the gumbo pages

looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is 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, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally 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.

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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

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 (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

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:
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!

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

March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

2006:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2005:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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.

My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

Gambit Weekly & The Times-Picayune
Scat Magazine
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Ashley Morris
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
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 in Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.
   (Their weblog.)

*     *     *

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.)

*     *     *

Peychaud's Bitters
   (Indispensible for Sazeracs
   and many other cocktails.
   Order them here.)

Angostura Bitters
   (The gold standard of bitters,
   fortunately available everywhere
   worldwide. Insist on it.)

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
   (Complex and spicy orange
   bitters for your Martinis,
   Old Fashioneds and many more.
   Order them here.)

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters.
   Skip the mint variety, though.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Art of Drink:
   An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
   (Darcy O'Neil)

Beachbum Berry:
   (Jeff Berry, world-class expert
   on tropical drinks)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

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

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

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 Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

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

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

The Wormwood Society
   (Dedicated to promoting accurate,
   current information about absinthe)

Let's eat!

New Orleans:
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
The New Orleans Menu
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie

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

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Chowhound (L.A.)
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
The Hungry Passport
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wine Enthsiast
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

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

Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.

Reading this month:

D*U*C*K, by Poppy Z. Brite.

To Marry Medusa, by Theodore Sturgeon.

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

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

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

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

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)
   (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)
Raidió Idirlíon
   (Irish language & music)
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

In the cinema:
Babel (****)
Children of Men (****)
Notes on a Scandal (***-1/2)


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


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, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


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

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


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
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
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!
Not Right About Anything
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

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
tracy and david

The Final Frontier:

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


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site


"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

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..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Bon Vivant!   I got an email from my friend Louise the other day. She's been embarking on one of her endless series of Really Nifty Projects, the latest being collecting a set of vintage Gourmet magazines from the 1950s and 1960s. "Hoo-boy," I thought ... "I'll bet some of those '50s recipes have really challenging levels of seasoning. I've seen some recipes from that era that actually call for 'three grains of pepper.'" Weezy confirms that the '60s recipes are better, but I digress.

The Bon Vivant Cocktail Blender

In going through the magazines she noticed that during most of 1958 a product called "The Bon Vivant Cocktail Blender" is repeatedly advertised. It's a jar with two compartments; into one you load your gin or vodka, in the other dry vermouth. When your friends come over for Martinis, you ask them how they like them. If they say very dry, say an 8:1 gin to vermouth ratio, you just turn the dial to that setting, and voilà! The desired amounts are dispensed and you just tilt the blender and pour it into the shaker.

"I think it's super stupid," she said, "like the Butter Shooter from the '70s," that big gadget that you'd use to squirt butter on popcorn. Her hubby Michael, though, thinks it's the Best. Thing. Ever! She asked for my thoughts.

Oh, I think it is the best thing ever, and I wish I had one, but I'd never actually use it. :)

It hails from an era of drinking sophistication, during the time when people didn't drink "cocktails" so much as they drank Martinis, and that wasn't a generic term for cocktail as it is now (to my continuing disapproval) -- it's GIN and VERMOUTH and a friggin' OLIVE. Or maybe a TWIST. And THAT'S IT. It was The Thing to drink Martinis then, and this was apparently seen as a way to take the drudgery out of it. Well, to quote Mrs. Doyle of Craggy Island, "Maybe I like the drudgery."

On one hand it is stupid ... I can drizzle butter on my own popcorn, and I can use that highly calibrated scientific instrument, the SHOTGLASS, or just my eye if I free pour, to make my Martinis. "Take all the drudgery of actually using your brain to figure out proportions with that complex shotglass ... quick and easy Martini sophistication is yours at one twirl of the knob!"

But the whole idea of this thing cracks me up, and if we had one I'd proudly display it and tell stories. If I had two I'd give one to the Museum of the American Cocktail (presuming they didn't already have one). It's a great, kitschy piece of cocktail history.

Weezy was kind enough to send me scans of a couple of the ads. She said the first one above ran regularly through most of 1958, but the one below debuted in October. "It's mo' betta," she says, and she's right.

Mr. Skeffingham is so considerate ... he ALWAYS has fresh cocktails, even for unexpected guests!

I love it ... better get TWO Bon Vivants -- one for Manhattans, one for Martinis! It's a silly gadget, but I like they people who made it.

Indeed, I might have enjoyed visiting young Mr. Skeffingham's chic abode, way back four years before I was born, and I'd have him set the dial to 5:1 for my Martini and 3:1 for my Manhattan. Then again, young Mr. Taggart also always has fresh cocktails, even for unexpected guests, and manages to mix them even though he doesn't even have a Bon Vivant. Now there's one talented kid.

(Thanks for sending all this, Weez!)

Save the Sazerac!   Blake and Patrick over at Dirty Coast in New Orleans have been busy lately. Not only have the "C. Ray" and really cool Fess shirts débuted this month, but as of today there's a new shirt that had me immediately jumping to the site to buy one. (Two, actually.)

the Sazerac!

Not that the Sazerac needs saving around our house, of course, but it certainly needs saving from those who give you a blank look when you ask for one, those who would use Bourbon or (horror of horrors) Canadian blended whiskey in it, those who would add water or soda to it, who would pour grenadine and about a cup of Herbsaint in it and squeeze lemon juice into it, leaving huge globs of pulp floating on the deep, opaque ruby-red surface it's not supposed to have (which I was actually served once, at some place who should have known better and shall remain nameless, and I sent it back immediately). It can also be interpreted as a plea to save the Sazerac Bar (even though they tended to make crappy, pre-mixed Sazeracs unless you insisted three times, it's still a beautiful bar), still closed in the still-closed Fairmont Hotel. Let's hope we see that place open again. I'd even take a crap premix Sazerac from tehm at this point. (Actually ... no, I wouldn't, I'd of course insist it be made from scratch, which might take them all of five to ten seconds longer.)

The shirt was designed by locals Philip Collier Designs, in conjunction with the folks at Tales of the Cocktail.

Oh, did I mention I'm goign to Tales of the Cocktail this year? (Finally!) I'll even be speaking on two panels, one about cocktail blogging with Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles, and one on homemade esoteric cocktail ingredients with Dr. Cocktail himself, where we'll be talking about my quest for Jamaican pimento dram (allspice liqueur). Anyone else going?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thomas at one month.   Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!

Thomas at 1 month

I'm gonna go see him in about two weeks, and I'll come back with about eleventy million pictures.

