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 of the reality-based community, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, 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 @ 3:05pm PST, 1/31/2005

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Now available!

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order from

Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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.

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

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

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
pat and paul
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
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
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 Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits, Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.

*     *     *
The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu

More food!
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:

The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth.

The Cat's Pajamas, by Ray Bradbury.

Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.

Shade, by Neil Jordan.

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
Professor Longhair
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
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3.)

Chuck's Photo of the Day Archive


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
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

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

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

by Walt Kelly

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

Meet the Fockers (***)

Lookin' at da TV:

"The Sopranos"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
Battlestar Galactica
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
Father Ted
"Iron Chef"
The Food Network

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
The Daily Kos
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Right Hand Thief
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Under the Gunn
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

Must-reads: (progressive politics & news)
Media Matters for America (debunking media lies)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report (political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (your stories)
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)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (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 G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 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.)


Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

  Monday, January 31, 2005
A tribute to The New Orleans Underground Gourmet.   Richard Collin, a history professor at Louisiana State University at New Orleans (now the University of New Orleans) was the first real restaurant critic in the Crescent City, writing the column "The New Orleans Underground Gourmet." When I was growing up, his word was almost gospel around our house, and my dad was particularly fond of his columns and his book that came out in 1973. He was erudite, witty and had the proper amount of pomp and condescension for a food critic, but generally only applied where it was deserved.

I remember poring over the book when I was a kid. I was always reading well above my grade level as a kid, and Collin's reviews were challenging yet entertaining, my first glimpse of what it was like to truly appreciate fine food in New Orleans. Unfortunately I never got to try many of the great restaurants of the past -- my palate was rather unrefined and uneducated back then, and for the longest time I wouldn't even eat seafood (which appalls me today). My folks would come home talking about the restaurants they loved when they went out (the late, lamented LeRuth's for one, which was their favorite), but sadly, those places would have been wasted on me when I was young.

What I can do is read Collin's old book, which is a fascinating look at the New Orleans restaurant scene of 30 years ago. Some of those places are still around, of course, but many have been lost to history, bad times, changing tastes and the wrecking ball. I wasn't able to find our old copy of The New Orleans Underground Gourmet at my folks' house, but copies in good condition are usually available via, which is where I got mine.

One other thing I can do is to use one of Collin's terms for describing a truly great dish, a term I remember my dad using a lot as well. Collin explains it thusly in his book:

PLATONIC DISH - This is my own personal accolade. The term is derived from Plato's Republic. It simply means the best imaginable realization of a particular dish. 'Perfect' would be a good translation.

-- The New Orleans Underground Gourmet, Revised Edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1973, p. 20.

For old times' sake, and as a tribute to Prof. Collin, I'm going to start using that old term again. I hope he doesn't mind.

Mmm, cabbage rolls and coffee ... can't be beat!   Well, actually, I'm not talking Leutonian cuisine today, I'm talking Polish cuisine (although undoubtedly the homeland of Mrs. Vilviacki and the Shmenge brothers isn't far from Poland). Polish cuisine is hearty, simple, tasty and filling fare, and although it can be nicely fancied up (such as at the fabulous Warszawa Restaurant in Santa Monica), our favorite is the inexpensive Polish restaurant Polka, right in the neighborhood, "where Eagle Rock fades into Glendale."

Family-owned and -run, it's a tiny place and you'll often wait for a table (even if you get there at 5:30, like we did). Service is friendly if a bit leisurely at times (it's a two- or three-person operation at most at any one time, and they're usually busy), but always with a smile and proper Polish accents. If you pronounce one of the names of the dishes properly, count on lavish compliments on your linguistic talents as well.

The dish I'm finishing off as leftovers as I write always makes me think of Mrs. Vilviacki, Leutonian though she may be. I love good stuffed cabbage (we do it in New Orleans too), and the Polish version may well be the best. There it's called gołąbki (or golabki if your browser can't interpret the Polish characters), pronounced something like "go-WUMP-kee" and thoroughly delicious.

Golabki, or Polish stuffed cabbage

The leaves are stuffed with a mixture of beef, pork and chicken, gently seasoned with a tangy red gravy, satisfying and filling and only twelve bucks for that big ol' plate of food. Actually, that photo (from Polka's web site) shows a bit more of a bounty than what you get these days; I was served a less of the vegetables and only two gołąbki, and it was STILL too much food, hence my dining on leftovers today. That all came with the soup of the day (which was a creamy tomato soup with bow-tie pasta), a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, sauerkraut and some black sesame seeds, plus dessert (which we had to skip so as not to be late for our concert later that evening). Not a bad deal at all.

Everything we've ever had at Polka has been terrific, and we couldn't recommend them more highly. They're closed on Monday and Tuesday, but any other night (or lunchtime) you're in for tons of great Polish food for a low price. That's my favorite price, next to free.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.   Via Kos, "in case you haven't been keeping up with developments in Vietnam" 38 years ago...

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote:
Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times
September 4, 1967, page 2

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 -- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

We all remember how that one turned out. Those in the press, administration and "wingnut blogosphere", as Kos put it, would be advised to think and to truly assess the realities of the situation in Iraq before dancing any victory jigs.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, January 28, 2005
Butter-poached lobster.   My eyeballs roll up in my head in ecstasy at the very idea, the mere mention of such a thing. Chef Thomas Keller, whose Napa Valley restaurant The French Laundry is probably the best in the country, cooks lobster this way, and it's perhaps the most perfect method ever devised. I love the sweet flavor of lobster, but it's really hard to cook well. Even in nice restaurants, I've ended up with lobster that's the consistency of chewing gum. Keller's signature technique of slowly, gently poaching lobster in butter is decadent genius and lets both the flavor and texture of the lobster shine.

The technique is included in Keller's gorgeous coffee-table volume The French Laundry Cookbook, but the folks over at The Gothamist have broken it down for you, step-by-step, with photographs. It's doable, so try it sometime (I will soon).

Sad news has come to town.   As an Irish traditional flute player (of extremely minimal ability), I note with sadness the passing of one of the greats, which I read about in today's edition of Ireland's Hot Press magazine, in Sarah McQuaid's "Folk Centre" column:

Sad news has come in that the great Clare flute player PJ Crotty passed away at Ennis Hospital on January 7. PJ was diagnosed with cancer of the blood platelets about six years ago, but it was during this time that he recorded his wonderful Happy To Meet. Following his removal the following day in Lahinch, all in attendance went back to The Atlantic House Hotel and a session started that lasted all night. At the funeral mass on the Sunday, the church was filled with musicians. The Cor Cúil Aodha sang the mass in Irish under the direction of Peadar Ó Ríada, and solos were played during the service by Liam O'Flynn, Seán Keane, Matt Molloy and Kevin Crawford. Before the casket left the church, PJ's wife Angela played a tune on the whistle, and when she finished all the flute players present came forward and played sets of tunes in unison. I'm told it was a beautiful sight and sound. You can hear a lovely tribute to PJ on Also featured is piper Joe Shannon, who passed away on St. Stephen's Day.
Jaysis, they sure know how to send off their musicians on that tiny, wonderful island, don't they? If my own musical skills were in the tiniest way noteworthy, I'd love to go out like that (followed by a jazz funeral, of course).

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Editorial cartoon of the day.   by Nick Anderson.

We'll be greeted as liberators!

(Via Kos.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Photo of the day.   This sign was outside Johnson's Grocery in Eunice, Louisiana ... one of my very favorite places to get boudin.

Hot Boudin To-Day!

I'd like some right this very moment, in fact, but it's damned hard to come by in southern California. Sigh.

Speaking of boudin ...   I should perhaps explain what boudin is. It's both a delicacy, and the fast food of Cajun and Creole country. It's a product born of poverty, in which rice was added to the sausage to stretch it out (which we now realize, of course, is an integral part of its innate fabulosity). Or, as they say on The Boudin Link, "As everyone in South Louisiana knows, boudin is a delicious blend of rice, pork, and spices injected into a natural casing and served everywhere from the fanciest restaurants to gas stations. While most locals feel that they know where the 'best' boudin is made, no one has yet attempted a comprehensive taste guide to all the boudin in South Louisiana. The Boudin Link is THE GUIDE to boudin."

Some of the Fat Pack and I have been wanting to do something like this for a while, but Coach "T" and Dr. C, Lafayette residents both, beat us to it. Makes sense, really -- they're there year-round, and we just visit a few times a year. They've got plenty of places listed with more being added all the time -- I'll consult the boudin connoisseurs in the Pack to see what their favorite places are, and I'll annotate here. (Thanks for the link, Brian!)

They give a "B" to Sunset Specialty Meats in Sunset, Louisiana, where I sampled a link of boudin just over a week ago. It was quite good, although I agree about the rubberiness of the casing (which I rarely eat anyway). It seems that I missed my real opportunity when I was there, though; they noted that Sunset Specialty Meats "had THE BEST CRACKLINS we've ever tasted. They were meaty (more meat than fat/skin), perfectly seasoned, and warm." Oh my. Next time. Ehh, it's not too far from my sister's house ...

Coach and Doctor, y'all gotta make it up to Eunice!

Zydeco Breakfast at Café des Amis.   Oh, speaking of boudin (what, again?) ...

One thing my sister Melissa plopped onto the head of the agenda when I was visiting her and her hubby in Lafayette Parish last week was to have breakfast at one of our favorite Acadiana eateries, Café des Amis. They're back and going strong after a devastating fire closed them down for months, and given the look of the crowd early on a Saturday morning, they're more popular than ever.

When we called the day before, they told us "Better get here early; it fills up fast. We start seating at 7:30, and the band goes on at 7:45." Seven-thirty? A.M.?! Surely one can't even digest food that early! We decided for a more civilized 9:45. When we got there the place was indeed jam-packed, and the first thing we saw was a line of older Creole men leaning on the bar, eyeing women while nursing rocks glasses full of whiskey on the rocks. For breakfast.

"I love this place," I said.

Folks were eating at their tables, drinking and/or resting by the bar, and dancing to the high-powered zydeco of Terry and the Zydeco Bad Boys, who had apparently been playing for two hours without a break, and would continue until 11 without a break (zydeco bands tend to be rather hard-working).

Terry and the Zydeco Bad Boys Dancin' at Café des Amis

As much as I wanted to join the old Creole guys, I felt more like a Bloody Mary than a whiskey, and the Bloody Marys I saw people quaffing looked pretty damn good. I ordered two, and just as I was turning to hand one to my sister, she said, "Hang on to that for a minute ... I'm gonna go dance with that old man." A gentleman who looked to be about as old as our dad had asked her to dance, and she wasn't about to say no. She seemed to enjoy it, and ... um, he seemed to enjoy it a little bit too much. Back to the Bloody Marys (which were excellent and spicy), and in a surprisingly short period of time we were at a table. "Do y'all mind sharing with someone?" asked the hostess. "Not all!" said we. I actually enjoy doing that, as you usually meet some nice people.

One look at the breakfast menu made my eyes widen. They started off with some traditdional Cajun favorites such as couche couche, a skillet-fried cornmeal mush with milk and syrup, oreilles de cochon, which is sweet dough rolled thin, fried crisp and shaped like a pig's ear (hence the name). I took a closer look, though ... "Regular, $4.95. Stuffed with boudin, $6.50."

Oreilles de cochon, stuffed with boudin?!? Um ... we have to get this. Diet be damned.

Rationalization kicked in almost immediately. "Well, I suppose we don't have to eat it all," I said.

"Unless it's really fuckin' good," replied my sister.

Oreilles de cochon, stuffed with boudin. Oreilles de cochon, stuffed with boudin, close up and cut open.

It was really fuckin' good.

It was more like oreille-shaped beignets, really; they had beignets on the menu too, and I'm pretty sure they used the same dough. They weren't thin and crisp, but thick and chewy, but still amazingly good. I love juxtapositions of flavors like this -- doughy and sweet and meaty and spicy and oniony but covered with powdered sugar. "This is weird," Melissa said. "It's just wrong," she added, as she mostly finished her serving.

