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.

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Now available!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"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

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute long profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005. 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)

February 2005
January 2005

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:

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(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)

The Cocktailian Gazette
   (The monthly newsletter of
   The Museum of the
   American Cocktail.)

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)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

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

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

Wine shops in our 'hood:
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock

Reading this month:

Liquor, by Poppy Z. Brite.

The Cat's Pajamas, by Ray Bradbury.

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

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
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

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


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


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
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 (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
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:

Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
Right Hand Thief

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.

  Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Schindlers' List.   From the how-low-will-they-go department ... Terri Schiavo's parents the Schindlers are likely to see a drop in the level of public sympathy for them after this:

The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.

"These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler's legal battle to keep Terri's estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri," says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. "These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!"

Privacy experts said the sale of the list was legal and even predictable, if ghoulish.

[...] Pamela Hennessy, an unpaid spokeswoman for the Schindlers, said she was initially appalled when she learned of the list's existence.

"It is possibly the most distasteful thing I have ever seen," Ms. Hennessy said. "Everybody is making a buck off of her."

"Ghoulish" ... "distasteful" ... yep, that just about sums it up.

Should we be surprised by this, though? It seems that the Schindlers were very close to Michael Schiavo during the first three years of their ordeal, until Schiavo won a malpractice judgment against Terri's doctor -- $750,000 for her care, and $300,000 for himself. According to an article in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times, he estrangement between Schiavo and his in-laws began when "[t]he father demanded to know how much money he would be getting from his son-in-law's share of the settlement. 'He always wanted the money," the son-in-law said in court testimony. 'He wants the money. He wants the control.'"

The Times article also notes that the accusations levelled against Schiavo by his in-laws seem inconsistent, considering the fact that Schiavo went to community college and earned a nursing certificate so that he could better take care of his wife (he now works as a nurse full-time), and that the Schindlers encouraged him to move on with his life and see other women. "They understood that he might need new companionship, according to court records and family memebers," but now argue that his relationship with his current partner amounts to adultery, and have argued that he is an adulterer, abuser and murderer ... since the family split over the in-laws' desire for the settlement money.


[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, March 28, 2005

Christian soldier.   From Billmon, whom I'm very, very glad is back, and who is very, very good at finding stuff like this:

The legal battle over the life of Terri Schiavo may have ended, but a thick, fervent crowd remains in the makeshift encampment outside the Woodside Hospice House here ...

"No, we're not going to go home," said Bill Tierney, a young daughter at his side. "Terri is not dead until she's dead" ...

Mr. Tierney, a former military intelligence officer in Iraq who works as a translator and investigator for private companies, cried as he talked about watching the Schiavo spectacle on television and feeling the utter need to be at the hospice.

-- New York Times, March 28, 2005
Protesters With Hearts on Sleeves and Anger on Signs

Bill Tierney ... had just returned from eight months working as an interrogator for US forces in Baghdad, and had come to talk, on the record, about torture.

"The Brits came up with an expression -- wog," Tierney said. "That stands for Wily Oriental Gentleman. There's a lot of wiliness in that part of the world." ...

After explaining his various psychological tactics to the audience, interrogator Bill Tierney (a private contractor working with the Army) said, "I tried to be nuanced and culturally aware. But the suspects didn't break."

Suddenly Tierney's temper rose. "They did not break!" he shouted. "I'm here to win. I'm here so our civilization beats theirs! Now what are you willing to do to win?" he asked, pointing to a woman in the front row. "You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture.' You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?" ...

Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, "sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself -- there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.'"

-- Boston Globe, February 13, 2005
Spy world

Jesus Christ.

Then again, as one of Atrios' commenters pointed out, "There's nothing inconsistent with this man's position. Everybody knows torturing somebody stops being fun when they slip into a coma."

(And if torture is what we have to do to "win," then we don't deserve to win.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, March 25, 2005

Gumbo z'herbes.   "Green gumbo", as it's also called, is a fantastic gumbo that's virtually unknown outside of New Orleans (and even there it's not as well-known). The most traditional version (served on Good Friday) is strictly vegetarian, using up to a dozen or more kinds of greens, but I like mine with andouille and/or smoked pork chops.

It's a great idea for dinner tonight. Check out my version, plus Tom Fitzmorris published Chef Leah Chase's version from Dooky Chase's Restaurant in yesterday's issue of The New Orleans Menu Daily. He also talks about a wondrous ingredient in Gumbo z'Herbes, which I remember from childhood:

Pepper Grass

I've got to buy a digital camera so I can post photos of things that cannot be described in a reasonable number of words. One of those a strange herb that grows very commonly as a weed around New Orleans. It's interesting because it's an historic ingredient in Creole cooking, mostly known to a generation that is passing away from us quickly.

Pepper grass is a weed that grows primarily in disturbed soils, usually in places that most plants find hostile. Neutral grounds and devil's strips are the most common places, especially if the soil is dry. I have a small stand of the stuff right outside my office, underneath the Claiborne overpass. Pepper grass has scalloped leaves and tight little flowers that look like tiny cauliflowers. It wilts immediately after you pick it, but don't worry about that. It really does have a peppery kind of taste.

Pepper grass is the most distinctive and rarest ingredient in gumbo z'herbes, the most distinctive and rarest of the soups bearing the gumbo name. It's made with an odd number (for luck) of greens, plus a few flavorings. Its main purpose is to serve during Lent as a meatless (and sometimes even seafoodless) gumbo.

If you're very lucky, your gumbo z'herbes will have some pepper grass in it.

Was pepper grass ever part of your family's cookery? If you have some stories, post them.

I don't remember any of my relatives cooking with pepper grass, but I remember picking it and chewing on it as a kid (and that peppery flavor is wonderful). Any o' y'all New Orleanians remember this? Any o' y'all know any neutral grounds or vacant lots where it grows?

The Cocktailian.   In today's fortnightly column by Gary Regan, the Professor hooks a cocktail from a Russian Hill restaurant -- The Romanza, which looks pretty good. (Gimme just about anything with Campari in it.)

Happy Easter!   Via Rick, who says, "This may very well be my favorite news story ever."

The Easter Bunny is hopping mad. Bryan Johnson, who portrays the furry character at the Bay City Mall, says he was pummeled in an unprovoked attack on the job. Police say the attacker was a 12-year-old boy who sat on Johnson's lap the day before the March 18 incident.

Johnson, 18, suffered a bloody nose. He kept his cool during the attack, deeming it inappropriate for the Easter Bunny to fight back. But he's not willing to forgive and forget.

"They (the sheriff's deputies) told me it was up to me, and I feel that the boy should be prosecuted," Johnson told The Bay City Times.

Yeah, throw the book at 'im, the lil' bastid! (A psychiatry textbook, preferably.) Actually, it's a good thing Bryan didn't get his head bitten off. That's how I always attacked my Easter bunnies (the chocolate variety, at least).

Despicable.   (Via Armando at dKos: "What's in the Schiavo travesty for the Extreme Right? Green money.

Videotape of Terri Schiavo blinking at her parents has inspired donations from people around the country to the foundation set up to help pay for the family's legal battle. But many other groups are soliciting donations in her name as well, some for a much broader agenda.

"Help Save Terri Schiavo's Life!" says the Web site of the Traditional Values Coalition, a Christian conservative group best known for its campaigns against gay rights. Next to a link to the Web site of her parents' foundation is a pitch to "become an active supporter of the Traditional Values Coalition by pledging a monthly gift."

"What this issue has done is it has galvanized people the way nothing could have done in an off-election year," said Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the group, acknowledging that the case of Ms. Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, had moved many to open up their checkbooks. "That is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement in America."

Jesus wept.

Blood sport.   This entry, about how the utter lunacy involved with the Schiavo case is getting dangerous, is lifted in its entirety from DailyKos under their posted "Steal what you want" policy. This bears reading by all. The rest of this entry is by dKos writer Hunter (emphases mine):

We have been used to the downward spiral of cable news networks for some time, now. As recently as two weeks ago, I posted an abridged transcript of Wolf Blitzer covering Martha Stewart's release that was so utterly, spectacularly bad that some posters were convinced it was satire.

Over the last three days or so, however, the coverage on the Little Three news networks -- Fox, CNN, MSNBC -- has ceased to be humorous. There is a difference between bad coverage and willfully irresponsible coverage, and another line between willfully irresponsible coverage and dangerously irresponsible coverage. In the last three days, those lines have been crossed. Repeatedly. And it has been absolutely, definitively intentional.

If you have been paying attention to cable coverage of the Schiavo case, you will see two major themes repeated over and over. First, the repeated bookings of and citings of "witnesses" and "experts" that have previously been debunked, claiming that among other things Ms. Schiavo is "alert and oriented". A neurologist who touts himself as a nominee for "The Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine", an utterly false claim regarding an award that does not exist, has been given apparent run of the airwaves in order to repeatedly assert that Ms. Schiavo is "not that bad", and would be able to "communicate verbally" and "use her arms and legs" under his treatment plan -- a miraculous treatment plan for which, according to Judge Greer, he has been able to offer "no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results". We have even, as many have pointed out, been treated to "psychic" John Edward asserting he was in contact with Terri Schiavo.

Against this background of exploitation and misinformation, the usual bevy of archconservative media pundits has in the last several days begun to increasingly endorse a premise that is, to any rational mind, remarkable: the notion that because the courts have ruled in this particular fashion, it is now time for individuals and government figures to disregard the courts, and take matters into their own hands.

We now have a situation in which two dangerous elements are coming together in a manner that is ratings gold for exploitative "news" outlets. Yellow journalism, finally returned in all glory.

1. Excite and incite viewers with tales that Ms. Schiavo, awake and alert, is being "murdered" within the walls of her hospice by a conspiracy between an abusive husband, bloodthirsty "expert" doctors, and every single state and federal judge to hear the evidence in the case.

2. Endorse the notion that it may now be time to take Ms. Schiavo by force.

Unless you are deeply stupid, you can see where this is leading. There have now been about a dozen individuals arrested for trying to enter the clinic to give Terri food or water, an action that (because she cannot swallow) in and of itself stands an excellent chance of killing her. Both Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo are under police protection; Florida lawmakers are finding their pictures on "Wanted" posters; home addresses of Greer and other judges are being distributed. Now we have this report:

SEMINOLE, Fla. --  A man was arrested after trying to steal a weapon from a gun shop so he could "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo," authorities said.

Michael W. Mitchell, of Rockford, Ill., entered Randall's Firearms Inc. in Seminole just before 6 p.m. Thursday with a box cutter and tried to steal a gun, said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Mitchell, 50, told deputies he wanted to "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo" after he visited the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives, Pasha said. [...]

Randy McKenzie, the owner of Randall's Firearms, said Mitchell pulled out the box cutter and broke the glass on a couple of display cases.

"He told me if I wasn't on Terri's side then I wasn't on God's side, either," McKenzie told The Associated Press.