You know Jazzfest is getting close ...   when the cubes go up! (.pdf file)

No suing Rummy for torture.   CNN reports: Donald Rumsfeld can't be sued for authorizing the torture of human beings.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and three high-ranking U.S. military officials accused of ignoring allegations that U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan tortured prisoners.

"Despite the horrifying torture allegations," wrote U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in a 58-page opinion, "the plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a declaratory judgment against the defendants."

The torture included being beaten, subjected to electric shock, menaced by dogs, chained, deprived of water and food, stripped naked and "anally probed" (because ... why, was that where they thought Osama was hiding, for Christ's sake).

Okay, so they can't sue him, fine. I have a better idea. How about arresting him, indicting him and charging him with crimes against humanity instead?

Traitors don't get to question my patriotism.   I should watch Bill Maher more often. Here's a recent edition of his "New Rules," with his new rule about George W. Bush and his administration. (Watch it on YouTube here.)

New Rule: Traitors don't get to question my patriotism. What could be less patriotic than constantly screwing things up for America? You know, it's literally hard to keep up with the sheer volume of scandals in the Bush Administration. Which is why I like to download the latest scandal right onto my iPod. That way, I can catch up on this week's giant fuck-up on my drive in to work.

In fact, Bush has so many scandals, he could open a chain of "Bush Scandal and Fuck-Up" themed restaurants. "Ooh, should I get the Harriet Miers Meatloaf or the Katrina Crab Cakes?"

You know, not to generalize, but the 29% of people who still support President Bush are the ones who love to pronounce themselves more patriotic than the rest of us. But just saying you're patriotic is like saying you have a big cock. If you have to say it, chances are it's not true.

And, indeed, the party that flatters itself that they protect America better is the party that has exhausted the military, left the ports wide open and purposefully outed a CIA agent, Valerie Plame.

That's not treason anymore? Outing a spy? Did I mention it was one of our spies? And how despicable that Bush's lackeys attempted to diminish this crime by belittling her service, like she was just some chick who hung around the CIA. "An intern, really. Groupie, if you want to be mean about it."

No. Big lie. Valerie Plame was the CIA's operational officer in charge of counter-proliferation which means she tracked loose nukes. So, when Bush said, as he once did, that his absolute, number-one priority was preventing terrorists from getting loose nukes, okay, that's what she worked on. That's what she devoted her life to, staying undercover for 20 years, maintaining two identities every goddamn day. This is extraordinary service to your country.

Valerie Plame was the kind of real-life secret agent George Bush dreams of being when he's not too busy pretending to be a cowboy or a fighter pilot.

CIA agents are troops. This was a military assassination of one of our own, done through the press, ordered by Karl Rove. He said, of Valerie Plame, quote, "She's fair game." And then Cheney shot her.

George Bush likes to claim that he doesn't question his critics' patriotism, just their judgment. Well, let me be the first of your critics, Mr. President, to question your judgment and your patriotism.

Because, let's not forget why they did it to her. Because Valerie Plame was married to this guy, Joe Wilson, who the Bush people hated because he busted them on one of their bullshit reasons for invading Iraq.

He was sent to the African country of Niger to see if Niger was selling nuclear fuel to Iraq. They weren't. It was bullshit, and he said so. In fact, his report was called, "Niger, Please!"

Valerie Plame's husband told the truth about their lie, so they were willing to jeopardize an entire network of spies to ruin her life. Wow, even the mob doesn't go after your family.

Mark Twain said, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." And I say Valerie Plame is a patriot because she spent her life serving her country. Scooter Libby is not, because he spent his life serving Dick Cheney.

Valerie Plame kept her secrets. The Bush Administration leaked like the plumbing at Walter Reed.

In the year, 2008, I really think that Hillary Clinton should run for president on a platform of "restoring honor and integrity to the Oval Office."


[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, March 26, 2007

Holy frak.   The Season Three finale of "Battlestar Galactica" ran last night. Discuss in comments. Spoilers will, of course, abound, but the show has broadcast so if you haven't seen it don't read on unless you get it off your TiVo or iTunes.

Close call.   My primary hard drive (the boot drive) failed last night. Gee, good thing I run a backup every night (although I only started doing so relatively recently, and would otherwise have had to rely on a backup from November). This is why you should do this too.

For Mac users I couldn't recommend the program SuperDuper more highly. It runs at about 20 times the speed of the glacial Retrospect Express (which I had been using before), and creates not a proprietary backup file but an exact clone of your drive, minus certain cache files and the like. It also blesses the System Folder on the backup drive to make it bootable, and that's what I'm running right now. After several attempts I did manage to get the failed drive to mount, and was able to recover yesterday's email from it (the only thing I would have lost, really), so all's well. And my Apple Care doesn't expire until about five weeks from now, so the timing was once again close.

My backup is automated and runs every night at 9:30, while we're either watching TV or DVDs or not home. The option is to set it to copy all newer files (later datestamp than the backup) or all different files (any change of attribution from date to size to permissions causes the file to be backed up, which is the option I use). It takes between 15 and 20 minutes each night and is efforless. Do it!

Rhapsodizing.   Ah, the joys of the net ... the Internet Archive, amidst its large collection of public domain recordings, has revealed the original recording of George Gereshwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1924, featuring Gershwin himself on piano.

If you love this piece as I do, you've really got to hear this. It's an acoustic recording, not an electric one; i.e., it was made by the force of the sound waves moving the rcording stylus, and not with a microphone (which hadn't been invented yet). The piece, which usually clocks in at 12 minutes in modern performrances, is played at a much different tempo from what we're used to, and was slightly edited so that it could fit on both sides of a 78rpm record. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Some interesting tidbits from the notes and comments:

This work was originally written for a large dance band, the way you hear it here. This isn't "Symphonic Jazz." It's authentic 1920's style, completely different from the bloated "violins and cellos" versions that we're used to hearing. You can hear the banjos in this version. Gershwin plays the piano part and the performance is fast fast fast. The opening clarinet glissando wails and breaks off into reedy laughter. This is SO different from the the syrupy swooning you now hear.

The sound isn't spectacular -- the microphone wasn't invented until the next year, 1925 -- but these 78s are still pretty well transferred. The recording of "Rhapsody in Blue" was a hit. In 1927 the same group -- again with Gershwin but now with a microphone -- made another recording. Paul Whiteman had a quarrel of some sort and walked out of the recording session. They recorded anyway, with another conductor -- Nathaniel Shilkret, I think -- taking over. Whiteman was happy to promote the recording as his own, nonetheless. The electric version is better recorded but it lacks, well, electricity. Everyone, including Gershwin, just punches it harder in 1924.


