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

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)

July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
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
Blogging New Orleans
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 Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

*     *     *

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)

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

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)
   (Lauren Clark)

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)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender/mixologist, Eugene OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

Kaiser Penguin
    (Rick Stutz, bringing us cocktails
    and great photographs)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

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

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The 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)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

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

The Thirstin' Howl
   (John Myers)

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:

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

A Man Without A Country, by Kurt Vonnegut.

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

  Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Li'l Dizzy's.   Friday of Tales of the Cocktail was a light day for us, Tales-wise; we only had one seminar scheduled (although there at least two more I'd have loved to have gone to), but we wanted to make time to see friends today. My old college friends Shawn and Maggie were in town with their son Dillen for the summer, as Shawn was working on a film that was shooting down there, so we headed out for lunch around noon.

The initial idea was to head to Willie Mae's Scotch House for a plate of fried chicken, but as Maggie isn't a van of chicken and Dillen had recently declared himself to be a vegetarian (a vegetarian in New Orleans? Ooh kid, you're gonna have a tough three months), Plan B was needed. Fortunately Plan B was a good one -- Li'l Dizzy's on Esplanade at the edge of the Tremé. It's a Bacquet family restaurant (their 12th), one of the first families of Creole cooking in New Orleans, and run by Wayne Bacquet, who used to run the beloved Zachary's on Oak Street. The food's great, and there's salad, greens and mac 'n cheese for Dillen. Perfect.

It was packed but there was one table just waiting for us. The day's menu was written on a whiteboard near the door -- red beans, étouffé pot roast, the near-Platonic dish of Trout Bacquet (pan roasted trout topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and swimming in a pond of butter), fried chicken ... but the one that caught my eye was the 7th Ward Pork Chop. I was in a bit of a quandary, though. Creole-style roast beef, done in a slow braise with tons of debris, so tender you could cut it with a spoon, or my beloved pork! Well, maybe if the pork chop's fried I'll get the pot roast, as I wasn't in the mood for anything fried (and knew I'd be in for tons of it later that night). I'll use the Wesly Solution, I thought -- just ask the server that if he or she had a choice between two dishes, which one would it be?

Our friendly, nurturing but sassy waitress arrived. "What can I get you, baby?"

"Is the pork chop fried?" I asked."

"Grilled to your order, boo," she replied. Ooooh. Still, I had to know.

"If you had to choose between the pork chop and the pot roast, which one would you get?"

Oh dear. Her face puckered to the kind of look you get from your third grade teacher if you're caught misbehaving in class.

"Child, the flavor is 50-50," she said in a gently admonishing tone. "You want the pork chop, it takes 20 minutes to cook. You wanna eat now, get the pot roast."

Well. That's tellin' me! I was being a huge pain so she skipped me and went on to Wes, who said, "Grilled pork chop, please!" Well, goddammit ...I couldn't very well sit there and watch him eat pork and not have any for myself. "Me too!"

"Welll, there you go, that wasn't so hard now was it, baby?" No ma'am, not really.

Pick your sides! Mac 'n cheese and vedge-a-tibbles, please!

When the pork chop arrived my jaw dropped.

Li'l Dizzy's 7th Ward Grilled Pork Chop

Just ... look at that garlic! It's covered! Oh yeah! Sautéed just enough to give it some nuttiness but leaving a little of the garlic bite behind, and that chop was perfectly cooked. Just a bit of crisp crust and a rosy medium on the inside, tender and juicy. Great homestyle mac 'n cheese, although the veggies had been cooked to within an inch of their lives (not quite like being able to spread my mom's asparagus on a cracker with a butter knife), much to my and especially Dillen's consternation. "Oh well," Maggie said, "it is the South after all." Old school, I guess, where your veggies cook for a looooooong time. A minor quibble for me really (although not for our nascent vegetarian); I don't fault Mandina's for the green beans out of the big no. 10 can they serve with some of their dishes, I just ignore 'em. I had a few of the veggies, but I was more than happy with the pork chop.

Li'l Dizzy's is about as down home as it gets. If you haven't tried them out, you need to.

Aromatics and Their Uses in Cocktails.   That was the title of the seminar we hit that afternoon after lunch, and one I'd really been looking forward to. "Libation Goddess" Audrey Saunders, of the Pegu Club in New York, and top mixologist Tony Conigliaro from the U.K., would be conducting this one. We'd been admiring Audrey from afar for years, had finally met her, and were very keen to hear some of her ideas about flavor and aroma.

Audrey Saunders, the "Libation Goddess"

Audrey began the seminar talking about tinctures and essences. I had been fascinated with the idea of tinctures in cocktails, having heard the idea from her first (as I recall) on the DrinkBoy message board years ago, but that's another case of "everything old is new again" -- Prof. Jerry Thomas was talking about making spice tinctures in the first-ever cocktail book, which he wrote in 1862.

What is a tincture? It's defined as "an alcoholic extract of a non-volatile substance," used in medicines (i.e., tincture of iodine, etc.) but can also be used for herbal and spice extracts. Audrey gives the following basic recipe for making a tincture: one cup vodka, one ounce herb or spice. You can heat or toast the spice slightly to help release some of the aromatics, then place the herb/spice in a jar with the vodka and let it steep for two weeks, agitating gently every day. No 151 or 190 proof Everclear is required, despite what some people say. "I use Stoli," she said. Once it's finished steeping you strain out the solids, place the resultant tincture in a dasher or dropper bottle, and what you basically have is a liquid spice, to be applied a drop or a dash at a time, depending on its potency.

She also discussed essences, using examples from a perfume maker by the name of Mandy Aftel, who has a book out entitled Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance, and who also puts out a product called The Chef's Essence Kit, containing 13 5ml bottles of "essential oils and absolutes" that perfectly capture the flavors and aromas of "the living plant." What's the difference between an essence or essential oil and an absolute? Well, in both cases they should be used EXTREMELY sparingly, a drop at a time in perhaps a whole bottle of spirit or syrup, or a whole pot of food for instance, but by definition (via Wikipedia):

Essential oil: Fragrant materials that have been extracted from a source material directly through distillation or expression and obtained in the form of an oily liquid.

Absolute: Fragrant materials that are purified from a pommade or concrete by soaking them in ethanol. By using a slightly hydrophilic compound such as ethanol, most of the fragrant compounds from the waxy source materials can be extracted without dissolving any of the fragrantless waxy molecules. Absolutes are usually found in the form of an oily liquid.

Following me so far? I know, this is all new to me too, and it's science, really. It's just a little scientific background to the materials, and an aid in understanding them and how they're made and where they come from, because once you have the materials at hand, you use them to make drinkable art.

One of the things Audrey does is to use tinctures and diluted essences, dropped or sprayed onto the top of a cocktail, to layer the flavor and create aromas. The example she used was a classic New Orleans cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz. This Ramos Fizz was a little different, though ... on top of the creamy, foamy head formed by the egg whites in the drink, Audrey dropped two drops of a tincture of cardamom. You didn't get the flavor so much, as you sipped the drink through the creamy, foamy head, but that cardamom aroma went right up your nose and gave an extra dimension to the cocktail, made it even more exotic, and even fooled you into thinking you could taste the cardamom even if it was too soon for you to really be doing that. Also, instead of an eyedropped, you can put tinctures into an atomizer and spray them on the top of the cocktail for a similar effect.

Truly amazing.

She also asked, "Why do we garnish?" For looks, mostly, but in the form of twists you're getting the spray of lemon oil on the surface of the drink, a layering of flavor and an essential component of certain drinks like the Sazerac. But if you're just garnishing for looks why not use them as a flavor and aroma enhancer also? You can spray tinctures or diluted essences on an edible garnish -- "Try spraying that cardamom tincture on some mint," she said. You can also use these to scent wooden stirrers as well.

A rack of essences and tinctures are the notes in your symphony. Pick some and start composing.

The next mindboggle came from Tony Conigliaro, who besides working with numerous bars and restaurants to develop new drinks has also worked with perfumiers. He had as specific project in mind -- he wanted to get the help of an expert perfumier to help him isolate and combine essences of the primary aromatics in a famous perfume, Chanel No. 5, to use in a cocktail.

The most distinctive aspect of Chanel No. 5's flavor is from the flowers of a tree called ylang-ylang, native to southern India, Java, Malaysia, the Philippines and other Pacific islands. Other of Chanel No. 5's primary components were jasmine, sandalwood, May rose and one other I forgot. He obtained edible, food-grade versions of these essences, combined them carefully to closely approximate the aroma of the perfume, then dropped the resultant mixture onto sugar cubes and used those aromaticized sugar cubes to make a Champagne cocktail -- the Champagne No. 5 Cocktail.

