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, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

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

Page last tweaked @ 3:32pm PST, 11/30/2005

RSS Feed

If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse.
Search this site:

New Orleans music for disaster relief

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 directly from Shout! Factory Records, where all profits will be donated to New Orleans disaster relief.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 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

A new book featuring the best of food weblogs.

Digital Dish is the first ever compilation volume of the best writing and recipes from food weblogs, and includes essays and recipes contributed by me. Find out more and place an order!

U.S. orders:
My Photos on Flickr

"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)

October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
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:

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

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

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

Buy stuff!

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

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
pat and paul
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   "Down Home" playlist
   Live MP3 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 Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

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)

Martini Republic: Drinks
   (featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)

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!

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

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wally's Wine and Spirits
The Wine House
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

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

Reading this month:

The Devil You Know, by Poppy Z. Brite.

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

Ken and Thelma, by Joel L. Fletcher.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon.

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
Toasted Heretic
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, 4, 5.)

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

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)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
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
Creek Running North
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
Martini Republic
Mister Pants
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
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly



New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home:

Home of the Groove
Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your 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.)

LOOKA!Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."

  Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Little dribs toward normal life.   It's still bad. My good friend Michael has been taking "therapeutic" bike rides through devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans, and while it's been depressing him it's also good to keep a grip on reality. We rejoice at every step that's taken (e.g., Audubon Zoo reportedly stationing people at the gates on reopening day just to hug weeping locals who lined up to see the zoo again) toward resuming normal life in New Orleans, but no good can come of wearing blinders and never leaving the Quarter or the Garden District. New Orleanians must be aware of what's going on (and more importantly, what's not going on) in the city.

That said, there's another thing to rejoice about ... Kermit's going to start playing Vaughan's again tomorrow night.

Vaughan's, October 11, 2005

That's Vaughan's, as it looked on October 11, 2005, six weeks after Katrina -- a little battered from wind but looking more or less okay. It reopened not long after, and tomorrow finally gets back into the swing of things. Thursday nights at Vaughan's means Kermit and barbecue, and that'll be a most welcome return. I wish I could be there.

GW Fins on St. Louis Street in the Quarter reopened last Friday, just in time to entertain my folks for their 45th wedding anniversary. Arnaud's reopens tomorrow. Ben Franklin Elementary reopened yesterday, the first Orleans public school to do so. My new issue of New Orleans Magazine hit my mailbox, leading to a gasp and a watery eye. Baby steps.

There are still fewer than 90,000 full-time residents of the city, though, down from 450,000 before Katrina. Daytime population is about 150,000, as some people commute in from elsewhere.

Scum.   Meanwhile, the Bush crony appointed to "coordinate Katrina recovery" won't commit to a stronger levee system. What we should do is make him wish he'd have never taken the job until he tells his bullshitting government to make that commitment. I must admit I kinda like the idea of New Orleans sealing off the flow of commerce it provides to the rest of the nation; if only we could do it without hurting the city.

We've also now been told that the 17th Street Canal floodwalls were "doomed", and that the disaster was entirely man-made due to the Corps of Engineers' astonishing screwups in constructing the levees and floodwalls, now being called "the costliest engineering mistake in American history." Whose heads will roll over this? Anyone's?

Investigators have been puzzled by the corps' design since it was made public in news reports. They said it was obvious the weak soils in the former swampland upon which the canal and levee were built clearly called for sheet piles driven much deeper than the canal bottom. It was not a challenging engineering problem, investigators said.

Prochaska said a rule of thumb is that the length of sheet piling below a canal bottom should be two to three times longer than the length extending above the canal bottom.

"That's if you have uniform soils, and we certainly don't have that in the New Orleans area," he said. "It kind of boggles the mind that they missed this, because it's so basic, and there were so many qualified engineers working on this."

Were they all smoking crack? Or more likely, did they do as the levee safety inspectors did, cutting the inspections short, to just a few hours for the entire system, so that they could all knock off and go to a restaurant for a long lunch?

Someone must answer for this.

It's enough to fill anyone with overwhelming outrage; for instance, our friend Ashley (not safe for work, younger readers, little blue-haired old ladies or anyone offended by lots and lots of swearing).

Cartoon of the day.   This week's installment of the always-wonderful "This Modern World" brings us an American parable ...

This Modern World
Click for full cartoon

Yeah, we wanted them to fail and we hate America, too!

Quote of the day.   From today's Los Angeles Times ...

"There is a list of things now where it appears we would have been better off if Gray Davis were governor."

-- Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly

Via Wes, who adds, "Oh, the sheer comedy of it all ..."

The misleaders.   Slate asks, "Who does Dick Cheney think he's kidding?" The second paragraph of this excerpt is the very definition of bullshit, from an administration that has raised bullshit to a horrific art form:

Another giveaway is the administration's lack of outrage over the bad intelligence they now claim to have been victimized by. Only Colin Powell, before his U.N. speech, seems to have pushed back with any skepticism about charges he was being asked to retail. And only Powell has expressed any outrage after it became evident that his U.N. speech had been a case of garbage in, garbage out.

Powell's old colleagues now defend themselves by saying they didn't know their claims about Iraq weren't true. But the truth is most of them didn't care whether their assertions were true or not, and they still don't.

More vapid bullshit this morning, too. I couldn't bear to listen.

Bill O'Reilly is truly batshit insane.   Allegedly! (As Kathy Griffin would say.)

Here he is ranting on the radio (and don't miss the audio) about a "very secret plan" by the "secular progressive movement" to "diminish Christian philosophy in the USA", which begins by stopping people from saying "Merry Christmas". He goes on to rant about how the conspiracy (which must have been going on for decades) has "wiped out religion ... in every secular progressive country", then goes on to name such countries: Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Nazi Germany, Mao's China and Castro's Cuba. ("Secular progressive" countries?) Then he lashes out at the "hateful liars" who are in fact asking serious questions about Bush, Cheney and their Iraq agenda and how he's "gonna bring those people down."

And on his TV show? Batshit insane. (You really can't make this stuff up, it's priceless.)

The voices in his head must be quite something.

Talkin' 'bout egg nog (egg nog!) ...   Ah, I love mondegreens. That's a term applied to misheard lyrics, as in "Heartbreaker, with your bowling ball" that I mentioned a while back. Steve found a site that collects many of these, and it contained a New Orleans classic, "Iko Iko". It's a song based on Mardi Gras Indian chants, first recorded commercially by James "Sugarboy" Crawford in the mid-1950s, then by myriad artists from Dr. John (my favorite rendition) to the Dixie Cups to even the Grateful Dead (and the Deadheads insisted on misspelling it as "Aiko Aiko"). The Belle Stars did a version way back when, and that was the basis for this chuckleworthy entry in the annals of misheard lyrics.

("Jack him off in a lake?" Now really.)

And while we're on the subject of New Orleans song lyrics, it seems that the Meters actually prophesied Katrina and the flood back in 1975.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 28, 2005

Surviving Thanksgiving.   I did. Two-and-a-half pounds heavier, and with a three-alarm hangover on Friday, but I survived. No kitchen disasters, no burns, no cuts, and everything came out great.

We started off with lots of cheese -- Manchego, aged white cheddar, a really smelly blue (the variety of which I forgot), cave-aged Emmenthaler, Taleggio, and Dubliner with membrillo (quince paste). Tom also made a platter of goi cuon, Vietnamese spring rolls, plus there were those fabulous Thai chile and lime cashews from Trader Joe's, cornichons, pickled okra from Louisiana, Lucques and spiced Sicilian black olives and some Pineau des Charentes as an apéritif. Before a single dish came out of the kitchen, Gregory said, "Just put the turkey and everything into Tupperware ... I'm full."

Oh yeah, the turkey. When it came to turkeys, for years I was Mr. Brine -- soak that sucker in flavored salt water overnight, and good ol' osmosis will draw fluid into the meat, making it nice and plump and juicy. There's just one thing ... it's a royal pain in the ass to brine a turkey, especially a large one. My researches indicated that if you've got a really high-quality fresh (not frozen) bird and you roast it properly, you're going to get very moist white and dark meat. The turkey was a free-range one from Bristol Farms (a 20-pounder at $2.99/lb. made it a little pricey at $60, but it was very much worth it; the heritage turkey at $5.99/lb. was out of our reach this year), and I thought for a while about how I wanted to treat it.

What I came up with was a mixture of a little more than a stick of softened butter (Kerrygold Irish, mmmmm) mixed with about a half a cup of apple butter. I reserved about a quarter-cup of it for the gravy, and the rest got rubbed under the breast skin. Inside the front cavity went a quartered apple. Inside the main cavity went another quartered apple, a quartered onion, and big sprigs of fresh thyme, sage, rosemary and tarragon; then, the legs were tied with twine. The outside was rubbed with olive oil, seasoned with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and Creole seasonning, and along the top of the turkey I placed four nice, fatty strips of bacon.

I will never not put bacon on a turkey ever again (except if I try soaking cheesecloth in bacon fat and putting that on top instead).

Some more quartered onions and carrots in the bottom of the pan, along with 2 cups of homemade turkey stock, then into 325°F oven for about 4.5 hours. I covered the entire roasting pan with foil, sealing the edges, for the first hour and 45 minutes, then removed it to let the skin get chestnut brown and crispy. The bacon slowly melted and basted the breast with trickles of bacon fat, then crisped up and adhered to the skin. The temperature probe was set to 165°F, and when it rang the turkey rested for 30 minutes while the sides cooked.

It was perfect. Flavorful, insanely juicy, and with bacon attached to the skin. (Next year I'm bacon-wrapping the drumsticks, too.) Brining, shmining.

The gravy was the pretty standard preparation -- pour off drippings, deglaze pan with a little turkey stock, scrape up brown bits, strain it all, skim off the fat (saving a few tablespoons for roux), add turkey stock to get about six cups. Make a roux with the turkey fat and a quarter-cup of flour, add to the hot stock and drippings, then I mixed a few more tablespoons of flour with the reserved butter-apple butter and made a paste and used that to thicken the gravy more. Bring to a boil and simmer until thick, season with salt and pepper. Yum. (If we hadn't had a guest who was allergic to alcohol, I would have added some Calvados or applejack as well.)