Now, there are times when the news media is simply sloppy; there are times when journalists simply get stories wrong, and there are times when, as in the trials of Michael Jackson, Kobe, O.J., Martha Stewart, etc., the news channels are simply swept away by their natural tendency towards low-cost voyeurism. But this isn't one of those times. This isn't petty irresponsibility or sloppiness, to be chalked up to the dwindling resources of corporate newsrooms.

This is a decision on the part of producers to willfully bend the lines in a manner that promotes sensationalism and potential violence, by intentionally tossing known-false information into a wire-taut public conflict to enhance the "ratings value".

This is a bit beyond the point where mere boycotts are appropriate. We may be looking at a situation, in the very near term, in which a man like Michael W. Mitchell is being questioned at length into his motives for a politically motivated killing. If I were Sean Hannity, Martha MacCallum, Pat Buchanan, John Gibson, Bill O'Reilly, or another fixture of the screaming tabloid shows, I might be a bit concerned whether my name came up.

Which of these deeply disturbed people is going to be pushed over the brink by this behavior from the media? We may well find out soon, after she finally dies.

Video of the day, and quote of the day.   First ... I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show = brilliance. Here's a clip from The Daily Show where Stewart looks at the abysmal performance of the 24/7 cable "news" networks with regards to the Schiavo debacle.

Next, James Wolcott diagnoses the same TV clowns:

Two prominent neurologists who have asked to remain anonymous have examined CNN behind closed doors and determined that the network is irreversibly brain-dead, as flooded with cerebral fluid as the hull of the S.S. Poseidon. It still retains some primitive reflexes and signs of animation, but a brain-scan revealed the sort of minimal activity usually associated with punch-drunk prizefighters condemned to a flophouse cot, or a broken toaster. "CNN barely has two brain cells left to rub together," one doctor said, lacing up his tennis shoes for a quick getaway.

Well, I can't say I was surprised by this grim diagnosis. The sadistic glee expressed by CNN boss Jon Klein over anchor-lunk Rick Sanchez's Fear Factor "shock-belt" exhibition is evidence of a news operation in advanced mental decay, and the network's performance in the Terry Schiavo masque of the red state death only brings additional confirmation.

Very astute diagnosis, doctors.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, March 24, 2005

A case for Sculler and Mouldy!   I subscribe to the Irish music/politics/arts magazine Hot Press online, and I get their weekly newsletter as well. Every now and again something from that cries out to be posted, such as today.

A thread in their message board asks, "What's the strangest place you've woken up and wondered, 'How the fuck did I get here?'" This cries out for participation from our audience as well. Here are some of the replies:

Middle of a field in eastern France, with a mouth full of grass and only one shoe.

A moshpit.

Police cell a couple of months ago. I was standing up at the time I awoke, which was unusual.

I woke up one beautiful summer's morning at about seven o'clock in somebody's garden out in the country, near my town. The owner of the garden, who was in his seventies, was standing over me, brandishing a pitchfork, shouting "Get oot, get oot!!!" (even though he wasn't Scottish).

After a house party.
In a wardrobe.
In the host's bedroom.
She was in bed.
I didn't really know her (had gone with a friend).
I didn't manage to escape quietly, I've never bought a wire cost hanger since (jangly pieces of shit).
Got a brief reputation as a weirdo stalker for a while afterwards.

On top of a wall in Ardfert after an almighty session after a football match. I think it was Sigerson Cup weekend. Twas fuckin' cold, too.

Talbot Street [Dublin], in the doorway of Easons [Bookstore], about 6pm on a warm, sunnyish Sunday evening. I had been at a modelling thingie, and had drunk rather too much wine, smashed some glasses, attempted to steal some more bottles of wine and then got asked politely to leave. Myself and moral support friend took turns to puke on the bus (and then the DART) and she had a split lip and bruised jaw.

Was over from Manchester for an All-Ireland and woke up in my sister's flat (she'd gone home for the weekend) in Donnybrook after going on the piss the night before. Had locked myself in for some reason (oh yeah it was a shared flat and I was afraid I might be raped!) but couldn't for the life of me find the key. Was bursting for a slash so did it in a plastic bottle beside the bed. Eventually found the key so didn't miss the match, thank god.

On a grassy knoll outside Derek Mooney's ma's house. Nah... On a 'yacht' moored in Dun Laoghaire with n'ere a skipper in sight. (Nor a knicker, I might add.)

Once woke up in an outdoor hot-tub in the snow in a village called Heavenly near Lake Tahoe in Nevada... still gives me the fear.

Hotel Room in Chisnui, Moldova, in 1993. It took about 10 seconds to realise I really had gone and done it.

Thank you, Ireland. Lovely stories. Now it's our readers' turn. I'll begin ...

Your tax (and retirement) dollars at work.   (Via Wes.) Nice to know that over 70% off us can expect to earn LESS under Dubya's plan for Social Security than we would earn under the existing, "destined-for-bankruptcy" plan.

Nearly three-quarters of workers who opt for Social Security personal accounts under President Bush's "default" investment option are likely to earn less in benefits than those who stay with the traditional Social Security system, a prominent finance economist has concluded.

A new paper by Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller found that under Bush's default "life-cycle accounts," which shift assets from stocks to bonds over a worker's lifetime, nearly a third of workers would bring in less in benefits than if they remained in the traditional system. That analysis is based on historical rates of return in the United States. Using global rates of return, which Shiller says more closely track future conditions, life-cycle portfolios could be expected to fall short of the traditional system's returns 71 percent of the time.

[...] The results "showed a disappointing outlook for investors in the personal accounts relative to the rhetoric of their promoters," concluded Shiller, a leading researcher in stock market volatility who gained fame in the late 1990s for his warnings of a stock market bubble.

Shiller's paper -- to be posted on his Web site, -- is adding to research that suggests the White House has been overly optimistic in its assumptions about personal investment accounts. A recent paper by Goldman Sachs economists said the White House's anticipated 4.6 percent rate of return above inflation could be nearly 2 percentage points too high.

Nobody's buying your Social Security bullshit, Mr. Shrub. Also, 80% of the country disapproves of what you and your party are doing to interfere in the Schiavo family's private tragedy. Keep it up.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Activist legislators.   There's an excellent article by Dahlia Lithwick in yesterday's Slate about the boundless overreaching behind Congress' Schiavo bill.

Whether Terri Schiavo will live or die in the coming days has come down to this: Can federal district judge James Whittemore set aside virtually every bedrock constitutional principle on which this nation was founded, just so members of the United States Congress may constitutionalize the nowhere-to-be-found legal principle that a "culture of life" is a good thing?

This morning's decision by Congress and President Bush -- to authorize new federal legislation that will obliterate years of state court litigation, and justify re-inserting a feeding tube into Terri Schiavo, based on new and illusory federal constitutional claims -- is not about law. It is congressional activism, plain and simple; legislative overreaching and hubris taken to absurd extremes.

Let's be clear: The piece of legislation passed late last night, the so-called "Palm Sunday Compromise," has nothing whatever to do with the rule of law. The rule of law in this country holds that this is a federalist system -- in which private domestic matters are litigated in state, not federal courts. The rule of law has long provided that such domestic decisions are generally made by competent spouses, as opposed to parents, elected officials, popular referendum, or the demands of Randall Terry. The rule of law also requires a fundamental separation of powers -- in which legislatures do not override final, binding court decisions solely because the outcome is not the one they like. The rule of law requires comity between state and federal courts -- wherein each respects and upholds the jurisdiction and authority of the other. The rule of law requires that we look skeptically at legislation aimed at mucking around with just one life to the exclusion of any and all similarly situated individuals.


Cocktail of the day.   Wes dug this one out of The Stork Club Bar Book, and given the location of that legendary nightclub the drink's name is only fitting. We had a slight variation -- Wes used Old Overholt rye instead of the "blended whiskey" the original called for; for the most part I have no use for most generic blended whiskey.

The New Yorker

1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 tsp simple syrup or sugar.
1/4 ounce real pomegranate grenadine.

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass;
sugar the rim if you wish. Garnish with lemon
twist and orange peel.

For such a simple drink, it's quite tasty.

Quote of the day.   Arguing that politicians were not qualified to make medical decisions:

"The caption tonight ought to be: 'We're not doctors, we just play them on C-SPAN.'"

-- Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

(Thanks, Shari!)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, March 21, 2005

The "Culture of Life."   The moral of this appalling spectacle, folks?

Write a goddamn living will NOW, for Christ's sake.

Did y'all happen to notice that the whole rallying cry for Congress to interfere in this case came from Tom DeLay, the ethics-challenged (to say the least) House majority leader who was "facing inquiries into fund-raising improprieties in Texas and potential violations of House travel rules in Washington, [when he took] a prominent role in rallying conservatives to the Schiavo cause, [which] also provided a sudden distraction from his troubles"?

They don't give a shit about this woman or her family, or how much worse they're making an already painful situation. This is pure politics at its most disgusting.

My friend Rick adds, "The other thing I heard this morning which proves this is all just political grandstanding (as if we didn't already know that) is the fact that there was absolutely no reason for Bush to 'rush back to Washington' to sign the bill. He could've signed it at the ranch in Texas but wanted to make a point of going back to DC to do it.

"Oh, and of course there's that memo to GOP members saying getting involved in this case could be a good thing for them politically."

Republican leaders believe their attention to the Terri Schiavo issue could pay dividends with Christian conservatives whose support they covet in the 2006 midterm elections, according to a GOP memo intended to be seen only by senators.

The one-page memo, distributed to Republican senators by party leaders, called the debate over Schiavo legislation "a great political issue" that would appeal to the party's base, or core, supporters. The memo singled out Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is up for re-election next year.

"This is an important moral issue, and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," said the memo, reported by ABC News and later given to The Washington Post. "This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a co-sponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats."


Scott Bateman comments:

The recent bankruptcy bill that Bush supports will make it nearly impossible for families that suffer a major illness or injury like Terri Schiavo's to ever get back on their feet again. This is a pet issue of the big health care companies that give Bush and the Republicans lots of money.

The tort reform that the president wants would put and end to malpractice claims like the one that's paid for Terri Schiavo's care all these years. Tort reform, of course, is a pet issue of the big corporations that want to do anything they like, including hurting ordinary Americans. These companies overwhelmingly support Bush and the Republicans.

And when he was governor of Texas, Bush signed a law that gives hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient can't pay and there's no hope of survival, no matter what the family might wish -- a law that was used as recently as March 16 to unplug a baby against its mother's wishes. Essentially, Bush killed that baby so that the hospitals could make more money.

So, when the president and the Republicans in Washington talk about a "culture of life?" They mean, "only when it doesn't interfere with the big companies that give us lots of money."