"So wrong it's right," I agreed. I didn't actually finish all the dough, but dissected everything on the plate and ate every speck that was boudin-stuffed.

They have a lot of good specialty egg dishes too, and we opted for those. Melis got Eggs Begnaud, which is a grilled biscuit topped with either crawfish étouffée or crawfish au gratin, and then topped with two eggs, any style. She opted for au gratin and poached, which looked lovely. Mine was called the "Don't Mess with My Ta--so..." Omelet, which is an omelet stuffed with smothered onions and tasso (a highly seasoned, smoked Cajun ham), with either Swiss or Cheddar cheese and toast or a biscuit. When the waitress asked which cheese I wanted, I said I wanted to try to save a few points, so "only a little tiny bit of cheese on top, please." Then she asked a key question. "What kinda grits you want on the side? Plain, cheese or andouille-cheese?" Without missing a beat ...

"Um, andouille-cheese," I said sheepishly. Melissa just laughed at me. So much for shaving points.

Eggs Begnaud Tasso omelette

The "biscuit", as I noticed when it arrived, looked more like a muffin, and might have had a stick of butter in each one. The grits were fabulous, stone-ground, smoky spicy cheesy and worth every bite (I still only ate half ... good boy).

It was only just beginning to wind down by the time we finished, and really the only difference is that the band stopped at 11, tables eventualy returned to the dance floor and otherwise it was a seamless switchover to the lunch menu. Café des Amis is one of the best places to eat in the Lafayette area; Lafayette, oddly enough, is suffering for good places to eat these days. It's become dominated by awful chain restaurants like so much of blandified, homogenized America, and almost all of the good restaurants are outside Lafayette proper. Café des Amis, in Breaux Bridge, is one of them. Another is Catahoula's in Grand Coteau, where after necessarily skipping lunch we had dinner that night. More on that mo' later.

Still dancin' ...

Food, glorious food.   Kick-ass edition of the Los Angeles Times' Food Section today, including the great news that chef Nancy Silverton, who sold her interest in the fabulous Campanile, is now embarking on a project to open an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles with Mario Batali. Whoooo!!

* The local dim sum scene was already terrific, but nowadays has been soaring to glorious new heights.

* Some ideas for Champagne cocktails, both new and old.

* How to eat like French people and not get fat. (I'm all over this one.)

There's more. Eat it up.

Quote of the day.   One of the thirteen who had the courage to vote "no" on Condoleeza Rice for Secretary of State:

I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to, repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally. It's wrong. It's undemocratic, it's un-American and it's dangerous.

-- Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota
Regarding his prewar briefings by Rice, which turned out to be completely wrong.

I'm disappointed in one of my senators (Feinstein, unsurprisingly) and quite disappointed in Barack Obama, both of whom voted "yes." It was more or less a done deal, though, and I can let this one slip ... although a "yes" vote for Gonzales I will not let slip. I resolved that if Feinstein voted for him, she will not get my vote for re-election in 2006. Fortunately, she voted "no" in committee, as did every Democrat, so I think her vote on the Senate floor is pretty safe.

No on Gonzales.   This weblog joins DailyKos and many others in opposing the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, and urges the Senate to vote "no." To wit:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

The confirmation of Gonzales as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America will signal nothing but contempt for the law and for the idea of America as a nation and a people that condemn the use of torture. How long, one wonders, will it be before we start torturing our own citizens under a broad definition of "homeland security"?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Oscars shmoscars.   When we go to our friends' annual Oscar party this year, I'm going to concentrate on the party, the food and the drink. I'm beginning to think I couldn't be less interested in the Oscars this year, considering that the best film of the year (at least that I'd seen) wasn't nominated.

I must confess it's been a bad year for me; we've gotten way, way behind. We've only seen one of the five nominated features, so we've got a bit of catching up to do. I've really been looking forward to most of them, especially "The Aviator", but I'm seriously doubtful that I'll like any of them more than "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".

One thing I was thrilled to see was a best actress nomination for Catalina Sandino Moreno, who was the lead in the terrific (and powerful) little indie "Maria Full of Grace". In fact, I hope she gets it. Yeah, I know, I haven't seen three of the other performances, but Hilary already has one anyway, and I love to see underdogs win. (Then again, Kate Winslet was great in "Eternal Sunshine", and I'd love to see that one get something.)

Best Picture, more feckin' biopics. Biopic, biopic, biopic, biopic, "Sideways". Admittedly, I'm excited about "The Aviator" (because I'm excited about Scorsese in general, and I'm prepared to forgive him for "Gangs of New York"), and I'm already beginning to think that he needs to get the Oscar this year not necessarily for "The Aviator", but for "Taxi Driver", which should have won in 1976 instead of fucking"Rocky"forchristssake.

Okay, maybe I will watch the show. Maybe.

Tiki Drink of the day.   First off, I just found a nifty site called Critiki, which is "a worldwide guide to Tiki Bars, Polynesian Restaurants and other sites of interest to the midcentury Polynesian Pop enthusiast" and is curated by Los Angeles resident Humuhumu (a.k.a. Michelle Whiting). Extremely nifty!

It of course includes L.A.'s own beloved Tiki-Ti, a global treasure for lovers of tropical drinks. It's been ages since I've been there (and now that I'm an Eagle Rocker, it's actually fairly close to the house, so I have no excuse not to revisit). I still remember my first visit (when my friend Chris kept calling it, and probably still calls it "Tiki Tie", when it's actually pronounced "Tiki Tee"), where I was served their signature drink, Ray's Mistake, by the founding owner, the late Ray Buhen himself. I also remember embarking on a feeble attempt to drink my way through their entire menu, but gave up after a dozen or so (for which my liver thanks me to this day).

Now, on to today's cocktail. This is probably the granddaddy/mother/Big Kahuna/Grand Poobah of all tropical drinks, a gift to humanity by the legendary Don the Beachcomber (whom I didn't know until recently was a native of New Orleans). If you've had something called this, you probably haven't had it done properly. Here's how to do it properly, from Don himself via Dr. Cocktail:

The Zombie
(Don the Beachcomber's original)

1 teaspoon brown sugar.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 ounce pineapple juice.
1 ounce passion fruit syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
1 ounce gold rum.
1 ounce white rum.
1 ounce 151 proof Demerara rum (Lemon Hart).

Dissolve sugar in juice. Shake with ice and pour into a Collins (or better yet, a tiki glass) with fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Caveat imbibor: this'll knock you right on your ass, but you'll enjoy every second of it.

Mando-rrific bass-tacular.   Last night was my first visit to Walt Disney Concert Hall (excluding dinner at Patina, which is in the complex) to actually see a concert. There were a number of shows I wanted to see but missed, so it was long-overdue.

It's a stunning space, which manages to feel intimate even though it seats about 2,200 people. I'm not sure what it's like in their nosebleed seats, but I can sure tell you what it's like from fifth row center -- fantastic. My friend Matthew had amazing season tickets for their world music series, and last night we saw bassist Edgar Meyer with mandolinist extraordinaire Chris Thile of Nickel Creek. Their performance was nothing less than extraordinary. Meyer has a reputation as being perhaps the best double bassist alive, and for many years has bridged the gaps between genres -- classical to bluegrass and beyond, collaborating with the likes of Joshua Bell, Sam Bush and Béla Fleck. Thile's done similar explorations with Nickel Creek and in his own solo and outside collaborative work, so the pairing seemed to be a natural.

There were a few tunes from Thile's repertoire ("Smoothie Song" from the last Nickel Creek album, and "Jessamyn's Reel" from his last solo album Deceiver), plus some classical pieces, all by J. S. Bach, but the vast majority of the performance was new, original material unique to Meyer and Thile. Astoundingly, these intricate, complex compositions were written in the last couple of weeks before the tour began, by these two musicians who had never composed or played together before. The pieces were soaring, driving, quiet, contemplative, whimsical, sometimes outright funny, the latter quality helped by their onstage chemistry. Meyer seemed as if he were playing the role of the dad sometimes, with the energeteic, irrepressible and literally bouncing Thile. Quoting his friend Sam Bush, Meyer said, "They're so cute when they're that age." (Edgar, you're more right than you know.)

The whimsy continued into the titles of the pieces (of those which had titles, at least, other than "F sharp, Fast, Slow, 5") -- "I Wasn't Talking To You", "The Farmer and the Duck", and one for which Chris was only willing to admit half of the title: "You Deserve ..." (Matthew thought it would end up as the McDonald's slogan, but I must confess I was thinking in a different direction.)

All in all a great show, and a great way to experience Disney Hall for the first time. Now I want to see the L.A. Phil there, and I really want to hear a concert on that magnificent pipe organ.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, January 24, 2005
So long, Johnny.   When I was in junior high (staying up with the TV on later than I was allowed) and high school, he was a must-watch. We laughed at the monologue jokes the next day, we imitated Carnac and Aunt Blabby, Art Fern and Floyd R. Turbo, we learned the theme music in band practice, and almost never missed an episode. No offense to his successor, but after Johnny Carson retired from the "Tonight Show", I really never had much interest in watching it anymore, and pretty much quit watching late night chat shows altogether. Sure, Letterman was great, and Leno ... well, he's a nice guy, but nobody did it like Johnny. It just wasn't the same, and never could be.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny ...

I never was much of a Beach Boys fan, but thanks to Steve for sending this along:

He sits behind his microphone
John-ny Car-son
He speaks in such a manly tone
John-ny Car-son

Ed McMahon comes on and says "Here's Johhny"
Every night at eleven thirty he's so funny
It's (nice) to (have) you (on) the (show) tonight
I've seen (your) act (in) Vegas out of sight

When guests are boring he fills up the slack
John-ny Car-son
The network makes him break his back
John-ny Car-son

Ed McMahon comes on and says "Here's Johhny"
Every night at eleven thirty he's so funny
Don't (you) think (he's) such (a) natural guy
The (way) he's (kept) it (up) could make you cry

Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's a man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.
Who's the man that we admire?
Johnny Carson is a real live wire.

Thanks for all the laughs.

Cocktail of the day.   This one's from a recent addition to my collection of cocktail books: The Saloon in the Home, or A Garden of Rumblossoms, compiled by Ridgely Hunt and George S. Chappell, with many lavish engravings by John Held, Jr. It was published in 1930, three years before the end of Prohibition (my copy is autographed by the authors and inscribed December 1930), and is a collection of temperance songs, poems, stories, sermons and rants ... interspersed with lots and lots of cocktail recipes. It's hilarious, and I love it.

This cocktail falls right into the same category as the Manhattan, Rob Roy and Rory O'More/Tom Moore cocktails -- just substitute the base spirit and stick to the classic formula.

The Hunting Horn

2 ounces applejack.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a cherry.

We rather liked it.

You could try spiffing this up somewhat by using Calvados instead of applejack, and you could spiff it up even more by using Carpano Antica Formula or Punt e Mes instead of garden variety Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth.

On the same page of the book were two little temperance anecdotes and another cocktail recipe (which we have yet to try); I'll share those with you too.


"Ten years from now hundreds of thousands of men who voted against us and struggled to keep the saloon, will go down on their knees and thank God they were overwhelmed at the ballot-box and this temptation far removed from them."

-- William Jennings Bryan, Columbus, Ohio, November 19, 1918.


"Very early yesterday morning, I saw a young gentleman of my acquaintance whom I knew to be too fond of ardent spirits, sitting upon a doorstep, quite exhausted from a daring feat he had been performing. On his knee were two strong door knockers, three bell pulls, and part of an area railing, all of which he had drunkenly taken into custody."

-- Dr. Henry Monroe, 1865.