So there we have it ... Roasted Turkey with Apple Butter and Bacon, with Giblet Gravy.

The stuffing came out great, too ... Ciabatta Bread Stuffing with Smoked Duck and Brandy Sausage, Celeriac, Chestnuts and Figs. It was a takeoff on my basic cornbread and andouille dressing, except I substitued ciabatta for cornbread, duck sausage for andouille, and added about a cup and a half each of quartered chestnuts and dried Mission figs. (The chestnuts came roasted, peeled and packaged from Trader Joe's, which was a huge time saver.)

Second stuffing for the vegetarian crowd, Cornbread and Chestnut Stuffing, made with jalapeño and green onion cornbread, plus lots of leftover diced celeriac from the other stuffing. I also improvised another dish for our vegetarian guest, so that she didn't have to eat just side dishes all day -- I took some of those TJ's Thai chile-lime cashews, whizzed them in the blender and made a spicy cashew butter. That went inside roasted portobello mushrooms brushed with garlic oil, then sprinkled with the fried garlic from the oil, some thinly-sliced red onions that had marinated in rice vinegar and sugar, and some fresh cilantro. That came out really well.

The yams were my trademark holiday dish, Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Pears with a Bourbon and Louisiana Cane Syrup Glaze. Somewhat labor-intensive but a very pretty presentation, always good and always very popular.

I don't usually make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, but since Wes' sister was coming, I knew that she would be shocked and appalled at the idea of a Thanksgiving without mashed taters. Instead of the usual I did it with an Irish twist, one of my favorite ways to make mashed potatoes -- Scallion Champ. It's dead easy; just slice up some green onions and heat them up with the milk for the potatoes, and let it infuse for a little while, then add it all with tons of butter. (I also used half-and-half this time instead of milk, for some extra richness.) Fab.

I wanted to provide a bit more for the vegetarians, so I also did a quick and easy green vegetable side -- Asparagus in Brown Sage Butter with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Also dead easy; blanch the asparagus and shock it in ice water the day before, and then while the turkey's resting make a brown butter (i.e., melt and cook butter until the solids begin to brown and it gets a nutty flavor and aroma), throwing in some fresh sage leaves about halfway through. Drizzle that over the asparagus, cover and stick in the oven for 10 minutes or so until warmed through, then grate a bunch of Parmigiano over it. If I were serving fewer people I'd also fry some eggs in the brown butter, sunny-side up, then serve them over the asparagus. When you break the yolks, it makes a fabulous sauce. (That's a trick I learned from Mario Batali.)

We had two cranberry preparations this year: a fresh, whole-berry Cranberry Sauce with Tangerine and Chinese Five-Spice (bag o' berries, juice and zest of 2 tangerines, water to make the liquid up to 1 cup, 2/3 cup sugar and a half-teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder; bring to a berl and simmer 10 minutes); and a Cranberry-Onion Relish with Jalapeño (bag o' berries, 1/4 cup honey, couple tablespoons lime juice and the zest of 1 lime, whizzed up in the food processor until chopped into a relish, then about 1/3 cup of finely chopped red onion folded in). Nothing that slid out of a can appeared on our table.

Wes' mom brought a Green Salad with Teardrop Tomatoes and Goat Cheese, and we provided some pomegranate seeds from our tree to sprinkle on; I also made a lime vinaigrette to dress it.

I also made dessert, a tart in fact, which is always dangerous. I kinda suck at baking. I dug around a bit and chose a Chocolate and Coconut Pecan Tart, which had a chocolate crust. Dough came out pretty well, surprisingly, but the recipe made too much filling and I overfilled the tart shell. Consequently, it glurped up, out and over the sides of the tart pan and then cooked into a substance that approached the elemental atomic forces that keep electons from flying out of their orbit; that goddamn tart pan was permaglued to the sheet pan on which it was resting. Fortunately I had a particle-beam fusion weapon and blasted it free from the pan, and lo and behold ... it came out perfect. "You could sell this," said Wes' mom. (Yay!) That said, I had a store-bought chocolate pecan pie from TJ's as a backup in case I fecked it up, which it turned out we didn't need 'cause I didn't feck it up. Dessert accompaniment was Modern Spirits Chocolate Orange Vodka. "Wow," Gregory said. "This stuff's great! And so smooth it's dangerous ... you could have eight or twelve of these easily before you realize how much you've had." (I should have noted this observation later on.)

I did that by myself, with no help (other than the salad and cleanup), all from scratch. I must be insane.

What I was was dead-tired, what with all that and being "on" as a co-host all day Thursday. I was so tired that by the end of the day I started losing tracks of how many drinks I was having, what with how dangerously smoothly that chocolate orange vodka went down, and how Gregory asked for a Szarłotka cocktail (superdelicious Polish Żubrówka vodka and apple juice), and me thinking, "Ooh, I'll have one of those too!" ... oh my. A couple of things knocked over, and then I decided it was time for bed. Apparently once everyone left I just said, "I'm tired,", collapsed into bed, and didn't move again until our idiot neighbor started breaking up ceramic tiles on his deck at 7:45 the next morning.

Hope y'all had a fun Thanksgiving!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 21, 2005

It's time for the nation to return the favor.   An editorial from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Read it, do what it says, and send it to everyone you know. Make sure they read it and do what it says.

The federal government wrapped levees around greater New Orleans so that the rest of the country could share in our bounty.

Americans wanted the oil and gas that flow freely off our shores. They longed for the oysters and shrimp and flaky Gulf fish that live in abundance in our waters. They wanted to ship corn and soybeans and beets down the Mississippi and through our ports. They wanted coffee and steel to flow north through the mouth of the river and into the heartland.

They wanted more than that, though. They wanted to share in our spirit. They wanted to sample the joyous beauty of our jazz and our food. And we were happy to oblige them.

So the federal government built levees and convinced us that we were safe.

We weren't.

The levees, we were told, could stand up to a Category 3 hurricane.

They couldn't.

By the time Katrina surged into New Orleans, it had weakened to Category 3. Yet our levee system wasn't as strong as the Army Corps of Engineers said it was. Barely anchored in mushy soil, the floodwalls gave way.

Our homes and businesses were swamped. Hundreds of our neighbors died.

Now, this metro area is drying off and digging out. Life is going forward. Our heart is beating.

But we need the federal government -- we need our Congress -- to fulfill the promises made to us in the past. We need to be safe. We need to be able to go about our business feeding and fueling the rest of the nation. We need better protection next hurricane season than we had this year. Going forward, we need protection from the fiercest storms, the Category 5 storms that are out there waiting to strike.

Some voices in Washington are arguing against us. We were foolish, they say. We settled in a place that is lower than the sea. We should have expected to drown.

As if choosing to live in one of the nation's great cities amounted to a death wish. As if living in San Francisco or Miami or Boston is any more logical.

Great cities are made by their place and their people, their beauty and their risk. Water flows around and through most of them. And one of the greatest bodies of water in the land flows through this one: the Mississippi.

The federal government decided long ago to try to tame the river and the swampy land spreading out from it. The country needed this waterlogged land of ours to prosper, so that the nation could prosper even more.

Some people in Washington don't seem to remember that. They act as if we are a burden. They act as if we wore our skirts too short and invited trouble.

We can't put up with that. We have to stand up for ourselves. Whether you are back at home or still in exile waiting to return, let Congress know that this metro area must be made safe from future storms. Call and write the leaders who are deciding our fate. Get your family and friends in other states to do the same. Start with members of the Environment and Public Works and Appropriations committees in the Senate, and Transportation and Appropriations in the House. Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina.

Remind them that this is a singular American city and that this nation still needs what we can give it.

For contact information for key lawmakers, click here.

Don't let them kill New Orleans by their false promises and their neglect.

News flash: Brussels sprouts can taste good!   Who woulda thunk it?

First, a little background. Back in gradual school, my good friend Andy and I became roommates. Andy's a great guy, and was a great roommate -- fun to hang out with, pretty tidy, conscientous about paying the bills on time. There was one thing, though ... his occasionally odd culinary habits. One of them was to open a can of sauerkraut (canned, not fresh!), dump the entire contents into a saucepan (without rinsing!) and heat it up, subsequently filling the entire house with a foul, rotten cabbage odor. He'd then eat it right out of the saucepan. "This is great! Ya want some?" Um, no. Thank you.

The other odd culinary habit evidenced itself this way. I came home one day, sat on the sofa and began going through the mail, when I noticed a foul odor. Further sniffing revealed that it was coming from beneath the sofa. My first thought, given what it smelled like, was that my cat Vic had eschewed the use of the litter box that day, for some god-knows-why reason (ostensibly to teach me some kind of lesson, as was her wont) and instead done her litter box duties beneath the sofa.

It wasn't Vic's litter box duties. What it was was a paper plate containing the remnants of Andy's lunch, featuring two left-behind Brussels sprouts (as the rest of the meal had been raptured into his tummy).

Brussels sprouts smell like cat turds. QED.

(By the way, you know I love ya, Andy, wherever you are. :-)

That trauma, combined with occasional childhood Brussels sprouts traumas and the god-awful sprouts that had once been served to me at Bewley's Café in Dublin, pretty much put me off Brussels sprouts for life. In fact, in addition to lima beans and tripe, they were really the only things that I absolutely refused to eat.

My friend Gregg took this as a challenge, and bet me that he could make Brussels sprouts that were not only edible but that I'd actually enjoy and want to make again. The challenge took place last night.

Gregg and Mike offered, as a birthday present, to take me up to a wonderful little meat market in La Crescenta called Harmony Farms, pick up some exotic meat and/or sausages, and grill 'em up for dinner. I'd never heard of that market, and was assured that it would end up becoming one of my favorite food places. They weren't wrong. Meat of every description -- beef, pork, chicken, turkey, rabbit, buffalo, ostrich, venison, deer, elk, wild boar, you name it, they've got it or can get it. The plan was to grill some sausages, and they had a wide variety of really exotic-looking ones. We settled on a duck and apple sausage with brandy, duck and bacon sausage with jalapeño chiles and a wild boar sausage with cranberries, with the asterisked parenthetical comment below the sausage name, "made with meat from feral swine". Oh, I'm so in.