More on that Texas law from Digby:

By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on Medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terri Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terri Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terri Schiavo's because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the Gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the Congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terri Schiavo," mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family," the Congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terri Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

This issue gets to the essence of the culture war. Shall the state be allowed to interfere in the most delicate, complicated personal matters of life, death and health because a particular religious constituency holds that their belief system should override each individual's right to make these personal decisions for him or herself? And it isn't the allegedly statist/communist/socialist left that is agitating for the government to tell Americans how they must live and how they must die.

One of the things that we need to help America understand is that there is a big difference between the way the two parties perceive the role of government in its citizens personal lives. Democrats want the government to collect money from all its citizens in order to deliver services to the people. The Republicans want the government to collect money from working people in order to dictate individual citizen's personal decisions. You tell me -- which is the bigger intrusion into the average American's liberty?

Here's what We the People think, via an ABC News poll. (.pdf file)

Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, with sizeable majorities saying Congress is overstepping its bounds for political gain.

Support 63
Oppose 28

Support 46
Oppose 44

Support 54
Oppose 40

Support 35
Oppose 60

Appropriate 27
Not Appropriate 70

Concern about Schiavo 19
Political Advantage 67

Prepare your living will and/or advance health care directive today. The U.S. Living Will Registry provides a way to store your wishes with constant access to family and health care providers; you should also file hard copies with various family members and/or your attorney. You must leave instructions if you want control over what happens to you when you're incapacitated; otherwise, as Josh Marshall put it, Tom DeLay will decide it for you.

UPDATE: Scott McLellan lied about the Texas bill today (via Think Progress, via Kos):

At the gaggle this morning, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan defended a law Bush signed as governor of Texas in 1999:

"The legislation he signed is consistent with his views. You know, this is a complex case and I don't think such uninformed accusations offer any constructive ways to address this matter... [P]rior to the passage of the '99 legislation that he signed, there were no protections... The legislation was there to help ensure that actions were being taken that were in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family".

McClellan's statement grossly distorts the nature of the law. The law does not ensure that actions are taken "in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family." In fact it codifies and legalizes the ability of doctors to stop treatment even if it goes against the explicit directive of the patient or the patient's family.

Check out Section 166.046, Subsection (e):

If the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient is requesting life-sustaining treatment that the attending physician has decided and the review process has affirmed is inappropriate treatment, the patient shall be given available life-sustaining treatment pending transfer under Subsection (d). The patient is responsible for any costs incurred in transferring the patient to another facility. The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient ...

Kos: "McClellan's response was a flat out lie. There's no gray area in the law."

Civilized America.   We're a beacon of light, freedom and civilization for the entire world, right? Try again.

At least 108 people have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them violently, according to government data provided to The Associated Press. Roughly a quarter of those deaths have been investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel.

The figure, far higher than any previously disclosed, includes cases investigated by the Army, Navy, CIA and Justice Department. Some 65,000 prisoners have been taken during the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although most have been freed.

The Pentagon has never provided comprehensive information on how many prisoners taken during the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have died, and the 108 figure is based on information supplied by Army, Navy and other government officials. It includes deaths attributed to natural causes.

To human rights groups, the deaths form a clear pattern.

"Despite the military's own reports of deaths and abuses of detainees in U.S. custody, it is astonishing that our government can still pretend that what is happening is the work of a few rogue soldiers," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "No one at the highest levels of our government has yet been held accountable for the torture and abuse, and that is unacceptable."

Would you like to know how many American prisoners died, from ALL causes natural or otherwise, while in the custody of the North Vietnamese during the entire 11 years of the Vietnam War? One hundred fourteen. Gee, y'all! All we have to do is off seven more innocent pe-- er, terr'r'sts, and we'll beat that V.C. record! That'll teach them for whipping our asses in that war.

'Scuse me while I go be sick now ...

They're tryin' to wash us away.   There was a great series of subplots in Star Trek: Deep Spece 9 where Captain Benjamin Sisko, who was from a 24th Century New Orleans, would sometimes return to his dad's Creole restaurant to visit. Unfortunately, we have to ask the question -- Will there be a New Orleans in the 24th Century? (Via Mike.)

Glaciers worldwide are rapidly retreating. Southeast Louisiana continues to subside. And Antarctic ice is breaking into the sea at an accelerating rate. The result, many scientists fear, is that southeast Louisiana may be inundated by the sea much sooner than anyone realizes.

[...] By 2100, several glaciologists say, the combination of melting ice and ice flowing into the ocean could increase the worldwide sea level by between 2 and 3 feet, compared to 1998 estimates of a rise of about 1.6 feet during this century.

That could be the difference between dry land with healthy wetlands and drowned wetlands, marshes and coastal communities, say several scientists working on the state's coastal restoration program.

In part, that's because Louisiana's coast also must contend with subsidence -- the land sinking under its own weight -- and erosion. If the shrinking-ice scenario proves true, that means the coast could be facing the equivalent of a 4-foot to 6-foot rise in sea level over the next 100 years.

All I can really say is ... if New Orleans is to be destroyed, please -- not until after I'm dead. I think we'll hold out that long, barring a direct hit from a Category 4-5 hurricane.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, March 18, 2005

Cocktail of the day.   Our pal Chris Viljoen has sent in yet another fascinating cocktail recipe, providing a glimpse of the cocktailian culture in Brazil. Chris says this drink is very popular in São Paulo at the moment.

This was the most fascinating one yet, although one that can get a little expensive. It calls for fresh passion fruit pulp, two passion fruits' worth for each drink, and in supermarkets those little suckers can go for $2.50 each. Try to find one in a farmer's market, where the price is more likely to be reasonable ... or else, move to a place like Brazil, where I assume they're cheap and plentiful.

Make sure your passion fruits are wrinkly but not dry and overly shriveled before you cut them in half and scoop out the pulp -- that's when they're at the height of their ripeness.

You can make vanilla sugar by slicing a vanilla bean in half and, after scraping the seeds out for another use, placing the bean husk in a bowl of sugar. The bean pod will add a wonderful flavor and aroma to the sugar. I didn't have any of that handy, so I used Monin's Organic Vanilla syrup, which is an excellent, shelf-stable product.

Chris says he watched the bartender as he made it, but the guy wouldn't give him the measurements under orders from his stinky boss. It may need some tweaking, but was pretty good as is.

Capeta Paulista cocktail, São Paulo, Brazil

Capeta Paulista
("Capeta" means "devil" in Portuguese)

3 ounces passion fruit (grenadilla in Portuguese) pulp.
1-1/2 ounces cachaça.
Juice of 1/2 lime.
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar.
1 small pinch cayenne pepper.

Shake well with a few large cubes of ice.
Take out any remaining ice and pour into a cocktail glass.
Don't strain, because you want to keep the pits.

It has a really different taste.

It was pretty weird, but really enjoyable. The slight tartness of the ripe passion fruit pulp with its heavenly tropical perfume, the additional perfume of the vanilla, the tartness of the lime and the touch of fire from the cayenne (the weirdest part) made for quite an experience. Maybe when the weather gets warmer we'll have these as well as Caipirinhas. Thanks again, Chris!

A cocktail for Hunter.   The new issue of the Regans' Ardent Spirits newsletter is out, and there's a fascinating cocktail-creation challenge within:

Chris Carlsson, Rochester's Premier Spiritual Advisor, and host of Spirits Review (a great site -- go visit), wrote recently to suggest that a cocktail should, perhaps, be created in honor of Hunter S. Thompson, best known as the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, who took his own life on February 20 this year. We think that Hunter would probably appreciate such a gesture, so we're holding a competition.

Chris suggested that Bourbon and grapefruit juice might both be appropriate ingredients, since Thompson apparently enjoyed both, and he was thinking that a touch of something illegal might be in order, too, but we warn you against infusing whiskey with any illicit materials to make this drink -- let's try to come up with something that can be ordered at regular bars so that the whole country can raise a glass to the "Gonzo" journalist who was described as an "anger-driven, drug-fueled writer for Rolling Stone magazine" by writer Michael Slackman, in the New York Times.

So now the ball's in your court. Create a Fear and Loathing Cocktail, send us the recipe, and the drink we deem to be the best, and most appropriate, will receive signed copies of Mardee's The Bartender's Best Friend and Gary's The Joy of Mixology. Sound good? Get to work, then.

Wes got busy last night while I was at the radio statoin, but didn't care for the result; doubtless he'll try again. I'm giving it some thought myself, but I'm extending Gary's challenge to Looka! readers. See what you can come up with, and email Gary Regan -- gary (at) ardentspirits (dot) com -- with the results.

Quote of the day.   Priceless. From The New Republic issue of November 23, 1987, via BeatBushBlog:

"I think it's a nutty idea to fool around with the Social Security system and run the risk of [hurting] the people who've been saving all their lives... It may be a new idea, but it's a dumb one."

-- George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, in response to a question in a presidential debate posed by Pete du Pont regarding the partial privatization of Social Security, which du Pont advocated.


[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, March 17, 2005
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig agaibh.   Or to break out of my extremely limited ability as a gaeilgeoir ... Happy St. Paddy's Day, all o' yis.

A glass of 12-year-old John Power's for me today, I should think. Maybe something a little nicer when I get home from my radio shift tonight ... Wes, should we open the Midleton Very Rare 2003 and have a drop of that later? It's been over a year since we got that bottle, and sure if St. Patrick's Day isn't a day to open it I don't know what is.

Oh, speaking of my radio shift ... tonight on "Down Home" I'll be doing my annual all-Irish St. Patrick's Day special. Expect to hear music from Planxty (natch), The Bothy Band, Gráda, Altan, Mark Geary, The Frames, Mic Christopher, Kíla, Ron Kavana, Patrick Street, musicians from Matt Molloy's Pub in Westport and Tigh Neachtain in Galway, and a whole lot more. The craic will be ninety, so tune in at 7pm Pacific Time, 88.5 FM in Los Angeles, and streaming at everywhere else.

Cocktail of the day.   I had one all ready to go, but of course I can't be featuring a Brazilian feckin' cocktail on St. Patrick's Day, so we'll do that one tomorrow. Today we drink the pure drop, the old craythur, the best thing in nature, for sinkin' your sorrows and raisin' your joys. No poití today (for that'll surely take off the top of your head, as I recall from one evening years ago after an after-hours session in Lisdoonvarna), but fine Irish whiskey.

Neat is a great way to take it, with a drop of water to open the flavor. However, as much as such a thing might be frowned upon in the thirty-two counties (despite concoctions such as Paddy's and fizzy red lemonade), I'll recommend a cocktail based on Irish whiskey for today. It's one of my own creation, featured here before but due for a revival, as I rather like it. I'd recommend a pint along the way as well, as long as we're celebrating, and a soundtrack provided by myself if you're tuning in at the proper time. I'll make sure I've got Van the Man and Dónal on during the show -- when you hear them, you'll know when to start mixing.

St. Dominic's Preview

2 ounces Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
2 dashes orange bitters.
Few dashes Herbsaint, Pernod or other pastis.
Orange peel.