Tony Conigliaro, preparing the Champagne No. 5 Cocktail

When I saw that we'd actually be served this I got a little worried. I tend to despise most perfumes, and I'm not entirely sure why other than the fact that the monstrously mean and abusive principal of the first elementary school I went to wore so much perfume you could smell her coming before she got to your classroom, and I'm probably still traumatized by that. I think most people who wear perfume wear entirely too much of it. I shouldn't be able to smell it on you unless I'm really close to you; you're not a goddamn Lunar Moth, and I don't need to smell you from two miles away. That said, I'm willing to try just about anything.

And if nothing else, the mechanics and physics of this cocktail were truly astonishing. The edible perfume essence on the sugar cubes were brought to the surface of the drink inside the myriad tiny little bubbles, which released them as they burst. Tony recommended straight-sided Riedel Champagne glasses to help release the aromas, as the typical Champagne flute with the receding lip tends to trap the aroma inside the glass. It smelled ... well, perfumey. But not the off-putting smell I'd associated with perfume abuse over the years. It actually smelled like something I'd want to taste, and I did. It tasted ... well, perfumey, but delicate and complex and floral, and there was so much going on in there. This type of drink would certainly be an acquired taste (and Wes mentioned that though he was fascinated by it it's not the kind of drink he'd want to have very often), but the mechanism of this cocktail is extendable to so many other flavors. Wes also noted, as did I, that the flavors of the floral and perfume components got more intense the more you drank, as the sugar cubes continued to break down with the action of the bubbles. Given the near-limitless range of flavors and flavor combinations you could make with essences and tinctures, you could take a cocktail like this anywhere you wanted.

I enjoyed every single seminar we took at Tales of the Cocktail, but this is the one that filled more pages in my notebook than any other, and was the most eye-opening. This might be too esoteric for some, but in some ways the world of the cocktail is limited -- there are only so many ingredients, and so many ways to put them together. If we're going to continue to challenge ourselves and our taste buds by stretching the boundaries of taste and aroma in cocktails, this is the kind of stuff we need to be thinking about.

I can't WAIT to drink at the Pegu Club.

Jack Dempsey's.   Friday night was also set aside for seeing friends, and after we left Audrey and Tony, excited and inspired (and still trying to take it all in a week and a half later), we walked to the Marigny to see our friends Michael and Louise, hang out, catch up and sip some Sazeracs. (I believe there were Beefeater Martinis and some jonge genever being sipped as well.) The skies looked threatening, and we wondered if this would put a crimp in our evening, but after a brief but intense deluge things calmed down a bit. Then Dean and Becky arrived and we caravanned to a great neighborhood joint in the Bywater called Jack Dempsey's

Jack Dempsey's Restaurant, 738 Poland Ave., in the Bywater

Still alive and kicking on Poland Avenue between Royal and Dauphine and just and good and popular as ever, Jack Dempsey's is still a bit of a young-un compared to some other neighborhood joints like Mandina's or Liuzza's -- if I recally correctly they opened in the late 1970s -- and was named not for the famous boxer but for a local, a grizzled crime reporter for the now-defunct States-Item newspaper who was a New Orleans fixture. It's a survivor, that's for sure ... Jack Dempsey's and Restaurant Mandich ("the Galatoire's of the Ninth Ward") were THE two places to eat in the Bywater, but sadly Mandich didn't survive Katrina. Neither did Jack Dempsey's sign, but that seems to be the least of the restaurant's worries -- they're too busy making the best fried seafood in town.

Katrina stole the sign

Now, remember what the late Neil Broyard of the Saturn Bar said about ordering "fancy" drinks in the Ninth Ward, "fancy" being a general euphemism for "something that's not a beer or a shot." He said, "You want a fancy drink, you go Uptown." I would have been perfectly happy with a huge frozen schooner of Abita beer, but Louise and I were both in the mood for Martinis and hoped that said craving would be satisfied. Despite the ominous appearance of foo-foo drinks containing numerous vile ingredients like Sour Pucker described on hand-written cards above the bar, Louise swears you can get a good Martini here, despite the bartender being a young guy in his early twenties who looked as if he might've thought a Martini was something made with vodka, if he'd even heard of it. Now now, we mustn't prejudice ourselves against bartenders based on their age or appearance, as you WELL know, so dammit, we're ordering Martinis.

To the waitress Louise said she's like a Beefeater Martini, "very dry," with an olive, and I said I'd like a Beefeater Martini as well, but "I'd like mine old-school, with some vermouth in it." When the Martinis arrived, I sipped mine -- not as I had wanted, way too dry for me -- and I saw Louise sip hers and make a face. We swapped, took another taste ... big, big smiles all around. That kid had knocked both of those Martinis out of the park, and very quickly doubled his tip.

Okay, one thing you need to know about Jack Dempsey's if you're going to eat there is that the portions are absolutely Gargantuan. This is good information with which to arm yourself, so you don't get embarrassed by shrieking "Oh, JESUS!!" when the plates are put in front of you. First off, appetizers -- we wanted onion rings. Why? Because these are pretty much the best in town, and we knew we'd have enough for the table. In fact ... we kinda had enough for two tables, but because poor Wesly suddenly started feeling poorly and decided he shouldn't eat anything, we managed. The serving was so large that Michael suggested we place something next to it to provide a sense of scale, and he kindly contributed his driver's license.

Onion rings!!

For our mains we wanted seafood platters, hands down. There are two sections of the menu at Jack's -- fried seafood and broiled seafood. Presumably the broiled seafood is better for you, but if you order it "you'll be appropriately mocked," Michael said. The reason you come here is for fried seafood -- nobody does it better, even places that have greater reputations for it. The J.D. Platter is their gold standard, "for two" as it says on the menu, which is laughable because it's easily enough for four.

The J.D. Seafood Platter

This platter consisted of catfish, drum, shrimp, oysters, some little crawfish pies and some balls of crabmeat dressing, all perfectly, beautifully battered and deep-fried. Hot, crisp, and so un-greasy that you could have placed any of that fried seafood on a paper towel and it wouldn't have left a grease mark. (Well, hardly any, anyway.) The sides offered were a pretty good gumbo, lemon-yellow homestyle mac and cheese, and some really good French fries. Given the number of oyster fans at the table, we supplemented our J.D. with an extra fried oyster platter, and some more sides.

Fried Oyster Platter

Busy every night and worth a drive from anywhere in the city for this nearly Platonic fried seafood, Jack Dempsey's is as neighborhoody and unpretentious as it gets. The waitresses are embracing and enveloping and pure Ninth Ward, dawlin' ... so eat a light lunch, head to Jack's, order a Martini and don't worry about all the fried stuff. Just split everything and try not to think about the fact that "it ain't da seafood dat makes ya fat, it's da batta."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Yeah, I know, this was the one from The Cocktailian that I posted the link to yesterday, but we made them last night and they were fantastic and we took a nice picture, plus I want to encourage the use of this liqueur (plus it's a pretty bottle, so hush), not to mention using pisco in something other than the ubiquitous Pisco Sour, so here we go.

The Pisco Elder-Sour

The Pisco Elder-Sour

2 ounces pisco.
1 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

I'm gonna start playing with St. Germain and silver tequila next, but I'm sure someone's already thought of what I'll think up.

Spirited Dinner at Commander's Palace.   We'd really been looking forward to this.

With a gentle sigh, we decided to forget about how great a time Paul and Darcy and everyone at The Delachaise would be having at the Lafcadio Hearn-themed Spirited Dinner (coverage of which I'll link to later on), and pledged to forge on to the Garden District without dwelling on it. We would be dining on the amazing food of Chef Tory McPhail, one of the best in the city (and anywhere), with drinks prepared by two heroes of ours, Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders. We were in for a treat no matter what.

We were also in for an adventure. It's very difficult to pair cocktails with food, and much easier to do so with wine. There are some who don't believe it's possible to pair cocktail with food (Tom Fitzmorris was apparently pooh-poohing the whole idea on his radio show that day), but I disagree strongly. It can be done, it just has to be done with great care.

Another exciting aspect of what Tory was doing was that, à la Rickey and G-Man at the (sadly) fictitious New Orleans restaurant Liquor, there's booze in every dish. The flavor of the spirit or liqueur is in the marinade or in the sauce, which should jump-start Dale and Audrey's work and make the cocktail matches heavenly.