The sausages were fabulous, all of them (although I think the duck and apple with brandy was my favorite, and I'm going to pick up another pound of that to use in the Thanksgiving stuffing on Thursday), and were accompanied by slowly caramelized onions, a few mustards and a variety of beers and ciders (boy, do we love Galco's in Highland Park). and ... the Brussels sprouts. The verdict?

Really good. Much to my astonishment.

You kinda can't go wrong cooking them this way, and remember the the trick to making Brussels sprouts tasty and not having them smell like cat turds -- get them fresh on the stalk, cook them quickly and do NOT overcook them. If they get mushy, you're dead. Keep some texture.

I'm not sure where Gregg's mom got this recipe -- Gourmet or Bon Appétit, perhaps -- but she's apparently been making them this way for nearly 20 years.

Brussels sprouts with chestnuts

  • 24 small Brussels sprouts, cut fresh from the stalk
  • Light vegetable oil
  • 12 chestnuts, quartered
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon chicken buillion granules
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the sprouts from the stalk, choosing ones that are close to being the same size so they'll cook evenly. Steam the sprouts for 8 minutes, or until barely tender. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the shallots for 4 minutes. Add the chestnuts. *

Combine the orange juice, water, brown sugar, buillion granules and pepper to taste. Stir well and add to the chestnut mixture. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add the sprouts and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

* - To prepare the chestnuts:
Heat oven to 350°F. Cut an X with a sharp paring knife on the flat side of the chestnut. Soak the nuts in warm water for 15 minutes, then drain. Spread them in one layer on a shallow baking pan and roast in the oven until the shells curl, about 15 minutes.

While they're still hot (careful you don't burn your hands), peel off the shells and stringy skin underneath, making sure not to leave any skin behind.

Really, really good. Just in case, though, when you make this recipe, keep any cats out of the vicinity.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, November 18, 2005

The Cocktailian.   In today's edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column, the Professor, our cocktailian bartender, mixes up a Menage au Poire, which looks great. Read about it at the link, but have a look at the recipe first:

Menage au Poire
Adapted from a recipe by Victoria Damato-Moran,
bar manager at Tony Nik's in San Francisco

1-1/4 ounces Pitú cachaça.
1 ounce Belle de Brillet (pear and Cognac liqueur).
1/2 ounce Chinaco Reposado tequila.
2-1/2 ounces pear nectar (Santa Cruz, Hansen's, etc.).
Juice of half a lime.
Pinch of sea salt.

Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice, add the ingredients
and shake for about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail
glass. Garnish with a lime twist and a slice of pear.

[At our house, this would be enough for TWO 3-ounce drinks.]

This looks brilliant; I can't wait to try it. We've been looking for ways to use Belle de Brillet, which we love (and which Wes used in his Mary Jane Cocktail, a relative of the Footloose). This is very inventive.

We do what we do.   Poppy Z. Brite writes in yesterday's Times-Picayune:

Within days of the storm, a correspondent asked local author Greg Herren, "How will writers of series set in New Orleans handle this in their work?"

"At the time, I was furious," Herren said. "I saw the question (as) 'Are New Orleans writers finished?' Obviously, that wasn't what the poster meant, and as time passed, I began to see the question as a valid one. Do we pretend it never happened, or do we write about it?"

[...] On Sept. 10, I wrote in my online journal, "Whatever happens, New Orleans will never be the same city it was before this storm. I have no desire to write about it -- I want to go on writing about the New Orleans I knew before."

Eventually, though, I came to feel that doing so would be callous, irresponsible and dishonest. I've long said that what I want most is to write as honestly as possible about my hometown. How, then, could I ignore an event that will shape it for the remainder of my lifetime and beyond? I rethought the ending of my next novel, and realized that there would have to be at least one more after that. It's not that I think I have some great artistic contribution to make to the healing of the city, but that writing is pretty much the only way I have of healing myself. If I don't deal with the storm in my fiction, I'll never deal with it.

Mary, Wes and I were wondering about this too, and specifically wondering about how Poppy would deal with it in her writing, even before Poppy herself began talking about it on her journal. As much as I want to remember home the way it was (and always will), we're all going to have to deal with the ugly reality. As much as I want to preserve New Orleans in amber the way it was before August 29 ... well, just to name one example, if I was reading continuing stories about Rickey, G-Man and their adventures at restaurant Liquor in a world where Katrina didn't happen, while at the same time having to go see my parents on the feckin' Northshore because their house got wiped out, I'd feel that something was missing.

That said, I still wouldn't mind reading more short stories about her fictional characters' lives pre-Katrina, but I'm also beginning to wonder how Rickey and G-Man made it through the storm, and how they'll deal with the destruction of the neighborhood where they grew up. When I end up reading in Poppy's future work (as I suspect I shall) about this, I'll also end up thinking about Holy Cross High School, about the gymnasium building which housed the music department where I spent countless hours through high school, and how it'll have to be demolished and wondering what will become of the rest of my Lower Ninth Ward school, its students and the surrounding neighborhood.

To read about that will be healing for me and everyone else from home who reads Poppy's wonderful stories, not to mention healing for Poppy herself. The healing will commence, as Poppy points out, with everything we do, how we do what we do:

That's how we all deal with this: We eat well, we feed others, we drink, we have Carnival, we make art, we make the city beautiful again. We do what it is that we do. And God help anyone who tries to stop us, even if her name is Katrina.

Yeah you rite, dawl'. Even 2,000 miles away, I eat well, I feed others, I'm comin' to Carnival, and I try to make as much art as I can, whether it's a few scribbles here, a music compilation there, a photograph or three every once in a while. And I like to eat red beans 'n rice on a Monday night.

The Guardian goes to NOLA.   Excellent article from the UK newspaper on the struggle of the local music scene to recover, and features interviews with Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Reggie Scanlan of the Radiators, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians. Their guide, drummer and writer Ben Sandmel, helps take them through the city and to a variety of venues, including the newly reborn Tip's:

The real thing arrives four hours later, when we make our way to the ceremonial re-opening of Tipitina's, packed with a crowd split 50/50 between black and white, and vibrating to the music delivered by a locally-renowned troupe called Big Sam's Funky Nation. Their final song is a rendition of Jim Hendrix's Purple Haze, which duly progresses - as tends to happen here - into a loose-ended, high-spirited jam, punctuated by an ad-libbed hookline: "We gon' have a good time/We all gon' have a good time."

Six months ago, it would have seemed innocuous, just another joyous exhortation bouncing around a city where they were yelled in their thousands. Set against the horrors that have recently happened here, it could easily seem ludicrously trite. Hollered by freshly returned musicians, and shouted back by hundreds of New Orleanians, it sounds positively defiant.

Yeah you rite.

Where da streetcars at?   When I was home last month, one of the things that struck me as being wrong as I drove down St. Charles Avenue, besides the decimation of the beautiful oak canopy over the street, was the lack of streetcars. The electrical lines powering them were down, and in some places (such as at the Riverbend in front of the Camellia Grill) the tracks looked as if they were buried in mud.

Streetcar tracks

This New York Times article was depressing; we might not see the streetcars roll for a long time.

Bourbon Street, with its show-must-go-on swagger, is back, but another venerable symbol of this city has fallen on harder times. Herded into a terminal a couple of miles from the tourist territories are row after row of streetcars, their metal undercarriages diseased with rust.

The city's three streetcar lines have been out of service since Hurricane Katrina, and it will cost more than $30 million to repair them. Their absence is not just a blow to visitors looking to sample a bit of quaint New Orleans conveyance to go with their crayfish and jazz. The streetcars were also a mainstay for residents poor and rich, offering a convenient $1.25 ride through the business district and nearby.

Before the hurricane hit, transit officials returned the 24 streetcars on the Canal Street line to their terminal, which then had several feet of flooding for two weeks. The brackish water ate away some of the red paint on the streetcars and corroded their wheels and motors.

You know, frankly I don't give a shit about Bourbon Street, at least anything between Galatoire's and Lafitte's. The hell with Bourbon Street. That's where a lot of out-of-town drunks go to get their ya-yas out, which I suppose brings needed money into the economy. But Bourbon Street is not the real New Orleans. The streetcars are.

Do you think our vile, stinking Congress (who under the Republicans are still trying to eliminate programs for the poor while cutting taxes for millionaires, and fortunately failed to do so yesterday) will help with this cost? Probably not, as they're already well on their way to abandoning New Orleans. At the same time, for example, they've given $13.5 million to the International Fund for Ireland, which will fund various projects around that country. Don't get me wrong; I love Ireland, and fair play to them ... but right now we need to cut back on aid to other countries while our own is hurting, and while our Congress seems to be balking at doing what's necessary, what's right, to help Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

They won't, though. Bastards.

My old pal Ed Branley runs a wonderful website about the streetcars of New Orleans, the new Canal Street line in particular. Check it out, and check out his book New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, available at the link from

They're still finding bodies in New Orleans.   I knew this would happen.

You have have read about this or seen it on CNN already, but in case you haven't ... read all about it. The state called off house-to-house searches for bodies on October 3, saying they'd seen everything and that there were no more. They were wrong, of course.

[From CNN:] You know, it's hard to imagine anything worse than coming back to your home in New Orleans and finding it completely destroyed. But, tonight, as you're about to hear, there is something worse, much worse. Dozens of families have returned to what is left of their homes and found, lying amidst the mold and the wreckage, a body, forgotten, abandoned. Maybe it's their mother or their grandmother, sometimes even their missing child.

[...] There was no joy for Paul Murphy in this homecoming. When he walked into his house in New Orleans' Ninth Ward last month for the first time since Katrina, it was shock and anger.

MURPHY: So, I'm thinking that, OK, I was going to come and salvage a few pictures or something. And I walk in here. I found my grandma on the floor dead.