The Whitney

One part Scotch whiskey.
One part Sherry.
The juice of half a Lemon.
One tablespoon of Grenadine.

Here's to Mr. Bryan and Dr. Monroe ... drink up!

Quotes of the day.   From the Washington Post's interview with George W. Bush on Friday, January 14, 2005, less than a week before his re-inauguration. This is exactly the kind of brilliant mind and steel-trap thinking I want to hear from someone who's been elected not once but twice to head the most powerful country on Earth.

THE POST: Why do you think bin Laden has not been caught?

THE PRESIDENT: Because he's hiding.

Well ... olly olly oxen free! (Jesus H. particular Christ.)

From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

-- George W. Bush, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005

Except of course, as August points out, the people we owned and the women that weren't allowed to vote.

What democracy means to me.   Here's a memorable monologue delivered by Johnny Carson in 1991, as a tribute to the former Soviet republics who were then becoming new nations, seeking freedom and democracy.

To me, democracy means placing trust in the little guy, giving the fruits of nationhood to those who built the nation. Democracy means anyone can grow up to be president, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be vice president.

Democracy is people of all races, colors, and creeds united by a single dream: to get rich and move to the suburbs away from people of all races, colors, and creeds. Democracy is having time set aside to worship -- 18 years if you're Jim Bakker.

Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money you don't have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties.

Democracy means freedom of sexual choice between any two consenting adults; Utopia means freedom of choice between three or more consenting adults. But I digress. Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto -- usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money.

Democracy means a thriving heartland with rolling fields of Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Spanky, and Wheezer. Democracy means our elected officials bow to the will of the people, but more often they bow to the big butts of campaign contributors.

Yes, democracy means fighting every day for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep other weaker people from getting what they deserve. Democracy means never having the Secret Police show up at your door. Of course, it also means never having the cable guy show up at your door. It's a tradeoff. Democracy means free television -- not good television, but free.

Democracy is being able to pick up the phone and, within a minute, be talking to anyone in the country, and, within two minutes, be interrupted by call waiting.

Democracy means no taxation without representation, and god knows, we've just about had the hell represented out of us. It means the freedom to bear arms, so you can blow the "o" out of any rural stop sign you want.

And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head--this signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle.

I thank you.

How little has changed ... although that first paragraph could bear some rewriting for current times. Democracy now apparently means that any mediocre citizen whose family has enough money and power and who has enough personal mendacity can be president, and whichever of his buddies he appoints to find a vice-president can pick himself. God bless Murr'ca.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, January 22, 2005
Cocktails of the day.   Taken from an exhibit at The Museum of the American Cocktail, New Orleans. (I'll have more on the Museum in a post next week.)

What are we drinking?  A selection of Cocktails, all new for 1901.

What are we drinking? A selection of Cocktails, all new for 1901.

The Commodore
(This drink, which was invented by Phil Gross, Cincinnati, O., won the POLICE GAZETTE championship medal in the bartenders' contest.)

One-half lime.
One jigger whiskey.
One teaspoonful sugar.
Two dashes orange bitters.

Shake well and strain into a thin goblet and serve.

Sunny Side Cocktail
(Use common bar glass.) Two-thirds full of ice.

One dash gum syrup.
One dash Angotura bitters.
Three dashes Orange bitters.
Five dashes Italian vermouth.

Fill with Scotch whiskey; stir well and strain; serve with pitted olive and twisted lemon.

Trilby Cocktail
(By W. J. Farrell, St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans.)

Use bar glass.
Put in a small lump of ice.
A dash of Peychaud's bitters.
A dash of Curacoa.
Two-thirds French Vermouth.

Serve in a fancy stand glass, and float whiskey on top with a pinch of lemon peel.

Honolulu Cooler
(By V. J. Terrio, Boston, Mass.)

Use large bar glass.
One spoonful powdered sugar.
Juice of one lime.
Two dashes Raspberry syrup.
One glass St. Croix rum.

Fill the glass with shaved ice and shake well; decorate with fruits and serve with straws.

Stayer and Bracer
(By Harry Pockman, Sacramento, Cal.)

Fill a mixing glass full of cracked ice.

Then put in one mixing spoon of gum syrup.
One jigger of Absinthe (white preferred).
One jigger of Three Star brandy.
The white of one egg.

Shake well and strain into a fizz glass; add enough from a syphon to fill the glass and serve.

Occidental Rickey
By Jack Zahn, Occidental Hotel, New York)

Squeeze one lime in a punch glass containing a small piece of ice.

One-half jigger of Sloe gin.
One jigger of Plymouth gin.

Stir with a spoon while filling the glass with Carbonic water. (For plain Gin Rickey use only one kind of gin.)

Hermitage Club Sour

Ordinary bar glass.

One-half full of fine ice.
Two spoonfuls of sugar.
Juice of one small lemon.
One egg.
One dash of Maraschino.
One jigger of whiskey.

Shake well and serve with cinnamon on top.

(Taken from the Latest & Most Popular Mixed Drinks supplement of
"The New Police Gazette Bartenders Guide" published 1901)

Now you're all set to sip Cocktails with the cream of the crop from 104 years ago. A few notes: "Gum syrup" is basically simple syrup, with a little gum arabic added as an emulsifier, and regular simple syrup will do fine today; "Curacoa" was a popular misspelling for Curaçao, an orange liqueur that once came in several colors (but not mostly just orange and blue); "French" and "Italian" vermouth are dry and sweet respectively (our recommended brands are Noilly Prat for white/dry, and Martini & Rossi, Punt e Mes or Carpano Antica, in ascending order of complexity, for the red/sweet); "Carbonic water" is carbonated water or seltzer.

So put on "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Some of These Days", "Oh You Beautiful Doll" and some early ragtime, and drink up!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, January 21, 2005
The Bistro at Maison de Ville.   Food porn returns, for your Friday pleasure.

The Bistro at Maison de Ville has been one of my favorite places to eat in the city for a good while now, even though I've only been there four times (alas, I need to get home more often). I'd go back in a second.

I must confess (with apologies to Ralph Brennan and Chef Haley Gabel) that we were on our way to Bacco, and my mom didn't want to go. They weren't impressed the last time they went (and I must disclose that my folks are difficult to please and self-described "unadventurous" diners), which is a bit of a shame because I had been wanting to try Bacco (especially their white truffle festival). Fortunately, when they balked at the idea of going there we just happened to be passing right in front of the Maison de Ville, and there was the Bistro ... and on went the lightbulb-over-the-head.

Very, very good move on our part.

We were greeted at the door by their legendary maitre d'hotel Patrick van Hoorebeek (who, to my astonishment, remembered that I had dined there before, even though it's been a couple of years now), who seated us up front near his station in one of the red leather banquettes along the side of the tiny, 12-table restaurant. Patrick's one of those great New Orleans maitre d's, providing excellent service, a vast knowledge of wines and wine pairings (as well as being King of the Mardi Gras reveling wine lovers, The Krewe of Cork, reigning as king of his dining room, a benevolent and beloved monarch.

Me and my Sazerac. Semolina-Crusted Louisiana Oyster Caesar Salad.

First thing Patrick did after we settled in with our menus was to bring me an absolutely perfect Sazerac. His tiny desk at the front doubles at the bar, the low shelves behind it lined with bottles of spirits, vermouth and more. I watched him as he prepared it, and a more expertly made drink was not to be had. Absolutely lovely, and not overly sweet -- the curse of many Sazeracs in New Orleans these days (no more than a teaspoon of sugar or simple syrup, folks!).

Next came the appetizer (Mom and Dad opted out, but heck, I'm on vacation), which was a Semolina-Crusted Louisiana Oyster Caesar Salad with Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yeah, it's been done before, and it's done in a number of place, but damn ... I love this. Chef Greg Picolo, never one to be too traditional and always looking for great new flavor combinations, didn't stick with the traditional Caesar dressing (seemed to be some balsamic vinegar in there, maybe even a tiny touch of Creole mustard). He makes what a local reviewer calls "grown-up comfort food", and this is exactly what that was. Lightly fried oysters, perfectly crisp -- I love that semolina crust.

Pannéed Rabbit with Yam Brabants ... oh my.

I'll tell ya, it was damn difficult to pick an entrée -- they pretty much all looked good (even the steak frites, classic bistro food and almost a requirement for a bistro lunch menu, although I don't really eat all that much steak anymore). Shrimp-stuffed salmon, seared scallops, the pork tenderloin with red and white onion marmalade and orange lavender sauce ... oh my. This one above is what nailed me, though ... I'm a sucker for wabbit. Pistachio-Crusted Pannéed Rabbit "Benson" with Yam Brabants and a Brandy, Dijon and Rabbit Jus with Capers. It was vewwy, vewwy good.

I'd never had Brabant potatoes made of yam before, which is a perfect idea (and even good for all y'all mad carb disease folks, which years ago in New Orleans was called "Sugar Busters", and saw a proliferation of fried sweet potatoes all over town). If you're not familiar with them, Brabant potatoes are a French-style fried potato (as opposed to "French fries", which as we all know are actually Belgian) cut into large or medium-sized cubes instead of strips. The haricots verts were lovely and crunchy-tender, and that sauce was rich in flavor without being heavy. Man, I can't wait to try to make a stock of rabbit stock and jus with brandy and Dijon. I know it was a double WeightWatchers sized portion at least, but I ate every speck. How could I not? Patrick recommended a 2002 Château Maison Nicolas Pinot Noir from Burgundy to go along with that, and he was right, of course.

Turns out my dad got the rabbit too, and told tales (which strangely enough I had never heard before) of growing up during World War II when meat was severely rationed. Apparently my grandfather used to raise rabbits in the backyard, and my grandmother would make rabbit two or three times a week -- stewed, fried, fricasséed, in a sauce piquante, and in more ways than Elmer Fudd had ever concieved in his wildest wabbit dweams. That's not the only amazing family history I picked up when I was at home this year, but more on that later.

Grouper courtbouillon. Chocolate Crème Brulée

My mom's dish was fantastic too, and I was kinda wishing I had gotten that instead for a bit -- it would have been better for me than the pannéed rabbit. (Actually, I just wish I had enough bellyroom for both of them.) Many New Orleans restaurants offer a "Gulf fish of the day" preparation, and most of them are pretty good although they tend to be unspectacular. This was anything but unspectacular -- Grouper Courtbouillon with with Roasted Pepper, Crawfish and Pecan Risotto served with Sautéed Spinach. This stuff isn't the mere poaching liquid of traditional French cuisine -- a Creole- or Cajun-style courtbouillon is a thick fish stew with a red gravy, full of onions and peppers and garlic and black and red pepper, and is absolutely delicious. The kicker on this dish was that fantastic risotto with crawfish and pecans. It's dishes like this that elevate Chef Greg Picolo to the top of the heap in New Orleans, as far as I'm concerned. Every dish he's ever put in front of me has made me very, very happy.

Desseret was a Chocolate Crème Brûlée; the Bistro is renowned for their superb crèmes brûlées, and this dish was a perfect example of why that's so. Fortunately, mom and dad agreed to help out a little, 'cause I was very very full by the end of this spectacular meal. The problem is going to be trying to fit in another visit to the Bistro, which I very much want, when I come back home for Jazzfest in a few months. We've got a long list of places we want to go to -- Bayona, Marisol, Lilette to name but a few. Aah. I'll make it work.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, January 20, 2005
Just a closer walk with Thee ...   Today is Inauguration Day. While George W. Bush spends $40 million dollars in an enormous self-congratulatory fête while we have American troops in grave danger abroad at war (something Franklin Delano Roosevelt declined to do in 1945), progressives in my hometown of New Orleans are holding a jazz funeral for democracy. They want to remind the nation that "though not a majority, 49 percent of the voters represents a large minority of Americans who oppose the various components of Bushism."