Spirited Dinner at Commander's Palace

There was only one disaster for the evening, and fortunately it was over and done with before we even got to the restaurant. I was planning on wearing my seersucker suit to the dinner, and as we were getting dressed I was horrifed to see a gigantic stain on the front of the jacket, across the lapel and onto the jacket itself. I had no idea how that had gotten there, since I knew I hadn't spilled anything that huge on myself while wearing it. The flurry of cursing that burst from me was probably audible all the way down the hall, and now I was facing the prospect of entering Commander's Palace without a jacket on for the first time in my life. I managed to keep my head from exploding with the greatest effort (and I could already hear Ti saying, as she would later, "Oh, it's no big deal," but ... sheesh. It's in my blood. You wear a jacket to Commander's.

We didn't have a car yet so we had arranged to meet Wendy and Dayne downstairs and share a cab, figuring that even if we did have a car, cabbing it back home after five cocktails would probably be the best thing to do. Turns out Dayne wasn't wearing a jacket either, so I didn't feel so bad. One cheap cab ride later and there we were, and the nice valet boys were kind enough to offer to take our picture. This was only my second time back at Commander's since they reopened in October, and it was great to be back.

Actually I was wrong about the cocktail count; there weren't to be five cocktails that night, but six. As we were ushered into the dining room, we were presented with a "welcoming cocktail."

The Welcoming 
Cocktail: Pineapple Champagne Cocktail

This was a variation on the Mimosa that they simply called a Pineapple Champagne Cocktail, with pineapple juice standing in for the orange, but with a large pineapple chunk garnish, which had been impaled on a large sprig of fresh rosemary. We were instructed to drop the whole garnish into the drink, and as we sipped it the piney, woodsy aroma of the rosemary wafted into our noses. Although there was no time for the rosemary to actually infuse the drink, it was as if we could actually taste it.

We were seated with Dayne and Wendy, and two other couples who were transplanted locals (one to Houston, and ... I forget where else), so there was some local bonding happening right away. I think we managed not to sing the Seafood City song too loud, but there was drinking going on, so you never know. We were greeted by Ti, Dale and Audrey, who spoke briefly and then kicked off the festivities with the serving of the first paired cocktail.

First Cocktail: 
Cucumber Mint Creole

This was a Cucumber Creole, containing, as I dimly recall, cachaça, cucumber, a hint of mint, lemon juice and I sadly don't remember what else. If any of y'all were at the dinner and can help with the details of some of these drinks, I'd really appreciate it. First course arrived, as is the Brennan style, simultaneously for every diner at the table.

First Course: Cachaca Seafood Escabeche

Cachaça Seafood Escabeche, with grilled octopus, mussels, clams, shrimp and blue crab with liquid parsley, lemon, bay leaf-infused olive oil and heirloom tomato salt. I was a tiny bit worried about this one, not being a huge fan of either octopus or mussels, but I trust Tory implicitly and will eat anything he puts in front of me. My trust was, as usual, well-placed. This was really good, and the pairing worked very well. "Escabeche" is a term for seafood marinated in an acidic mixture, and the lemon as well as the herbal elements in the dish and the cocktail played off one another just right.

Cocktail number two came, and I was really excited about this one.

Second Cocktail: 
Coconut Water and Ginger Caipiroska

Coconut Water and Ginger Caipiroska

1-1/2 ounces Absolut vodka
4 eighths lime
1 ounce coconut water
1 piece of ginger, peeled, the size of a fingernail
1 ounce agave nectar or aloe vera nectar

Muddle the coconut water together with the ginger. Add the limes and the syrup and muddle again. Using the Old Fashioned glass the drnk will be served in measure a glass of ice into the shaker glass and shake well. Pour the entire contents of the glass back into the Old Fashioned glass.

This was one of the two best pairings of the evening, and a drink I'd definitely make again. I love coconut water (which is what sloshes around inside ripe and especially young coconuts, which we buy for a buck each at the nearby Filipino market, hacking off the top, drinking the glassful of water it contains and scooping out the tender, creamy flesh with a spoon), and I love to see it used in a cocktail instead of the thick, overly sweet cream of coconut you see all the time. The ginger's peppery counterpoint to that was wonderful, and the mysterious element added by muddling the ginger with agave nectar instead of sugar as the sweetener was genius. I was a little baffled by the use of vodka instead of rum, though, and I suspect it had to do with certain requirements that sponsors' products be used throughout the event. That's cool, I understand -- events like this could not take place without the support of the sponsoring liquor companies, and bartenders and consultants often make a big chunk of their living creating cocktails on commission from spirits companies. That said, my personal taste runs toward having little to no use for vodka in cocktails, I think I'd definitely use a nice white rum.

The brilliance of this drink particularly came through once the course was served:

Second Course: Rum 
Butter-Poached Lobster Calaloo

Rum Butter-Poached Lobster Calaloo, with Caribbean curry, ginger, okra, taro, sweet potato and house-distilled roasted coconut liqueur. Oh my Gawd.

Calaloo is sort of the Caribbean version of gumbo, often thickened with okra, usually containing a mixture of greens, and like gumbo can be done a zillion different ways. This one was a stew rather than a soup, featuring that beautiful, beautiful lobster. I learned the technique of poaching lobster in butter from Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry after reading his book (and eating the dish), and next time I do it you can be damned certain that I'll be adding rum to the butter, and serving this drink with it.

Intermezzo time!

Intermezzo Cocktail: 
The Green Goddess

The Green Goddess, a frozen shooter made with mint, some basil and other herbs and ... gaaah, I forgot everything else! Very refreshing and very palate-cleansing. Commander's has made a habit of serving a small refreshing cocktail by itself as an intermezzo rather than the somewhat clichéd sorbet, and I love that idea.

This intermezzo didn't arrive alone, however. What the hell, let's serve a dish with it!

Tequila Flambeed 
Shrimp Pinata

Tequila-Flambéed Shrimp Piñata, with grilled cactus, corn, avocado, cilantro, hot chiles and citrus lime sauce presented in an edible coriander "piñata." This was fun and whimsical and delicious, taking the theme of a journey through cocktails and food up from the Caribbean into Mexico. The flavors were fantastic, bright and spicy with the calming flavors and textures of the avocado and the cactus, and the "piñata" was similar to a phyllo pastry, but a little chewier, and scented with coriander. I didn't get to beat the crap out of it with a stick, but here's what it looked like when opened:

The Pinata, burst 

Y'know, from now on I think I want my piñatas to contain tequila, shrimp, cactus, corn, avocados and chiles rather than cheap little wrapped candies. Can we arrange that for my next birthday party? (Heavy on the tequila, please.)

Then came what was probably my favorite combo of the entire evening.

Fourth Cocktail: 
Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand

3/4 ounce Scotch.
3/4 ounce fresh orange juice.
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. (Other recipes have given equal proportions of all four ingredients; adjust to your taste.)

The Blood and Sand is a classic cocktail, and the only straight-ahead classic that was served at the meal. Usually it calls for a blended Scotch, and though I'm not sure what Scotch they used in this one, it did have a bit of smoke it it, which made it so perfect to go along with what was to come next.

Fourth Course, 
Entree: Sugarcane and Bourbon Smoked Duck

Our entrée was Sugarcane and Bourbon Smoked Duck, smoked over smoldering whiskey barrels with local figs, a sweet potato pone, BBQ'ed onions, vanilla bourbon syrup and foie gras ganache.

Jesus Gawd.

Let's just go through this again, shall we? Duck with Bourbon and sugarcane rub, smoked over smoldering wood from whiskey barrels. This is one reason why Tory McPhail is one of my favorite people on the planet. This dish was just fantastic; I think Wes and I had our eyes rolled up in our heads more than once while eating this dish. And the really fascinating thing is that the booze in the dish wasn't paired with the booze in the drink this time ... the smoke in the booze in the drink was paired with the smoke in the duck in the dish. (The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true. Um. Sorry, I digress.) I wanted thirds and fourths of this, and I'm going to cry next time I go to Commander's because this dish won't be on the menu. Maybe I'll luck out and it will, though. Fingers crossed.

Time for dessert!

Fifth Cocktail: The 

The cocktail was the NOLA Fizz, made with Champagne and Absolut New Orleans vodka, a new limited edition release that was launched this week during Tales of the Cocktail. It's a mango and black pepper vodka, which is rather interesting, and the limited run of 35,000 cases will raise $2 million for charities on the Gulf Coast, aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. Government's flood caused by the failure of their levees.

Fifth Course, 
Dessert: Champagne and Strawberries

Champagne and Strawberries: Champagne- and Zinfandel-braised Ponchatoula strawberries with caramel genoise, double French vanilla ice cream and candied lavender sabayon. Lovely, lovely dessert ... I know there are those among us who say it's not dessert without chocolate, but you can serve me Ponchatoula strawberries anytime and I'll be very, very happy.