Since November 1, 10 bodies have been found in the ruins of the Ninth Ward. The last area, known as the Lower Ninth, will open to residents December 1. Coroner Frank Minyard worries about what people will find.

(on camera): You're fully expecting that more bodies will come in once they open the Ninth Ward?

FRANK MINYARD, ORLEANS PARISH CORONER: Yes. And I think it's -- it's going to come in for a good while. There's so much rubbish around that they might find people in the rubbish.

(voice-over): They already have. And there are still many bodies left unidentified and unclaimed.

Were they wrong ... or did they just not bother to look hard enough? This is horrific, and the city, state, feds, whomever, need to get their collective asses back into the Lower Ninth and make sure that NOBODY else comes home to find a body in their house.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, November 17, 2005

Say it ain't so! Save Torani Amer!   I just got the folowing disturbing email from Robert:

Chuck, since you've used Torani Amer in the past, I thought I'd pass onto you this little news tidbit that was just sent in to the Museum:

Dear all,
I was surprised to find out that the Torani company said that they may no longer be producing the Torani Amer. I spoke with Isha in the customer service department, and sent her a copy of the NY Times article about bitters that included Torani Amer in it. If any one is interested in this at the American Cocktail Museum please give Torani a call or an e-mail letting them know that this product is important and they should keep on producing it. Since Amer Picon is so hard to find Torani is one of the only suitable replacements for the many drinks that contain it.
-- Kevin

If this is true, it means the death of nearly 50 new and especially classic cocktails, including the Brooklyn, my own Hoskins Cocktail and the lost New Orleans classic, the Mother-in-Law Cocktail, to name just three.

Torani Amer is the only substitute for Amer Picon, a now-all-but-discontinued bitter orange aperitif liqueur that's called for in classic after classic (including the Picon Punch, the national drink of the Basques), not to mention newer creations. If Torani, makers of fine syrups for flavoring everything from sodas to coffees to cocktails, does in fact discontinue this wonderful product, they will single-handedly orphan a huge chunk of cocktail history.

Please write to the Torani Company via contac page, or even better, call them at (800) 775-1925. Be polite and imploring. Explain to them how important this liqueur is to you and to cocktail history. Tell them you can't live without Brooklyn Cocktails. Tell them that there's an army of cocktailians out there who want this stuff (well, in your own words, of course). We need them!

Pledge drive tonight.   God, I hate asking for money on the air, but unfortunately it's the only way we make money. KCSN hosts their semi-annual Pledge Drive this week, and tonight is my program "Down Home"'s turn. Tonight, between 7 and 9pm Pacific Time, call (800) 795-KCSN, that's (800) 795-5276 and pledge your support for great New Orleans and roots music radio!

We've got a wonderful treat this year too ... all pledges of $120 will be matched by our rich anonymous benefactor! For your pledge of $120 you can receive as our thank-you gift either my New Orleans box set "Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans", or the following 5-CD "Down Home" pack:

  • Buckwheat Zydeco - "100% Fortified Zydeco" (featuring new liner notes by yours truly.

  • "This Is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection" (the first compilation to feature tracks from every Dirty Dozen album, even their out-of-print debut; music compiled by yours truly, liner notes by Steve Hochman)

  • Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys - "Dominoes" (the brand-new album one of the finest Cajun bands around, both progressive and traditional)

  • "The Great Johnny Adams Blues Album" (New Orleans' "Tan Canary", one of our greatest gospel, soul, jazz and R&B singers ever, singin' the blues ...)

  • The Magnolia Sisters - "Chers Amis" (a powerhouse, all-female Cajun band who are keeping alive the ballad singing tradition as well as Cajun dance music)

You can pay by credit card too, all at once or in four easy, almost-unnoticeable installments of $30. Such a deal. Call tonight! Or pledge anytime via the website. We needs yo' money!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dinner at Lucques. (Danger, food porn!)   That was the "mystery restaurant" where Wes took me for my birthday last Friday. He did let it slip that we were going to West Hollywood, but I didn't even try to think about which one it would be, and I quite literally didn't know where we were going until we arrived at the front door. I was thrilled. We had been meaning to go here for ages, especially for their famous "Sunday dinners", but I certainly didn't mind trying the main menu first.

Their bar came highly recommended as well, with several specialty cocktails. I'm usually leery of most restaurants' "specialty" drinks these days, as even places as high-end as Patina invariably make drinks that are way too sweet sweet sweet. Imagine my delight as the two we had at Lucques involved both Campari and a variation on the classic Perfect Martini with no liqueur in it at all!

The Lucques Jasmine

2 ounces Beefeater gin.
1 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce lemon juice.

Shake and strain; garnish with lemon wheel floated on top.

We tried this at home, but flipped the Cointreau and Campari. I think we'll flip it back, but add a little more lemon juice. The ingredients work well together, but you could get some interesting variations by changing the proportions.

The Harold Lloyd Cocktail

3 ounces Hendrick's Gin.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.

Stir for no less than 30 seconds, until ice-cold.
Garnish with a cucumber slice.

We loved this. Does anybody remember what a Perfect Martini is anymore? If you do, how many times have you said to a bartender, "I'll have a Perfect Martini please," only to have him haughtily reply, "All my Martinis are perfect!" No no no, silly sod; a Perfect Martini is one that uses half sweet and half dry vermouth, instead of all dry. Perhaps the reason why most people don't know this is that most people have forgotten that a Martini has vermouth in in. All this horseshit about waving the closed bottle of vermouth over the shaker has nothing to do with a Martini, and has everything to do with drinking cold gin, up. That ain't a Martini. A Martini has vermouth in it. Period. QED. I have spoken.

Hendrick's Gin is a wonderful, hand-crafted small-batch gin made in Scotland, and has amongst its unusual mix of botanicals an infusion of rose petals and cucumber, giving it a unique flavor that I happen to love. We'd make regular Martinis with it, not wanting that unique flavor to get too lost in a cocktail, but had never tried it as a Perfect Martini before. That, combined with the cucumber slice and the nifty name, has made us big fans of this drink, named after the silent movie star in whose former carriage house the restaurant is housed. Safety last!

Lucques olives and toasted almonds

Everyone who dines at Lucques is brought a little amuse-bouche of the restaurant's namesake Lucques olives, gorgeous warm toasted almonds tossed in almond oil, a pat of lovely butter and a dish of coarse sea salt, along with a basked of breads. Thinking to save a little bit of room for dinner, one of us said something like, "Um, we probably shouldn't eat all these almonds," as we chain-ate the almonds until they were gone.

As usual, I've got pork on the brain. I was actually planning to go for lighter fare, perhaps starting with an interesting salad and moving on to fish. Hmm, that arugula salad with the pomegranate looked good ... but then ... I saw it. Roasted Kabocha squash and braised bacon with dates, dandelion and pumpkin seed oil.

Roasted kabocha squash and braised bacon

Oh my. They could easily have called it "Braised bacon with kabocha squash"; the flavor of that bacon (more like thick slices of pork belly, but not too fatty) was rich and intense, and went perfectly with the nutty squash. The bitter tang of the dandelion leaves balanced it perfectly. It would have been very, very silly of me to get a salad with this on the menu.

Of course, since I was already infused with pork, there was really only one dish I could have ordered from tne enterées ... Suckling pig with long-cooked romano beans, grilled baby leeks and romesco.

Roast suckling pig

The pig, said our server, had been roasting at a relatively low temperature overnight and was ... exquisite. Everything else on the plate was fine, and went well with the dish, but I frankly didn't care about any of it. All I cared about was that marvelous, butter-tender, intensely delicious pork. (Well, the Domaine des Vieux Pruniers '04 Sancerre that I washed it down with was pretty great as well.) The serving was fairly Gargantuan, too; there was a ton of it, topped with a thin piece of "crispy skin" the size of my palm. Pork lovers, get to Lucques and order this dish before they change the menu this winter.

Of course, there's always room for dessert. However, I found the paucity of chocolate on the dessert menu to be distressing. Of course, it doesn't have to be chocolate to be dessert, but I was hoping for a little more choice in that area. Most of the desserts looked really good, but I opted for something a bit lighter (as opposed to a huge chunk of cake or bread pudding or something like that). Piloncillo ice cream with caramel nut wedge and a shot of hot chocolate was what I settled with.

Piloncillo ice cream

Piloncillo is unrefined Mexican brown sugar that comes in three-inch solid cones, and is earthy and delicious. The ice cream was excellent, and the "hot chocolate" that accompanied it was more like thick chocolate fudge with a perfect bitter chocolate tang to it; I was pleased that the pastry chef wasn't timid about making it not-too-sweet. Given the price of all the desserts, though ($10!), I was a little miffed at the miniscule portion -- one quenelle of ice cream, about 1/4 cup of the chocolate, and the "caramel nut wedge", although good, was a tiny piece of candy. Seems like they could drop the price on this one a bit.

I also managed a splurge with the digestif, a 1979 Château de Ravignan Bas-Armagnac that was deep and wonderfully rich on the palate, full of dried fruit and toffee flavors. I've got to start looking into Armagnacs more.


That's one happy, bloated-- er, well-fed birthday boy.

I'd like to say "it's back on the austerity diet now, Chuck", except last night (four days after this meal), a bunch of us went to the sadly closing Italian restaurant Rocca in Santa Monica for their famous porchetta, "A Celebration of the Pig". (Yeah, that'll be low-fat ...)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 14, 2005

Great Mandina's news!   Via Mary Katherine (thanks!), quoting Cindy Mandina:

"I am the fourth generation to work at Mandina's Restaurant. My father and I are committed to reopening the restaurant in Mid-City. The most important thing for us is to keep the same look and feel as the original restaurant. As you may know the restaurant was originally a corner grocery store started by my great-grandfather Sebastian Mandina and through the years evolved into what it is today. We want to keep the main building but redesign our kitchen and some other key areas that were challenging our day to day operations.

We are waiting for our flood insurance claim, and like so many others we are having a hard time acquiring our business interruption insurance. My father has been given the opportunity to open a Mandina's in Baton Rouge with the assistance and generosity of some partners. We will open there, hopefully, by January 1. The Baton Rouge restaurant will give myself, our chef and most of our employees the opportunity to do what we love. We hope to be back on Canal Street by late spring.