Shake a few dashes of pastis into a rocks (Old Fashioned / whiskey) glass, then swirl around to coat. Pour most of it out, leaving a little puddle of it in the bottom of the glass. Combine the whiskey, liqueur and bitters in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice, stir for no less than 30 seconds and strain into the coated glass. Twist the peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

Yeah, it's a long way to Buffalo, and a long long way to Belfast city too ...

The (rest of the) Top 100 Irish albums of all time.   Well, Hot Press lot finally published the people's choice of the Irish top 100, to go along with last year's list of the Top 100 as voted by Irish musicians. We left off with Bell X1 at number 11...

12. The Frames - Setlist
13. The Corrs - Talk On Corners
14. Mic Christopher - Skylarkin
15. The Frames - For the Birds
16. U2 - The Unforgettable Fire
17. Ash - 1977
18. Damien Dempsey - Seize the Day
19. The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy & The Lash
20. Van Morrison - Moondance

21. The Frames - Fitzcarraldo
22. U2 - Boy
23. The Corrs - Forgiven Not Forgotten
24. The Cranberries - Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
25. Paddy Casey - Living
26. The Boomtown Rats - Tonic For the Troops
27. The Pogues - If I Should Fall From Grace With God
28. The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues
29. Rory Gallagher - Live in Europe
30. Mundy - 24 Star Hotel

31. U2 - Rattle and Hum
32. Sinéad O'Connor - The Lion and the Cobra
33. The Corrs - In Blue
34. Sinéad O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got
35. U2 - Pop
36. Ash - Free All Angels
37. The Stunning - Paradise in the Picturehouse
38. (oddly missing)
39. JJ72 - JJ72
40. (oddly missing)

41. A House - I Am The Greatest
42. (oddly missing)
43. Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak
44. (oddly missing)
45. The Undertones - The Undertones
46. The Virgin Prunes - If I Die I Die
47. Christy Moore - Ride On
48. Hothouse Flowers - People
49. David Kitt - The Big Romance
50. Juliet Turner - Burn the Black Suite

51. Planxty - Planxty
52. Turn - Forward
53. Fatima Mansions - Viva Dead Ponies
54. The Frank and Walters - Trains Boats and Planes
55. Something Happens - Stuck Together With God's Glue
56. My Bloody Valentine - Isn't Anything
57. The Thrills - So Much For The City
58. Horslips - The Táin
59. Ronan Hardiman - Feet Of Flame

60. The Divine Comedy - Casanova
61. The Prayer Boat - Polichinelle
62. Van Morrison - It's Too Late To Stop Now
63. Aslan - Made In Dublin
64. Pierce Turner - 3 Minute World
65. Rory Gallagher - Photofinish
66. Enya - Watermark
67. Moving Hearts - Moving Hearts
68. Mark Geary - Ghosts
69. Paul Brady - Hard Station
70. Horslips - The Book Of Invasions

71. An Emotional Fish - An Emontional Fish
72. The Commitments - OST
73. The Devlins - Waiting
74. Rory Gallagher - Against The Grain
75. Sultans Of Ping FC - Casual Sex In The Cineplex
76. The Sawdoctors - If This Is Rock'n'Roll I Want My Old Job Back
77. Declan O'Rourke - Since Kyabam
78. Kila - Tóg É Go Bog É
79. Microdisney - The Clock Comes Down The Stairs
80. Simple Kid - SK1

81. Rollerskate Skinny - Horse Drawn Wishes
82. The Corrs - Borrowed Heaven
83. Andy Irvine and Paul Brady - Andy Irvine and Paul Brady
84. Van Morrison - St. Dominic's Preview
85. That Petrol Emotion - Chemicrazy
86. Revelino - Revelino
87. U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind
88. The Radiators - Ghostown
89. Silent Running - Walk On Fire

90. Mary Black - No Frontiers
91. David Holmes - Let's Get Killed
92. The Cranberries - No Need To Argue
93. Van Morrison - No Guru No Method No Teacher
94. Republic Of Loose - This Is The Tomb Of The Juice
95. Stand - In A Happy Place
96. Sinéad O'Connor - Sean nós Nua
97. The Blades - Last Man In Europe
98. The Tycho Brahe - This Is
99. Luka Bloom - The Acoustic Motorbike
100. Redneck Manifesto - 36 Strings

I own 55 of these; not bad, for what it's worth. But in the don't-get-me-started department, I'll add more in the comments section.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Eight hours of food and wine.   You may recall a couple of months ago I did a post about The French Laundry's Chef Thomas Keller's technique for poaching lobster in butter. Our friend Robb said, "Mmmm, that sounds so good!", and I said "We should try it sometime ... maybe Jaason can pick some wines," and he said "Pick a date." So we did -- a week ago last Saturday.

Robb's partner Jaason, out of all my friends, is probably the most knowledgeable about wine, and we had been talking for ages about my preparing a multi-course dinner for which Jaason would choose the wines. The initial idea was to do an all-Mario Batali meal, mostly from the Babbo cookbook, but butter-poached lobster beckoned instead.

I've got lots of pictures and descriptions of technique; it was so relatively easy to do that I wanted to prove that none of you should be intimidated by cooking lobster this way. It's a snap, really, and resulted in the best lobster I've ever tasted in my life. It was the centerpiece of a meal put together with a bag of blood oranges from a friend's tree, some handmade andouille sausage, a lot of lobster stock and cream, stinky blue cheese and honey from one of the remotest points on Earth, and Venezuelan chocolate kissed with a touch of South Africa.

The day before Robb had called to relay about a thousand questions from Jaason about the dishes, the flavor aspects, how spicy they were or weren't, whether they contained dairy or not, the specific seasonings used. He apparently had about half his cellar laid out, and was in an agony of indecision. From the background I heard him shout, "Ask him if we can have two wines for each course!" Considering that four bottles of wine plus cocktails and after-dinner Scotch was likely to be too much as it was, I gently encouraged him to decide on only one per course. This, of course, told me that the wines he did end up bringing were going to be fantastic.

My own prep began the day before as well, with the shopping trips, almost as much fun as the cooking. Surfas in the morning, then the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen at lunchtime. I love going there, with their array of sausages and smoked meats, even though 90% of the time all I get is their excellent Louisiana andouille. This time, though ... the lady in line in front of me ordered a pound of veal bologna. "Veal bologna?" I said. "I've never heard of such a thing!" She boggled. "Oh, I grew up on this stuff! My mom's been coming here since I was a kid, and I'm 50 now ... I can't live without it." I asked for a taste, and ... um, half a pound of veal bologna, please, thinly sliced. This stuff's amazing, spiced in a similar manner to the stuff you ate when you were a kid but more complex, and a real flavor of the meat. Take Oscar Meyer baloney and raise it several exponents, and you'll have this stuff. I also spied a whole side of beautiful smoked pork chops and, thinking ahead to a meal a few days down the line, asked for two of 'em, 3/4" thick. There were several people ahead of me, and by the time I left I smelled like a smoked sausage; the aroma from their big smoker in the back fills the entire place. But I digress ...

Next morning's shopping trip was a quick drive to Fish King in Glendale. I wanted the lobsters to be nice and perky, and when you're cooking lobster it's best to buy them as near as possible to the time you're going to cook them, and for me that would be Saturday morning.

George and Richard Into the pot.

I am not normally wont to name my prey, but I decided these two extremely perky specimens ... George and Richard. (Hey, classic ingredient, classic names, right?) George and Richard hung out in the sink while I prepared the water in which they'd briefly steep. The idea behind this technique comes from a lifetime of tough lobster -- how many times have you had lobster, the flavor or which was glorious but the texture of which was like chewing a pencil eraser. Chef Keller's theory is that boiling a lobster for 10-12 minutes is violent; the meat "seizes up", and you can't get any flavor into it. Here we steep the lobsters in just-boiled water with a little vinegar, and for only two minutes -- just long enough for the meat to firm up on the outside enough to remove it from the shell.

To 8 quarts of water I added about 1/2 cup of white vinegar and brought the pot to a boil. When the water was fully boiling, I turned off the heat, let the bubbles subside, and into the pot they went for two minutes.

You have to work somewhat quickly, because you don't want the meat to overcook at this stage. As soon as the timer chimed I removed the lobsters with tongs and, using heavy cloth oven mitts, went to work on them. The tail was quickly twisted off, and the claws were removed; the claws went back into the hot water to steep for five more minutes. I grasped the fan of the tail and pulled it to one side to remove it; after that, all you need to do is poke your finger into the end of the tail and the tail meat pops right out. Remove the vein, slice in half lengthwise and place on a plate lined with a damp paper towel. Remember that lobsters are juicy and will take in some water when they're boiling/steeping -- I twisted off the tail a bit carelessly, and was rewarded by a huge squirt of hot lobster juice right in the face. (All right, all right ... it's food porn, not that kind ...)

When the claws have done their time, twist off the small pincer. If you do it carefully, the cartilage will come right out. Crack the claw along the bottom, and you should be able to remove the meat completely intact. Crack open the knuckles and remove the half-thumb-sized pieces of meat from them as well. I didn't take photographs of these steps, as I was by myself at the time and kinda busy, but Joe at The Gothamist posted pictures of these steps.

Here's what George and Richard looked like after their bath:

Next step, the lobster stock. Making stocks is really easy -- all it takes is time. I used the same big stockpot after dumping out the steeping water and giving it a good rinse, then heated a couple of tablespoons of oil in it. Into the pot went all the lobster shells, which got a nice sear in the oil, then into the pot went a couple of chopped tomatoes, about a cup of chopped carrots and a couple of large sprigs of tarragon. All that was covered with cold water and brought to a boil, then simmered for an hour. After that the stock was strained through a coarse strainer (or a China cap if you've got it), pressing on the shells to get out all that lovely liquid, then strained again through a fine-mesh sieve. I ended up with about two quarts of stock.

That stock went into another pot on high heat and spent the better part of the next hour on its own, reducing until there was one cup left ... pretty concentrated stuff.

Two quarts reducing down to ... one cup.

We'll get back to that stuff later.

I thought I'd make the soup next, so that could sit on low heat and simmer all day. I've done this many times before, and it's a favorite at our house, but Robb and Jaason had never had it before. Deep, rich (although this time made less rich by using milk instead of cream; I figured we already had enough cream in two out of the five dishes), intensely flavorful. You should definitely try it sometime. (Well, you should try all of this, actually!)

Stock added to sauteed eggplant, onion, celery, peppers, plus the andouille. Then the green onions and parsley go in ... pretty!

Next step, preparing the garnish for the lobster dish, which also provides an intense flavor component. Parmesan crisps are, again, really easy to make, and you'll want to make lots of them to have enough to snack on in addition to the ones you'll need for the dish. Heat your oven to 325°F, and using a non-stick cookie sheet (or a sheet pan lined with a Silpat, preferably), sprinkle a two-inch circle of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. A ring mold comes in handy if you like even edges and perfect circles. Bake them for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Using a metal spatula, remove the crisps (which are actually soft at this point) and set them on a paper towel; they'll crisp up in a few minutes as they cool. These are incredibly yummy. (Oh, and it goes without saying, use the real Parmigiano cheese from Italy, not the domestic product or ... shudder ... the stuff from the green can.)