Man in the Street Conversation of the Day.   This arrived in email from Audrey this morning, direct from the streets of New York.

It's midday on Saturday in front of Fordham University Law School, on the upper West Side of Manhattan. We spot a very elderly gentleman nearby who is holding the leash on a German Shepherd. The man is wobbling, trying to make it to the curb and is in clear danger of falling down.

We run over, soon followed by two young men who get to the gentleman right before he hits the pavement. I grab the leash on the dog (doing what I do best in these circumstances). The elderly man is disoriented and weak. 911 is called. EMTs arrive, but the gentleman is now insisting he feels better, that his legs were just weak. He certainly sounds more coherent and his color is better. But the EMTs technically have to take him to the hospital once 911 is called. They can release him only if doctor OKs, but they have to check his vitals and make sure he is coherent.

After they check his vitals (which are fine) they ask him some questions. He is 96 years old, lives on his own with his dog in a high rise around the corner. The following conversation then occurs:

EMT: OK, I need to ask you some questions. What year is it?
Gentleman: Twenty-oh-seven.
EMT: Who is the president of the United States?
Gentleman: That son of a bitch!
EMT: I'll mark that as correct.

They let him go since clearly he was coherent. The EMT told me he gets a lot of variations on that same answer.

Ah, the wisdom of our elders.

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  Saturday, March 24, 2007

RSS resurrected.   Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions on how to get this working again -- J. and Chris and Adam and Michael. Adam, I'll get back to you on your idea, which sounds interesting but might require 1) a little study on my part (God forbid) or your own kind offer to put the script on your server. For the moment I'm going with what Michael suggested, which was to use a service that scrapes my HTML and dynamically generates XML from it. So far it seems to be working really well (better than the last setup, actually), but there are two big things it doesn't seem to do properly -- one is that the header URLs don't link back to the individual posts (my fault, because I don't have a separate URL for each individual post/item, and if you click on those they won't work at all), and second is that it doesn't render the links to the comments. It shows the Javascript link rather than the HTML one, which is a problem.

I may have a better solution soon, but until then at least you've got a mostly-working RSS feed again. Thanks!

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  Thursday, March 22, 2007

R.I.P., RSS.   Sad news to report ... the Looka! RSS feed is no more.

The guy who was providing it did so as a more or elss free service -- for a one-time small donation he set up the feed and kept it running, but in the ensuing years his server demands no longer allowed for that, and he turned the feeds off several weeks ago. Thanks for keeping it going all that time, Carlo.

Here's my dilemma: I don't know shit about this kinda stuff, I have no idea how to set up an RSS feed on my own, I don't use any of the blogging software like Movable Type or Typepad or Wordpress or any of that kinda stuff, I code this weblog by hand like the pre-Cretaceous sort I am. If anybody has any leads on how to set up an RSS feed for such a stone-knives-and-bearskins weblog, I'd love to hear about it.

Cocktail of the Day.   Wes dug this one up, the origin of which (or, at least, the origin of the recipe he had in his Palm Pilot) was a posting on Robert Hess' DrinkBoy. We were both surprised at how much better it turned out than we thought it would, and this was with Old Overholt as the rye; I'm looking forward to trying it with other ryes.

The Stargazer

1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey.
1-1/2 ounces Lillet blanc.
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Combine with ice and stir for no less than 30 seconds. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel, after expressing the lemon oil into the drink.

If I manage to get ahold of some quinine I might put in a tiny pinch as per Wondrich's idea with the Vesper, and see what kind of interesting things happen. (I might also look into making a tincture of quinine to add a small dash to anything that might require a little extra bitter edge ... *add to list*).

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  Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spago.   The first time (and until recently the last time) I went to Spago Beverly Hills was about nine years ago. It was one of the three or four best restaurant meals I've ever had, and I was long overdue for a return visit.

Back then I had some good friends visiting from out of town, and one of them has a brother who was a waiter at Spago at the time. He arranged a dinner for all of us, and on the appointed evening we received complimentary cocktails, were seated by Wolfgang Puck himself, and were advised by her brother that "I want to remind you that everything we order tonight is going to be 50% off, so I encourage you to indulge yourselves." That we did ... although the indulgence didn't stop there. Wolfgang sent out one of his famous Jewish pizzas (dough topped with crème fraîche, fresh dill, red onion and smoked salmon), no longer on the menu but always available, his buddies in the kitchen sent out several other dishes for us to try, the sommelier tossed in some Champagne ... and it was probably the pinnacle of gluttony in my life. I ate until I could hardly breathe, every single thing fabulous. We left a huge tip, and then split the bill -- each share came to $65. Such a deal.

It was a wee bit more expensive this time -- no freebies and no discount -- but the food and service were just as wonderful.

It was Wes' birthday dinner. Every year one of us takes the other out for the Grand Birthday Meal, the location of which is a closely guarded secret until we actually pull up in front of the place. Circuitous routes are taken to throw the birthday boy off the track, and this year I may have pulled off the best surprise ever -- he had no clue whatsoever where we were going until we pulled up in front of the place, and he just said, in a deeply surprised, quiet tone, "Oooohhhhhhh."

The dining room was full and boisterous, noisy without being loud, and was best described as lively. People were in there having a good time, in stark contrast to other restaurants we've been to whose attitude is more forced-reverent and funereal, not to mention any names except to say that such a restaurant is located in Chicago and its name is Charlie Trotter's. This time, as we were no longer friends of a staff member or celebs or the beautiful people, but merely nicely-dressed nobodies, we received a small table for two along the wall rather than one in the center of the room, but that was fine with me. It was a little quieter there anyway.

Our server was lovely and friendly, and was quick to take our drink orders. Given the high quality of their bar (9 years ago I ordered a Cosmopolitan, was served the world's best and most perfectly made Cosmopolitan, and was eventually convinced that I never had to have another one anywhere else), I held out a bit of hope and asked if they stocked any rye whiskey. She returned and relayed the answer from the bartender: "We have C.C." Sigh. My inner cocktail curmudgeon (which I almost never let loose, as I'm a nice guy) said, "You know, if I had wanted frakkin' blended Canadian swill that isn't actually rye whiskey, I would have asked for it," but I didn't say it because I don't say things like that to servers. It's a common problem, still; rye is on its way back but the sad fact is that a lot of bartenders, even good ones, aren't aware of this and haven't tasted or even seen any of the great ryes on the market now. And some of them, sadly, still think that Canadian Club and Seagram's V.O. and Canadian Mist (for God's sake) are rye whiskies and not blended Canadian whiskies that might contain a little rye but might not, and might even contain prune juice or other bizarre additives, as Canadian law permits their whiskies to contain up to 9% additives. Nuh uh, bra.

