to promote the general welfare of all people, I do not believe that it is the proper role of government to step into the private bedrooms of consenting adults. The continuous assault by right-wing radicals on the privacy of ordinary Americans must stop.

[...] Achieving this equality requires moral leadership. It sometimes requires standing against your party's base. It is not moral leadership when the third highest ranking Republican in the Senate intimates that the sexual abuse of minors is no different than the consensual acts of adults, and the President's spokesperson responds by praising that man for "doing a good job as Senator."

[...] I believe equal rights can be achieved, but it will only be achieved when we have leaders in the highest offices of the land who stop pandering to bigots in exchange for a handful of votes.

Wow indeed. Regime change in 2004!

Best. 404. Ever.   If the Iraq War were written in HTML. Hee hee. (Thanks, Steve!)

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  Wednesday, May 7, 2003
He's baaaaaaaaaaaaaack.   "How was New Orleans, Chuck?" asked everybody.

"Battered and deep-fried," he replied.

Two weeks back home in the Crescent City, eating and drinking with wild abandon, and I don't even want to think about how much weight I put on in that short time. "I know! I'll start walking this morning!" I thought. I had ambitious plans to start with a big loop around our large block ... but I only ended up walking a couple of blocks down the hill and back up again, barely 20 minutes. Hey, it's a start.

Friends and family are all well, Jazzfest was great, all the food was great, all the drinks were great, all the music was great. It wasn't exactly what I'd call a relaxing vacation (because we ended up exhausted most nights), but it was certainly fulfilling. I'll be writing about various culinary, cocktailian and musical things relating thereto in the next week or so.

Quote of the day.   "He was harshing on my mellow."

Iguanas saxophone player Derek Huston (one of the coolest guys on the planet), responding to a question by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose on what kills the moment during a performance, referring to Beatle Bob's extremely obnoxious habit of jumping up on stage "at a most inappropriate time ... it was a groove buster."

(Incidentally, the Iguanas' new album Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart, is fantastic. Buy it from their web site or from an independent dealer of fine music near you.

"A Beatle Bob-free Jazzfest ... we prayed for this!"   Didst quote our friend Diana when we started noticing that the moptopped obnoxiousity known as Beatle Bob wasn't barging his way up to any of the stages this year, at Jazzfest or at clubs. Then came the delightful news, that had filtered to one of our party from the Fest's publicist: apparently Beatle Bob had contacted Jazzfest and demanded credentials, free entry and a full all-access backstage pass for the entire festival. Why? "Because I'm Beatle Bob," was more or less the answer. Jazzfest's reply?

"Um ... no."

He reportedly then threw a snit and declined to attend the festival at all. Choruses of cherubim and seraphim rang out with hallelujahs. Finally, it's about the music and the musicians, not Beatle Bob jumping up on stage and calling attention to himself and away from the music and the musicians.

UPDATE -- Not two minutes after I posted this came an update from our friend Steve, who attended the Fest on the final Saturday and Sunday (which we took off): "Sad to report that we spotted Beatle Bob at the festival on Saturday, in the gospel tent guest area, with an all-stages artist pass that he must have gotten from some band that thinks he's funny, though thanks to the great music our mellows remained largely unharshed." Heh.

Finally, he makes it to Herbsaint.   Chef Susan Spicer's second-newest restaurant venture (with Chef Donald Link) has been open in New Orleans for a few years now, and after one abortive attempt to visit not long after it opened Wes and I finally managed to have dinner there on Friday the 25th.

It's almost asking for trouble going to a restaurant during Jazzfest -- they'll have their regulars plus all the tourists streaming into town. Reservations can be hard to come by, houses will be packed, service can be slow. Still, ya gotta eat, right? That was our attitude as we walked through the big, noisy main dining room to wait and drink at the bar. They've got a pretty interesting bar menu, original and tradtional cocktails, and make a pretty darn decent Sazerac (always a plus for me).

We saw two or three tiny two-person tables in the bar, and we were really hoping not to be seated at one of those, as neither of us particularly wanted most of our view to be the asses of people standing and waiting at the bar (even if they had nice asses). We brightened as we were led past those tables to be seated, but were a little crestfallen when we realized we'd be seated in the back dining room ... between two parties of twelve. Two noisy parties of twelve, at that. (*sigh*)

Still, we forged on. I began with one of their signature dishes, the Herbsaint Tomato and Shrimp Bisque (scroll down to second recipe), which was wonderful. Wes had the Gumbo of the Day, which was described as being "chicken, seafood and andouille". It had a marvelous flavor, but seemed to be oddly devoid of any actual pieces of chicken, seafood or andouille. My parents, notorious shrimp-counters both, would probably have sent back such a dish immediately. I would have at least made an inquiry, but Wes enjoyed the flavor enough such that it didn't bother him. (Much.)

We followed with something we'd seen a couple eating at one of the tiny bar tables -- a half-baseball-sized dome of gently seasoned lump crabmeat surrounded by a cool, tangy Creole tomato gazpacho. This is the kind of dish that really makes me smile -- lots of crabmeat, an interesting balance of flavors. Absolutely lovely.

Wes, in a porky mood that night, chose the braised pork belly with lentils and a mild red curry sauce. I was a little skeptical (Red curry? In New Orleans?), but was very pleasantly surprised when I had a taste. The fat on the pork belly was perfectly crisp and was not overpowered in the least by the intensely flavored but not terribly pepper-hot sauce, a startling combination that worked really well. (Incidentally, pork belly (bacon in its raw, uncured state) is appearing on more and more menus these days. Looks like pork belly futures are rosy.)

I, on the other hand, wasn't as pleased with my selection. It was the fish of the day preparation -- pan-seared drum served on a ragout of flageolet beans, sweet corn and fennel with a porcini mushroom broth. The flavors of the dish were very good, but the fish was just this side of being overcooked. If it had been one iota drier I probably would have sent it back, but it still tasted pretty good despite my disappointment with its moisture and texture. By this point I didn't want to wait another ten minutes for it to be redone, given how the two partices of twelve near us were cacaphonous vortices of service demands. I give the dish a B to a B-minus, but if the fish had been moist it probably would have gotten an A.

Dessert was another story. Warm chocolate beignets. Oh my. The beignets were perfectly crispy on the outside and tasted just like you'd expect classic beignets to taste, except for the fact that the dough was chocolate, and when you cut into them they oozed thick, warm, rich bittersweet chocolate sauce. There were three of them, topped with powdered sugar and served with a huge scoop of house-made vanilla bean ice cream. This is probably one of the best desserts in the city.

After the save by the dessert, apparently the Cosmos decided we couldn't end the evening on a high note and therefore arranged for our left rear tire to be flat by the time we left the restaurant. Valet-Boy kindly offered to change it for us, earning himself a hefty tip, so it wasn't so bad.

I'd definitely go back to Herbsaint, but not during Jazzfest, and not in between two huge parties. I'll give 'em another try next time I'm in town.

Cocktail of the day.   The house cocktail of Herbsaint Restaurant & Bar, featuring New Orleans' signature anise spirit (and the restaurant's namesake) is called, appropriately enough ...

The Herbsaint Cocktail

1 teaspoon simple syrup.
2 ounces of Herbsaint.
4 dashes of Angostura Bitters.
4 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters.

Fill an Old Fashioned glass with cracked ice and
build with the above ingredients. Top with water
and stir. (You may substitute Pernod for the Herbsaint
if it's unavailable.)

April Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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