Parmesan crisps, before ... and after.

Okay, next up, making the dough for the tart crust for dessert. This was the tricky part, as I suck at baking and most things involving dough (particularly yeast doughs). I suppose I just need more practice, and managed not to mess it up. I adapted a recipe (also recently posted here) by Clotilde Desoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini that looked good. I love chocolate ganache, and her short tart dough looked pretty easy, and it was. Just mix the room-temperature butter and the flour with a fork until it looks like coarse bread crums, then add a splash of milk and bring it together. Don't overknead it, just add the tiniest bit of milk you need to form the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill for half an hour, then roll out to about 1/4" thickness and press into your little tart tins. (I found some great nonstick ones at Surfas for about two bucks each.)

The 'mixing until it looks like coarse crumbs' stage looks like this. A spash of milk, and roll it into a ball.
Divide, then roll out and into the tart tins ... easy peasy!

The ganache was easy -- six ounces of fine Venezuelan chocolate (another Surfas buy), which some say is the best in the world, chopped with hot cream poured over and stirred until smooth. That gets poured into the prebaked tart shells and chilled until an hour before serving. Oh, another thing ... I decided to infuse some flavor into that cream before melting the chocolate into it. More on that later.

Okay, doing pretty well by this point ... got the lobster meat and stock ready to go, the soup's made, the salad'll go together in five minutes, the cheese and honey go together in two minutes, and the tarts are chilling. Most of the real work involves the lobster dish, and lots of that is done á la minute, just before serving. I'll skip ahead to those steps, so that we can present all the courses of the meal to you together.

One more step to making the lobster broth was to take the one cup of concentrated lobster stock and add two cups of heavy cream to it (sigh) ...then reduce those three cups to one cup. (Oh my.) Rich, rich, rich beyond belief, is how this stuff tasted, and that was before we started doctoring it up. I cooked 1/2 cup of orzo, drained it and rinsed it in cool water, then combined it with the super-reduced cup of creamy lobster broth. Into that went 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese (oh my, my), a couple tablespoons of chopped chives and salt to taste.

The stock with cream, reducing. Folding the creamy broth and cheese into the orzo

Now, time to prepare the lobster. By the time you're ready to cook the lobster, the meat should have been out of the fridge for at least 15-30 minutes, coming down to room temperature. Now, boys and girls, we get to employ a classical French technique -- making beurre monté. Again, it's easy. Cut two or three sticks of butter into chunks, and in a saucepan boil about a tablespoon of water. Into the boiling water toss a chunk of butter and swirl until it melts; continue until all the butter is melted. The boiling water helps form an emulsion so that you get a smooth, emulsified butter sauce that doesn't separate into butterfat, water and solids.

Melting the first pat of butter into the tablespoon of boiling water ... and this is the result.  Isn't it gorgeous stuff?

While keeping your masarpone-enriched orzo warm, bring the beurre monté to a temperature of between 160 and 190°F, and plop in the lobster meat. Poach it for about 5-6 minutes. It's actually difficult to overcook it at this point, but try not to leave it in longer than you have to. The finished dish calls for coral oil, but there wasn't a whole lot of coral (roe) in these lobsters, so I made a tarragon oil for garnish -- a fistful of fresh tarragon and about a half cup of canola oil in the mini food processor, whizzed up and into the squeeze bottle.

To plate this dish, squeeze about a three-inch circle of tarragon oil (or lobster coral oil, if you care to make some of that) onto the plate, and put a heaping 1/3 cup of the creamy orzo in the middle. Top with a nice arrangement of the lobster meat, and top that with a Parmesan crisp at an appropriately jaunty angle.

Lobsters poaching in butter.  Oh my Gawd. Four servings plated.
Close up of one plated serving, sans crisp.

Okay. Now, I think we're ready to serve.

Hors d'oeuvres and apéritif:
Bacon-Wrapped Medjool Dates Stuffed with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, with Mother-In-Law Cocktails

Alas, no picture of this dish because it disappeared so quickly, and I was busy attending to a few things in the kitchen. You've heard me talk about this before, Wesly's signature appetizer (lifted from a recipe from A.O.C. restaurant in, of all places, Premiere magazine) which we frequently serve to guests and which is a universal favorite. Pit your dates, stuff with a little chunk of cheese, wrap in a good applewood-smoked artisinal bacon (like Niman Ranch) or even good ol' Oscar Meyer (the center cut variety, preferably), on a rack over a sheet pan and into a 500°F oven for 10-12 minutes, until the bacon is cooked to almost-crisp. Sprinkle with parsley for a garnish if you care that much; they won't last long.

With these we served the forgotten cocktail that I was proud to have had a hand in resurrecting, the Mother-In-Law Cocktail, named for Brooks Baldwin's grandmother's mother-in-law, who invented the drink in what we presume to be the late 1800s. You mix it by the bottle, and although the fact that it's pre-mixed wasn't the sole reason for serving it, it certainly helped. Fortunately we don't ever need a lame excuse like that for serving this drink -- it's outstanding anytime.

First course: "Stuffed" Eggplant Soup
with Shrimp and Andouille

First course.

As I mentioned before, this started out as a puréed cream of eggplant soup from Chef John Folse, and with the addition of some shrimp and andouille and a more rustic, chunky texture calls to mind the Creole-Italian stuffed eggplant dish we all love so much in New Orleans. There's so much flavor in this soup that it will not fail to make you grin with delight, if you're not already sitting back moaning with your eyeballs rolled back in your head. This is Creole-Italian, about as good as it gets.

Wine: Domaine Léon Boesch, Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2001 Gewürztraminer, Alsace.

I had mentioned to Jaason that the last time I had served this dish I poured a red, a La Crema Carneros Pinot Noir which worked beautifully. He expressed some reservations about starting the meal with a red, preferring to start with a white and work our way up to "meatier" reds, and I agreed. The Alsatian Gewürztraminer was a perfect choice. Some of the best Gewürztraminers in the world come from Alsace, and that varietal tends to go very well with spicy food. This dish wasn't terribly spicy-hot -- it got all of its heat from the andouille, there but subtle -- but was highly seasoned, with many layers of flavor. This wine was dry and fruity, cutting through the slight creaminess but contributed a spicy bouquet of its own. It was perfect.

Second course: Blood Orange and Shaved Fennel Salad with Arugula, Toasted Pistachios and a Creole Mustard-Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Second course.

A friend of ours has a blood orange tree (jealous!) and gave Wes a bag of 'em a week before. I decided to use them in a salad, and the combination of blood oranges with shaved fennel is a classic Sicilian combination. I thought that'd keep a nice connection with the Creole-Italian soup starter, as the vast majority of New Orleans' large Italian community are Sicilian in origin, and contributed those aspects of Italian regional cuisine to New Orleans cuisine. Rather than just the oft-repeated classic of just the oranges and fennel, I threw in some arugula for some green and a peppery quality, and a touch of richness from the pistachios. The dressing was fairly low-acid, as I didn't want it to compete with the wine; just a simple vinaigrette of blood orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, a minced shallot, salt and pepper, plus some Creole mustard to bring it all together.

Wine: Domaine Léon Boesch, Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2001 Gewürztraminer, Alsace, yet again. Jaason wanted to try having the same wine with the first two courses, and see how it behaved with each. It went just as well with the salad as it did with the soup, with its spicy characteristics playing off the pepperiness of the arugula.

Third course: "Macaroni and Cheese":
Butter-Poached Lobster on Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo, with Parmesan Crisps and Tarragon Oil, and Haricots Verts with Olive Oil and Blood Orange.

Third course, closeup.
Third course, the whole thing.

This was sheer, unadulterated heaven on a plate.

I'm sure that my execution did not even approach that of Chef Keller and his amazing kitchen team at The French Laundry, seeing that they're one of the finest restaurants in the world and I'm just a good cook, but man ... for a dish that while somewhat labor-intensive is actually pretty simple to put together, the results were astonishing. The incredibly concentrated flavors; the richness of the reduced cream with the cheese; the sweet, sweet, delicate lobster meat that for one, for once thank CHRIST I didn't have to chew like lobster gum, which parted gently when I bit into it and which fell apart as I chewed, infused with the flavor of butter but not overly buttery or heavy ... God.

We were pretty speechless at first, except to make exclamations like "Oh man", and there was some moaning and giggling. Then not long after the first bite, Robb pretty much summed it up for all of us: "This is one of the best things that's ever been in my mouth." (Hee hee.) My head spun, this was so good. I don't think I ever want to have lobster again unless it's prepared this way, and I certainly don't want to have a lobster that's been boiled to death until its meat is like a rubber gasket. I'm now spoiled for life. And that orzo ... the mascarpone almost puts it over the top, but adds a smooth, rich tanginess to the deep, deep lobster flavor. The serving was only 1/3 cup, but I tried not to think about how much reduced fat was in that serving. (Well, probably not all that much, right? Riiiight.)

My grandmother would have noted: "Where's ya vedge-a-tibbles with this?!" Indeed, she would be right. We needed something green, and Trader Joe's had a good price on one-pound bags of the thin French-style green beans. I blanched them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drained them and plunged them into ice water to stop the cooking, then heated some olive oil in a skillet. Into the skillet went the beans, add a tablespoon of blood orange juice until reduced to a glaze along with the grated zest of one blood orange, salt and pepper and onto the plate.

Wine: Champagne Pol Roger Brut, no vintage, Epernay, France. This pairing was sheer genius.

Jaason had wanted a sparkling wine to go with the seafood, particularly one with such a rich preparation, and the one he chose -- one of his favorites -- could not possibly have been better. I was already in the midst of a wave of pleasure from the first bites of that dish, when I took a sip of that Champagne ... and I nearly leapt out of the chair. All I could say was "WOW!" The perfect amount of acid as a foil to all that cream, but a bit of creaminess of its own, and a fruity nuttiness to its flavor that combined with the symphony of flavors in the dish to create yet another level of new flavors in the mouth. This is what wine and food pairing is all about, and Jaason did a spectacularly good job on this one in particular. Man, I want more of this stuff already.

Fourth course: Roquefort Cheese drizzled with Pitcairn Island Honey

Fourth course.

I wanted to do a cheese course but thought we should probably take it easy, given how rich the previous dish would be. I had also hoped to find time to get to the Cheese Store of Silverlake to pick up some Papillon Roquefort, just about the best there is, but alas, the time escaped me. Trader Joe's came through with a perfectly decent Roquefort, though, and the crowning touch was what went on top.