So I just said, "Oh dear ... I think I'll be more interested in a Bourbon." I was quickly presented with a list of Bourbons, chose an A. H. Hirsch 16-Year-Old Reserve Bourbon and asked for a Manhattan, with an extra dash of bitters. Wes made it two. The resultant drink was again, flawless -- the vermouth used was Carpano Punt E Mes, giving an extra level of spice and a tinge of bitterness that balanced the Bourbon's wonderful sweetness, and the Angostura complemented this fantastic Bourbon's own flavors of toffee and oak and even a hint of maple. To those who scoff at the idea of using such a Bourbon in a cocktail, I say ... hey, garbage in, garbage out.

No amuses bouche at Spago these days, I guess, so we dove right into the voluminous menu. Fifteen first courses on the left, sixteen mains on the right ... and unfortunately we wanted them all. If I could afford it I'd come back three times a week and try them all before he changes the menu, but until the Lotto win that can finance that, we had to settle for one. So no sautéed Portuguese sardines with fava beans and baby artichokes, no crispy calamari salad with yuzu-wasabi vinaigrette and marinated cucumbers, no celery root and ricotta agnolotti with black truffles (although I almost got that). Certainly no Osetra caviar at $135 an ounce (y'know ... I'm just not that big of a caviar fan; never having tried Beluga or even Osetra, of course, but I'm reluctant to cough up the bucks to take the chance ... anyone who wants to treat me is welcome). One bite of what I did order, though, convinced me that I made the right choice.

Spago: Pan-Roasted Veal Sweetbreads

Pan-roasted Veal Sweetbreads with black trumpet mushrooms, cipollini onions, toasted almonds, bacon confit, golden raisins and tangerine-kohlrabi purée. The sweetbreads were flawless -- crispy on the outside, buttery on the inside and deeply flavorful. Then there was that symphony of different flavors that accompanied it ... a different experience every time you took a bite, depending on which part of the plate it came from. Bacon confit, hooray! Tangerine and kohlrabit purée ... who'd-a thunk?

With this our server recommended a 2002 Sangiovese Badiola, Castello di Fonterutoli from Tuscany. My tasting notes on this have sadly left my head, given the fact that it had a lot to compete with on my plate, except that it was great with this dish.

Risotto with Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms

Wes got what probably would have been my third choice after the sweetbreads and the agnolotti: Risotto with Wild Chanterelle Mushrooms with prosciutto, sweet peas and thyme. He's a sucker for risotto, and I did manage to get a lil' bit of this. Ooh, wild chanterelles ... and those peas were almost sweet enough to be dessert.

It was about this time that we were visited by Wolfgang Puck, who was making his rounds around the dining room. I know it's Chef Lee Hefter and Chef Thomas Boyce in the kitchen -- they're the executive chef and chef de cuisine respectively -- and that they're responsible for all this food, but still ... this is Wolfgang's restaurant. His baby, and you can tell that he loves it and loves what he does. And frankly, it's really fun to be greeted at your table by Wolfgang Puck. He's appropriately named, as "puckish" is a good word to describe him. He was happy we were there, happy we were celebrating, happy we were enjoying our food and autographed Wes' menu for him. Nice touch.

Now, for the main courses ... but first a bit of a backwards digression. While we still had our menus we were gawking at the food on the couple's table next to us; we're incorrigible food gawkers in restaurants, especially me. They were having the tasting menu (which is really a great deal -- seven courses for $105, and only $55 for the wine pairings, and the portions for both seemed to be generous), and my eyes widened as their next course came down. It appeared to be an absolutely scrumptious looking dessert, some kind of chocolate cake or torte with a beautiful sauce pooled beneath it ... until I got a closer look and a whiff, and then heard their server announce what it was -- slow-braised beef shortrib. Well, when you get a piece of meat that looks like dessert, that piques my interest. Wes and I both instantly remembered our last piece of beef shortrib in a fine dining establishment. It had been at Charlie Trotter's, tasted wonderful, but was about the size of my thumb. Upon mentioning that the woman at the next table said, "Ooh, have you been to Charlie Trotter's?"

"Yes," I said, rather firmly and with little to no trace of joy in my voice. "Have you?"

"Yes," she said, rather firmly and with little to no trace of joy in her voice. "Did you like it?"

"No, we didn't," I said rather adamantly. "Did you?"

"No, we didn't," she said rather adamantly. And we began to tawk.

They found the same thing we did -- funereal atmosphere, a bizarre attitude emphasizing worship of the food rather than having a good time, and the seeming fear of everyone in the restaurant to, for instance, laugh. The miniscule portions, the high prices, the fact that all of us were still hungry when we left. We had a chuckle over it and they resolved that they'd be back to Spago many times before they ever went to Trotter's again.

So, my last piece of restaurant shortrib was at Trotter's, and it was gone more or less in one bite. For my next piece of restaurant shortrib ... well, buckle your seatbelts, boys, it's gonna be a bumpy night!

I gasped when this plate was put in front of me.

Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs

Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs with caramelized shallots, whole grain mustard, fresh horseradish, Yukon potato gratin and natural cooking juices. This was without a doubt the single largest serving of meat ever put in front of me, quite literally between 2/3 and 3/4 the size of my forearm. "There's got to be a bone in there," Wes said, gaping. Nope. Pure beef. The ne plus ultra of the art of braising. So tender that I didn't need my knife; the fork went right through it. Deeply, richly, intensely and profoundly beefy. This was almost an overdose of beef, with very little to distract me from it other than the ideal and classic accompaniment of a gratin of potato. The sauce, the relative simple accompaniments ... all spot-on, and all serving the greater purpose of helping elevate this dish to levels of beef Nirvana. Even with a little help from Wes, I couldn't finish it (although by God, I finished most of it). Washed it down with a 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon from Richard Perry winery in Napa Valley. I was happy.

Yukon Potato Gratin

Loved the little gratin dish on the side, too.