"While the rest of the country will be focused on the beginning of Bush's second term, our objective is to show the world that we are not in support of a continued war in Iraq, record inflation, flagrant disregard for the constitutional rights of all citizens and four more years of rule by a small group of wealthy elite," the coalition says on its Web site.
Lolis Eric Elie provides more about the group in his Times-Picayune article, and comments:

There's a certain hyperbole in the group's decision to call the event a funeral for democracy. If democracy were truly dead, such marches might be banned.

But Bush's critics note the contradictions embedded in the president's own use of language. Whether it was his declaring, "Mission accomplished," as the situation in Iraq began to unravel, or his insistence that there could be legitimate elections in Iraq while much of the electorate is too scared to vote, there is a wealth of irony in the president's statements. In so Orwellian a linguistic environment, maybe a funeral for democracy isn't inappropriate.

The Jazz Funeral for Democracy begins in New Orleans at Congo Square at 11am local time. As Bush takes office again, a horse-drawn hearse will carry a coffin containing copies of the Patriot Act and the Constitution from Congo Square to Jackson Square to the Faubourg Marigny, accompanied by the Tremé Brass Band.

I'm back in L.A. as of last night, and I'm really sorry to miss this one.

What Bush's inauguration could have bought.   (Via Kos: The American Progrss listed the following numbers to show Bush's disregard of people by spending $40 million for an oath. A look at this week's festivities by the numbers:

$40 million: Cost of Bush inaugural ball festivities, not counting security costs.

$2,000: Amount FDR spent on the inaugural in 1945... about $20,000 in today's dollars.

$20,000: Cost of yellow roses purchased for inaugural festivities by D.C.'s Ritz Carlton.

200: Number of Humvees outfitted with top-of-the-line armor for troops in Iraq that could have been purchased with the amount of money blown on the inauguration.

$10,000: Price of an inaugural package at the Fairmont Hotel, which includes a Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon reception, a chauffeured Rolls Royce and two actors posing as "faux" Secret Service agents, complete with black sunglasses and cufflink walkie-talkies.

400: Pounds of lobster provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy" at the exclusive Mandarin Oriental hotel.

3,000: Number of "Laura Bush Cowboy cookies" provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy" at the Mandarin hotel.

$1: Amount per guest President Carter spent on snacks for guests at his inaugural parties. To stick to a tight budget, he served pretzels, peanuts, crackers and cheese and had cash bars.

22 million: Number of children in regions devastated by the tsunami who could have received vaccinations and preventive health care with the amount of money spent on the inauguration.

1,160,000: Number of girls who could be sent to school for a year in Afghanistan with the amount of money lavished on the inauguration.

$15,000: The down payment to rent a fur coat paid by one gala attendee who didn't want the hassle of schlepping her own through the airport.

$200,500: Price of a room package at D.C.'s Mandarin Oriental, including presidential suite, chauffeured Mercedes limo and outfits from Neiman Marcus.

2,500: Number of U.S. troops used to stand guard as President Bush takes his oath of office.

26,000: Number of Kevlar vests for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be purchased for $40 million.

$290: Bonus that could go to each American solider serving in Iraq, if inauguration funds were used for that purpose.

$6.3 million: Amount contributed by the finance and investment industry, which works out to be 25 percent of all the money collected.

$17 million: Amount of money the White House is forcing the cash-strapped city of Washington, D.C., to pony up for inauguration security.

9: Percentage of D.C. residents who voted for Bush in 2004.

66: Percentage of Americans who think this over-the-top inauguration should have been scaled back.

You can include me in that last number.

Food porn shall resume shortly.   'Twas very busy Monday through Wednesday of this week, what with a flurry of visiting family and friends, and there were oh so many meals to eat. I got a little bit behind, but have no fear, faithful readers -- I shall continue to mercilessly torture you with food writing and photographs from the past week's repasts in New Orleans. In fact, I managed to photograph every single meal for you (since I do believe a food weblogger needs to have pictures) except for the hot sausage and cheese poor boy I had at Johnny's Po-Boys in the Quarter.

Just so y'all'll hate me a little bit more, I am pleased to report that during the past week I only gained 2.5 pounds. I can get rid of those standin' on my head. (Um, and doing a little walking, too.)

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  Friday, January 14, 2005
Mother's is a mutha.   Slept waaaay too late today, then headed ova to the West Bank to visit my sister for a while, then back to New Orleans for a late lunch. It had actually been a few years since I'd been to Mother's on Poydras and Tchoupitoulas, home of many gustatory delights, not the least of which is roast beef debris (the little bits that fall off the roast beef and swim in the drippings while it's cooking) and the legendary poor boy called the Ferdi Special (baked ham, which at Mother's is just about the best in the city, sliced roast beef, debris and gravy, dressed with shredded cabbage, mayonnaise, pickles and both Creole and yellow mustards). It had been years since I'd had a Ferdi, and I figured it was about time. The menu listed both a whole or half for each poor boy selection, so I thought, "Ooh, a half a poor boy ... that's a Weight Watchers serving!" Hehehehehehhh ... yeah, right.

THIS is a HALF a Ferdi?!

I should have known better. Half was as big as whole one in some other places. I shouldn't eat all this, I thought. One bite later ...

Um, well, actually, this is too good not to finish.

Lordy, it was soooo good and I thought, well hell, I should make a valiant attempt to finish this, 'cause it's really not all that big (you feckin' lying bastard) and it's really too amazingly good not to finish. Oh, and there was a cup of turtle soup too ...


Delicious, full of big chunks of turtle meat and a generous drizzle of sherry. Not quite what they serve at Commander's (who make the best turtle soup anywhere ever), but still damn good.

I did make a valiant effort, I swear I did ...

Excellent progress ... Uh oh ... brick wall.

But then I hit the brick wall ... ah well. I managed to knock out most of it, and I did want to be able to continue breathing (as opposed to so full that I can't even expand my diaphragm to take a breath). Absolutely outstanding, as ever -- the bread was soaked through on the bottom from all the gravy, making this poor boy a bit of an unwieldy eat, but fantastic tasting. The ham was excellent, the roast beef tender, and the debris was A Platonic Dish. One immediately understands why people line up around the block for this stuff during the busy season and the lunch rush.

After lunch I met up with my friend Louise, and we spend the rest of the afternoon and evening on a cocktail cruise. First stop was Arnaud's French 75 Bar, where bartender Chris held sway and almost immediately asked us if we knew about the Museum, and yes in fact some friends of ours were involved in its creation, although we missed the opening. He was very enthusiastic about it, had a great time the night before with Doc and Robert Hess and other cocktailians, and they had spent the whole evening making drinks out of Doc's book and quaffing them merrily ... (damn, my timing was really bad). Chris made me a French 75 (although to my disappointment he served the brandy version, not bad, just not what it should be, which he immediately admitted: "We usually make them with brandy down here, but Dr. Cocktail gently corrected me as to its being properly made with gin."), an outstanding Sazerac, and one momentous concoction -- the first Corpse Reviver No. 2 I'd ever had in an actual bar (as opposed to our house or Doc's house). That was a true pleasure.

Corpse Reviver No. 2, and a damn fine one at that.

The bartender kindly offered to take our picture, which turned out about as fuzzy as we were:

Three cocktails and feelin' no pain ...

Next stop was over to Fahy's Irish Pub, a friendly neighborhoody joint on Burgundy primarily inhabited by regular locals, where they're kind enough to stock every take out and delivery menu for nearly every place in the Quarter and the Marigny. Unfortunately Royal St. Grocery had just closed its kitchen, so we did rather well with Plan B -- Fiorello's on Decatur, who promptly delivered a nice, murky chicken and andouille gumbo for me, a fantastic Italian meatball poor boy for Louise and a plate of their famous mac and cheese (the same stuff served at Rocky & Carlo's in Chalmette) that we split:

As if I wasn't full enough from lunch ... but we WERE quaffing a fair amount of booze.

We had hoped to get to the Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton to visit with their legendary bartender Chris McMillan and sample one of his mint juleps, but alas, the bar was closed after a private party (of Canadian golfers, no less ... how annoying). Louise and I both started walking toward our unspoken Plan B and cracked up as we turned the nearest corner -- great minds thinking alike and all, we finished the evening at the Carousel Bar at the Monteleone Hotel with a couple of Vieux Carré Cocktails ... then I had to go home and go to bed. Yeesh.

Oh, and write this up first. How could I, your dedicated weblogger, not continue to torture you so?

Quotes of the day.   Via Kos, via Tom Tomorrow:

We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
-- Condoleeza Rice, US National Security Advisor
CNN Late Edition, 9/8/2002

But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.
-- George W. Bush, President.
Interview with TVP Poland, 5/30/2003

We are greatly concerned about any possible linkup between terrorists and regimes that have or seek weapons of mass destruction...In the case of Saddam Hussein, we've got a dictator who is clearly pursuing and already possesses some of these weapons.. A regime that hates America and everything we stand for must never be permitted to threaten America with weapons of mass destruction.
-- Dick Cheney, Vice President
Detroit, Fund-Raiser, 6/20/2002

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Dick Cheney, Vice President
Speech to VFW National Convention, 8/26/2002

There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Hussein is gathering weapons for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest.
-- Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary
Response to Question From Press, 9/6/2002

After eleven years during which we have tried containment, sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
-- George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, 10/7/2002

We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.
-- George W. Bush, President
Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, 10/7/2002

Follow the link back to Kos; there are many, many more.

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  Thursday, January 13, 2005
Jiggity jig.   Seven hours and forty-five minutes after my Russian SuperShuttle driver picked me up, I'm back home in New Orleans at my parents' house eating a fried shrimp poor boy.

Uneventful trip all in all, which went as smoothly as humanly possible. There was only one other party in my shuttle van, so the ride was relatively short. The driver was very jocular and full of what were undoubtedly delightfully funny stories, which I might have enjoyed if it weren't for the twin barriers of his thick-as-the-Kremlin-wall Russian accent and the fact that his voice sounded as if he had spent the last fifty years gargling with cheap vodka and used razor blades. The nonstop flight was smooth, quiet and actually got us in 15 minutes early (and the only indignity suffered was the fact that United now sells you a meal on the plane, horrid processed crap from "Eli's Cheesecakes" for an outrageous $10 each; a turkey sandwich and slice of cheesecake, or a "chef's salad" with gloppy ranch dressing and slice of cheesecake. Insulting.) My bag was the first to come out on the baggage carousel, the rental car shuttle was waiting right outside the door and took off within a minute of my sitting down, and once at the rental counter I had my car within five minutes. I was waiting for what the inevitable disaster would be -- a 16-ton weight dropping on the car from an overpass -- but fortunately none was forthcoming.

Not knowing that Mom would have some of her luscious red beans and rice at the ready, though, I stopped at Overstuffed Po-Boys (a.k.a. "We Never Close") out on da Chef (a.k.a. the Chef Menteur Highway) and picked this up for dinner:

Jesus tap-dancing Christ, look at all that grease...
(Fried Shrimp Poor Boy with French Fries)

Christ, no wonder the people in this city are so fat. Suffice to say that I didn't even eat half of this ... but boy, was it good. Not the best shrimp poor boy I'd ever had, but after not having a proper one for nearly a year and it being late at night and me being hungry and all, it really hit the spot.

I've really got to behave myself today. (Phhhfffyeah, right.)

Job posting of the day.   Via my friend Mary Katherine, who says it's "from a musician friend who shall remain nameless."

OK, I don't normally hand a loaded gun to children, much less offer up an audition for a Hank Williams III gig to my friends and associates, but there might be someone out there who'd like to take a little walk on the wild side.

Here's the deal -- Hank III is holding auditions for a hillbilly/bluegrass style fiddler in Nashville, TN on January 20. Tour starts Feb. 1. For more info, DO NOT CONTACT ME, but call (573) 820-0717. Someone at this number will have the pertinent details or a facsimile thereof.