The reopening of Mandina's will be one of the things that'll help New Orleans feel like New Orleans again.

Mardi Gras news!   It's definite. Mardi Gras will happen next year, but parade season will be cut from 11 days to 6.

At the Zulu Social Club members are working to salvage this year's carnival season. With their headquarters flooded, one of the city's most famous krewes faces the possibility it might not parade this year.

"They call it the greatest free show on earth, but it's not really free to the people who have to pay to put it on," said Naaman Stewart, Vice President of the Zulu Social Club.

It costs more than $1 million to throw just one extravagant parade, but many of Zulu's 600 members are now scattered around the country recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

"It's difficult to ask a guy to decide between repairing his home and throwing away beads and coconuts in the street," Stewart said.

It's the reality now facing many of the krewes that organize the city's parades. Several smaller krewes are not expected to return while others have decided to merge. Several of the larger, well known krewes have committed to parade this year and some are building bigger, more elaborate floats.

Bill Grace, Chairman of the Mayor.s Mardi Gras Committee, said fewer resources ultimately lead to the decision to shorten Carnival season. "Unfortunately, there's neither the money nor the manpower for the city to have an eleven day Carnival season as we traditionally do," Grace said.

It's scaled back to save the city money on expenses like police officers. Additionally, floats in the city will travel on the same parade route: the traditional St. Charles Avenue route.

I'll take it.

WDSU has an update:

Fourteen weeks before the parade season starts, here's what we know about Mardi Gras 2006:

* There will be no parades in St. Bernard Parish.

* Gretna's three parades -- Adonis, Grela and Choctaw -- will roll as scheduled.

* All of Metairie's 13 parades will roll, although a dispute about new relaxed minimum requirements dealing with the number of floats, bands and costumed riders, puts a question mark over the final parade calendar. The Jefferson Parish Council will vote on Nov. 16.

* The three krewes that parade on the westbank in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes -- Cleopatra, Aladdin, Alla -- will roll, but it is not certain whether they will travel only in Jefferson (and possibly the city of Gretna) or piggyback and maintain their original route starting in Orleans Parish. The Algiers krewe of NOMTOC, which normally rolls on "Endymion Saturday," might follow this combined parade.

* Thirty-one of the 34 clubs that paraded in Orleans Parish in 2005 now say they want to roll in 2006.

[Lots more]

I haven't been home for Mardi Gras in years, usually opting to go to Jazzfst instead. I think this year I have to do both.

Jazzfest news!   Gawd, I hope they can pull this off ...

Planners promise bigger Jazzfest
Same time and same place, the goal is to reignite tourism

Organizers of the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival intend to put on what they describe as a world-class event at the Fair Grounds beginning on its traditional weekend in April.

Unlike plans announced this week for a scaled-down Mardi Gras, Jazzfest officials say their intention is the opposite: to stage a festival that is bigger and better than ever, one that will help to reignite tourism in the Crescent City.

"The goal is, unanimously, to try and hold a major Jazzfest here," said David Oestreicher, president of Jazzfest's governing board. "One that hopefully will be a world-shaking event... We think that we will be the watershed event that will jump-start the tourist economy for this part of the world."

The board of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the nonprofit group that owns Jazzfest, met Thursday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina with Quint Davis, whose Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans produces the event. [...]

They emerged with an ambitious plan: to stage the 2006 Jazzfest in its traditional season and at its traditional home at the Fair Grounds.

"The foundation is dedicated to seeing that this is the best Jazzfest ever," said Don Marshall, executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation. "Our intentions are to make sure that it is on the same scale (as 2005), if not larger."

[...] Organizers face monumental challenges, from hotel rooms to infrastructure to marketing to locating musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure club grand marshals and artists scattered around the country. Unlike years past, the festival may need to transport and house even local musicians.

"Usually people are at their houses in eastern New Orleans or Gentilly, then drive in to the Fair Grounds and do their thing," Edwards said. "That's not going to possible."

"The musicians who make up the heart and soul of the festival are no longer in the neighborhoods here," Marshall said. "So we're going to be responsible for getting them back here. The additional expense is going to be significant. But we're committed to that. This festival will probably be the biggest homecoming of New Orleans musicians."

"We don't know where our audience is right now," Marshall said. "The Jazzfest lovers who have been going for 30-some years who lived in Mid-City and had their best friends from the East Coast come spend a weekend and sleep on the floor ... that may not be happening. We need to do as much as we can to have New Orleanians return."

The likes of Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones have performed at Katrina benefits or donated money to relief efforts. Such marquee artists may be invited to perform at Jazzfest.

"Our No. 1 commitment is to New Orleans and Louisiana musicians," Marshall said. "But I think we'll see some new faces at the festival. There were some wonderful collaborations taking place over the last couple of months, and hopefully those can be built upon. The programming potential is phenomenal."

"There are names that have been mentioned (for Jazzfest) that could raise us to heights undreamed of," Oestreicher said.

Under normal circumstances, Jazzfest would have already booked many of its headliners by early November. No acts are locked down for 2006 yet.

They've got their work cut out for them, but if they can make this happen, they'll be heroes.

I've had friendly arguments with friends for years about my dislike of huge national (i.e., non-local) rock acts playing Fest, but now ... I say whatever gets bodies through the Fair Grounds turnstiles is fine with me.

I will see you at those turnstiles on Friday, April 28, 2006!

Here's a T-shirt for y'all to buy.   Are y'all as outraged as I am by the ridiculous vote of the creationists on that Kansas Board of Education to redefine science? Then show the world what you think, baring the rapier of satire! My friend Steve came up with a pretty brilliant t-shirt design, which is now for sale at his Cafe Press store:

When evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve

Be an outlaw!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, November 11, 2005

You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too.   This boy likes to take his boit'day off, so no other posts from me today. I'm going to spend the rest of the day eating, drinking and carrying on ... and trying to figure out how the feck I ended up being 44 already. Hey, I wasn't finished with my thirties, goddammit!

I'm ever grateful that I still don't yet look it, at least. (No, I'm the one on the right.) When I went to my last high school reunion, some of my classmates looked old enough to be my dad.

I couldn't leave you completely bereft of linkage though, so here are some forty-four-related links:

Lyrics to the Rolling Stones' song "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)", the chorus of which, of course, goes "Heartbreaker, with your forty-four / I wanna tear your world apart." (I knew someone in high school who thought the lyric was "Heartbreaker, with your bowling ball" ...)

"Forty-four" is Cockney rhyming slang for something... (See also "swinging door".)

"Forty-Four", by Howlin' Wolf. (Download from iTunes Music Store.)

Page 44 of the New Orleans Public Library's Mayor Victor H. Schiro Photograph Collection (which came up on page 44 of a Google search on the term "forty-four"! How cool is that?! Um ... okay, never mind.)

M44, The Beehive Cluster, also known as Praesepe (Latin for manger), is an easy naked eye object more than twice the size across of the full moon, and has thus been noted since prehistoric times. It was one of the first objects on which Galileo trained his newly acquired telescope. M44 is one of the nearest open star clusters, close to 600 light-years away.

"I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?"

The 44th President of the United States? (I wouldn't mind.)

"The 4400" (What's better than 44? A hundred of 'em! A decent, solid example of sf on TV. Not one one-hundredth as good as "Battlestar Galactica", though.)

A forty-four ounce drink is too big. (In a movie?! I'd be running to the bathroom at least twice, missing huge chunks of story.)

Ivory Soap. 99 and 44/100% pure.

"There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium!
(The first verse of Professor Tom Lehrer's "The Elements Song", sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General". You'll thank me for not doing the whole thing.)

A forty-four year old man with lightheadedness and dysarthria. (Glad he ain't me.)

A forty-four piece wooden packing puzzle. (I hate puzzles that don't make a picture of Paris, or Van Gogh's "Starry Night", or something like that. Pfeh.)

Hurricane Katrina caused 44 oil spills in southeast Louisiana. (Bitch.)

Vicks Formula 44  (*cough!*)

I know, you're thinking I have way too much time on my hands, but that was kinda fun. See y'all Monday.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Schadenfreude.   Take that, motherfracker. By the way, you just wasted $80 million dollars of our money with your stupid special election. Go away now.

PROPOSITION 73: Minor's pregnancy.
YES: 47.4%
NO: 52.6%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

PROPOSITION 74: Teacher tenure.
YES: 44.9%
NO: 55.1%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

PROPOSITION 75: Public union dues.
YES: 46.5%
NO: 53.5%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

PROPOSITION 76: Spending/Funding.
YES: 37.9%
NO: 62.1%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

PROPOSITION 77: Redistricting by a panel of retired judges.
YES: 40.5%
NO: 59.5%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

PROPOSITION 78: Rx drug discounts (pharmaceutical industry version).
YES: 41.5%
NO: 58.5%
Proposition DOES NOT PASS.

Anyone up for another recall election? (Nah. We'll just turn him out next year in the biggest landslide in California history, with whichever decent Democrat that chooses to run.)

In other election news, the people of Virginia and New Jersey have elected Democratic governors, and Democrats gained seats in both state legislatures. (Republican Kilgore in Virginia, already trailing, was actually hurt by an 11th-hour endorsement and rally appearance by Bush; 47% of poll respondents said that Bush's endorsement made them more likely to vote against him). In Dover, Pennsylvania, the entire incumbent school board -- religious conservative Republicans, all of whom wanted so-called "intelligent design" taught in public schools -- were swept out by Democrats who advocated teaching science in public schools. In St. Paul, Minnesota, citizens turned out a Democratic mayor who had endorsed George Bush's reelection last year, instead electing Democratic city councilman Chris Coleman, 69-31%. In Tucson, Arizona, Democrats took control of the city council. In Maine, an anti-gay rights referendum failed, 61-39%.

I think it's beginning. 2006, here we come.