As is his wont, Wes was torn. He really wanted one of the two duck dishes on the mains menu (Cantonese-style roasted duck with ginger, star anise, black pepper, blood orange and stir-fried lo mein noodles; or the pan-roasted Liberty duck breast with black trumpet mushrooms, caramelized turnips, medjool dates, pearl onions, bacon and purée of rutabaga), but reasoned that we'd be in New Orleans soon and he'd probably have duck while there, at least twice. Then there was the veal dish, a caramelized milk-fed veal chop with sautéed broccoli-rapini, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, preserved lemon and creamy Parmesan polenta. Very, very tempting. Finally he latched onto a fabulous looking venison dish ...he loves venison, but most of the time he'd had it it had been shot by a relative and prepared with a certain ... well, lack of finesse, shall we say. And as is also his wont, he presented his dilemma to the server and hoped for a decisive answer from her to the "veal or venison" question. "Well," she said, "how would you want your venison cooked?"

"Medium rare," Wes replied, "or however the chef recommends it."

She immediately replied, "Get the venison. It's the best dish on the menu, hands-down." Done.

Pan-Roasted Venison "Filet Mignon"

Pan-Roasted Venison "Filet Mignon" with braised cabbage, bacon, parsnip purée, roasted Pink Lady apples, sweet and sour huckleberries and Red Jewel yam shepherd's pie. I almost wished I had gotten this, after my taste, but I was happily wallowing in a sea of beef, so I wasn't really complaining. The meat was spectacular, the accompanying flavors similarly symphonic as with my sweetbreads, and the neatest touch was the little side dish of that yam shepherd's pie ... I'd order a whole dish of just that.

I probably could have finished that meat, but it would have meant no room for pastry Chef Sherry Yard's legendary desserts. And we can't have that.

Infinity Chocolate Gratin

Tough choices, as expected, but I wanted chocolate, and I got it. "Infinity Chocolate Gratin": Dark chocolate soufflé tart with sautéed cherries and "50 Bean" vanilla ice cream. The chocolate tart was pillow-light on the inside but intensely chocolatey. I love cherries with chocolates -- a classic combination -- and I loved the ice cream too. I'm not sure what the appellation "50 Bean" meant (and I forgot to ask), but it was a vanilla ice cream to remember, very deeply flavored, and perched on the back of a little mound of baked meringue.

The only boo-boo of the meal (and a very minor one at that) was that someone in the kitchen wrote "Happy Birthday!" on my plate instead of Wesly's. We laughed, and I let him blow out the candle.

Meyer Lemon Souffl?

Wes finished up with a Meyer Lemon Soufflé with huckleberry-Syrah sauce and a scoop of lemon gelato, also perched on a meringue. The perfumey-lemon of the soufflé and the more acidy lemon sorbet were perfect, and that wonderful sauce, oddly enough, made me think of dashing the sour cherry sauce on the lemon ice at Mashti Malone's Persian ice cream parlor, although elevated a few dozen levels. These desserts were relatively simple (a few wonderfully integrated flavors and no huge architectural presentations) but immaculately prepared and presented, using only the very best ingredients. That's my kind of pastry chef.

A little Taylor Fladgate 20-Year-Old tawny port to accompany, and we were done. Unlike the last time I dined at Spago I was in fact able to breathe, relative deep breaths and not tiny shallow ones, but I was beyond satisfied. On the way out we were greeted again by Wolfgang, who clapped Wes on the back and wished him a happy birthday, and I saw Chef Lee Hefter out in the front of the house as well, taking the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for the wonderful food.

Maybe after another paycheck or two (especially one that contains a lil' overtime), we're going to get together with a couple of foodie friends and go back to Spago for the tasting menu. Maybe since we'd be repeat customers we might get a little bit closer to the middle fo the room this time. If not, then next time, or the next. Besides the magnificent food, there's a vibe at Spago that I really like. Despite its reputation as a hangout for celebs and billionaires, we were made to feel just as comfortable and welcome as anyone else who might have walked through that door. I'm gonna want to keep coming back as long as we can.

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  Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Sunday night Wes and I watched "Casino Royale," which for my money may well be the best James Bond movie ever, or at least since Connery. Nothing less than a rebooting of the franchise, it was also exciting and grim and brilliantly acted by Daniel Craig. One thing the filmmakers went out of their way to include from the original novel was the so-called "James Bond Martini,", a.k.a. The Vesper (named after the lead female character and Bond's love interest). Here's how it went in the novel (and the film as well):

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

Thing is ... though the franchise has been rebooted such that James Bond is newly promoted to Double-O status (i.e., a license to kill), the film is not a period piece; it's set in modern times. As David Wondrich points out, things have changed in 54 years. Gordon's gin was 94 proof in the 1950s; it has subsequently been reduced in proof to 80. (This is a trend among distillers that I despise, as it doesn't just lower the alcohol content, it changes the flavor profile and the balance as well). Bond, when he drank vodka, drank Stolichnaya, which was 100 proof back then. And for perhaps the most important touch, "Kina Lillet" doesn't exist anymore, not as it did in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel. The Lillet of that era had more of a bitter tang to it with the presence of a small amount of quinine, which was removed in 1985 (and the aperitif wine was recast as "Lillet blanc").

Wondrich suggests using Tanqueray (still a glorious 94 proof), and digging a bit to find 100 proof Stoli (which is still available). His final touch, which I love, is to add a pinch of quinine powder, available from Raintree Nutrition; problem is you can only buy quinine powder from them in 1 pound bulk packages for $24. Tenzing Momo seems to carry it in smaller quantities; still waiting for an email back from them.

I'm definitely going to try to find a supply of quinine if I can, but in the meantime, this is how I made 'em last night.

3 ounces Tanqueray gin.
1 ounce 100 proof Stolichnaya vodka.
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc.
2 dashes Fee Brothers lemon bitters.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker; shake for 12-15 seconds until the drink is Arctic cold, the shaker is frosted and your hands hurt. Strain into a deep champagne goblet, large cocktail glass or 2 smaller cocktail glasses (as it's big enough to split). Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel.

One tidbit from the movie that apparently differs from the novel:

Bartender: "Shaken or stirred, monsieur?"

Bond: "Do I look like I give a damn?"

Heh, nice touch.

Do I dare to fry a dog?   After stuffing, wrapping and dipping it?

This came in email from Steve, who said that the friend who sent it to him thought of him immediately upon reading it. He's not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing ...

It's a noble little culinary experiment in which an intern at the alternative newsweekly The Stranger in Seattle took hot dogs, cored them out, stuffed them with spray cheese, wrapped them in bacon, pan-fried them, then dipped them in beer batter and deep-fried them.

(Ohhh, I dunno, Crow ...)