Based on my past road experience with Tri-cephus, the likely candidate should be someone who can handle tattoos, bikers, strippers, heavy metal (both the music & players), Hank Williams Sr., 9mms & .44 Magnums, LOTS of weed, seedy bars, diesel-sniffers, snuff queens, irate Hank Sr. fans and a laid-back southern way of doing things. If you know anyone who might be interested, tell 'em to go to his website (via search engine) and dig around.

Just trying to help out my fellow musicians. May God have mercy on your souls.

Umm, any takers?

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  Tuesday, January 11, 2005
The Museum of the American Cocktail opens tomorrow!   This terrific endeavour, a long time coming, finally opens in New Orleans tomorrow morning. Unfortunately I'm going to miss the opening gala (bad timing!), but I'll be there on Day Two. Read the press release, and here's the skinny from co-founder Robert Hess:

On January 12th, 2005, we will officially become part of the New Orleans experience in our temporary location on the second floor of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (514 Chartres Street, in the heart of the French Quarter). In addition to unveiling the new exhibit, there will be turn-of-the-century cocktails and drink presentations given by Dale DeGroff and other leading mixologists from around the country. Hors de oeuvres for the event will be provided by Caf Adelaide, Hot on the Spot caterers, and Ruth's Chris Steak House.

The exhibit, designed and curated by Ted "Dr Cocktail" Haigh, will give visitors a close up view of nearly two hundred years of cocktail history. Artifacts include vintage cocktail shakers, Prohibition-era literature and music, drink archives, tools, and other cocktail memorabilia from the outstanding collections of the museum founders.

Everybody is welcomed to join us on January 12th for the grand opening. The Museum will officially open at 10am, with festivities scheduled to start at noon and lasting until 4:30pm. Throughout the day, there will be several scheduled demonstrations of classic cocktails, accompanied by discussions surrounding their history and evolution. There will also be several authors on hand to autograph copies of their books (which will be available for sale as well). The authors that are scheduled to appear are: Dale DeGroff - "The Craft of The Cocktail;" J. Brown & A. Miller - "Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini." There will also be cocktail demonstrations by Dale DeGroff, Robert Hess, Phil Greene, Jared Brown, Chris McMillian, and Anistatia Miller.

I'm extremely pleased (as Planter's Punch) to have two items from our collection on display at the Museum. Doc asked if they could borrow a couple of things from us, and we were thrilled to send them over. A few years back Wes found a couple of extraordinary little bottles on eBay (which he subsequently gave me for my birthday), each a 1/10th pint bottled pre-mixed cocktail from Thos. H. Handy & Co. (precursor to today's Sazerac Company; Thomas Handy was the last owner of the legendary Sazerac Coffeehouse [Bar], and of the recipe for its eponymous house special); his name on the bottles is apparently why they're so rare and valuable. One of them is a Manhattan Cocktail, the other a "Sazerac Cocktail" which also says "Martini" underneath (I'm not entirely sure what that's all about). The date on the label is 1906, although I'm not sure of the exact date it was produced. It was certainly pre-Prohibition, so that'd place it before 1920. Here's a lousy picture of it:

Bottled 'Sazerac Cocktail', Thos. Handy Co., c. 1906-1919

Doc also asked to borrow one of our original Sazerac glasses from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans (now the Fairmont), which probably date back from the 1940s:

Sazerac cocktail glass, Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans, c. 1940s

I can't wait to see the signage and captions (written and designed by Doc) ... "On loan from the Moore-Taggart Collection", perhaps?

If any of y'all are in New Orleans, check out the Museum this week! And look for me lurking at the Library Bar in the Ritz-Carlton, too.

Crawfish by the dish.   (Via The New Orleans Menu Daily.) Stanley Dry offers a good article on crawfish history and cooking in Louisiana Life magazine, with a couple of good-looking recipes for étouffée and stew.

In the same issue of Menu Tom Fitzmorris also opines on Crawfish Bisque, the grandest (and usually the spiciest) of our crawfish dishes. One of the features of this dish as served in Louisiana is the stuffed crawfish head, something I've always liked but which the opinionated Mr. Fitzmorris dislikes:

In the Cajun country, crawfish bisque is rough in texture, lumpy with crawfish and crawfish stuffing, and made with a dark roux. The essential ingredient -- aside from crawfish tail meat -- is a stock made from the shells of shellfish.

However, French chefs have a different idea about bisque, and we get quite a bit of French-style bisque on local menus. These chefs say that a bisque is a smooth soup of some kind of shellfish, thickened with either rice or cream or both. And although such soups are not as exciting as the Cajun kind, they're still welcome.

Back to the bayou: the final touch in a traditional Cajun crawfish bisque is stuffed crawfish heads. I love the stuffing; I hate the head. Which is not the head at all, but the taco-shell-shaped carapace over the animal's thorax, the biggest piece of shell the crawfish has. It fits exactly one bite of crawfish stuffing, and holds the stuff together. Some people have a little game wherein they line up the eaten heads on the rim of their plate, to keep track of how many they've gone through.

I say it's nonsense and a mess. You have to fish the shells out of the bisque with your fingers -- giving you an excuse to lick your fingers, which has its own rewards but also its own punishments. Ask anybody who's made crawfish bisque about the process and he'll (or, more likely, she'll) tell you what a time-consuming task stuffing the heads is.

That's why I don't stuff crawfish heads. I prefer to make the stuffing into balls the size of hush puppies, coat them with seasoned flour, fry them, and bring a bowl of them to the table with the bisque. Add a few to the soup as it's served. They'll be easy to eat, they won't fall apart as fast as they're eaten, and the cook will be able to make a lot more of them.

Well, aside from the minor transgression of referring to southwest Louisiana as "Cajun country" (hey man, Creoles live there too), I completely disagree about heads in bisque. You don't have to use your fingers, and it doesn't take much dexterity to get the stuffing out of the "head". It looks good in the dish too, and it tastes better to have it cooked in the gravy instead of just some fried boulettes plopped in at the end.

Best Crawfish Bisque I've ever had in my life was by the late Mr. Jase (a Louisiana native, of course) at the late, lamented Jase's Sid Café, which was on Exposition between Western and Normandie in Los Angeles until it closed after Mr. Jase passed. That restaurant was almost my second home, and the richness, spiciness and sheer joy of that bisque (WITH the heads, thankyouverymuch) has yet to be matched by anyone in or out of Louisiana. Jase, we miss ya (and your cooking, too).

The half-empty glasses continue to drain.   Poppy Bush's former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft is pessmistic about Iraqi stability after the upcoming debacle election there, and so is Jimmy Carter's NSA Zbig Brzezinski, who said, "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now ... if it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated."

Also coming to his senses is North Carolina Republican representative Howard Coble, "an avowedly strong supporter" of The Vacant Stare, who said it's time for the U.S. to consider withdrawing from Iraq, and is "fed up with picking up the newspaper and reading that we've lost another five or ten of our young men and women in Iraq..." (Gee, where are the shrieking wingers calling him a traitor, eh?)

Here's Maureed Dowd on all this:

The president prides himself on being a pig-headed guy. He is determined to win in Iraq even if he is not winning in Iraq.

So get ready for a Mohammedan mountain of spin defining victory down. Come what may -- civil war over oil, Iranian-style fatwas du jour or men on prayer rugs reciting the Koran all day on the Iraqi TV network our own geniuses created -- this administration will call it a triumph.

Even for a White House steeped in hooey, it's a challenge. President Bush will have to emulate the parsing and prevaricating he disdained in his predecessor: It depends on what the meaning of the word "win" is.

The president's still got a paper bag over his head, claiming that the daily horrors out of Iraq reflect just a few soreheads standing in the way of a glorious democracy, even though his commander of ground forces there concedes that the areas where more than half of Iraqis live are not secure enough for them to vote - an acknowledgment that the insurgency is resilient and growing. It's like saying Montana and North Dakota are safe to vote, but New York, Philadelphia and L.A. are not. What's a little disenfranchisement among friends?

"I know it's hard, but it's hard for a reason," Mr. Bush said on Friday, a day after seven G.I.'s and two marines died. "And the reason it's hard is because there are a handful of folks who fear freedom." If it's just a handful, how come it's so hard?

Then the president added: "And I look at the elections as a -- as a -- you know, as a -- as -- as a historical marker for our Iraq policy."

Well, that's clear. Mr. Bush is huddled in his bubble, but he's in a pickle. The administration that had no plan for what to do with Iraq when it got it, now has no plan for getting out. [...]

The arrogant Bush war council never admits a mistake. Paul Wolfowitz, a walking mistake, said on Friday he's been asked to remain in the administration. But the "idealists," as the myopic dunderheads think of themselves, are obviously worried enough, now that Mr. Bush is safely re-elected, to let a little reality seep in. Rummy tapped a respected retired four-star general to go to Iraq this week for an open-ended review of the entire military meshugas.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who devised the debacle in Iraq, is kept on, while Brent Scowcroft, Poppy Bush's lieutenant who warned Junior not to go into Iraq, is pushed out as chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. That's the backward nature of this beast: Deceive, you're golden; tell the truth, you're gone. [...]

The Iraqi election that was meant to be the solution to the problem - like the installation of a new Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty and all the other steps that were supposed to make things better - may actually be making things worse. The election is going to expand the control of the Shiite theocrats, even beyond what their numbers would entitle them to have, because of the way the Bush team has set it up and the danger that if you're a Sunni, the vote you cast may be your last.

It is a lesson never learned: Matters of state and the heart that start with a lie rarely end well.

He's already entering his second term with the lowest approval ratings of any second-term president since they started compiling approval ratings, yet he's still about to enter his second term. Nice job, America.

Bush to D.C.: "Go fuck yourself."   Mmm hmm.

D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

So he and his cronies and his ditzbag daughters are going to be partying with Kid Rock to the tune of $40 million, while telling D.C. they have to pay for the security? I think he should have a quiet swearing-in in the Oval Office, with no party, and should send the $40 million to Iraq to pay for more armoring for the troops' vehicles. Asshole.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, January 10, 2005
Cocktail of the day.   This one's an original, with several inspirations, and it took me a while to get right. I'm still not sure if I'm satisfied with it, but it is pretty darn good ... and I'm not sure I can make it any better.

The first inspiration came from breakfast -- Wes and I got some beautiful ruby red grapefruit in our box from Organic Express a while back, and he was reminded of how his mom used to prepare them for breakfast. Halve them, score the sections, sprinkle with a generous amount of brown sugar and under the broiler until the sugar melts. Mmmmmmm, good good.

Next came from my near-obsession with the long-defunct product called Abbott's Bitters. We tasted Abbott's (after having heard about them for a long while) on our very first visit to Dr. Cocktail's house a few years ago. He made us a classic Champagne Cocktail, which is very simple: a sugar cube in a Champagne flute, soak the cube with bitters, and fill with Champagne. He used Abbott's, and more than soaked it -- he must have used six or seven dashes. Abbott's hasn't been made since 1950, and the original formula hasn't been made since the early 1940s, so vintage bottles of Abbott's tend to be slightly evaporated, with a commensurate concentration of flavor.

The flavor of this stuff was amazing, deep and complex, with the "apple/pumpkin pie spices" (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), hints of ginger and orange, and its complexity no doubt coming from the fact that it was the only bitters to have been barrel-aged. I was hooked.

Doc was kind and generous enough to present us with a bottle as a housewarming present, and as the level on that bottle began to go down, I was desperate to find more. Fortunately I had some lucky breaks, and I now have three 18-ounce bottles of the stuff, probably enough to last me for many years, if not the rest of my life, if I use it judiciously.