A very successful Spirited Dinner! I can't wait for the next one! And if six cocktails weren't enough (and apparently they weren't), Wendy, Dayne, Wes and I had the cab bring us to the Swizzle Stick, where we proceeded to drink Sazeracs, Adelaide Swizzles and French 75s with bartenders Michael and Tommy until we closed the joint down.

That's the way to spend an evening, and my hangover wasn't even too bad the next morning. The cocktail gods continue to smile on me.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, July 27, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   We first tasted this one at a Tales of the Cocktail event called Cocktail Hour, filled with bartenders, mixologists, authors and you-name-'em, all mixing drinks for us to taste, signing books, etc. Dr. Cocktail offered this original concoction using the fabulous, delicious (fabulicious?) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. There's lots to love about this fascinating new addition to the liqueur lineup, first of which is that it's drier than most liqueurs. I was up until this point completely unfamiliar with elderflowers, and these are grown in France, gathered by hand only during a short season, making the liqueur show up in fairly limited quantities. The flavors that hit you first are fruity rather than purely floral -- I tasted pears, the loquats we grow in our backyard, and fresh lychees, with the floral notes mostly in the background. Wonderful stuff, and I was thinking, "This would make a great gin cocktail ... I've got to see if I can come up with something." Of course, Doc was way ahead of me!

As a cinematography grad student in a previous life (well, in the that's-what-I-used-to-do sense, not the Shirley MacLaine sense), I find the name of this drink tremendously appealing.

The Magic Hour

2 ounces Tanqueray gin.
3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Combine ingredients with ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

No garnish was specified, but I'd drape a long curly lemon twist over the rim of the glass and into the drink.

Ardent Spirits.   Gary Regan's new newsletter is out, detailing among other things his first trip to N.O. for Tales of the Cocktail, including a picture of a very motley crew in which you might recognize a couple three faces.

The Cocktailian: Peruvian Elder-Sour.   Gary's most recent Chronicle column is out as well, with the Professor's substitute bartender Jake filling in. Jake gets an email from the Professor with the recipe for today's cocktail, a close relative of the Cocktail of the Day above. This sounds fantastic, and will be tonight's cocktail, no doubt! We sure love that St. Germain.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tales of the Cocktail, Day 2.   Yeesh ... sorry for the delay, y'all. Ths was a long post to put together, and I was flat on my back sick all day Wednesday and Thursday, except when we were dealing with Tuesday evening's surprise of no hot water in the house. That ended up meaning a new water heater going in Wednesday evening. $1,515.40 later and we have hot water again. (I'm trying not to think of that amount as as six absinthe fountains.) My head's still throbbing a bit, but I'm better than I was yesterday. Onward!

Last Thursday, our first full day at Tales, was our biggest one. Two morning seminars, then after lunch the Lost Ingredients seminar in which I was a participant, then (supposedly) the historical cocktail walking tour of the Quarter, then the Spirited Dinner at Commander's. Good thing we didn't knock back several cocktails at the opening reception and then walk over to the Swizzle Stick and knock back some more with Nurse and Doctor Cocktail. (Oh no, wait ... we did. Never mind.)

Wondrich and John Myers Jim 
Meehan and Ryan Magarian

Not quite as fuzzy as I thoguht I'd be, we headed to the first panel of the day: The Cocktail's Family Tree, a look at how the cocktail used to be just one kind of drink (specifically, it meant a spirit with water, sugar and bitters), not a catch-all term for all mixed alcoholic drinks. There were cobblers and daisys and fixes and flips and sangarees and punches and shrubs and lots more. Going through all this was moderator David Wondrich of Esquire magazine and many other publications (boy, what a gig he's got), bartender John Myers of The Thirstin' Howl (God, I love an awfu-- er, brilliant pun), bartender Jim Meehan of Food & Wine magazine and Ryan Magarian, mixologist and one of the developers of Aviaton Gin. The only drawback to a panel like this is that you can't possibly fit all the history into a 75-minute seminar; we'd need to spend a week drinking our way through the development of the cocktail with all its fellow drinks for the last couple of hundred years (and how much fun would that be?). The guys all did a great job though, and it was fun and fascinating. We also got to sample two drinks from the cocktail's family tree, one daisy and one fizz, the latter near and dear to the heart of New Orleanians. The daisy, a forerunner to drinks like the Sidecar or what Gary Regan classifies as a "New Orleans Sour," generally was a spirit with fresh lemon juice, sugar, a bit of Curaçao and sometimes grenadine. No grenadine in this one, and the Curaçao is a damned good one. Here's this version:

Brandy Daisy

2 ounces brandy.
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice.
1/4 ounce Grand Marnier.
1 teaspoon rich simple syrup.

Straininto a chilled rocks glass and add 1 ounce chilled seltzer water or soda. Twist a thin-cut lemon peel over the top and drop in for garnish.

For comparison, here's Professor Jerry Thomas' version from his 1862 classic The Bartender's Guide, or How to Mix Drinks:

Brandy Daisy (à la Prof. Jerry Thomas)

3 or 4 dashes gum syrup
2 or 3 dashes of Curacoa cordial
The juice of half a small lemon
1 small wine-glass of brandy
2 dashes of Jamaica rum

Fill glass one-third full of shaved ice. Shake well, strain into a large cocktail glass, and fill up with Seltzer water from a syphon.

And of course, our beloved Fizz:

Ramos Gin Fizz

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1-1/2 ounces heavy whipping cream.
1 egg white.
3 drops Orange flower water.
2 ounces soda.

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, for as long as you can. Strain over fresh ice (or serve up) in a highball glass, wine goblet or Champagne flute. Garnish with an orange twist optionally (although I don't usually see 'em garnished as such).

My first-ever cocktail seminar. Great job, guys!

(By the way, Dave's got a front-cover feature in Esquire this month on The Best Bars in America ... check it out.)

Wes, Gary Regan, me 
and Dave Wondrich
An appropriately fuzzy iPhone pic of Wes, Gary Regan, me and Dave Wondrich.

Next was a dilemma, one of several presented by Tales. They're just as maddening as Jazzfest in the scheduling department, putting a wonderful seminar on rum by Wayne Curtis (author of And a Botle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and Steve Remsburg, holder of perhaps the world's most extensive private rum collection. I was tearing my hair out over this one, but we ended up at Drinks and Dishes Born in New Orleans, led by Food Goddess Lorin Gaudin of New Orleans Magazine and "All Over Food" (on 99.5 FM, the former WRNO as I was growing up -- "We're the rock of New Orleans!" -- and now a bizarre right-wing Faux "News" affiliated station I'd ignore completely if it weren't for Lorin), Ti Adelaide Martin, co-proprietor of Commander's Palace and Café Adelaide, Poppy Tooker of Slow Food New Orleans and Chef Duke LoCicero of Café Giovanni on Decatur St. What followed was a delightful trip through the New Orleans food scene along with some of its classic cocktails old and new.

One bit of exciting news was Ti's announcement that the book she wrote with her cousin Lally Brennan, In the Land of Cocktails, focusing on New Orleans' own cocktails and its vaunted status as "the birthplace of the cocktail" (well, that's the story we like to tell, anyway), will be out in October. I knew they had been working on it, but this was the first I'd heard of an actual publication date. Yay! Ti talked about the long history of cocktail drinking in New Orleans, how we like to drink cocktails in the morning (some people think that's weird; I don't get those people), drinks like the Brandy Milk Punch and Absinthe Suissesse, and then served the newest New Orleans classic, developed as the house cocktail for Café Adelaide -- The Adelaide Swizzle.

The Adelaide Swizzle

This delicious, refreshing long drink consists of New Orleans Amber Rum (made right on Frenchmen Street!), fresh lime juice, Peychaud's bitters, soda and ... a Secret Ingredient. "We've been very free with every recipe for everything we've ever made at Commander's and Café Adelaide, if someone wanted it," Ti said, "But y'know ... I thought it was about time we had one that was secret." Fair enough! Shooting a bit of a look toward certain people in the audience, she added, "Although some of y'all cocktail geeks have figured it out." I'd say the best way for you to figure it out is to go to Café Adelaide and drink lots of Adelaide Swizzles. Me, I'll never tell.

With this we had a Café Adelaide version of a classic New Orleans dish, Crabmeat Ravigote, with a nifty modern twist -- a Tabasco Spoon Cracker.

Crabmeat Ravigote with Tabasco Spoon Cracker

The recipe is below, in the next post.