Dave thinks this is a natural for the Fat Pack, although some improvements would definitely be called for. Nueske's hot dogs and bacon, for one. A better class of cheese for two. And a deep-fryer instead of pan-frying (and a thicker batter too, probably a corn dog batter). We shall let you know.

(The captions of the photos in the article are great; Steve's favorite is, "I am the world's worst Jew.")

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  Friday, March 16, 2007

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!   Wear something green. Don't drink something green. (Any o' you lot put green food coloring in your beer, I don't wanna talk to yez. Black beer!)

And there's the eating, of course! Can we please think outside the corned beef and cabbage box? The San Francisco Chronicle had a good article on contemporary Irish cooking, which still includes some scrumptious traditional dishes like scallion champ, one of my favorite ways to make mashed spuds. Check out their recipes, or go to my version of a great old standby, Irish Lamb Stew with Barley and Guinness, which comes to us thanks to Mrs. Sullivan in Killarney, Co. Kerry (then I'm after feckin' with the recipe to make it my own).

The risin' o' the rye.   Gary Regan writes in the Chronicle about America's first whiskey, fallen from favor for over 70 years ... but now rye has returned with a vengeance.

[Dave] Wondrich, a onetime history professor who is now the drinks correspondent for Esquire magazine, was the man who made me see the light about rye whiskey.

One of the historical truths that Wondrich likes to fling my way is the fact that most whiskey-based cocktails created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries called for rye, not bourbon. We're talking about classics, like the Sazerac, old fashioned and my very favorite drink in the whole darned world, the Manhattan.

Until Wondrich got my attention, I always made Manhattans with bourbon.

[...] When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, American whiskey distilleries fired up their stills, but concentrated their efforts on making bourbon, and more or less ignored rye. Why no rye? Nobody's telling. It was probably because corn is less expensive than rye. The whiskey men had been out of business for quite some time, remember, and because whiskey isn't worth drinking until it's been aged a minimum of two years in oak, it would be at least that long until the newly made whiskey was deemed salable. While American distillers were waiting patiently for their bourbon to mellow in charred oak barrels, Canadian rye whisky was being poured in the United States. Its popularity stuck, even though many Canadian whiskies are now made with no rye whatsoever. Until recently, many American bartenders automatically reached for a bottle of the Canadian impostor when their guests ordered rye.

I hate that. Whenever this happens I think (but never say, because I'm a nice guy), "If I had wanted fucking Canadian whiskey I would have asked for it! STRAIGHT rye whiskey please!" Fortunately I keep my inner curmudgeon reined in most of the time.

They even did this at Spago the other night. I asked if they had any rye whiskey and the reply was "Canadian Club." Sigh. Fortunately the Manhattan they made me with Hirsch 16-year-old reserve Bourbon, Punt E Mes vermouth and an extra dash of bitters was spectacular.

(Oh yeah, did I forget to mention we had dinner at Spago Beverly Hills last Saturday for Wesly's birthday? I'll have food porn from that coming up, but at the moment I digress ...)

Among whiskeys, Canadian whisky is generally sweet and somewhat generic. It almost always slides down the throat singing some ballad by Robert Goulet, another easily palatable Canadian. Bourbon also has harmonious sweetness from corn, but with a bit of an attitude. You might hear the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, for instance. Or Robert Johnson could make an appearance on a 78-rpm gramophone record, complete with earthy scratches. He's likely singing "Love in Vain."

Straight rye whiskey is more elegant, with subtle spice notes and a flavor that's smooth but not sweet. It leans a little toward opera. Think Enrico Caruso. Rye is elegant in a very masculine sort of way.

I love Gary's way with words. I'm not so much of a Caruso or opera fan, though ... maybe a great jazz / soul / R&B singer like John Boutté ...

The rest of the article includes tasting notes on several of our favorite ryes -- Michter's, Sazerac 6 Year, Rittenhouse 100 (GOD, we love this stuff! It's pretty much supplanted Overholt when we can get it), Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year (fantastic) and good ol' Wild Turkey (don't scoff at the Turkey, both this and their Bourbon are superb).

We're huge rye fanatics at our house, but of course, tonight and tomorrow the whiskey shall be Irish.

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  Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Still rotten to the Corps.   Of Engineers, that is. (Thanks, Steve.)

The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The 2006 hurricane season turned out to be mild, and the new pumps were never pressed into action. But the Corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment are still struggling to get the 34 heavy-duty pumps working properly.

The pumps are now being pulled out and overhauled because of excessive vibration, Corps officials said. Other problems have included overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, according to the documents obtained by the AP.

Col. Jeffrey Bedey, who is overseeing levee reconstruction, insisted the pumps would have worked last year and the city was never in danger. Bedey gave assurances that the pumps should be ready for the coming hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Why ... why do these people hate New Orleans? And America?

Our malty adventure.   One of our favorite times of year is when the Belgian Beer Festival comes to one of our local pubs, Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena. The most recent one was a couple of weeks ago, and we headed out with our friends Gregg and Mike to sample the wares. Those two are a bit more hardcore than we are; last couple of times they spent all day at the pub and sampled between 55 and 60 beers. (This is facilitated by the taster sizes that Lucky's serves, but still ... that's a lotta beer.)

This time out of the 60 beers on the menu (51 on tap simultaneously, and a total of 80 during the two weeks of the festival), we managed a more modest seventeen. Mike's pretty meticulous about all this, keeping a spreadsheet of all the beers they've sampled, with tasting notes and ratings (scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the one of the best beers you've ever tasted, 1 meaning you immediately spit it out). They allow a column for guest ratings as well, so Wes and I were invited to provide notes and ratings as well. "As usual," says Mike, "the information is not complete. It's hard to keep demanding ratings from people because it makes the journey less fun if I constantly bleat, 'What's your rating? What's the number? Rate it! Rate it!!" so there are missing ratings where I choose to give up asking. That, plus after the first round, the scientific method goes out the window." (Boy, tell me about it.)

So, a bit of a change of pace -- instead of Cocktail of the Day, we get Beers of the Day. Seventeen of 'em, and if you get an opportunity to try any of these, you might have a better idea of what you're in for. Here they are, in alphabetical order, with our combined tasting comments and ratings.

Adrien Brouwer Ale - Musty old attic, flaccid, moistened burnt toast. Gregg 6, Mike 6, Chuck/Wes 4.

Bornem Tripel - Metallic, citric acid, some citrus. Gregg 5, Mike 6, Chuck/Wes 6.

Brasserie de Géants Saison Voisin - Dry, light malt. Gregg 6, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 6.

Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale - Sweetish, refreshing pale ale. Gregg 7, Mike 6.