I also began collecting some Abbott's memorabilia, including recipe booklets, matchbooks, an Abbott's muddler, etc., and one of the recipe books (as well as the paper wrappers of the large bottles) had a recipe for what they called a "Grape Fruit Cocktail":

Grape Fruit Cocktail with Abbott's Bitters

I was a little reticent to use an entire teaspoon of Abbott's Bitters on a half a grapefruit (the stuff hasn't been made in 55 years, and the good stuff hasn't been made for over 60, and is rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth), so we decided to try good ol' Angostura Bitters instead. About eight dashes on a half a grapefruit, sprinkled with dark brown sugar and under the broiler until the sugar melts.

Holy bejeebies, was that good. Serve that to your guests for breakfast sometime.

The second time we made this I said, "I want to make a cocktail that tastes like this." I had several false starts -- combinations of base spirit, grapefruit juice, brown sugar syrup and bitters that just didn't work at all. I knew I was on the right track, but I got tired of myriad combinations that still didn't taste right. Then one night it was Wes' turn to mix our nightly cocktail, and he pulled one from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology called the Bennett Cocktail, a classic 2:1:1/2 proportion of gin, lime juice and simple syrup with Angostura bitters that was delicious.

DING! The lightbulb went off over my head. I'd just found a good deal on all four flavors of Charbay's excellent fruit-infused vodkas, and I'd been looking for something to do with them. I tried another version of my "Grape Fruit Cocktail", and it worked.

I did a little tweaking of proportions here and there to see if it improved it any, and it didn't. I think sticking with the classic proportion is the way to go. I like it a lot, although it's not my favorite of my originals (that'd be the Hoskins), but I like it well enough. If you're looking for a breakfast cocktail, this would work rather well.

I was torn about what to name it, and decided as I was writing this post. It's named both after Wes' mom and after Mr. C. W. Abbott, bitters-maker -- the twin inspirations for the drink.

Verena Abbott Cocktail
(Or, "Grape Fruit Cocktail")

2 ounces Charbay Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka.
1 ounce fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce dark brown sugar syrup.
4 dashes Angostura bitters.

To make brown sugar syrup, combine 1/2 cup dark brown sugar with 1/4 cup hot water. Heat gently until sugar is dissolved; cool and store in the fridge in a jar. Makes about 2/3 cup.

To make the cocktail, combine all ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Optional garnish: use a channel knife to make a long, curly twist of grapefruit peel, and drape over the edge of the glass.

If you're feeling extraordinarily, foolishly extravagant, substitute 2-3 dashes of Abbott's Bitters for the Angostura.

The more I think about the name, the more I like it. It sounds like a Hollywood character actress from Prohibition times, kinda.

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  Friday, January 7, 2005
Patina.   My birthday dinner was almost two months ago, and I'm only getting around to writing about it now. This is part of the reason why I was crowned God Emperor of Procrastination, although I suppose I should abdicate my throne because I'm actually doing it now. Ah, the trappings of grandeur we sometimes give up ...

Wes and I both love fine dining (as we can afford it), and we have a longstanding tradition of taking each other out for a particularly extravagant meal on our respective birthdays. Last March I took him to Mélisse in Santa Monica for a spectacular meal (urm, I never got 'round to writing about that one, either), and last November, after having been whisked away in the car to parts unknown, I figured out that we were going to Joachim Splichal's Patina as we approached the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the restaurant's new home.

I had only dined at Patina once, in its original location on Melrose in a somewhat shabby part of Hollywood. The meal was very good, but a bit heavy and one that I didn't remember all that well (in fact, I couldn't tell you what I had). I had heard a lot of wonderful things about Patina since its move and makeover, and in particular after hearing about our friends Mary and Steve's recent visit there we were determined to go.

The location is beautiful -- how could it not be, inside magnificent Disney Hall? I found it brighter and a more pleasant dining room than the old space, as we sat amidst a crowd of pre-theater diners. Ilsa, our server, asked us if we needed to order and be served quickly in order to make it to the show and we replied, "Oh no ... this dinner is the only reason we're here, and we're here for the duration." She seemed very pleased, and asked us if we wanted a cocktail. (The answer to that question is almost always "yes.") She described a number of creative house originals, almost all of which sounded tasty but potentially too sweet, so we played it safe with Manhattans. No rye, but they offered Basil Hayden as a drier bourbon, which worked just fine. As we sipped, she brought the menus.

Our eyes boggled. Then she began describing the specials, and I nearly boggled out of my chair. I must confess I don't remember the other specials, but I remember every word of the final item she described. "Tonight the chef is making White Truffle Risotto ... he's finally gotten in a new shipment of truffles from Italy, and it's a very rich traditional risotto with liberal shavings of white truffle on top. That's (insert eyepoppingly high price). We can also serve that in two half-portions as an appetizer or middle course."

Oh yes, yes yes yes, please.

I know I was being treated, and you're not supposed to ask for the most expensive thing on the menu when you're being treated, but I really wanted this, and Wes had never tasted white truffles before (only black). He didn't need much convincing.

First Course:
Tea Smoked Unagi and Foie Gras Terrine with
Granny Smith Apple and Excalibur Onion Coulis.
I'd only ever had unagi (fresh water eel) in a sushi bar, served grilled or broiled as sushi and with the typical sweet sauce on top. I'd certainly never had it tea-smoked (which I've done with duck and fish before). The idea of putting it in a terrine with foie gras is brilliant; its flavor and texture are reminiscent of a good pâté anyway, and it was a perfect, perfect pairing. The element of smokiness -- very understated, leaving in a hint of the flavor of the sea as well as the idea that there might even be bacon in there somewhere -- was a beautiful match to the layers of creamy foie gras. The apple was thinly sliced and included as a layer in the terrine, its sweetness, tartness and crispness yet another perfect element to balance the richness of the unagi and the foie gras. I have on idea what "Excalibur Onion" is (should've asked), but it was a sweet, oniony, foamy sauce (this chef is big on foamy sauces), and the dish was also accompanied by three pearl onions pickled in balsamic vinegar.

This is what Richard Collin, the "New Orleans Underground Gourmet" and our first real food critic back home, would have called "a platonic dish", a dish that achieves the highest level of its aspirations, and the highest level of culinary art.

We got a great deal of attention from the restaurant's sommelier, Eric Espuny, who for this dish recommended a Sauternes (natch), Château Raymond Lafon, which he described as "right across the road from Château d'Yquem", which is good enough for me. It was marvelous.

Second Course:
Pan-seared Atlantic Salmon with a Tomato, Artichoke and Fennel Confit,
Violet Mustard Perigot Sauce and Lavender Oil.
Gorgeous. One of the better pieces of salmon I've ever had, crisp on the outside and buttery-tender on the inside, and the confit was nice and chunky -- quartered artichoke bottoms and fennel bulbs and flavorful tomatoes (even though they're out of season). The combination of flavors in the sauce and garnish -- floral violet, tangy mustard and floral/herbal lavender -- was a new experience for me, particularly paired with something like salmon. I craved a Blue Moon Cocktail with it, but as such a thing was unlikely to be had even at Patina I stuck with M. Espuny's advice. He poured a 2002 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Poulsard, which not only had I never tasted but I'd never even heard of. The village of Arbois is in the Jura region of eastern France on the Swiss border, and according to M. Espuny wines from this region made from the Poulsard grape are meant to be drunk with food, not alone. It was a light red, almost a rosé, fruity and tart for a red, no tannins to speak of, and lovely with the crispy-creamy salmon.

Then ...

Third course:
White Truffle Risotto
When we were ordering, Ilsa suggested that she have them serve the risotto after our entrées, because "it can be somewhat overwhelming." She wasn't kidding.

Two servers arrived and simultaneously placed two enormous risotto bowls in front of us. Those kinds of bowls are beautiful but on first glance seem to be all rim and with a fairly small reservoir for food; not so here. The well for the risotto was five if not six inches across, filled with rich, creamy Carnaroli rice, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano and probably not a small amount of cream for even more richness. Once again our eyes got big ... then two guys showed up, each holding a white truffle the size of my fist. While a third guy watched them (who the hell was he, the bodyguard, or truffleguard?), they took a large wooden truffle shaver and flicked off slice after slice after slice of fresh white truffle -- (*phfft*phfft*phfft*phfft*) -- until the surface of the rice was covered with the stuff.

Wes and I leaned over our plates, inhaled very deeply through our noses ... and burst out laughing.

I mean, good God, what else can you do? The aroma, the perfume of that stuff was sheer joy. Intense, earthy, musky, intoxicating ... man, sex on a plate. We dug in, resisting the temptation to just devour it like a couple of crazed truffle-sniffing pigs. This was to be savored. There was a lot of it to savor too, for a half-serving. I couldn't imagine eating an entire serving of this and still having room for anything else.

We laughed as we ate, and then suddenly Wes cracked up again. "What's so funny now?" I asked. He said, "Remember ... for lunch today we had chilaquiles and eggs ... for four bucks." I cracked up too. This was ... um, many times the cost of our lunch (which was really good as well as cheap), but we didn't care. This was worth it, and something you should try at least once.

Fourth Course:
Le Fromage
"I know, Gromit ... we'll go some place where there's cheeeeeeeeeeeese!"

Well Wallace, that place would be Patina.

Long renowned for having the best cheese service in town, we weren't going to miss that part of the meal for any reason. The cheese cart was enormous, with over 80 selections from America and Europe. Andrew Steiner, the maître fromager (or "cheese sommelier", as some people say) came by to help us, and does a fantastic job narrowing down people's tastes and coming up with customized recommendations. We said we definitely wanted a blue ("the stinkier the better"), a soft one and maybe a semi-hard, or else fromager's choice. We opted for the three cheese plate rather than the five (both of which were extremely reasonably priced), as we wanted to save some room for dessert.

He started us with a Roquefort (a blue sheep's milk cheese), but not just any Roquefort, apparently -- this was Papillon Roquefort, a brand he called "the best, period." There were huge veins of Penicillium roqueforti mold that were actually fuzzy, an intensely strong and complex flavor, a little bit of salt ... and oh my, was it stinky. Holy bejeebies. And creamy. Fabulous. He served it with slices of fresh persimmon, another perfect match.

Next was one we didn't see on the printed menu, a new one they had just gotten in -- Monastère Jéromais, a soft cow's milk cheese made by French monks. It had a very soft, edible rind, and an amazing flavor -- it kinda tasted like scrambled eggs and bacon. This was intentional, he said, as the monks tended to have more milk available to them in the days of yore but few eggs, and even less pork. This came with a slice of membrillo, thick quince paste from Spain.

Finally there was Cantal, a semi-hard cheese from the Auvergne region of France. It's been made in the same place and in the same way for 2,500 years, and was tasty but fairly mild -- sort of a cross between Parmigiano and a mature Cheddar, and reminded me a bit of Dubliner cheese from Ireland, but with more of a texture like Parmigiano. This came with a slice of guava paste, and all the cheese came with a bit of dried fruit and walnuts.

I had hoped for some Camembert too (and I don't care how fucking runny it is), maybe even some Venezuelan beaver cheese (but the cat had eaten it), but then we remembered that there had to be room for dessert, so ...

Chocolate Terrine of Dark and Milk Chocolate, Praline Biscuit and Saffrom Ice Cream
How could I not finish a meal like this with chocolate?

Sure, lots of stuff on the dessert menu looked great -- I love fruit-based dessert, sorbets, tarts, pies, etc. -- but there are many times when it just isn't dessert to me without chocolate, and my birthday is one of those times.

Beautiful presentation, thick terrine with complementary foamy chocolate sauces, and that saffron ice cream ... I'd never had that flavor in ice cream, and particularly not with chocolate. It was surprising, even jarring, but I quickly realized that it was a fantastic combination, one that had never even occurred to me.

When I was perusing the list of dessert wines, one caught my eye, and was listed as "Ice Cider, La Face Cachée de la Pomme Neige, Québec." I was fascinated. Ice cider? As in ice wine? I'd never heard of this either, and wanted to know more. When Ilsa came back to see if we wanted anything with dessert I asked her about this, and she said, "Ohhhh ... you guys are fantastic." (I guess we'd been asking interesting questions and ordernig interesting stuff.) It is indeed like an ice wine, made from apples instead of grapes, and it takes seven kilos of apples to make one 500ml bottle of this stuff.