A while back, thanks to a series of articles written by fellow Louisianian and weblogger Josh Benton, I learned about the fascinating and peculiar culture of Pitcairn Island, where the HMS Bounty mutineers ended up with their Tahitian wives. Those people have had to struggle to maintain a life on that tiny island, one of the most remote places on the planet (which involves a 10-14 day boat trip from New Zealand to get there, often in rough seas). As the remnants of their culture hang on, they've learned the uniqueness of a few of their natural resources, in particular their honey. The strain of bees on Pitcairn is the most disease-free in the world, and the mixture of the flowers from which the bees get the pollen -- mango, lata, passion flower, guava, roseapple and others -- is unique in the world. Consequently their honey, as Josh puts it, is The Best Honey In The World. Fortunately they're exporting it now, as a means of income for the islanders, and you can order it via the web, as with so much else these days. He's not kidding, too -- it's the best honey I've ever tasted.

A slab of Roquefort that had spent the last hour or so attaining room temperature, drizzled with a few tablespoons of this fabulous honey. Pure amazement, a dessert for grown-ups, and it couldn't be simpler.

Wine: Mi Sueño Cellars 2001 Los Carneros Pinot Noir, Napa, California.

We drank this before, during and after the cheese course, as we relaxed and conversed. I'm a big Pinot Noir fan, but I try to restrict myself to Pinots that I know are good -- this is a varietal that's easy to screw up, and I've had enough disappointing Pinot Noir. This was superb, full of ripe berries and concentrated flavor, and again just enough acid to play off the creaminess of the cheese but not be overpowered by the sweetness of the honey. As with the previous two bottles, we killed this one too.

Fifth course (dessert): Fruity Rooibos Chocolate Ganache Tarts, with Sweetened Yogurt


I mentioned that I wanted to take the ganache tart in a different direction, so here's what I did. Rather than stud the tart with candied ginger as Clotilde suggested (as good as that sounds), I wanted to personalize the dessert. Wes and I had been enjoying our bonbons from Recchiuti Confections, filled with chocolate ganache infused with myriad flavors and enrobed in a pure 70% bittersweet chocolate coating. I had been inspired by the piece that was infused with Earl Grey (bergamot) tea, and had an idea.

We always keep about eight or ten different teas and tea blends from Bamboo Tea House in Pasadena, and during the holidays we picked up a couple of blends based on rooibos (ROY-bosch) tea, an herbal tea that's been enjoyed in South Africa for ages and ages. It's a red-leaf herb once it's fermented and has a sweet, somewhat fruity and altogether delightful flavor. One of the blends we picked up was called "Fruity Rooibos Blend", which blended the rooibos with essence of citrus and vanilla. Robb and Jaason had taken a wonderful trip to South Africa a while back, and thought this would be a noble experiment. I infused the cup of cream with a tea ball full of fruity rooibos blend, then made the ganache with it.

Boy, did it work. First taste gives you a deep, rich chocolate flavor, and the fruity rooibos flavor only comes in in the background and in the finish. Chalk that one up as a good idea for making ganache. For garnish I fished out some dried purple flowers that were part of the tea blend and garnished each tart with one of those. Following Clotilde's suggestion I sweeted some full-cream Greek yogurt with some Acadiana wildflower honey and served a dollop of that on the side.

Wine: Cline Big Break Vineyards 1999 Late Harvest Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County, California

Wonderful. I was completely unfamiliar with this varietal, but it doesn't surprise me that this winemaker also specializes in Zinfandels (a longtime favorite of mine). Intensely, beautifully sweet without being cloying or overpowering; this wine's earthiness wouldn't allow that. Rich fruit, berries and notes of chocolate made this the perfect wine for this dessert. I want more! Unfortunately, as my wine-addled brain recalls from that evening's conversation, Jaason said they don't ship and you have to buy it at the winery. I'll need to look into this.

A (brief) liquid epilogue.

The original plan had been to sample a couple of single malt Scotches Jaason had also brought along, but by the time we finished the dessert and the Mourvèdre it was pushing 2:00am. Jaason begged off the Scotch (even though Robb, as a non-drinker, is the permanent designated driver) but was kind enough to offer a wee taste of each. There was a Caol Ila and ... um, another one. By this time I had had a significant amount of wine, having felt guilty about the very idea of allowing any wine to remain in the bottle and therefore go to waste ... a noble effort, perhaps, but not necessarily the best idea I'd had of late. I was pretty loopy by this time, although fortunately, as Wes told me later, not so loopy that I did or said anything embarrassing in front of our friends. (The next morning, though, when I was cocooned in that head-pounding, cottony feeling of "Quiet darling, your Auntie Mame is hung" Wes said, "Did you remember how loopy you were when we were on the veranda after the boys left, and I was making fun of you because you were slurring your words?" Oops.) Perhaps next time I need to feel a little less guilty about letting wine remain in the bottle. Heck, that wine preserver gas should give us at least another day.

We had a fantastic time. I had a blast in the kitchen all day (although I think I need to work on my posture; I had an annoying lower backache the next day), and to have several hours of great food, great wine and fun conversation with good friends is just about the best possible way I can think of to spend an evening.

Give it a try.

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  Tuesday, March 8, 2005
(Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa)   They say it's your birthday! (Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa) It's my birthday too, yeah! (Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa) They say it's your birthday! (Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa) We're gonna have a good time! (Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa) So glad it's your birthday! (Da-da-da-da-da-daaaaa) Happy birthday to ya! On and on, Lennon and McCartney, apologies to Mildred and Patty Hill but their song's overplayed.

Anyway, it's Wes' birthday today, his mumblety-mumbleth (and he gets to stay at this one for a good long while). We had a blast of a birthday weekend, and each put on three pounds that now have to come off (more on that later). Ooh, here's another one ... Happy birthdayyyy ... happy birthday bayybeee ... (See, there's plenty of other stuff; that hoary old "Happy Birthday To You" has got to go.)

Me on the radio, again.   I did another interview about Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens for public radio this morning, this time for Wisconsin Public Radio's show "To The Best of Our Knowledge". The interviewer was a very nice fellow named Steve Paulson, and the program will be produced by Doug Gordon.

It was a lot of fun, and I felt much better and more confident about this one than the NPR Weekend Edition one (which seems to have turned out okay despite my efforts). It helped to have been fed the questions in advance -- I'm all over that (hey, I should run for president!). That way I can have a few good stories prepared rather than get a curveball that causes my brain to shut down.

I'm not sure when the program will be aired; "TTBOOK" is syndicated via PRI to about 100 or so stations nationwide, but not in Los Angeles. KCLU in Ventura County and Santa Barbara carry it, but you can always listen online via the show's web page. I'll update y'all when I know more.

OK Go!   We actually managed to drag our sorry asses out to a club the other night, even though we're old and it's past our bedtimes these days. The occasion? One of our favorite indie rock bands (although they're signed to Capitol now) were playing at Spaceland, right next to the neighborhood. We first saw OK Go at the "Bake Back the White House" bake sale fundraiser last year, and have been fans ever since. They hadn't done any gigs locally since then (that we were aware of), so we didn't want to miss a proper, full-length show this time.

Quirky, funny, pointed, biting, intelligent and unavoidably catchy indie rock is how I'd describe these guys, songs with hooks that sink right into you and don't let go. They ran through about three-quarters of their self-titled debut album of a couple years ago, and a bunch of new songs, all of which I liked. Very enjoyable performance, and there was a change from last time -- Andy Duncan has left the band and there was a new guitarist/keyboardist in his place. Conveniently, he's also called Andy, and was affectionately referred to a "the new Andy" or alternately as "our new bitch", as new-Andy got to handle the guitar string changing chore. He's quite the trooper as well -- when someone from the audience shouted a request of "Hello My Treacherous Friends", lead singer Damian explained that Andy had only joined the band two weeks earlier and had had only 9 days to learn 18 songs; unfortunately that one wasn't one of them. Not bad for 9 days of practice, Andy. Fair play to ya.

One of the things I like about this band is that they're really good at what they do, and are serious enough about doing it well without taking themselves too seriously. They have a great sense of humor, evidenced by their rather unique encore. As I said, they ran through all the songs Andy Ross had learned so far, so when they came back after the set they lip-synced to their song "C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips", all the while doing a highly choreographed dance routine that looked like half-Toni Basil '80s pop song video numbe and half-high school cheerleader routine. It was quite possibly the funniest and most fun thing I'd seen at a rock show ... well, ever.

OK Go are touring through April 10, and look for their new album in July.

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  Monday, March 7, 2005

A weblog whose time has come.   You dreamed about it, now it's true ... a weblog about bacon. It's Bacontarian, a community weblog of bacon lovers like us (or, "bacontarians", defined as a person who supplements an otherwise normal diet with large amounts of pork!" Specifically, those thin (or thick), smoky (or unsmoked), cured (or uncured), rapturously delightful strips of pork belly or pork loin that we call bacon. (Thanks, Bill!)

I'll have my own bacon-related post here and there as St. Patrick's Day approaches ...

Republicans seem to want sweatshops and free labor from waiters.   Rick Santorum, one of the most astonishing gobshites in the United States Senate, seems to want tipped workers to work for free, rob 6.8 million American workers of their minimum wage protections, abolish the 40-hour work week and mandated overtime and ban states from having higher wage standards than federal law. Nathan Newman examines Santorum's bill which seems to do nothing other than destroy workers' rights while propping up big business.

Licensing Sweatshops: While a $1.10 per hour minimum wage increase by itself would help 1.8 million workers, Santorum includes a poison bill exempting any business with revenues of $1 million or less from regulation -- raising the exemption from the current $500,000 level.

The upshot: while 1.2 million workers could qualify for a minimum wage increase, another 6.8 million workers, who work in companies with revenues between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per year, would lose their current minimum wage protection.

And an even larger number of businesses, those with revenues under $7 million, would be exempt from fines under a range of other safety, health, pension and other labor laws. Essentially, the realm of unregulated sweatshops would be expanded and legalized under Santorum's bill.

Killing Overtime: It gets worse -- the 40-hour work week would be abolished and companies would not have to pay overtime if they cut hours the next week. The proposal is called "flex time", but workers would have no say in the matter. Their hours could be rearranged, upsetting child care and other weekly routines, and companies would no longer have the deterrent of having to pay overtime as a way to encourage giving workers a regular weekly schedule. [More Republican bullshit: it's not "flex" time unless the flexibility is up to the worker. -- CT]

Banning State Minimum Wage Laws: But here's a kicker from a GOP supposedly dedicated to states rights. Santorum's bill would ban states from requiring employers to pay tipped workers with a guaranteed wage. Employers could pay tipped workers nothing and force them to live off tips, while states would be preempted from creating a higher wage standard for tipped workers.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act specifically guarantees states the right to impose higher wage standards than the federal law. One area where many states have a higher standard than federal law is for tipped workers, who are guaranteed only $2.13 per hour in wages under federal law and can be forced to credit their tips against the required federal wage level. Many states have a higher minimum wage for tipped workers or have abolished the so-called "tip credit" altogether and let workers keep their tips, without allowing employers to reduce their salary below the regular minimum wage level.