Chef Duke talked about his own history in the New Orleans restaurant scene, and being Italian talked about the long history of Italian influence in New Orleans' cuisine -- "Creole Italian" being a recognized and well-loved subset of our cooking. That led to a talk on the history and development of the Muffuletta sandwich, and some eye-opening theories of its true origins. Chef Duke likes 'em warm, and served us some lovely warm muffuletta slices. I've always been a fan of the room-temperature muff myself, but he does have a point -- when you warm some thing it does release more flavor, and he likes the barely-melted cheese just beginning to ooze out of the side. We also got to try his little "cocktail muffulettas," a little bit bigger than a golf ball.

A Warm Muffuletta Chef Duke's Cocktail Muffuletta

Lunchtime, and we had about an hour and a half before I had to get back for the panel I'd actually be speaking on. (*gulp*) Actually, I was pretty confident about what I was talking about, and had received the good news that my Pimento Dram No. 3 had arrived and was being readied for pouring. With our new friends Dayne and Wendy Miller from Seattle (who get to drink at Vessel and Zig Zag all the time, lucky ducks) we dashed over to Johnny's Po-Boys on St. Louis St., just a few blocks away. One of our favorite poor boy joints, we knew we'd get something fast and good here, provided the line wasn't too long. It wasn't, and the two daily specials that day were perfect for us -- for Wes, Half a Soft Shell Crab Poor Boy with Gumbo (it might have been half a poor boy but it was a whole soft shell crab), and for me ... aaaaahhhhhhh ... Half a Hot Sausage Poor Boy with Red Beans and Rice.

Soft Shell Crab Poor Boy with Gumbo Hot Sausage Poor Boy with Red Beans 'n Rice

Boy, did that hit the spot. Great hot sausage too (although I still miss Gene's ... *sob*.)

Now, the moment of truth ... the Lost Ingredients: Obtaining (or making) rare ingredients for even rarer cocktails. Moderated by Dr. Cocktail and featuring a few people I knew (well, since the night before, anyway, and for years online) and a couple of folks new to me. I was comforted a bit by the fact that Joe Fee of the fabulous Fee Brothers bitters, syrups and cordials company was more nervous than I was. Not helping my nervousness was this:

Oh my Gawd, look at that crowd.

It wasn't so bad, though. In fact, it was really great that all these folks showed up to hear about a bunch of wild, obscure stuff that we seven cocktail geeks up at the table were excited about, and they were all excited about it too. There was Wes, right up front, a comforting presence, and next to him was bartender extraordinaire Jamie Boudreau from Vessel, with whom I'd swapped some emails and who I was really looking forward to meeting, Dayne and Wendy behind them, Jim Meehan from the earlier seminar (who's a super nice guy) as well ... I was surprisingly relaxed. Previous public speaking engagements had me curled up in a ball in the corner at this point, growing a tumor. Not today.

There was a disaster, though ... Paul Clarke's bottles of Falernum No. 9 that he'd made didn't show up at the room. I felt awful for him, but he did what needed to be done and although there was nothing of his to taste he did a great job describing his process for making this product that can be fairly difficult to find (especially if you live in a state with state-controlled liquor stores that don't see fit to stock it). Bravo, Paul!

Then it was my turn ...

Oh Christ, I'm pontificating ...

Boy, did that eight (or so) minutes go by quickly. The crowd was great, and people really liked the Pimento Dram, which was fantastic. It's really gratifying, and a testament to how cocktail people are the coolest and nicest people in the world, that non-professional mixologists like myself are embraced and encouraged by the pros. My appreciation is endless ... thanks y'all.

As an aside, in today's Times-Picayne there was an article about Tales which featured my recipe for Pimento Dram, in case y'all haven't come across it here, or in the current issue of Imbibe magazine. Our seminar also got some coverage a couple of days earlier. Hey Mom, I got my name in Da Papuh! (But will they ever learn to spell it properly? No. No, they won't. Sigh.)

Joe Fee was next, talking about some of his family's newest products, some of which I'd gotten to taste earlier, and they're all very exciting -- a Whiskey Barrel-Aged Aromatic Bitters, a brand-new Grapefruit Bitters, both of which taste great (and thank Gawd, as my own experiment with grapefruit bitters had a good flavor that was crushed by its face-puckering, unrelenting biterness), plus a new spice syrup -- "Imagine pumpkin pie, without the pumpkin," said Joe.

Gwydion Stone of The Wormwood Society talked a bit about the history of absinthe, the formation of his society of absinthe fanciers and how that led to the development of his own brand, Absinthe Marteau to be made in Switzerland as I recall. Oh, and by the way, it appears that absinthe is (kind of) legal now, not due to any change in the laws, but because the whole high-thujone-content thing about absinthe was exaggerated and overly mythologized, and it seems that currently made, high-quality, historically accurate absinthes actually do fall below the government's threshhold level for thujone (the chemical in wormwood) content in spirits. It's still a hazy legal grey area, but expect to see new absinthes available in this country soon, for the first time in almost a hundred years.

Next came the amazing Eric Seed, who it was a pleasure to meet. He spoke of some of the spirits he'll be bringing into the country, including Batavia Arrack, distilled from sugar cane and fermented Indonesian red rice. It's an important component in Swedish punsch, which we also tasted and which should again be available soon. It's a key ingredient in several classic and "forgotten" cocktails and which has the amazing effect of being added to a cheap rum and making it taste like an expensive aged rum. (Eric said Batavia arrack is also getting big with pastry chefs, and told us to try adding it to a dark chocolate mousse sometime, and we'd have an amazing experience.) He also talked about the return of Crème de Violette (YAY!), the extremely difficult to find violet petal liqueur which I adore.

This is all a lot to be excited about. Then the final panelist took his turn -- Rob Cooper, who's the owner of Charles Jacquin, the liqueur company who made the long-lost and lamented Forbidden Fruit and Crème Yvette liqueurs, announced that the latter will likely be back soon, working from the original recipe, and they're working on the former. There were lab sample bottles of each, and although I didn't get to try the Forbidden Fruit we all got to try the new, work-in-progress Créme Yvette. Talk about a bounty -- we had Eric Seed's crème de violette and Rob Cooper's Crème Yvette in front of us, and then Rob held up a vintage 1944 bottle of Yvette that he had brought along just for show (which you can see in front of me on the podium). The cork had crumbled in transit and it was now open ... so we might as well drink it. (Gotta love that mindset, the only proper one really.) THREE violet liqueurs sampled right next to each other! Rob's also the developer of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a new product which was very popular among the Tales crowd (and is really great stuff -- more on that later).

It was fantastic, and I thank everyone who organized, participated in and attended this seminar, and thanks for all the great feedback too, y'all. I'm glad you liked the Dram. :-)

Okay, I'm tired. We cover Commander's tomorrow!

Blue Crab Ravigote with Tabasco Crackers.   A slightly updated version of a New Orleans classic.

1 pound Louisiana lump blue crab meat

Ravigote Sauce
1 cup Creole mayonnaise (see below)
1/2 cup Creole mustard or coarse whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon capers, drained and coarsely chopped
1 egg, hard cooked and diced small
1-1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Creole Mayonnaise
1 large egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 medium white onion, diced
2-1/4 cups salad oil
1-1/2 teaspoons Crystal hot sauce
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste

Mix all ingredients EXCEPT THE OIL in a food processor or blender. Purée until everything is smooth. SLOWLY add the oil in a thin stream until mixture is emulsified, thick and creamy.

Tabasco Crackers
1 egg
2 egg whites
1/4 cup Karo (corn) syrup
1/8 cup water
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons melted butter

Heat oven to 275°F. Whisk together egg, egg whites, corn syrup and water. Add remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated. Wiith a pastry brush paint the dough into wahtever shape y ou would like, on a Silpat (silicon) mat. Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown.

To assemble the dish:
Add 1/2 cup of ravigote sauce to the 1 pound of crab meat. Be careful not to break up the crab meat lumps. Place crab mixture on the crackers, or place crab mixture in a bowl with lettuce and place the crackers alongside.

I like the spoon shape idea, me.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Please, dear, your Auntie Mame is hung."   Yep. Know how she feels.

Actually, that's not my current problem, and I seemed to have not ... too many problems with the astonishing quantities of alcohol that were quaffed over the last five or so days. Today my head is filled with gunk and I'm groggy and achey and tired and want to do nothing more than nap, and read Harry Potter when I'm not napping. I blame a gaggle of Billy Bobs who flooded out of the front door of the Monteleone on Saturday as we were checking out and moving to Rendon -- late middle age, hair slicked back, pants hitched up to the bottom of their rib cages, voices twanging like the last remaining catgut string on a broken down guitar in a Lubbock pawn shop, one of whom actually did address another as "Billy Bob" -- when one of them coughed on me as we passed. He's undoubtedly one of those types who goes into the wonderful Carousel Bar in the hotel and orders a Jack and Diet Coke.