We lost some, sure -- Texas (where a whopping 11% of registered voters passed a Ku Klux Klan-supported amendment to "protect" them against the nonexistent "threat" of same-sex marriage, only to perhaps inadvertently outlaw all marriages due to the incredibly sloppy wording of the amendment, which I find highly amusing), NYC (although to be fair, Bloomberg tends to run New York in a pretty nonpartisan manner and New Yorkers seem to like him), Ohio. But all in all, it was a pretty damned good night because it was a start. I believe it'll only get better from here. (Oh, and thanks to Asa, Terry, Brian and all the other really nice folks we met at Drinking Liberally last night. We had a blast!)

White House falsifies briefing transcript.   They're desperate. So desperate, in fact, that they've hired Winston Smith. (Via dKos):

Quite simply, the White House has tampered with the transcript of the Oct. 31 press briefing conducted by li'l Scott McClellan. David Gregory of MSNBC argued to McClellan that notwithstanding McClellan's assurances two years ago that Rove and Libby had not been involved in the leak, both Rove and Libby have admitted to taking part in conversations with journalists regarding Valerie Plame. In response, Scottie said "That's accurate." But the official White House transcript of the briefing available at has Scottie saying "I don't think that's accurate."

[...] A mistake, perhaps? Apparently not. The White House communications office contacted two private concerns that provide transcripts of White House briefings, each of which accurately transcribed Scottie's "that's accurate" response, to urge them to change their transcripts to conform to the White House lie. Both declined.

Fortunately there are many, many people (including me) who heard the audio of that briefing, and even more fortunately, there's video as well, demonstrating that the White House changed what McClellan said.

And they wonder why 58% of the people in this country say they don't trust Bush and his White House?

¡Chocolate!   Most people don't seem to do much with Mexican chocolate (those wonderful round tablets sweetened with coarse sugar, cinnamon and almond) other than make hot drinking chocolate. Today's L.A. Times Food Section uses it for a bunch of great-looking dessert recipes, including flan, layer cake and a dip for churros.

Kenny's Bookshop in Galway is closing.   I hate it when something like this happens. Yet another independent bookstore, this one a Galway institution for 65 years, will close its doors soon. Tom Kenny is quick to point out that they're merely closing their High Street shop and not going out of business; the art gallery is moving to a bigger space, and the bookstore operations will move to what Andrew at describes as a soulless industrial estate on the edge of town, where they'll get zero foot traffic. The reason? Economics -- the high overhead of running a shop that is "selling far more online than over the counter in recent years."

I suppose we should be glad that they're not going out of business entirely, but ordering online is nothing like browsing through a shop stacked with books, floor to ceiling for three stories. This has been happening just about everywhere, and was the same fate as our beloved sf bookstore Dangerous Visions in L.A. *sigh*

I don't look forward to the day when we have no place to buy books other than Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble (and Eason's in Ireland, I suppose). I hope that people make the effort to keep independent bookshops open (buy books at indie shops!), so that this doesn't happen.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 8, 2005

California: Vote NO.   To what? To everything Arnold wants.

Drink! Drink! Drink!   Wes and I will be attending the local gathering of Drinking Liberally, tonight at Lucky Baldwin's Pub in Pasadena. If you're in the neighborhood, come on by and have a pint of mighty fine beer in the company of some lovely liberals, and we'll watch Arnold's propositions go down in the election returns.

So long, Mr. Joe.   Via Poppy, I read the sad news that Mr. Joe Casamento, of the legendary Casamento's Restaurant (on Magazine St. in New Orleans, and home of da finest erstas dere evuh was), died the night Katrina struck. Apparently he'd been ill, but I can't help but think that that bitch struck the final blow.

I have to confess that it's been a few years since I've been to Casamento's, and I'll be sorry not to see him there next time I go (and that'll be as soon as I get back home for the holidays). Be sure to read Poppy's wonderful post eulogizing Mr. Joe.

Holy Cross, we hail thee.   As part of its ongoing series "The Road Back", New Orleans alternative newspaper Gambit Weekly features my high school, Holy Cross, an anchor of the Lower Ninth Ward for over 100 years, in a profile written by Gambit editor Clancy DuBos (who is also chairman of the school's board of directors).

I was saddened beyond words to read that the gym was condemned. I was no fan of the daily torture of gym class, nor was I a fan of the brother for whom the gym was named (my least-favorite faculty member, without a doubt), but I practically lived in that building because it was also where the bandroom was housed, my homeroom for five years. Countless memories of mine and my classmates lived in that building.

If the school is to be restored and meet its goal of reopening by January, each and every alumnus needs to help. Visit the school's temporary web site for more information on how to donate money, supplies, computers, desks, chairs, textbooks and more.

Fridge awt.   Poppy pointed to someone's gallery of a bunch of decorated fridges dumped on curbs in New Orleans.

Lots of them were decorated by the voodoo guy in the Quarter (Louise surmised that it was some kind of spell to take the stink out of them which, sadly, didn't work). I had shot a few of my own while I was home:

Impeachment is patriotic

Sir Stinks-a-lot

I think "Sir Stinks a Lot" is my favorite.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 7, 2005

Watch out.   I'm in rage mode today.

George W. Bush is the most anti-Louisiana President in modern history.   In fact, I might remove the word "modern" from that headline, purloined from Oyster at Right Hand Thief, who posted the following articles and said, "I invite anyone to dispute the above claim." (And many thanks to Oyster for, I hope, letting me nick his stuff and not sticking a shucking knife into me for doing so. By the way, Your Right Hand Thief is an essential weblog for anyone interested in New Orleans politics and culture.)

From the Times-Picayune:

In a sign that the White House is disinclined to view Louisiana's wetlands as vital for protection against hurricanes, the Bush administration is proposing to give the state only a fraction of the money scientists say is needed to rebuild coastal buffers.

A $250 million proposed appropriation was the first indication of the White House's attitude toward Louisiana's coastal land loss since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the state. Congress has not acted on the White House's proposal and may change it.

That sum, which was included in a new $17.1 billion emergency spending proposal for the Gulf Coast, is being viewed by Louisiana officials as too little and a halfhearted gesture to fix Louisiana's sinking and eroding coast. [...]

President Bush has consistently disappointed Louisiana officials who have since early in his administration has sought federal help with a $14 billion plan to shore up Louisiana's sinking and eroding coast.

The Louisiana coast has lost about 1,900 square miles of marsh and swamp since the 1930s due to a host of reasons -- among them levee building by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, oil and natural gas drilling and natural causes.

Louisiana officials and coastal groups had hoped that the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita would open the eyes of the nation to the loss of Louisiana's coastal wetlands -- the largest in the nation. [...]

Scientists say marshlands are a buffer against storms and knock some of the steam out of storm surge. Estimates say that about 2.7 miles of marsh shave about 1 foot off of surge heights.

The loss of marshland -- including over 30 square miles caused by Katrina -- has brought the Gulf of Mexico closer to New Orleans and made hurricane-driven storm surge that much worse.

Flooding from hurricanes in New Orleans was almost unheard of before a major hurricane in 1915, said Craig Colten, a professor of geography and anthropology at Louisiana State University.

Since then, scientists say, the loss of wetlands and the gradual buildup of New Orleans in low-lying areas set the stage for Katrina's devastating floods.

Money for the coast was not included in previous emergency packages and Bush had been largely mum on the loss of wetlands during his recent visits to Louisiana.

"Either they don't get it or they just don't care," said Mark Davis, the executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the chief lobbying group for Louisiana's coast. "The administration's proposal is miles off from what is needed."

"The answer, Mark Davis," says Oyster, "is that they just don't care." He continues:

Remember, this is the administration who -- without any prodding -- requested $100 million to fix Iraq's wetlands. For years Louisiana has begged and pleaded for wetlands restoration funds, and they recieved chickenfeed. Then Katrina hits Southern Louisiana with the second highest storm surge ever recorded, brutally flooding Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes. And then hurricane Rita's outer bands flood much of Terrebonne Parish... and what is the response? Bush offers up about 2% of the needed monies to rebuild our protective wetlands. Two percent!?!

Immediately after a major catastrophe, two percent is the response we get. What a freaking disgrace.

If this is indicative of the federal commitment to saving South Louisiana, we are utterly doomed.

Louisiana's coast, before and after Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana's coast before and after Katrina. (Click image to enlarge.)

In another RHT post entitled "Q: 'What do we do?' A: 'We die.'" Oyster continues:

Without a federal commitment to Category Five levees and world-class flood protection, displaced businesses will not return to Southern Louisiana and insurance costs will quickly become prohibitive. Cutting taxes and red-tape will be meaningless without these essential infrastructure investments.

Yet, according to [Louisiana political reporter] John Maginnis, Washington Republicans say the budget is too tight when it comes to the future of the "gret stet".

Securing top-level levee protection poses frustrations.... Last week, a delegation of the Louisiana Recovery Authority presented the state's priorities to senior White House officials. According to member Sean Reilly, the president's advisors agreed to support more money for business bridge loans, Medicaid reimbursements and tax incentives for businesses and individuals.

But the Louisiana team hit a wall -- a large earthen wall -- on its top priority of rebuilding the southeast Louisiana hurricane protection levee system to withstand a Category 5 storm. The Bush team would not commit beyond the Category 3 level. [...]

A top tier levee system from New Orleans to Morgan City would take years and $20 billion to build, far more than the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress are prepared to go. But to tell homeowners and business investors pondering their future in New Orleans that the levees will protect them from almost all storms might not inspire the confidence it takes to bring the area all the way back.

Reilly says the recovery authority will "keep pounding" on the Category 5 issue, but that might start to feel like one's head against the wall of Washington's intransigence.

These so-called conservatives didn't fret when a $500 billion dollar Medicare bill ballooned (immediately) to $750 plus billion. But now they want to deny Louisiana $20 billion for levees.

These so-called conservatives hardly peeped as expenses in Iraq grew into the hundreds of billions with no end in sight. By February U.S. taxpayers will have spent another $20 billion towards nation-building in Iraq. But allocating that same amount for a devastated Louisiana is suddenly too expensive.