With Santorum's bill as law, you would end up with a situation where small and even medium size restaurants and other businesses with tipped employees would be exempt from the federal minimum wage, and state governments would be barred from requiring employers to pay actual wages to tipped workers. Essentially, those workers could be hired for zero dollars and told they had to live only off tips, however little those were.

The unmitigated perfidy of these Republican elected officials is beyond belief. Everyone who works for minimum wage and/or tips who voted Republican needs to think about what their votes have gained them.

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  Friday, March 4, 2005

Gearin' up.   It's gonna be a big food weekend. Tomorrow night we're having some good friends over for dinner -- a bunch of courses, lots of wine, and there's a rumor of a couple of Scotches to taste after dinner (woo!). I loved doing all the shopping -- produce market, Trader Joe's, European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen, and tomorrow a last-minute visit to Fish King to make sure that the stars of tomorrow night's show will be fresh and feisty. If I didn't have this highly annoying day job, I'd do my shopping nearly every day for the evening's meal, based on what's available and at its freshest. Ah well, maybe one day after my big Lotto win ...

Sunday night I'm taking Wes out for his birthday dinner. Where're we going? Shhhhhhh ... it's a secret. But get ready for lots of food porn next week.

Finished!   Liquor, that is. What a wonderful novel. It's the kind of novel anyone can (and will) enjoy, but the more you know New Orleans, the more you 'll love it. Although Poppy does a great job explaining the eccentricities of New Orleans culture to those who may not be familiar with it, there are little things in there that only New Orleanians will pick up. It made me laugh and cry, and on several occasions my heart beat faster ... from the deep relationship between Rickey and G to the story's climax near the end. I can hardly wait for Prime!

Incidentally, Poppy Z. Brite will do a book tour for Prime in April:

* Wednesday, April 6, 5:30 PM - Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans
* Thursday, April 7, 6:00 PM - OutWrite Books, Atlanta
* Wednesday, April 13, 7:00 PM - Dark Delicacies, Los Angeles (Burbank)
* Thursday, April 14, 7:00 PM - M is for Mystery, San Francisco (San Mateo)
* Friday, April 15, 7:00 PM - Booksmith, San Francisco
* Saturday, April 16, 2:00 PM - Borders, Dallas, TX (I'm not sure which one)
* Thursday, April 21, 5:00 PM - Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS
* Tuesday, April 26, 6:00 PM - Beaucoup Books, New Orleans

Official Looka! Book Recommendation -- read Liquor. If you're a regular reader of this weblog it's safe to expect you're a fan of food, liquor and New Orleans, so this'll be right up your alley. Then backtrack -- even though it takes place after The Value of X you can easily start with Liquor, then backtrack to learn about Rickey and G-man in their younger days. So do so, says I.

Ireland's greatest?   So saith the readers of Hot Press, who participated in an online poll to determine the "100 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time". I subscribe to Hot Press online, and unless I'm an awful eejit, there's no feckin' link to the actual list. Presumably they want you to buy the hard copy for this one (I'll have to trudge over to Vroman's and see if they've got the issue, I guess.)

Fortunately I managed to find an online listing of the Top 11, as picked by the readers of HP in Ireland and abroad:

1. U2 - The Joshua Tree
2. Damien Rice - O
3. U2 - Achtung Baby
4. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
5. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
6. Snow Patrol - Final Straw
7. Whipping Boy - Heartworm
8. The Frames - Dance the Devil
9. Thin Lizzy - Live and Dangerous
10. Rory Gallagher - Live in Ireland '74
11. Bell X1 - Music in Mouth (Damien Rice's former bandmates)

I own six of these, which isn't too bad. I must confess I'm not that big a fan of "Achtung Baby" as many others are (perhaps I need to give it another listen, as it's been years), but "The Joshua Tree" is certainly a great album. #1 though? I dunno.

I'm trying to remember who I voted for, but I definitely remember Van the Man being in there, as well as Planxty (and where the feck are they, I might ask?), and just for grins I threw in Toasted Heretic too.

Now, if I could only find if anyone else did too!

The chef's toolbox.   It always cracked me up to see these "gourmet cooking" catalogues, which sell these special little torches for making crè brûlée for $40. When I learned to make crè brûlée in my pastry class, we used a $5 propane torch from the hardware store, which did a much better job and cost an eighth the price.

There's a lot you can do in your kitchen with tools that come from the hardware store instead of the high-end cooking supply store. This article in the Washington Post talks about a few of them.

Bastards.   This Republican president and this Republican Congress doesn't give a shit about you, me, or the "little guy" American citizen. All they care about are their wealthy buddies and contributors who run things like, say, big credit card companies. Not true, you assert? Why else would they be trying to push through these new bankruptcy laws and try to bullshit-spin it as "bankruptcy reform"? Certainly not for our good.

In the eight years since they began pressing for the tough bankruptcy bill being debated in the Senate, America's big credit card companies have effectively inoculated themselves from many of the problems that sparked their call for the measure.

By charging customers different interest rates depending on how likely they are to repay their debts and by adding substantial fees for an array of items such as late payments and foreign currency transactions, the major card companies have managed to keep their profits rising steadily even as personal bankruptcies have soared, industry figures show.

As a result, while they continue to press for legislation that would make it harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy, the companies have found ways to make money even on cardholders who eventually go broke.

At the same time, under the companies' new systems, many cardholders . especially low-income users . have ended up on a financial treadmill, required to make ever-larger monthly payments to keep their credit card balances from rising and to avoid insolvency.

"Most of the credit cards that end up in bankruptcy proceedings have already made a profit for the companies that issued them," said Robert R. Weed, a Virginia bankruptcy lawyer and onetime aide to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"That's because people are paying so many fees that they've already paid more than was originally borrowed," he said.

In addition, some experts say, the changes proposed in the Senate bill would fundamentally alter long-standing American legal policy on debt. Under bankruptcy laws as they have existed for more than a century, creditors can seize almost all of a bankrupt debtor's assets, but they cannot lay claim to future earnings.

"Until now, the principle in this country has been that people's future human capital is their own," said David A. Moss, an economic historian at Harvard University. "If a person gets on a financial treadmill, they can declare bankruptcy and have what can't be paid discharged. But that would change with this bill."

Debate about the bill continued Thursday, with the Republican-controlled Senate refusing to limit consumer interest rates to 30%.

[... Industry officials] have portrayed the measure's principal target as high-income individuals who are abusing the law to escape their debts.

"The bottom line is that there are people out there who are able to pay their bills who are not paying," said Tracey Mills, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Assn., which represents most of the major credit card companies.

But consumer advocates, many academics and some judges and court officials argue that the bill would sharply reduce the number of Americans able to file for bankruptcy, even in instances where doing so would buy them time to repay their debts.

The critics argue that people unable to file would be at the mercy of increasingly aggressive efforts by lenders -- especially credit card companies -- to raise fees and boost collections.

I reckon they've got some friends who are loan sharks, too.

The vote was a bipartisan 74-24 to scuttle an amendment by Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., who said consumers must pay interest rates as high as 1,059 percent when they borrow money.

"That goes way beyond what we call predatory lending. That is 'terroristic' lending," he said.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Dayton's proposal would pre-empt state laws, including those that fix an interest rate ceiling below 30 percent.

(Of course, the Republicans seem to be perfectly willing to step all over state laws when it suits their agenda.)

No, all this tinkering with bankruptcy laws is reform. It's all for you, for us. It's just to go after the people who can afford to pay off their credit cards but don't want to, and declare bankruptcy to discard the debt. Right?

Riiiiiight. (*wink* *light cigar*)

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  Thursday, March 3, 2005

Knowing where your towel is.   There's a new trailer out for "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", this time narrated by the voice of The Book (a.k.a., Stephen Fry, who's wonderful). Man, this is about seventeen million times better and funnier than the last one. I'm really excited!

Liquor.   Is quicker. Among many other things.

I'm currently thoroughly enjoying Poppy Z. Brite's novel Liquor, which I began almost immediately after finishing its predecessor The Value of X. I love it, just as much as the last one if not more; it's dripping with New Orleans character and an intense love of food (a New Orleans foodie novel ... practically written for me, ya'd think)) As we follow the lives of our heroes, New Orleans' Ninth Ward born-and-bred Rickey and G-man, we learn on page 11 Rickey's brilliant concept for a new restaurant:

"Liquor," Rickey said.

"Liquor? Dude, I know you're upset about getting fired, but c'mon. Every place in the city serves liquor."

"But no place has a menu entirely based on it."

"You're really losing me."

New Orleans loves booze. We love drinking it, we love the idea of drinking it, we love being encouraged to drink it. You think all those drive-thru daiquiri stands in Metairie are just serving tourists? Tourists don't go to the suburbs. Locals are drinking most of those daiquiris, and they could get 'em anywhere, but they love getting 'em at the drive-thrus because it makes them feel like they're doing some thing naughty. We could open a place that does the same thing on a much bigger scale.

"A whole menu based on liquor."

"Picture it, G. A nice dining room -- looks like, say, a cross between Commander's Palace and Gertie Greer's Steakhouse. Big bar in the front, mirrors, three hundred bottles -- every kind of liquor and liqueur, every brand you could name. But that's just the beginning. The real draw is that we use liquor in all the food. Oysters poached in whiskey. Tequila barbecue sauce. Bourbon-glazed duck. Even goddamn bananas Foster. And that's just the obvious shit. There's not a recipe in the world that we couldn't find a way to stick a little liquor in it."

"You think that'd even be legal?"

"It's New Orleans. if you got enough money, anything's legal."

Y'know, if I still lived back home in New Orleans and Liquor were a real place, they wouldn't be able to get rid of me. You know they'd have one of the greatest bars anywhere, too. All the other members of cocktail museum and I would be daily barflies. Gee, only on page 21 as I write, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next ...

Y'know, I bet Rickey and G-man would serve something like this ...

Recipe of the day.   This dish was created by Chef Kevin Curran of the now-defunct Flagons Wine Bar and Bistro. The flavors of oysters and anise are a classic combination in New Orleans cuisine (look at Oysters Rockefeller, Herbsaint-poached oysters, Upperline's Louisiana Oyster Stew, just to name three). There's an anise component to our quintessential cocktail, the Sazerac, and he thought that the Sazerac's ingredients might make a pretty decent sauce for some o' dem erstas. Turns out he was right.

Oysters Sazerac

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup milk
Seasoned bread crumbs
24 large fresh oysters
3 ounces Old Overholt rye whiskey
2 tablespoons Herbsaint or Pernod
1-1/2 teaspoons Peychaud's bitters
1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped green onion tops

Beurre blanc:
1 tablespoon whipping cream
2 sticks butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Sift together the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne onto a plate.

Separate the eggs and combine the egg yolks and the milk in a small bowl.