Duchesse de Bourgogne - Malt vinegar, Thousand Island dressing, phenol; vile. Mike 6, Chuck/Wes 2.

Grotten-bier (brand?) - Dark brown, violets, herbal, coconut. Gregg 7, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 8.

Keizersberg Abbey Ale - Dry citrus, hoppy, sweetish, Meyer lemon. Gregg 7, Mike 7.

Kwak - Butterscotch, thick. Gregg 6, Mike 7.

La Binchoise Reserve - A bit metallic, lemony, acidic, tangy like Smarties, goat milk tang. Gregg 7, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 7.

Liefmans Goudenband - Sour, good nose, wow, yum!, black currant. Gregg 7, Mike 8, Chuck/Wes 8.

Manneken-Pis Blanche de Bruxelles - Refreshing, citrusy, lemonade, shandy, sweet, dry butterscotch, flowery, spice. Gregg 7, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 7.

Maredsous 10 - Sen Sen, sauerkraut, cloves, hard cider, pickled. Gregg 8, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 8.

St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël 2003 - Nutmeg, caramel, chewy tongue massage, oh my God this is good. Gregg 8, Mike 9, Chuck/Wes 9.

St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël 2005 - Sweet, malty, rock candy, yum. Gregg 8, Mike 8, Chuck/Wes 8.

Stille Nacht - Thick, cloudy, unfiltered, hops, alcohol, herb flower honey, mead. Gregg 8, Mike 9, Chuck/Wes 9.

't Smisje Kerst, Brouwerij De Regenboog - Gregg 5, Mike 7.

Wittekerke Rosé (wheat beer with raspberries) - Aroma of uric acid. Robitussin with a bit of grapefruit. Gregg 7, Mike 7, Chuck/Wes 4.

I've had a few different brews from St. Feuillien (including the nine-liter bottle of Triple seen below, that we polished off for Gregg's birthday a few years ago), and I've loved them all, but that '03 Christmas ale was one of the best beers I've ever tasted. I probably should have given it a 10 (and might promote it later on), but I probably need a bit more experience with these beers first.

Mike adds, "Of all the descriptions, I think 'moistened burnt toast' is my favorite." (That was one of mine, actually.) "'De Regenboog' is pretty damn funny too." ("Brouwerij De Regenboog" is Dutch for "Rainbow Brewery.")

If this doesn't make you smile,   says Steve, "then your smiler is broken." What is it? How about a duet of "Blueberry Hill" performed by Nat "King" Cole and a ten-year-old Billy Preston?

I love YouTube.

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  Friday, March 9, 2007

Newt Gingrich: Serial Adulterer and Hypocrite.   The jaw drops in astonishment, then the laughs issue forth ... then you realize that the only reason that Gingrich gave an interview (to James frakkin' DOBSON, no less!) was that someone else who knew about his affair was about to spill his guts, almost certainly to the press, making this is a pre-emptive strike under hopefully more favorable circumstances.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged he was having an extramarital affair even as he led the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair, he acknowledged in an interview with a conservative Christian group.

"The honest answer is yes," Gingrich, a potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said in an interview with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson to be aired Friday, according to a transcript provided to The Associated Press. "There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards."

Gingrich argued in the interview, however, that he should not be viewed as a hypocrite for pursuing Clinton's infidelity.

"The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge," the former Georgia congressman said of Clinton's 1998 House impeachment on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. "I drew a line in my mind that said, 'Even though I run the risk of being deeply embarrassed, and even though at a purely personal level I am not rendering judgment on another human being, as a leader of the government trying to uphold the rule of law, I have no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept ... perjury in your highest officials."

If ever I have seen textbook-perfect dictionary descriptions of both "hypocrite" and "full of shit," it's this.

You know what this means, right? It means that Gingrich is going to run for president in 2008. As Aravosis said, "I can't wait ... Between Newt, McCain, and Giuliani alone it will be tough to keep count of the marriages and affairs. The religious right needs to face it - none of these guys gives a damn about their family values. The age of the religious right candidate is dead."

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  Thursday, March 8, 2007

Happy birthday, Wesly!   29 again ... must be nice. :-)

Cocktail of the day.   We had a bunch of people over Saturday night for a potluck and cocktail tasting, which was tons of fun. It was a lot of the same folks who came to our wine tasting last year, and this was even better because this time around we knew a lot more about what we were talking about (heh). We served taster-sized (about 1.5-2 oz.) portions of four different drinks: the Corpse Reviver No. 2, the Mother-in-Law Cocktail, the Widow's Kiss and this one, a lovely variation on the daiquiri. This was the house cocktail at the El Floridita Hotel in Havana, Cuba, and the recipe comes from the hotel bar's recipe booklet, printed in the 1930s.

The El Floridita No. 1

2 ounces light rum.
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker, shake for at least 10-12 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish is specified, but a lime wheel wouldn't be inappropriate.

We made this with 10 Cane Rum, a relatively new rhum agricole from Trinidad that we like a lot.

Maybe we deserve to be ripped off by Bush's billionaires.   Via Mary Katherine: Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone certainlyi does have a way with words. As one reader says, "Matt is not afraid to call a shitweasel a dirty ol' egg-suckin' dawg." This time Matt points out how the American public (thanks to the American media) seem to be completely ignoring the fact that Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid. At the same time "most of the rest of us, apparently, would rather sniff Anna Nicole Smith's corpse or watch Britney Spears hump a fire hydrant than find out what our tax dollars are actually paying for."

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  Tuesday, March 6, 2007

To quote Garry Trudeau ...   "That's guilty, guilty, guilty!" (Plus one more guilty and a not-guilty thrown in as well).

Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convincted on four of the five counts against him, to wit:

* obstruction of justice when he intentionally deceived a grand jury investigating the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame;

* making a false statement by intentionally lying to FBI agents about a conversation with NBC newsman Tim Russert;

* perjury when he lied in court about his conversation with Russert;

* a second count of perjury when he lied in court about conversations with other reporters.

He faces up to 25 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald:

"The results are actually sad. It's sad that we had a situation where a high level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, on MSNBC:

I think it's a sad day. I'm not surprised. I think it's an indicator that once again we see an administration that's more interested in politics and discrediting its critics than it is in getting the job done. There's some parallels to the developing scandal now where you have senators and representatives calling prosecutors to influence cases and you have coverups over what was going on in the Walter Reed scandal.