[Over two thousand] American lives were sacrificed so that Iraqi Shia can enjoy their restored wetlands; but, when a thousand Americans die in the aftermath of Katrina, that's not enough incentive for Washington Republicans to adequately protect South Louisiana.

The president and the so-called conservatives in Congress have broken faith with our state. Previously, these reckless spendthrifts made Lyndon Johnson look like Calvin Coolidge. Twenty billion was nothing to them; a rounding error. But now it's everything to us, and they won't pay it. Our survival depends on Cat 5 levees, but BushCo suddenly can't commit to essential protections for South Louisiana.

Bush and his Congress lied to us all along, and the bastard stood in front of a falsely-lit Jackson Square mouthing yet more lies as the rest of the French Quarter sat in darkness. These people don't give a shit about Louisiana; all they care about is money, power and their PNAC war-waging agenda. This should come as no surprise to us. They are filthy, lying puddles of suppurating slime. If they choose to sacrifice my city and state for the sake of their war, their pork and their tax cuts for the wealthy, then I wish nothing but unceasing misery on them, and the comeuppance that they so richly deserve. My feelings for them are nothing less than a deep and terrible loathing.

(I need to go sit in the bathtub for a while and cool off.)

They're coming to take us away, ha-haa ...   I've (mostly) been spared this, because now I live in Los Angeles and my house is intact. But I've been seeing this in people back home, from family to friends -- as the Times-Picayune's Chris Rose puts it, New Orleans is going nuts.

With all due respect, we're living in Crazy Town.

The only lines at retail outlets longer than those for lumber and refrigerators are at the pharmacy windows, where fidgety, glassy-eyed neighbors greet each other with the casual inquiries one might expect at a restaurant:

"What are you gonna have? The Valium here is good. But I'm going with the Paxil. Last week I had the Xanax and it didn't agree with me."

We talk about prescription medications now like they're the soft-shell crabs at Clancy's. Suddenly, we've all developed a low-grade expertise in pharmacology.

Everybody's got it, this thing, this affliction, this affinity for forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, confusion, laughing at inappropriate circumstances, crying when the wrong song comes on the radio, behaving in odd and contrary ways. [...]

Here's one for you: Some friends of mine were clearing out their belongings from their home in the Fontainebleau area and were going through the muddle of despair that attends the realization that you were insured out the wazoo for a hurricane but all you got was flood damage and now you're going to get a check for $250,000 to rebuild your $500,000 house.

As they pondered this dismal circumstance in the street, their roof collapsed. Just like that. It must have suffered some sort of structural or rain-related stress from the storm and now, two weeks later, it manifested itself in total collapse.

Now I ask you: What would you do if you watched your home crumble to pieces before your eyes?

What they did was, realizing their home now qualified for a homeowner's claim, they jumped up and down and high-fived each other and yelled: "The roof collapsed! The roof collapsed!"

Our home is destroyed. Oh, happy day. I submit there's something not right there.

I can second that feeling. One of two giant oak trees in my parents' front yard snapped in two and collapsed, blocking the driveway such that we had to park in the neighbor's driveway to get access to the back door of the house. My folks were bitterly disappointed that the tree didn't snap the other way and cave in the house's roof, thereby engaging the homeowners' insurance that otherwise would pay zero. I was right there with 'em, too. Stupid tree.

"Compassionate conservatism" is, as it has always been, an oxymoron. From the Times-Picayune (via Mike):

Keith and Elizabeth Stafford had some high-powered lawmakers tour their flooded Lakeview home Sunday, and they're not quite sure what to make of their guests' comments.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., brought two fellow members of the Senate Commerce Committee to New Orleans this weekend to get a firsthand look at the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in advance of a field hearing this morning on the federal role in post-Katrina economic development in the state.

Committee Chairman Ted Stephens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., tromped through the Staffords' flooded, jumbled, moldy home just two blocks from the spot where the 17th Street Canal failed on the day after Katrina hit.

The Staffords hope to gut their home and rebuild, but they're looking for some assurance that the levees that failed will be rebuilt and improved before they begin that daunting task.

So it came as a shock, Elizabeth Stafford said, when Stephens questioned that decision in a discussion in their back yard.

"He said, 'Why would we want to rebuild these homes in an area below sea level?' and said that in Alaska, when a disaster of this magnitude occurs, they relocate the town," Stafford said.

"But people have their businesses here," she said. "People have their lives here."

Talking later to reporters, who were not allowed to follow the senators on their tour through the house and back yard, Stephens said he was in New Orleans to listen and learn.

He is not yet able to say whether he would support Category 5 levee protection for the New Orleans area, he said, or whether the federal government should step in with more financial help to homeowners if investigators confirm that human error in the design of levee walls along the 17th Street, London Avenue and Industrial canals caused or contributed to the damage.

"What we can do is we can go forward with the best protection that's possible," Stephens said, after agreeing that "this isn't hurricane damage. It's levee-failure damage."

Yes, levee- and concrete floodwall-failure ... that's caused by the increase in water in the lake from the storm surge of a hurricane. Storm surges are decreased by the presence of coastal marshes and wetlands.

Remember, this is the same Senator who threw a hissy fit on the floor of the Senate and fought like a rabid weasel to protect the $453 million worth pork for his home district, including the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, connecting one tiny town to one tiny island, and serving 50 people. What an unbelievable asshole.

A bitter relief.   Let's take a break, shall we? I had to throw in something pleasant amidst a flurry of articles about the worst administration and Congress in American history. One of the only things that keeps me from collapsing due to outrage overload is a cocktail in my hand, so let's talk cocktails for a minute, particularly those containing a type of ingredient near and dear to my heart: bitters.

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine featured an article on the resurgence of aromatic cocktail bitters, due to the efforts of friends and acquaintances such as Dr. Cocktail and Gary Regan. Their efforts have inspired aficionadoes such as Wesly and myself, and more and more people both at home and behind the stick, to use bitters in recipes both new and old, and to even brew their own. (I've got to get to work on another batch of Taggart's Bitters ...)

At home we've been enjoying a Wesly's take on a drink that's our in-house version of an old classic, one that employs the three main kinds of bitters, and which has a powerful kick from a high-proof whiskey, enough to help take a bit of the sting off the fact that the people who are running our country are taking it to Hell in the proverbial handbasket.

Wesly's Double Old-Fashioned

Build in an Old-Fashioned (rocks) glass over ice:

3 ounces Wild Turkey 101-proof Bourbon whiskey.
1-2 teaspoons cane sugar syrup, to taste.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
2 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6.
Cherry and orange peel for garnish. Stir to combine thoroughly and add garnish.

The less sugar in an Old Fashioned, the better. (I once watched in horror as the bartender at Le Petit Grocery in New Orleans put half an inch of sugar syrup at the bottom of the glass after I ordered my Old Fashioned; I stopped her before she added the whiskey.) We've been using a bottled Hawaiian Cane Sugar from Surfas that's been cooked to a slight golden tinge that gives a little more depth of flavor. It's also less cloyingly supersweet than bottled "rock candy" syrups that are often sold in spirits stores.

Impeach Dick Cheney.   I'd be at a loss to think of how the mainstream press, the United States Congress and the American people could ignore this, but these days I wouldn't put anything past them. From an article in the International Herald Tribune, via Billmon.

Vice President Dick Cheney's office was responsible for directives that led to U.S. soldiers' abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a former top State Department official said Thursday.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.

"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said ...

Wilkerson also told National Public Radio that Cheney's office ran an "alternate national security staff" that spied on and undermined the president's formal National Security Council.

He said National Security Council staff stopped sending e-mails when they found out Cheney's staff members were reading their messages.

He said he believed that Cheney's staff prevented Bush from seeing a National Security Council memo arguing strongly that the United States needed many more troops for the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

My God.

Bob Harris, posting at This Modern World, points out that Cheney now has a public approval rating of 19 percent, in the same poll that showed Bush's rating at 35 percent. "[T]hat.s two points less popular than cheating on your spouse and seven points behind corporal punishment in schools."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, November 5, 2005

Bayona!   Lots of culinary news today, starting with this batch of good news from Bayona Restaurant:

Bayona will begin service on November 18. I hope you will join us in the near future and celebrate our return to the New Orleans dining scene.

We are happy to tell you that Chef Spicer has had so many of her talented staff return and ready to prepare your favorites.

As for the charming, witty and warm wait staff, many have showed their loyalty and appreciation for their wonderful customers by returning.

Please know how much the Bayona family value your business. We look forward to seeing and serving you soon. Walk in or call 504-525-4455 to reserve. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our temporary hours: Dinner served Tuesday through Saturday 5:00 p.M. Until 10:00 P.M. starting November 18. Lunch: Wednesday through Friday 11:30-until 2:00 starting December 1st.

Yay! Not only is this a sign of the city's recovery, but it's so great to hear about people coming home.

More N.O. culinary news: The Bistro.   Thanks to Carly Lesser for sending this in!

Damage from Hurricane Katrina has displaced chef Greg Picolo and members of his staff from The Bistro, their French Quarter restaurant.

Picolo has landed at the Seelbach Hilton, 500 S. Fourth St., (Louisville, Kentucky), which will be the site of several New Orleans cuisine-inspired fund-raisers this month to benefit the Katrina-affected employees of Interstate Hotels and Resorts (the management company of both the Louisville hotel and the Hotel Maison de Ville, in which The Bistro was housed). Picolo is consulting with the hotel's chefs and helping with the cooking.

Tonight, there is a multicourse "Bourbon Street Meets Bourbon Country" dinner for $75 per person. The menu, with matched wines, includes crawfish and truffle-scented rémoulade en cornette and chèvre-stuffed breast of duck.

A special tasting menu of Nouvelle Creole, "Bluegrass Style," will be featured on the Oakroom menu throughout November. The Oakroom's Sunday brunch on Nov. 6, 13 and 20 will feature live jazz and New Orleans dishes.

Otto's Cafe and the Old Seelbach Bar also will have special menus throughout the month. Call the Oakroom at (502) 807-3463 for reservations and more information.