Mix the whiskey, the Herbsaint, and both bitters in a glass to make a "pseudo-Sazerac" (the actual cocktail would have different proportions and would be stirred with ice and garnished with a twist).

Melt the butter in a skillet.

Coat the oysters with the seasoned flour mixture, then dip them into the egg wash. Coat them again with the seasoned bread crumbs.

Sauté the oysters in the butter until lightly browned. Then pour the pseudo-Sazerac into the skillet and (very carefully) flambé. Agitate the skillet to keep the flames burning, and allow the flames to go out as the liquid reduces. Reduce until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.

To serve, plate four oysters on a small appetizer plate, sprinkle with chopped green onions and drizzle with the beurre blanc sauce.

To make the buerre blanc, heat the cream over low heat in a saucepan until it comes to a boil. Add the butter piece by piece, one at a time, constantly whisking, until all the butter is incorporated. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and pepper while whisking constantly. Taste and check seasonings.

YIELD: 6 appetizer servings

I'm getting a dinner party idea here ... a Liquor dinner. I'll wait until I finish the book, in case I get more inspiration from Poppy's wonderful characters, but such a dinner would be a cinch to put together. A salad with a wine vinaigrette, Oysters Sazerac, plus I've always wanted to do a sauce with a smoky Scotch, maybe a pork dish, and any dessert with a liqueur or whiskey sauce ... hmm. Time to put on my thinking toque.

Bonbon du jour.   Last night after a relatively simple supper of smoked turkey sandwiches with sweet-hot mustard, mixed greens and cilantro (made on my favorite supermarket-brand bread, Oroweat's Oatnut), we went back to work on our Black Box of chocolates from Recchiuti Confections.

My turn to pick, and I'd been saving this one up for a while. Bergamot Tea: "Bergamot oil and Ceylon tea infused in extra-bitter chocolate ganache. Enrobed in pure milk chocolate." Or, as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard might say, "Tea. Earl Grey. In chocolate."

This is a wonderful flavor, with the delicacy of the tea flavor in the background and a very deep flavor of bergamot orbiting the even deeper chocolate ganache. And y'know what? This is really, really easy to make:

Earl Grey Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces Valrhona bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao)
1 cup heavy cream
1 Earl Grey tea bag

Using a serrated knife, chop the chocolate into pieces no bigger than 1/4". Place the chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Place the tea bag in the cream and bring it to a full boil, then remove from heat and allow the tea to steep in the hot cream for 10 minutes. Remove the tea bag and squeeze it over the cream to get out what it's absorbed, reheat the cream until it boils, then pour over the chocolate pieces.

Tap the bowl on the counter to settle the chocolate into the cream, then let it sit for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir in a circular motion, starting from the center and working out to the sides. Do not whip air into the ganache. Stir until all the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.

Let the ganache cool until it reaches 70°F (use a candy thermometer to check), at which point it's ready to use.

You can roll this into balls to make truffles (roll the finished truffle in cocoa, sugar, or what have you), tart fillings, icing, whatever. Ganache is delightfully versatile.

Quote of the day (and more bullshit).   Slate reviews the Harry Frankfurt book On Bullshit that we talked about a while back, and from that review comes today's quote:

"The scholar who answers the question, 'What is bullshit?' bids boldly to define the spirit of the present age."

-- Timothy Noah

You got dat rite, bra.

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  Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Going whole hog.   Today's one of those days when I slap myself for getting several weeks behind in reading my friend Meredith's fabulous food column in the SF Weekly. So I read her most recent one and think, "Great, now she's gone and done it. Now she's made it necessary to go to Oakland at least once a year to eat pig."

This is, of course, a good thing. (Emphases mine.)

Robert e-mailed to invite me and my sister to join him and Roger at Oliveto for its annual Whole Hog event, a special menu almost exclusively devoted to the pig, served for several nights. It may seem cruel to rave over a meal that you can't duplicate in its entirety for almost a year, but I dare to do so because (a) many of its dishes are available on Oliveto's regular menu or will show up there soon, (b) chef Paul Bertolli will shortly begin marketing his genius salumi in retail stores, and (c) I firmly believe that aficionados of pork should mark their calendars now for next year's feeding frenzy. This was my second annual visit, and I can't imagine ever missing one again.

Robert was also responsible for my first Whole Hog meal -- he told me about it, and even surprised my sister and me by showing up briefly at our table to have a glass of wine and tell us what he'd most enjoyed at his own dinner there the previous night. Wendy and I did our best, but were only able to share about seven or eight dishes from the tempting array of pâtés and fresh and dry-cured salumi, offal, soups, pastas, hot specialties, vegetable side dishes, and desserts (which that night were heavily citrus-based). This time we managed to try almost half a dozen dishes from the offal list alone (fried boned pork trotter and brains with blood orange salsa; a thin-sliced, slightly crunchy terrine of pickled pig's ears; a succulent stew of pork tongue with artichokes; braised pork tripe with bianca spagna beans; and a salad of watercress in a mustard vinaigrette with too-polite slivers of pork kidney), as well as an extraordinary platter of potted and formed pork -- a pork liver pâté as suave as any made with foie gras; the rougher pâté capriccioso; and ciccioli, made with pork fat and pork cracklings. For pasta, we had the softest gnocchi, barely holding together from the plate to the mouth, with savory little pork meatballs, and triangoli ravioli filled with long-cooked shredded pork shoulder. We then shared thin slices of firm, bacony pork belly cooked in saba (a further reduction of the same grape juice used to make balsamic vinegar) and a coil of charcoal-grilled pork sausage served with two sauces (green and red) and fried shoestring potatoes, as well as side dishes of rapini ("Something bitter to contrast with all the fat," we decided) and irresistible potato chunks fried in pork renderings.

For dessert, we ate impossibly perfume-y bergamot and tangerine sherbets, a blood orange gelée that Robert thought had been gelled with a pork byproduct, an exquisite Meyer lemon meringue tart whose fragile pastry was made with lard, and a steamed winter pudding with brandied hard sauce that we happily would have eaten by the tubful. This genius meal -- washed down with three wines, two Italians from Oliveto's list, a Villa Raiano Falanghina white and an Argiolas Perdera Monica di Sardegna red, and the third, a delicious dry Austrian muscat, brought by oenophile Roger (corkage $15) -- ran us about $80 a person, tax and tip included, and was one of the gastronomic high points of ... well, I was going to say "the year," but I might as well say "my life." I was jealous that Robert returned for a second dinner a couple of nights later, after which he raved about the cannelloni with pork and green garlic and especially the pork scaloppine with black truffles, black trumpet mushrooms, and a special polenta -- both dishes, I reminded him through only slightly gritted teeth, I had plumped for at our meal.

A very good thing, indeed. (Good God.)

"But at night I'm a junk food junkie, good lord have pity on me ..."   This weekend I'm going to attempt to prepare French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller's famous butter-poached lobster on mascarpone-enriched orzo with Parmesan crisps. Conversely, what might Chef Keller himself be eating for dinner that night? How 'bout a Double Double from In 'n Out Burger with fries and a shake, plus some Krispy Kremes?

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  Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Recipe of the day.   Desperate for something quick and healthy to make for dinner last night, I took a look at the recommended dinner in yesterday's meal plan on Hey ... that looks pretty darn good! Needed a little tweaking, of course, but we really enjoyed our dinner last night -- light, healthy and flavorful.

The chicken was cooked and packaged in the meat case (I forget the brand, but there are several out there), and the whole thing came together in less than 15 minutes.

Chipotle-Lime Chicken Salad over Baked Yams

1 large yam (sweet potato)
6 ounces cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, shredded
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced into "half-moons"
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon canned chipotle chile or Chipotle Tabasco sauce
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon sugar (the WW recipe called for Splenda, but 1/4 teaspoon of sugar is an eighth of a point, which is actually 0 points, so what the hell)

Microwave the potato for 10 minutes, turning over halfway. If you have the time and prefer the caramelization, bake at 375°F for 45-50 minutes.

Combine shredded chicken, onion and cilantro in a medium bowl and set aside.

Put remaining ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour dressing over chicken salad and toss to coat. Check seasonings, and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as necessary.

Slice the yam in half, and cut a lengthwise slit in each half. Top each yam half with half the chicken salad, and drizzle with any leftover dressing in the bowl.

We served this with a simple salad of sliced blood oranges and red onion, salt and pepper with a drizzle of olive oil. The main dish as prepared is only 6.5 WeightWatchers points, and only 6 if you make it with only 2 teaspoons of oil as the original recipe called for. I used Chipotle Tabasco instead of canned chipotle, and it was mighty tasty.

The Cocktailian Gazette.   The new issue of the Museum of the American Cocktail's monthly newsletter is out, with some exciting news:

A forum for mixology and barware scholars that's long been overdue, the first annual volume of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail (ISBN: 0-9760937-0-7)will come hot off the presses on March 21, 2005.

Written by some of the nation's most respected cocktail authorities, this year's volume of Mixologist features works by Dave Wondrich, Ted Haigh, Robert Hess, Gary Regan, Jared Brown, Lowell Edmunds, Paul Clarke, Audrey Saunders, Phil Greene, Anistatia Miller, and Darcy O'Neal.

The never-before-published articles presented in this inaugural 196-page volume focus on the origins of six classic cocktails: the Gimlet, Singapore Sling, Bellini, Piña Colada, punch, and the Martini. Additional articles explore the legend of Antoine Améedée Peychaud, creator of Peychaud Bitters; the history of Plymouth Gin; a definitive and scientific guide to simple syrup; and a look into the classic future of cocktails.

Articles were reviewed by a distinguished editorial board that included Dale DeGroff, Dave Wondrich, Jared Brown, Lowell Edmunds, and Robert Hess. Net proceeds from the sales of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail will benefit the Museum of the American Cocktail.

More details in the Gazette; this will, of course, be a must for many of our readers.

The Museum needs your help! If you're particular about your drinks, if you only want the best in your cocktail glass, if you care about the classics, if you're a fan of my "Cocktail of the Day" not-quite-so-daily feature, you really should become a member of the museum (and it's mostly tax-deductible, too). We need your help!

Speaking of the Cocktail Museum ...   Museum founder and cocktail king Dale DeGroff was interviewed about the museum on NPR's Weekend Edition last Saturday. The link includes an extended version of the interview as well as photos of Dale and curator Dr. Cocktail.

F. Ll. Wright house in danger.   The torrential rain and subsequent mudslides in the Los Angeles area are threatening one of our great architectural landmarks. Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing Ennis-Brown House in on a hill that's collapsing, and has been red-tagged as unsafe for entry.

It's had structural problems in the past, so I really hope they can save it this time.

Quote of the day.   Why anyone would use this stuff is beyond me ...

Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an adequate substitute for chocolate because it has some similar nutrients (calcium, phosphorus) and because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.

-- Sandra Boynton, author of Chocolate: the Consuming Passion

February Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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