Oh my. Two, please!

This stuff is a joy, a revelation. Made only for the last ten years, La Face Cachée de la Pomme is the first product (made at a cidery, not a winery) of its kind in the world. Pure, golden apple flavor, not too syrupy, great body, absolutely wonderful stuff. I can't wait to find this locally, and I've already got an email out to their U.S. West coast distributor to find out where it is.

Late in the meal we got a visit from the chef, Theo Schoenegger. We didn't see him come out very often, but we suspect he wanted to visit the folks who had ordered the truffle risotto. Very nice, gracious and full of stories, he told us about how he'd been agonzing for the past month because he'd had several shipments of truffles rejected by U.S. Customs -- "too much earth on them", he said. Only the night before had he been able to serve them again, and he was very happy about that. I can only imagine what losing those shipments must have cost him, with the skyrocketing price of truffles thanks to the subterranean plummet of our currency.

And the, about four hours after we sat down, we were finished. Wes managed not to clutch his chest and shriek "JESUS!" when he saw the bill, to his credit (but boy, the bar has been raised for when I take him out for his birthday in a coupla months ... I'm already plotting). It was one of the more memorable meals I'd had in the last five or so years, if not longer. Worth every penny, I'd say.

Les fromages français.   Ever wonder what a Pont l'Evêque tasted like? Don't know a Brie from a Brillat Savarin? A Mimolette from a Montrachet? Then you'll find The French Cheese Library a fascinating place. Explore it before you head to your local cheese shop and you'll be well versed in les fromages in the land of Gaul, then think about all the other cheese there are to learn about!

Questions.   Chris Suellentrop in Slate: "Did Al Gonzales say the president can authorize torture?"

Remember what Dick Cheney said to Sen. Patrick Leahy this past June on the Senate floor? ["Go fuck yourself." -- Ed.] Think of Alberto Gonzales' testimony Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Leahy is the ranking Democrat, as the Bush administration's logical follow-up: "And your mother."

By late afternoon, Leahy had become so frustrated with Gonzales' refusal to give clear answers to questions from him and other Democrats that he held aloft a bulky file that he said was filled with unanswered letters and queries addressed to Gonzales, President Bush's nominee for attorney general. "If he's confirmed, I'm sure he'll feel that he never has any duty to answer them," Leahy said. Leahy's file may have been bursting with questions, but for most of Thursday's nearly nine-hour hearing the committee's Democrats wanted an answer to just one question: Does Gonzales think the president has the power to authorize torture by immunizing American personnel from prosecution for it?

During the hearing, Leahy called this idea, which comes from the August 2002 document dubbed the "Bybee memo," "the commander-in-chief override." And by hearing's end it was clear that Gonzales believed in it. (Otherwise, why not simply answer, "No"?) Early in the day, Gonzales professed the requisite faith that America was "a nation of laws and not of men," but his opinion of the president's ability.however authorize individuals to engage in criminal acts suggests the opposite. This is a government of good men, Gonzales implicitly assured the senators, so there's no need to worry about legal hypotheticals like whether torture is always verboten. Don't worry, because we don't do it. It's a strange argument from a conservative: We're the government. Trust us.


From Suellentrop's translation of Gonzales' non-answer answers, Gonzales is saying "Yes, I think the president has the legal authority to immunize acts of torture, but he doesn't want to, so I'm not going to bother with defending the idea," then Gonzales comes right out and says, "I do believe there may come an occasion when the Congress might pass a statute that the president may view as unconstitutional," and therefore the president may ignore it. (Last I checked, our system didn't allow the president to decide on the constitutionality of laws; that's the judiciary's job.) Then:

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, comes to Gonzales' defense. President Clinton's solicitor general, Walter Dellinger, wrote in 1994 that the president can refuse to execute laws he considers unconstitutional, Cornyn notes. Sen. Russ Feingold dismisses this during his turn to speak. There's a difference between not enforcing a statute and authorizing people to break the law, he says. Look, Gonzales reiterates, that 2002 memo is no longer administration policy. And on top of that, we don't torture people. But, Feingold asks, does President Bush have the power to authorize violations of criminal law? Gonzales makes some noise about "a presumption of constitutionality" and his oath as attorney general to defend congressional statutes, then gives his real answer: I'd take it very seriously if I ever advised the president to do such a thing. "So the president's above the law?" Feingold asks. No, Gonzales says, but he can choose not to enforce unconstitutional laws. That's not what I'm asking, Feingold complains. We don't torture people, Gonzales says. Feingold gives up and pleads, Will you just let us know instead of waiting two years next time?
As Josh says, "And this is the man who will soon be the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the land. It defies comment."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, January 6, 2005
Disconnected from reality in the Oval Office.   Via Atrios, this post from Air America's weblog comes from The Nelson Report, a daily political tip sheet in D.C. of 20 years' duration that is described as "reliable":

There is rising concern amongst senior officials that President Bush does not grasp the increasingly grim reality of the security situation in Iraq because he refuses to listen to that type of information. Our sources say that attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear "bad news."

Rather, Bush makes clear that all he wants are progress reports, where they exist, and those facts which seem to support his declared mission in Iraq... building democracy. "That's all he wants to hear about," we have been told. So "in" are the latest totals on school openings, and "out" are reports from senior US military commanders (and those intelligence experts still on the job) that they see an insurgency becoming increasingly effective, and their projection that "it will just get worse."

Our sources are firm in that they conclude this "good news only" directive comes from Bush himself; that is, it is not a trap or cocoon thrown around the President by National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, and DOD Secretary Rumsfeld. In any event, whether self-imposed, or due to manipulation by irresponsible subordinates, the information/intelligence vacuum at the highest levels of the White House increasingly frightens those officials interested in objective assessment, and not just selling a political message.

If this is true (and I have little reason to doubt it), it scares the shit out of me. Part of me wants to lock myself in the den, pull the shaes, watch my "West Wing" DVDs and pretend it's real.

New ACLU Report Highlights Gonzales' Role in Detainee Abuse   In this morning's ACLU newsletter:

In anticipation of this week's expected confirmation hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union released a new report on attorney general nominee and current White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Although as a matter of policy the ACLU cannot endorse or oppose nominees for any office other than on the Supreme Court, it can examine and publicize nominees' civil liberties records.

"There are too many questions swirling around Mr. Gonzales's role in developing the legal framework that may have led to the torture and abuse we all saw in those Abu Ghraib photographs," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The Senate has a duty not to soft-pedal in its questioning."

Here is the ACLU's report on Gonzales. Here is the full ACLU press release as excerpted above.

Read that report.

Are we all torturers now?   We may not be yet, but if Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as Attorney General, we will be. A New York Times op-ed piece by Mark Danner:

At least since Watergate, Americans have come to take for granted a certain story line of scandal, in which revelation is followed by investigation, adjudication and expiation. Together, Congress and the courts investigate high-level wrongdoing and place it in a carefully constructed narrative, in which crimes are charted, malfeasance is explicated and punishment is apportioned as the final step in the journey back to order, justice and propriety.

When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land.

[...] But what we are unlikely to hear, given the balance of votes in the Senate, are many voices making the obvious argument that with this record, Mr. Gonzales is unfit to serve as attorney general. So let me make it: Mr. Gonzales is unfit because the slow river of litigation is certain to bring before the next attorney general a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that he personally helped devise and put into practice. He is unfit because, while the attorney general is charged with upholding the law, the documents show that as White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales, in the matter of torture, helped his client to concoct strategies to circumvent it. And he is unfit, finally, because he has rightly become the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand.

On the other hand, perhaps it is fitting that Mr. Gonzales be confirmed. The system of torture has, after all, survived its disclosure. We have entered a new era; the traditional story line in which scandal leads to investigation and investigation leads to punishment has been supplanted by something else. Wrongdoing is still exposed; we gaze at the photographs and read the documents, and then we listen to the president's spokesman "reiterate," as he did last week, "the president's determination that the United States never engage in torture." And there the story ends.

At present, our government, controlled largely by one party only intermittently harried by a timorous opposition, is unable to mete out punishment or change policy, let alone adequately investigate its own war crimes. And, as administration officials clearly expect, and senators of both parties well understand, most Americans -- the Americans who will not read the reports, who will soon forget the photographs and who will be loath to dwell on a repellent subject -- are generally content to take the president at his word.

If there was ever any president who could not be taken at his word, it's this one. Do not do so. Call your Senators -- Gonzales must not be confirmed.

Couldn't have happened to a bigger dick.   CNN decides to hurt America just a little less by shitcanning the loathsome Tucker Carlson, and mostly getting rid of the odious "Crossfire" while they're at it. (Let's all sing, to the tune of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus ...)

"Schaaaadenfreude! Schaaaadenfreude! Schadenfreude! Schadenfreude! Schadennnfreuuuudeeeeee ...") What follows is the Quote of the Day:

"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," [CNN's U.S. chief executive Jonathan] Klein told The Associated Press.

He said all of the cable networks, including CNN, have overdosed on programming devoted to arguing over issues. Klein said he wants more substantive programming that is still compelling.

"I doubt that when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues," he said. "I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect." [...] CNN will probably fold "Crossfire" into its other programming, perhaps as an occasional segment on the daytime show "Inside Politics."

Too bad MSNBC and PBS don't have the same sense as CNN with regards to this little rodent, but we can only hope they see the light soon enough.

Bow ties are on their way out, I hear, Tucker me lad.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Cocktail of the day.   Well, it only took them eight feckin' months, but my insurance company finally approved payment for my sleep apnea device (the Modified UCLA Herbst Mandibular Advancement Device, or MUCLAH-MAD, as we say in the the biz (actually, we don't say that at all)). There's a grand I now don't have to cough up to an increasingly annoyed doctor's billing company, which is a great relief.

Wes cheered, and suggested we celebrate with a cocktail (as distinct from all those other evenings when we simply have a cocktail with no celebration involved). He wondered if there was a Procrastinator Cocktail, a Slowpoke Cocktail, a Cheapskate Cocktail or a Forgetful Cocktail. Alas, none existed in CocktailDB, and none of the three in-progress originals we're working on seemed to fit those names. Via CocktailDB, his is the closest he came up with.

Elephants Sometimes Forget

1 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce Cherry Heering.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1 dash orange bitters.

Shake and strain; no garnish specified.

This was really good, with a perfect balance between sweet and tart. Unfortunately there was no attribution for its origin or its silly name, although the more I thought about the name, the more I liked it. (What do elephants sometimes forget? Well, ethics and the truth, to name but two.)

We must oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as United States Attorney General.   Here's why:

You may not know Alberto Gonzales, but we're sure you'll recognize his work.

(Via AmericaBlog) TrueMajority, and the National Council of Churches, among others, are working in coalition to highlight Gonzales' appalling record during his confirmation hearings, and hope to place the above ad in the New York Times (you can contribute to that effort here).

I'll reproduce the following article by Armando at DailyKos in its entirety. Italics are from the New York Times, non-italics are Armando's commentary.

How can this piece of shit be the next Attorney General? This is a disgrace:

Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president's authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Gonzales's role in seeking a legal opinion on the definition of torture and the legal limits on the force that could be used on terrorist suspects in captivity is expected to be a central issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings scheduled to begin on Thursday on Mr. Gonzales's nomination to be attorney general.

The request by Mr. Gonzales produced the much-debated Justice Department memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, which defined torture narrowly and said that Mr. Bush could circumvent domestic and international prohibitions against torture in the name of national security. Until now, administration officials have been unwilling to provide details about the role Mr. Gonzales had in the production of the memorandum by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Mr. Gonzales has spoken of the memorandum as a response to questions, without saying that most of the questions were his.