This is an administration which is reminding me of the Nixon administration where the president himself and others have become more obsessed with their critics than doing their jobs and America is suffering ... Frankly, they didn't give a damn about what went on at Walter Reed and it makes me sick and I think it makes a lot of Americans sick.

Wonder how long it'll take for Scooter to flip.

Predictably, it apparently took Fox so-called "News" exactly 24 minutes to float the idea of a presidential pardon. And the reasoning for that would beeee .... what? That Republicans and members of the Bush administration, especially the former Chief of Staff of the Vice President of the United States, when they commit criminal acts, should be immediately pardoned just because they can really do no wrong?

Newt Gingrich blames Ninth Ward residents.   Yet another example of how poisonous neoconservatives are to this nation and to humanity, as if a crowd of conservatives cheering Ann Coulter after she called John Edwards a "faggot" at their big conference last weekend, there's this, from Newt Gingrich's grand finale speech to the Conservative Policital Action Conference:

"How can you have the mess we have in New Orleans, and not have had deep investigations of the federal government, the state government, the city government, and the failure of citizenship in the Ninth Ward, where 22,000 people were so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn't get out of the way of a hurricane." (emphasis original)

Jesus wept.

Harry Shearer enlightens the mean, ignorant fool:

... the folks in the Ninth Ward weren't caught by a hurricane. They were surprised at 5:30 Monday morning (according to [LSU Hurricane Center co-founder Ivor] Van Heerden's timeline) by an eighteen-foot-high wall of water as their federally built flood protection structure catastrophically failed.

Who's the uneducated one?

This sort of thing isn't surprising from Gingrich, hero of conservatives, who showed his kindness, decency and family values by serving his first wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer, then married another woman and cheated on her with a congressional aide 23 years younger than he, then called his second wife while she was visiting her mother, wished her mother a happy 84th birthday, then told his wife over the phone that we was divorcing her. Nice.

What the frak?!   If you're a fan of "Battlestar Galactica", and you haven't seen last Sunday's episode "Maelstrom," then read no further. If so, then we'll continue in the comments.

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  Friday, March 2, 2007

Strength to get you through your day.   My friend Michael is a fan of this guy Ze Frank, who does amusing video commentaries on his web site. I'd never heard of him until recently, but Michael's been sending along a few of his daily productions recently.

Ze came across a little song a while back. A guy named Ray wrote it to make his daughter happy. He emailed it to her and to one other friend, and before ya know it, it was (of course) all over the Internetsssss. Listen to Ray's original, then check out some of the remixes Tom and his fans made to make Ray happy.

Ze then found Ray and delivered all the remixes to him, and gave Ray a chance to speak. (He does go on a bit, but it's worth it.)

I'm going to end up singing this song at work. Every. Day.

Song of the day (and good deed of the day).   Okay, I know that Ray is a tough act to follow ...

Susan Cowsill has a song for download on her website called "Crescent City Snow", which is really gorgeous. I'll let her tell you about it:

Residents of the Big Easy were astonished to see snow falling steadily on Christmas Day 2004, the first Christmas snow in half a century and the first snowfall in 15 years in the city. Susan Cowsill, her husband Russ Broussard, and several members of their family took the streetcar to the French Quarter to experience the historical snowfall. "After waiting it out for a few hours, it finally began to snow. Big flakes, too! Not enough to stick on the ground, but plenty on the cars to use for snowball fights. It was an extraordinary day with incredible peace and amazing beauty," Russ remembered, Then, eight months later, the other extreme and polarity of that experience." The poignant "Crescent City Snow" combines all the emotions of those two events.

The song's available for free, but it's also on a benefit CD called Feeder Bands on the Run, featuring many New Orleans artists like Susan, Paul Sanchez, Fred LeBlanc, Mike Mayeux, John Boutté, Theresa Andersson, John "Papa" Gros and many more. It's a Katrina relief benefit fundraiser put together by The Carrollton Station Foundation, whose purpose is "to provide financial assistance to the musicians of New Orleans who have been adversely affected by the recent hurricanes of 2005. The intention is to rebuild the music community of the City Of New Orleans by offering the money to said musicians to replace the equipment and instruments that have been lost to these storms."

So far they've sold about 800 of these CDs and distributed $6000 to local musicians. We can help them do better. Buy the CD. You can listen to a few samples at the Music Factory page, or longer tracks at the Foundation's MySpace page.

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  Thursday, March 1, 2007

See the tagline? Buy the t-shirt.   This month's tag line, "C. Ray? Not lately." is nicked from the fine folks at Dirty Coast, who make fabulous New Orleans-related t-shirts, including the Official Non-Existent Mayor shirt. Want one?

C. Ray? Not lately.

Dey got alligatuhs, dey got Ignatius, dey got Kermit, dey got lotsa udda really good stuff too. I'm not affiliated with them, nor do I get kickbacks ... I just like their shirts and wanted to give 'em a plug. They're a local New Orleans business, they could do with your custom, so send 'em some love 'n money and get some cool t-shirts to boot.

Cocktail of the day.   I know, I've been lazy. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa ... *thud*

I was looking for ideas for our evening cocktail on CocktailDB the other night, as is my occasional wont, and came across this one. I blinked a coupla times. "Why have I never thought of this?" I wondered. The simplest things can escape us so easily sometimes.

I adapted the original recipe a bit to fit in with our tastes, and I used El Charro añejo, our current favorite sippin' tequila (that stuff is delish and smooth as silk). For a deeper flavor try making simple syrup out of Mexican piloncillo (the molasses-laden brown sugar that comes in solid cones) or brown sugar.

Tequila Old Fashioned

3 ounces añejo or reposado tequila.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 dashes Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6.

Combine in a large rocks glass with ice, and stir. Optionally garnish with an orange slice, pineapple spear, cherry or lemon twist.

This was really, really good.

Quote of the day.   Stolen from Atrios:

"North Korea has nuclear weapons today because George W. Bush is a stupid, stupid man."

-- Robert Farley, The American Prospect Online Edition, March 1, 2007.

More commentary on this issue from Atrios:

Those of us who can remember all the way back to 2001 know that the original "Bush doctrine" was known as "Anything But Clinton." Basically, if Clinton had anything to do with it, it was time to scrap it. This included a lovely little agreement which had prevented North Korea, charter member of the "axis of evil," from obtaining nuclear weapons. Bush scrapped the agreement based on the idea that Clinton got tricked because the North Koreans were pursuing a parallel uranium program. Agreement scrapped, NK gets its plutonium back, makes some bombs.

And that supposed uranium program? Eh, not so much.


February Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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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.
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