I hardly know where to begin about Tales of the Cocktail, other than to say it was one of the most wonderful times I've had in recent memory. There was so much I learned, so many new things I tasted, such good, good times had.

Best of all was getting the chance to meet so many wonderful people, some who were simply fellow cocktail geeks, and others who were people I had only known from their websites, from the DrinkBoy or eGullet message boards or by simply admiring them from afar, and even being able to call some of them friends now. We met and hung out with Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles, Darcy O'Neil of The Art of Drink, Rick Stutz of Kaiser Penguin and his wife Gretchen, Dayne and Wendy Miller, Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz, importer of fine spirits and liqueurs, Chris McMillian and his wife Laura (whom I'd met at an early Tales event during Jazzfest), Jamie Boudreau from Vessel in Seattle, Jim Meehan, John Myers, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Joe Fee of Fee Brothers ... and the list goes on and on and on. Finally got to meet Murray Stenson of Zig Zag, and finally got to meet Gary Regan, who enveloped Wes and me in as crushing a bear hug as he could manage.

Hats off to Darcy and Rick for getting blog posts up on their respective sites already (I don't feel so bad seeing that as of this writing Paul hasn't quite recovered either!). Most of us weren't blogging from the event (except for Rick, who must have brought an extra suitcase of energy) -- we were generally either staying out way too late and/or collapsing into bed at the end of the day (sorry). Doubtless there will be myriad blog posts about all this, and I'll try to link to all of them.

We arrived at the Monteleone Hotel at about 5:30pm on Wednesday, and I was still a bit boggled by the fact that after having been born and raised in New Orleans I'd never once stayed in a French Quarter hotel. This was gonna be great, I thought, and little did I know. We dropped off the bags and were starving, as all we'd had all day was a greasy airport breakfast in L.A. and had declined the opportunity to spend $5 on an insulting "snack box" full of packaged, processed crap that's all the airlines seem to offer these days. We dashed right across the street to Mr. B's, an old favorite of mine but which I'd never managed to get Wes to for some reason, and had a quick dinner. Sadly I had forgotten my camera's flash card, and I wasn't too happy with the low-light iPhone photos, so suffice to say there was a bowl of Seafood Gumbo, a trio of Soups 1-1-1 (Gumbo Ya-Ya, Turtle Soup and the Soup du Jour, a crawfish and corn bisque as I recall), a head of roasted garlic with French bread, a Pan-Seared Crab Cake with Ravigote Sauce, plus Wes' entrée of a marvelous crabmeat ravioli, with gigantic lumps of crab. Ahhhh. Now that we were well-fed, we wouldn't be tearing anyone's head off.

We dashed upstairs for the opening night reception and grabbed a drink, which was the Official Cocktail of the event this year. It was invented by a bartender at GW Fins restaurant in the Quarter who, as someone mentioned, wasn't quite yet old enough to drink when she came up with it ... aah, New Orleans. )Actually, I think it's legal for you to serve at 18, but not drink at 18, which is silly, but I digress.) I thought it was lovely and refreshing; others we knew did not, not being big fans of long drinks. It's certainly worth a try, so give it a shot:

The Starfish Cooler
Official Cocktail of Tales of the Cocktail 2007
(Created by Stacey Smith of GW Fins, New Orleans)

1 ounce Moët et Chandon White Star Champagne
1 ounce limoncello
1 ounce PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
1 ounce unsweetened iced tea
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Mint leaves
Orange slice

Muddle the mint leaves and orange slice in a Collins glass. Add all ingredients and ice; stir to combine.

I do like drinks with tea in them, being a huge fan of Audrey Saunders' Earl Grey Marteani and the oolong tea-containing Columbian Exposition Punch. Worth further exploration.

Big night for meeting people too -- finally met Paul Clarke after all this time, and got a chance to thank him for the fantastic article he wrote in Imbibe this month (it was the best experience I'd ever I've had with a print journalist, one of the only times if not THE only time that didn't leave me at least annoyed, at most pissed off -- he was perfect as was his piece). In quick succession we met Eric Seed and Lorin Gaudin of New Orleans Magazine and the legendary Audrey Saunders of The Pegu Club (I tried not to gush when I met her, and failed miserably). Food was good, and although we'd already eaten it was too nice to pass up, all from Todd English's new restaurant Riche in Harrah's Hotel on Poydras. We finally got to meet Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess, who was presented with an award for all his contributions to Tales and to the cocktail scene in general, and it turns out that the award -- a beautiful cast glass mask -- was made by my old friend Mitchell Gaudet of Studio Inferno in the Bywater, one of the best glass artists around.

The evening ended with great revelry as we made it over to Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar, one of THE best places to quaff in the Crescent City. There we found Doctor and Nurse Cocktail holding forth with the Swizzle's dynamite bar chef Lu Brow, and the two Michaels behind the stick. Many more drinks were had, then a wobbly walk back to the hotel (ah, the joys of being within stumbling distance of one's bed) and lights out.

I'll try to do at least one daily post until I get all this covered, plus I want to backtrack to our astonishing Commander's Palace meal of two months ago, the pictures from which are already up on Flickr. Maybe I'll toss that in before the astonishing meal we had at Commander's five nights ago.


New Orleans' crippled health care system.   Sadly, it's not all great food and cocktails, y'all. Hundreds of doctors have left, and more are leaving. Only one of New Orleans' seven major hospitals is operating at pre-K capacity. Some are closed permanently. Entire practices of physicians are gone. The New York Times looks at the crisis New Orleans faces in its recovery if it can't take care of its sick people.

"I've been telling people, don't bring your parents back if they are sick," said Dr. David A. Myers, an internist who lived and worked in Mid-City before the flood but has moved his home and practice to the suburbs.

Of all the factors blocking the economic revival of New Orleans, the shattered health care system may be the most important -- and perhaps the most intractable.

Except for tourism and retailing, health care was the city's biggest private employer, and it paid much higher wages than hotels or stores. But there are now 16,800 fewer medical jobs than before the storm, down 27 percent, in part because nurses and other workers are in short supply.

[...] The city's mortality rate appears to have risen sharply in 2006, although state and local officials disagree about the level and persistence of the increase.

With the stress of life in the flood-ravaged city, the limited health care and insurance, the lingering mold and the discomfort of living in trailers, doctors report that the patients they see are often far sicker than those they treated before the storm. And even residents with health insurance can encounter a difficult time finding someone who will treat them. Government officials and civic leaders are floating grand plans for the future of the city's medical system, for a state-of-the-art hospital, for a cutting edge system to cover the uninsured, even for a "bio-innovation center" that would be an engine for economic growth. The question is what will happen in the meantime, which is likely to be many years long.

"We have to find a way to survive to that point, to provide care, or our city will collapse," said John J. Finn, president of the Metropolitan Hospital Council of New Orleans.

The government, of course, seems to give even less of a crap about the state of health care in New Orleans as it does for the state of health care across the country, unsurprisingly. Oh yeah, we're gonna rebuild you, we're gonna fix you all right back up. Heckuva job.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sorry!   I've been so insanely busy the last few days ... no time to post anything, including cocktail-related stuff, the fact that in a poll of Republican voters "none of the above" scored higher than McCain, Giuliani, Thompson and Romney (HAAAAAA!!!) and Vitter's wife joining him in the Incredible F*cking Hypocrites Club. Alas.

We're gone as of today, until Monday, when we'll be tired and hung over. I won't be bringing my laptop with me to NOLA, so I'll see y'all on Tuesday!

Tales of the Cocktail!   Tales of the Cocktail begins today! The madness begins today -- five days of drinking, eating, schmoozing, learning, swapping ideas and having an absolute blast.

If you're planning to attend, let me remind you of the two seminars in which I'm participating:

Lost Ingredients: Obtaining (or making) rare ingredients for even rarer cocktails, presented by Imbibe Magazine.

Thursday, July 19, 2:30pm - 3:50pm. $35.00

Led by: Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail. Panelists include Joe Fee of Fee Brothers, Paul Clarke, author and founder The Cocktail Chronicles and Mixology Monday; Chuck Taggart, author and webmaster of The Gumbo Pages, and Gwydion Stone, Founder of The Wormword Society.