Current and former officials who talked about the memorandum have been provided with firsthand accounts about how it was prepared. Some discussed it in an effort to clear up what they viewed as a murky record in advance of Mr. Gonzales's confirmation hearings. Others spoke of the matter apparently believing that the Justice Department had unfairly taken the blame for the memorandum. A White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said Tuesday that while Mr. Gonzales personally requested the August opinion, he was only seeking "objective legal advice and did not ask the Office of Legal Counsel to reach any specific conclusion."

I'll say it straight -- I don't believe that. It makes no sense. You ask for a memo analyzing whether you have to abide by the Geneva Conventions, something no one in their right mind would question, and you aren't looking for an opinion saying you can? Come on.

Mr. Gonzales's request resulting in the original August 2002 memorandum was somewhat unusual, the officials said, because he went directly to lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel, bypassing the office of the deputy attorney general, which is often notified of politically delicate requests for legal opinions made by executive-branch agencies, including the White House. Officials dispute how much senior Justice Department officials knew of the memorandum as it was being prepared. A former official and a current one said that neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor his deputy, Larry D. Thompson, were aware of the memorandum until it was about to be submitted to the White House.
Can you fucking imagine that? They had to hide it from Ashcroft?!?!?!?

A senior administration official [said] that the memorandum's conclusions appeared to closely align with the prevailing White House view of interrogation practices. The official said the memorandum raised questions about whether the Office of Legal Counsel had maintained its longstanding tradition of dispensing objective legal advice to its clients in executive-branch agencies.
We must oppose the confirmation of Gonzales as Attorney General. There is no choice.
(Me again.) If this country cannot do the right thing with regards to the appointment of the man who is most responsible for enforcing and upholding the law, then we'll have begun a downward spiral that I fear may see no end.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, January 4, 2005
I'd like a gyutou, kudasai.   A few weeks ago in the L. A. Times Food Section Russ Parsons wrote a fascinating article about Japanese knives. (I meant to link to it at the time, then forgot (big surprise). As is their extremely annoying wont, a week later it got plonked into the paid archives. Fortunately, I found a syndicated version.)

I've noticed the different look of Japanese chef's knives during my years of obsessively watching "Iron Chef", and seeing what those guys do with their tools is nothing short of amazing. Sure, my knife skills are Cro-Magnon next to someone like Sakai Hiroyuki, but having the right tools -- in the case of a knife, one that's hard, light, extremely sharp and keeps it edge -- takes an enormous amount of unnecessary effort out of the cooking process.

Russ' article is a wonderful survey of Japanese knives, especially the type called a "gyutou", or a knife with a Japanese-style blade and Western-style handle. According to his article (and what I've heard elsewhere), the best knives are coming out of Japan these days, not Europe, and he tried several different types to find which one he thought was best. I was captivated, and started thinking that it might be time to give my tired old Wüsthof a rest (and yet another sharpening).

Misono UX-10

On faith, I ordered his top recommentation: a Misono UX-10 8.2" gyutou from Korin Japanese Trading in New York, purveyors of fine Japanese tableware and chef's knives. Unfortunately, due to the demand created by the Times article, they're out of stock, so I probably won't get my knife until the end of the month. That's okay -- I can wait. Herr Wüsthof and I can last until then.

Russ said that this knife is so sharp, stays so sharp and cuts so beautifully that he's actually seeking out recipes that call for lots of dicing, even tiny dice like brunoise, because the knife makes it such a joy to cut and chop. That sounds like a blast.

Truffle inflation.   The plummet in the value of the dollar has had many deleterious effects on overseas travel and the price of imports, not the least of which for gourmands is the skyrocketing price of truffles, which have risen in price over 20%. "Restaurants will pay some $1,600 to $1,800 for a pound of white Alba truffles from Italy and some $600 to $800 for a pound of black truffles from France's Périgord," and that's too much even for many affluent folks.

No wonder my birthday dinner was so expensive. Oh, I never did get around to writing about that, did I? I suppose that falls under my resolutions, so I'd better get busy!

T-shirt of the day.   Via Preshrunk, a weblog I stumbled upon that's about interesting and/or wacky t-shirts for sale on the web. (As a longtime collector of interesting/wacky t-shirts, I find this fascinating.) Now, knowing me, so this one's a no-brainer ...

Everything tastes better with bacon.

This one's already on the way, and is my favorite since Sporkle (the sparkling pork and apple juice beverage!) and "Republicans for Voldemort".

Geeks with spare time.   (Via Wes.) Some nutty computer case modificationss, featuringing folks who've put their motherboards inside humidors, Millennium Falcon models, Darth Vader's head and a toaster. To each his own, I suppose...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, January 3, 2005
Bonne année!   Resolutions? We don't need to steenkeeng resolutions. (Actually, we do.)

Okay, in the early months of this year I will get down to my WeightWatchers goal; I'm 8 pounds away, and the birthday/Christmas/New Year's season hasn't helped (I'd probably be three or four pounds away if not for that). Next, to write more about food and music in this weblog, 'cause that's a big reason why I started it. We'll have more Cocktail of the Day features too, and I'll include pictures when I can.

I also resolve not to slack on political commentary (although I sometimes wish I could), because I predict that the outrage overload is going to have to have an expression more than ever over the next four years (barring indictments, impeachments, imprisonments and resignations in disgrace). I'm also resolving to become more active and involved in Democratic politics and in furthering progressive values. Writing checks isn't going to be enough. Things won't change unless we change them, and they can't take our country away if we don't let them. This is one hardheaded, cantankerous Irish-Louisianian who isn't going to take any crap from anyone, government included.

Let's see what we can make of 2005.

Cocktail of the day.   No time to waste in cushioning our systems, and Gawd knows we need the relaxation and civilization involved with cocktailian cuisine.

Wes found this one in Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology, and when we tried it not only did we love it, but it set off a huge lightbulb over my head. The proportions of this drink sent me back to the drawing board with some ingredients I'd been struggling with in order to create a new drink, and after one last try I nailed it. I'll post it as soon as I think of what to name it. In the meantime, enjoy this one from the 1930s.

The Bennett Cocktail

2 ounces gin.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Shake and strain; lime wheel garnish.

The combination of lime and bitters works beautifully here.

What are you doing New Year's Eve?   Well, what we did, to answer Ella Fitzgerald's musical question, was go to Cinnabar.

Wes and I went with our friends Chris and MJ to our favorite local restaurant's annual end of the year bash, featuring a multi-course prix-fixe dinner, a jazz combo, hats and noisemakers, bubbly and a steady flow of cocktails from their renowned cocktailian bar.

As Cinnabar is one of those rare places where you can get a really good cocktail, we made certain to hit the bar first. As I may have mentioned before, their bar (including the back bar) was rescued from the late, lameneted Yee Mee Loo bar in Downtown L.A., which was bought up and scheduled for demolition about 14 years ago (then sadly sat derelict because the raze-and-build-condos plan didn't come off quite like the developers planned). It's gorgeous, and there are always fun and interesting people around it. Behind the stick was Eric, the new bartender hired to replace our pal Bob, their longtime weekend bartender who left to go back to school. We're still keeping an eye on Eric -- really nice guy who made us spectacular Booker's Old Fashioneds, but something was a little off with that Negroni I had later. Next time I'll have to ask him how he makes it, because Cinnabar is famous for their own take on the Negroni (basically doubling the Campari and adding orange bitters), a take we've become particularly fond of:

The Cinnabar Negroni

2 ounces Campari.
1 ounce gin.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Shake and strain; orange wheel garnish.

We caused a bit of a ruckus when it became apparent that no one had remembered to notify the restaurant that one of our party was a vegetarian ("I keel you!", said co-owner Flame, with much justification), but Chef Damon came through beautifully, and our vegetarian didn't go hungry (although we probably could have gotten more of a planned menu if we had remembered to call ... oh well).

Here was the menu I chose:

Amuse Bouche:
Sevruga Caviar on a Crispy Potato Lollypop, with Lemon Crème Fraîche.
A thin slice of potato, stuck on a lollypop stick and fried crisp until it's like a thick chip ... whimsical! Plopped on the side was the dollop of crème fraîche and the caviar.

1. Foie Gras Terrine with Lemon Pear Compote.
Just say "foie gras" to me and I'm all over it. About a 3/8" slice of terrine, which went well with the sweet compote. It was gone very, very quickly.)

2. Dungeness Crab Cake in Shredded Phyllo with Avocado Vinaigrette. This was one of the highlights of the meal. It looked gorgeous, like a bird's nest or some kind of chrysalis, sitting in a pool of thick, green, spicy vinaigrette. The crab cake was wrapped in the shredded phyllo and quickly deep-fried, but was light and crisp and without the slightest trace of oiliness. The sweet crabmeat and the spicy vinaigrette were perfect together.

Lychee Sorbet, served in a Champagne flute.
This was wonderful, not too sweet and a perfect palate cleanser. I lucked out, as Wes and MJ were served a raspberry sorbet (" ... the kiiind you find in a second-hand store" ... um ... sorry) which was good but not as good as the lychee.)

Main course:
Filet Mignon and Foie Gras wrapped in Phyllo with a Ruby Port Glaze.
Okay, there's a bit of a motif here ... I was going for foie gras all around, having chosen this entrée instead of the Roasted Maine Lobster Tail with Tarragon Hollandaise and the Macadamia-Crusted Turbot with Lime Leaf Butter and a Rock Shrimp Spring Roll, so I ended up doubling up on the phyllo as well. No worries; how often do I get to eat phyllo anyway? This was solid, not shredded, and the dish was like an upscale Beef Wellington. The filet was perfect; tender and medium rare. On top inside the pastry was a luxurious level of richnessa added from the slice of foie gras, and the tart Port sauce cut right through all that richness with a fruity tang. I so rarely eat filet that this was a real treat. I washed it down with a glass of the house Bordeaux, which I forgot to write down.

Ginger Macadamia Nut Cake with Citrus Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Sauce.
The other choice was a mixed berry mini-cheesecake with a berry coulis, which I'm sure was good, but ... jeez, in the face of this other choice, who in the world would order it?! We did see someone at the next table who had one, and I imagined him to be some kind of chocolate hater whom I regarded with a mixture of contempt and pity. This dessert was out of this world -- rich rich rich without being overwhelming, with the touch of spiciness from the ginger keeping the richness in check. I looked both ways and wiped up the chocolate sauce with my finger when no one was looking.)

We were having such a good time that I didn't even think to take pictures of the dishes (duh) until the dessert arrived, even though I had meant to shoot the entire meal. Ah well. If my mind weren't so absent and if my camera weren't so clunky, I'd probably manage to do it. I'll have to work on at least one of those this year. Anyway, here's dessert:

Mmmmmm, dessert ...

It tasted even better than it looks.

Then came party hats, noisemakers, bubbly and FIVE! FOUR! THREE! TWO! ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (*hoooooooonk*) Hugs, kisses, Auld Lang Syne.

It was a really fun way to spend New Year's, and we'll probably do it again. To cap it all off, they weren't in a hurry to get rid of everybody, so we hung out for another hour or so and sobered up enough to drive home safely. Now I've gotta spend the next week eating rabbit food to make up for all that foie gras ...

Call the bunco squad.   Read Josh Marshall's excellent article on the scam that BushCo are trying to pull, under the name of "Social Security reform."

He also links to a New York Times editorial that, "bless their hearts, states the facts correctly":

Starting last year, as the groundwork was being set for the emerging debate, the Social Security trustees took the liberty of projecting the system's solvency over infinity, rather than sticking to the traditional 75-year time horizon. That world-without-end assumption generates the scary $10 trillion estimate, and with it, Mr. Bush's putative rationale for dismantling Social Security in favor of a system centered on private savings accounts.
December '04 Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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