[More information about the Maison de Ville:] Together with our beloved city of New Orleans, Hotel Maison de Ville has begun the process of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. While the hotel escaped catastrophic damage from the hurricane, Katrina left it in need of significant repairs and renovations. We hope to complete this work by January, and reopen our doors to guests in the new year.

Our staff members are safe, and looking forward to returning home to the Vieux Carré. Our management company, Interstate Hotels and Resorts (IHR), has retained all of our employees, so the Maison de Ville family will be intact and ready to welcome you when we reopen.

The difficulty of these months has been tempered by the enormous generosity of our colleagues, friends, guests, and IHR. Fundraising efforts are ongoing, for the benefit of staff members who lost homes and belongings in the hurricane.

To everyone who has shown care and concern for us, we are deeply grateful, and we hope to see you in 2006.

Also great news. I'm very glad the hotel has retained all their staff. I can't wait to dine there again, and be greeted by Patrick at the door.

Cocktail of the day.   In honor of the Seelbach Hotel and their role in helping to preserve a slice of New Orleans, we'll present their signature cocktail, invented in 1917, proprietary and secret for 80 years (until Gary Regan coaxed the recipe out of them for his book New and Classic Cocktails) and containing a distinctively New Orleans ingredient.

The Seelbach Cocktail

1 ounce Old Forester Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce triple sec.
7 dashes of Angostura bitters.
7 dashes of Peychaud's bitters.
5 ounces chilled Champagne.
1 orange twist, for garnish.

Combine the Bourbon, triple sec and bitters in a Champagne flute.
Stir briefly to blend. Pour in the Champagne. Twist the orange
peel and rub it around the rim of the glass to coat it with the oils.
Add the twist to the cocktail and serve.

This is really good. Here's to the Seelbach!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, November 3, 2005

Photo of the day.   I've still got tons of New Orleans photos to upload (jeez, I've still got photos from Jazzfest I haven't put up yet), plus I'm still a year behind in putting up a few other things I've liked, such as ...

Light on wine glasses

Light on wine glasses at Kat and Allen's wedding, September 11, 2004. (Mazel tov, y'all! And belated happy anniversary!)

Criminal negligence.   More emails to and from "Brownie" have surfaced, and it's enough to make you want to beat the shit out of this guy.

Instead of doing his job and coming to the aid and rescue of a drowning New Orleans, Michael Brown mused about his future, joked about a new shirt and wondered how he looked on TV.

E-mails released last month by Collins' committee showed that Brown and his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, were concerned about time for dinner at a Baton Rouge, La., restaurant and an upcoming TV interview while a FEMA regional director, Marty Bahamonde, warned of the desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome.

Wednesday's release added further insight into their concerns, with one showing Worthy advising Brown to roll up his sleeves to "just below the elbow" the way President Bush did: "In this crisis and on TV you just need to look more hard-working ... ROLL UP THE SLEEVES."

The e-mails also show Brown spent time responding to criticism of his lack of experience and his work for the Arabian Horse Association. He told staffers he would get them information on several friends who could vouch for his prior work.

Here is verbatim text of some of the e-mails released Wednesday:

"My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous - and I'm not talking the makeup!" -- Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs, to Brown, commenting on Brown's TV appearance on the morning of Aug. 29, when Katrina hit.

Brown's response: "I got it at Nordstrom's. Email (FEMA spokeswoman Lee Anne) McBride and make sure she knows! Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"

An hour later, Brown e-mailed Taylor: "If you look at my lovely FEMA attire you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god."

"Is this your last hurrah? I'll be in DC the end of next week and would love to see you. Suspect you might still be in La/Ms etc - especially knowing how much you love to hang around DC/DHS/NAC etc." -- Betty Guhman, a colleague who just left Homeland Security (DHS), to Brown on Sept. 1.

Brown's response: "Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day. I'm trapped now, please rescue me."

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes.

"The dying patients at the DMAT (disaster medical assistance team) tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.

"FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out.

"Phone connectivity impossible." -- Marty Bahamonde, FEMA regional director, to Brown, describing the situation in New Orleans on Aug. 31.

Brown's response: "Thanks for update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"

Jesus Christ.

Is there any way this guy could be prosecuted for criminal negligence?

The Cocktailian.   In the latest edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column, The Professor, our cocktailian bartender, notes that a belt of Bourbon stands up to the herbs in a drink named after a 6-toed cat.

The Beezer Cocktail
Adapted from a recipe by William "Chili Bill" Eichinger,
bartender at Finnegan's Wake in San Francisco.

2 ounces Bourbon (high-proof recommended).
1/2 ounce B&B liqueur.
2 dashes Fee Brothers peach bitters.
Cherry garnish.

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds.
Strain and garnish.

Hrmm. I don't have any B&B (which stands for "Bénédictine & Bramdy), just regular Bénédictine. Maybe it's worth the investment. I've never actually tasted B&B; I wonder if it's less sweet. Let's find out.

UPDATE: According to our consultation of The Oracle (i.e., CocktailDB), B&B is merely a proprietary bottling of Bénédictine and brandy in a 50/50 proportion. One may easily substitute half of each, so if you only stock Bénédictine use 1/4 each of Bénédictine and brandy.

Did malfeasance cause the destruction in New Orleans?   It's now being suggested that the levees, which should have held up in the aftermath of Katrina, gave way because of corners cut and cheaper materials used during construction.

The head of a team of engineering experts told a Senate committee on Wednesday that malfeasance during construction might have been one reason for the catastrophic failure of the levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans from hurricanes.

"These levees should have been expected to perform adequately at these levels if they had been designed and constructed properly," said the expert, Raymond Seed, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Not just human error was involved," Professor Seed said. "There may have been malfeasance."

More people to hunt down and destroy-- er, bring to justice?

Lower Ninth Ward wreckage.   Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, a former New Orleans resident for about 10 years, was allowed into the Lower Ninth Ward with an escort from the mayor's office (!), and took these photographs of the destruction. They are sad, and depressing, and grim, and enraging.

This does prompt the question, however: why was Trent Reznor allowed into the Lower Ninth when the headmaster of my high school, which is a cornerstone of the Lower Ninth neighborhood, has extreme difficulty getting back onto campus to supervise its restoration so that the kids can return to school in January?

Weird search term of the day.   I know, this meme is kinda passé, and Gawd knows I don't have time to scroll through my referral logs looking for the weird ways in which people find my site via search engines.

However, I was scrolling through the logs for my Really Big Month and a little from last month's (after things calmed back down) and noticed that some ... very strange person found my site by entering the following search terms:


Umm ... what?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 1, 2005  :: Día de los Muertos

All Saints Day, Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos.   When I was growing up in New Orleans, All Saints Day and All Souls Day were pretty somber affairs. The first involved having to go to Mass (it being a holy day of obligation and all, which when I was growing up usually meant I would go at figurative gunpoint) on the day after Halloween, and the second involved dressing up in black and going to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves (or, in our case, at the tombs) of dead relatives. Sometimes people talk, sometimes they clean the tombs (they always need it), and it's a cool tradition, but given the spirit of New Orleans, you'd think there'd be more ... well, odd as it may sound, celebrating.

Thanks to our large Mexican population in Los Angeles, those days are very different. Here, as in Mexico, those two days are wrapped up into a rather joyous holiday called "Day of the Dead", or Día de los Muertos. I've always loved the folk art associated with the holiday, little dioramas of skeletons engaged in the activities of living people, and the tradition of creating altars featuring skeletal characters as a tribute to and celebration of people's dearly departed, but never really learned much more about it than that.

Enter Tyler Cassity, owner (and rescuer) of the former Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, now called Hollywood Forever, who for the past five years has been hosting a Día de los Muertos Festival on the weekend before the actual holidays. People are invited to construct altars and installations honoring departed friends, relatives or even strangers whom they admire. There's a ton of great Mexican food and drink, plus stages with performances of Mexican traditional music, folk dancing and lots more. Amidst the celebration, humor and mischief involved with many of the displays, there's also a genuine reverence and heartfelt devotion to the departed souls, and that makes this holiday and this festival a joy. As much as I identify myself not as an "Angeleno" but as an expatriate New Orleanian, I've got to say that my adopted home has my native home and culture beat when it comes to those two days.

King of the Skeletons

I took a few pictures at the festival, and put 'em up on my Flickr account; click the skull above to get there.

La Fée Verte.   There's an excellent article in Wired this month about Ted Breaux, the New Orleanian who obsessed, read, researched and distilled his way into proving that the legendary spirit called absinthe isn't poisonous as its detractors have claimed for nearly a century. (In fact, it's no more or less harmful than any other 140-proof spirit.)

Now he's making some of the best absinthe in the world at a centuries-old distillery in France, the first of which is called Nouvelle-Orléans. This is a fascinating story; I'd heard most of it a good while ago, but if you haven't, follow the link.

On a sadder note ... Ted lived in Gentilly Terrace, and lost his home in the flood following Hurricane Katrina. He's undaunted, though; he won't be rebuilding on that property, but he's not abandoning New Orleans.

Audiophiles are idiots.   Or so says the author of this page, which lists hideously overpriced "audiophile" products that one would truly have to be an idiot (or rich beyond caring) to buy. Wanna spend $9,000 on a speaker cable? No? How 'bout $11,700? On a speaker cable.

The people who make and sell this stuff to gullible audiophiles are geniuses, I swear. Laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt.

Y'know what? Louis Armstrong singing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" made me cry on a $100 CD player with a $100 pair of Sennheiser headphones, and also on my old Advent speakers with Gold Speaker Cable (Gold! $25 worth!) from Radio Shack. I thought it sounded fabulous.

October Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
chuq's links | the gumbo pages
creole and cajun recipe page | search this site

chuck taggart | email chef (at) gumbopages (dot) com
This site ©1994-2005 by Chuck Taggart.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
This means that you may not copy my writing onto other web pages or anywhere else without my specific written permission. (Quotes of short passages, properly attributed, may be considered fair use.) If you do copy my work, it's called "stealing".

People who steal my stuff will be étoufféed and served to Dr. Lecter, with a nice Chianti. (I'm serious. Just don't do it. Thanks.)