This rare seminar will teach cocktail aficionados and bar professionals alike to reproduce uncommon (and wonderful) cocktail flavoring ingredients with obscure vintage recipes and forge into the future with new and original recipes. The rarified components of the seminar include Falernum, Bitters, Pimento Dram, Crème de Violette, Forbidden Fruit, Pomegranate Grenadine, Absinthe and Swedish Punch. Guests take home samples of Falernum from Fee Brothers Bitters.

Cocktails and the Blogosphere, presented by Bulleit Bourbon.

Saturday, July 21, 10:00am - 11:15am. $35.00

Led by: Paul Clarke, author and founder of The Cocktail Chronicles and Mixology Monday. Panelists include: Chuck Taggart, author and webmaster of The Gumbo Pages, Darcy O'Neil, host of The Art of Drink and Rick Stutz, creator of Kaiser Penguin.

Blogs have become an increasingly popular way for people with similar interests to share information and interact with one another. The growing arena of cocktail blogs offers readers an opportunity to follow trends as they develop in the bar and restaurant industries and among cocktail aficionados. Cocktail bloggers write about the drinks they find and develop, and delve into the creative process behind new and classic cocktails and fine spirits plus the interactive nature of blogs means readers can contribute comments and suggestions to the creative process. (As an example of a rare cocktail that ended up being passed along from blog to blog, we'll be serving the Fancy-Free Cocktail.)

Besides all the people I've admired for so long that I finally get to meet (and learn even more from), perhaps the event to which I'm looking forward the most is the Spirited Dinners, taking place at 20 restaurants around town, all on the same night (tomorrow). Each chef will serve a special four-course prix fixe menu ranging from $65-85, which will be accompanied by cocktail pairings presented by one or more bar chefs in each restaurant. The thing that drives me nuts is that I want to go to MANY of these dinners, but I have to pick just one! It was a tough call this time, but we finally settled on one.

Tales printed a six-page advertisement in this month's issue of New Orleans Magazine listing all the restaurants, plus offering a one of the four or five cocktail recipes from each dinner along with the course it's accompanying. (See the full menus here.) So ... to kick off Tales for all y'all who couldn't make it, get ready for TWENTY cocktail recipes! You can probably tell that several of them cater to the event's sponsors; think of that what you may, but we're all grateful to the sponsors for doing a lot to make the event actually happen.

7 on Fulton, featuring bar chefs Bridget Albert and Lucy Brennan. Course: Chocolate bonbons, vanilla ice cream, extra virgin olive oil.

Chocolate Pêche

1/2 ounce Starbucks Cream Liqueur
1 ounce Absolut Vanilia
Splash of crème de cacao

Top with fresh whipped cream and a chocolate stick.

Anatole, featuring bar chefs Christine Sismondo and James Meehan. Course: Curly endive salad with Belgian goat cheese and vanilla-infused vinegar.

Century Cocktail

1 ounce Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce Absolut Vanilia
3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Add all of the ingredients toa mixing glass, then fill with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Antoine's, featuring bar chef Ted Breaux. Course: Oysters Rockefeller.

Absolut-ly Absinthe Martini

1-1/4 ounces Absolut
1/4 ounce Absinthe Nouvelle-Orléans

Shake well with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Arnaud's, featuring bar chefs Chris Hannah and Ted Haigh. Course: Asparagus and Brie Soup.

Lemony Snicket

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

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Bourbon House, featuring bar chefs David Wondrich and Gary Regan. Course: Broiled Snapper with Crushed Corn and Bourbon Butter.

Airmail Special

1-1/2 ounces Cruzan Estate Diamond rum
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup (1:1 honey and water)

Shake well with cracked ice. Strain into ice-filled highball glass and top with Moët White Star.

Café Adelaide, featuring bar chefs Tony Abou-Ganim and Charlotte Voisey. Course: "Menage à foie," dirty duck calas, blackberry foie gras sandwich and foie gras fondue with bourbon fig jam and Bocage honeycomb.

Hotel Nacionál

2 ounces Cruzan Estate dark rum
1 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce apricot brandy
1/2 ounce simple syrup

Assemble all ingredients in a Boston shaker, shake well and strain up into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Café Giovanni, featuring bar chefs Francesco LaFranconi, Allen Katz and H. Joseph Ehrmann. Course: Marinated lamb chops with polenta and goat cheese, also with a tomato-roasted garlic rosemary sauce.

New Orleans Wine Cup

1/2 ounce Absolut vodka
1/2 ounce Barsol Pisco Quebranta
1/2 ounce Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry
3 ounces Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc
Spash of rock candy syrup
1 dash Herbsaint to coat the glass

Pour all ingredients over ice in a white wine goblet previously coated with the Herbsaint Garnish with an orange peel spiral and a fresh thyme sprig.

Commander's Palace, featuring bar chefs Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders. Course: Rum Butter-Poached Lobster Callaloo Caribbean Curry with ginger, okra, taro, sweet potato and house-distilled roasted coconut liqueur.

Ginger and Coconut Water Caipiroska

1-1/2 ounces Absolut vodka
4 eighths lime
1 ounce coconut water
1 piece of ginger, peeled, the size of a fingernail
1 ounce agave nectar or aloe vera nectar

Muddle the coconut water together with the ginger. Add the limes and the syrup and muddle again. Using the Old Fashioned glass the drnk will be served in measure a glass of ice into teh shaker glas and shake well. Pour the entire contents of the glass back into the Old Fashioned glass.

This is the one we're going to. I can't. Friggin'. WAIT!! :-)

GW Fins, featuring bar chef Eben Klemm. Course: Bourbon Pecan Pie with fresh peach ice cream.

Reverse Cappuccino

1 ounce half-and-half
Splash white crème de cacao
1 ounce Absolut Vanilia
Shake lightly with ice and strain into a snifter.

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Dash of water
1/2 ounce dark rum

Add ingredients and ice to shaker and shake heavily to form a mousse. Strain over the créme/vodka mixture.

House of Blues, featuring bar chef Cheryl Charming. Course: Lobster and Creamed Artichoke Risotto.

Summertime Blues

1-1/2 ounces Absolut Citron
1/2 ounce blue Curaçao
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon-lime soda
Lemon wheel garnish

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add the vodka, lemon juice and soda. Float blue Curaçao on top and garnish with a lemon wheel and a straw.

Rib Room, featuring bar chefs Christy Pope and Chad Solomon. Course: Seared porcini-crusted redfish filet with wilted spinach.


2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
Mint sprig.

Shake and strain, garnish with the mint.

Bombay Club, featuring bar chefs Ryan Magarian and Junior Merino. Course: Veal and Goat Cheese Pansoti with Roasted Tomato and Vodka Cream, Garnished with spiced walnuts and English peas.

Absolutely Pera

1-1/2 ounces Absolut Pear
1/2 ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1/6 of a d'Anjou pear
3 sage leaves
1/3 ounce Rhum Clement syrup
2/6 of a lime

Muddle the last four ingredients. Add the liquor and ice and shake; strain through a chinois (fine strainer) into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sage leaf.

La Cote, featuring bar chefs Sasha Petraske and Jonathan Pogash. Course: Venison carpaccio with Champagne gelée.

Ruby & Rye

1 ounce Absolut Ruby Red
3/4 Old Overholt rye whiskey
1/2 ounce almond syrup
3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 ounce Moët & Chandon White Star

Shake first four ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Add the champagne.

Louis XVI, featuring bar chefs Simon Difford and Tony Conigliaro. Course: Gulf Shrimp Tabouleh with Harissa Roasted Red Pepper Dressing.

The S. Tea G.

1-1/2 shots Plymouth gin
1 shot St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 shot cold English breakfast tea

Shake with ice and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass; top with tonic water. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Mr. B's Bistro, featuring bar chefs Andrew Dornenberg, Karen Page and Paul Harrington. Course: Filet of Rib-Eye - an 8 ounce wood grilled filet of beef rib-eye with blue cheese butter and fried Vidalia onion rings.


2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 ounce Absolut vodka
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc

Stir with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

NOLA, featuring bar chefs Robert Hess and Gwydion Stone. Course: Spicy Boiled Shrimp with Golden Tomato Gazpacho, Mashed Avocado and Shallot Crisps.

Imperial Topaz

1 ounce Cruzan pineapple rum
1/2 ounce Absolut vodka
1/4 ounce Herbsaint
2-3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Scant dash of orange flower water

Shake and strain into frosted cocktail glass.

Palace Café, featuring bar chefs Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and Wayne Curtis. Course: Red Curry Glazed Duck with Avocado Corn Relish.

Donga Punch

1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce cinnamon-infused simple syrup
1 ounce Cruzan Estate dark rum
1 ounce Rhum Clément VSOP

Put everything tino a cocktail shaker half-filled with crushed ice. Shake well. Pour into a tall glass. If necessary, add more crushed ice to fill. Adapted by Jeff Berry from Don the Beachcomber's 1937 recipe.

Pelican Club, featuring bar chefs Anistasia Miller and Jared Brown. Course: Maine Lobster and Louisiana Blue Crab Chopped Salad with Crispy Vidalia Onions, Paddlefish Caviar, Avocado and Crisp Greens.

Original Cosmopolitan

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin
2 dashes Cointreau
Juice of one lemon
Teaspoon raspberry syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The Delachaise, featuring bar chefs Paul Clarke and Darcy O'Neil. Course: Grilled Shrimp, Andouille and Baby Artichoke Skewer over Creamy Buckwheat Polenta with Spicy Salsa Verde.

Les Coulisses Cocktail

2 ounces Plymouth gin
1/4 ounce Cynar
1/8 ounce green Chartreuse
2 dashes Fee Brothers orange bitters

Stir well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a curl of lemon peel.

This was a tough, tough call. I really, really wanted to go to this one, which is why having all these dinners on the same night kinda drives me nuts.

Tujague's, featuring bar chef Chris McMillian. Course: Appetizer of brisket with horseradish sauce - a family style serving of Oysters Bordelaise, Chicken Bonne Femme and Filet Mignon.

Mojo Rising

1-1/2 ounces Absolut Citron
1 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
6 to 8 mint leaves

Combine vodka, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and mint in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a mint leaf and a lime wheel.


If you're in the New Orleans area for the next five days don't forget to check the Tales of the Cocktail website to see if any of the seminars or Spirited Dinners are still available ... come eat and drink with us!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, July 13, 2007

New Orleans' best cocktails: The Sazerac.   Master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge at the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton adds what's got to be THE episode of his regular series of mixological instruction via as we reach ... The Sazerac

And thanks a million to Keith Marszalek at for linking back here, too!

Vitter affair deepens.   Today, in a front page story, a prostitutes describes her affair with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the family values man.

More great coverage from Oyster is here, plus older coverage here, here, here, here (ick), here, here, here and here.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another Amer Picon substitute.   So many classic cocktails call for the now-defunct Amer Picon, a bitter orange aperitif. But it's still made, you say. True enough, it is. However, it's nearly impossible to get in the United States, and the House of Picon has for some reason seen fit to cut the proof in half and change the flavor profile competely. The Amer Picon you can get today (if you can get it at all) is a pale shadow of what it once was.

So far we've been using the excellent Torani Amer as a substitute -- it doesn't really match flavor profiles in a side-by-side tasting but works well in cocktails -- but now there's a new possibility, and one that might come closer to replicating the original Amer Picon flavor.

In the new issue of Imbibe I mentioned yesterday there's a recipe I'm really looking forward to trying for an "Amer Replica," concocted by master cocktailian bartender Jamie Boudreau at Vessel in Seattle. It calls for Amaro Ramazzotti, an Italian bitters, supplemented by the addition of Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters and a homemade tincture of orange (dried orange peel soaked in strong vodka). As soon as I can get to the Middle Eastern market I'm going to pick up some dried Seville (bitter) orange peel and get the tincture going (it takes 2 months of maceration), and I've already got the Ramazzotti and the bitters at home. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And no, I'm not reproducing the exact recipe here, because I want you to go out and buy the magazine!

Cocktail of the day.   The Random Recipe feature of CocktailDB comes through yet again. I don't know much history on this one, or if it has an association with New Orleans, but it seems to fit in, at least. We loved the spiciness and herbal notes of this one, so we made sure to use a spicy rye and a top-shelf vermouth. We also used the Torani Amer.

The Creole Cocktail

1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula or Punt E Mes, please).
1/4 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/4 ounce Amer Picon (substitute Torani Amer or Boudreau's Amer Replica).

Combine with ice in a shaker; stir for 30 seconds and strain. Lemon twist garnish.

We'll definitely make this again.

[ Link to today's entries ]

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Margarita.   I got a little bit behind, so this is from a week and a half ago. Master cocktailian bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans takes us through one of the most popular cocktails, showing us both classic and frozen Margaritas.

Note the presence of 100% pure agave tequila (which means never touch that vile Cuervo Gold swill ever again), and also note the lack of any abomination called "margarita mix.". Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever use this product. Ever. I keel you!

Tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice. How difficult is that? If you ever serve me something made from Cuervo Gold and Cuervo Margarita Mix, I'll smile, wait 'til you're looking the other way and dump it into the nearest potted plant. Then I'll say "Hey ... can I show you how to make this drink in a way you'll like a million times better? It's really easy!"

(I have to say I'd leave out the extra simple syrup; I like my Margaritas tart.)

Today's Vitter twitter: Why are we not surprised?   Turns out that Louisiana Republican Senator David "Family Values" Vitter didn't limit his "serious sin" to the D.C. Madam; turns out he was allegedly a regular customer of New Orleans' infamous Canal Street Madam too.

Jeanette Maier, the madam known for operating a high-end brothel with her mother and daughter, said Tuesday that U.S. Sen. David Vitter made occasional visits to her business beginning in the mid-1990s after the two met at a fishing rodeo where she and her prostitutes were hired to entertain local politicians.

After the initial meeting, Maier said she saw Vitter at the bordello and knew him as someone who patronized her call girls. She denied having a personal relationship with him and said he had stopped visiting the establishment by the time it was raided by federal agents in 2001.

"Sometimes we'd cross paths," Maier said of their encounters at the house.

"He was not a big regular client that he's so clear in my mind that I can remember every time he walked in the door."

Vitter, a Republican, did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him for comment.

Of course, we know poor David is not to blame for this? What's the real cause of his infidelity and the impending destruction of his marriage? Why, gay marriage, of course!

In 2004 when David Vitter was running for Senator in Louisiana, he warned of the terrible toll gay marriage would have on our society. In statement on "Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage" he said, "The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won't do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts's values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage." Vitter once compared the devastation of gay marriage to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which as someone from Louisiana should know is pretty destructive, and said during the debate on the amendment, "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one."

Despite his efforts, however, the Federal Marriage Amendment failed to pass and Massachusetts did redefine marriage by legalizing gay marriage. With the sanctity of marriage so severely degraded it was inevitable that Vitter's own marriage would suffer. Yesterday, we learned of the terrible personal cost to Vitter when it was revealed that his telephone number appeared in the records of the "DC Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey, which were released online.

[...]Though it is very magnanimous of Vitter to accept responsibility for his transgressions, is he really to blame? After the Hollywood left redefined marriage, it must have been a very difficult and confusing time for him. The failure of the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment must have taken a severe toll on him as he struggled to figure out what marriage really is if even gays can do it. As he grappled with the issue, is it any surprise that he found solace in the embrace of a disinterested paid companion?

Rated 100% by the Christian Coalition for his pro-family voting record and his support of such issues as abstinence-only sex education, Vitter first went to Congress in 1999 when he was elected to fill the seat vacated by Speaker of the House Robert Livingston after it was revealed that Livingston, who had attacked Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair, had himself had extramarital affairs. (In fact, Clinton's support of the Defense of Marriage Act may have been an acknowledgment of the role gay marriage played in his own transgressions.) Vitter later had to scuttle plans to run for governor when a newspaper planned to write a story about an affair he was having with a New Orleans prostitute. "Our [marriage] counseling sessions have ... led us to the rather obvious conclusion that it's not time to run for governor," he said. Already the insidious influence of gay marriage was starting to weaken his own marriage.

Hee hee! Read the rest of this one, it's a scream.

Sounds like the Karma Cops are getting him for "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one."

  Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Irene's Cuisine.   We've been many times. Wes insists; it's an old favorite of ours, and especially his. I love getting that first whiff of garlic bread as you approach the corner of Chartres and St. Philip in the French Quarter; it give you an omen of what you're in for.

Irene's Cuisine: Oysters Irene

Their signature appetizer, which I hadn't gotten in a while (I'm a big fan of their grilled shrimp and pannéed oysters with beurre blanc, spinach salad and raspberry vinaigrette starter). Oysters Irene are on the half shell and broiled with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, Romano cheese and pancetta. Very Italian, and very good (but I do still prefer the pannéed ones, which are definitely the appetizer to get if you haven't already).

Sweet Potato-Andouille Soup Turtle Soup

Both of the soups sounded great, so we went for them. Sweet Potato and Andouille Soup is a natural combination, and as this is a puréed soup, not a cream one, it was even almost good for me. Wes got the Turtle Soup, which held its own with the two other more famous turtle soups in the city -- Commander's Palace and Mandina's. The texture was a bit different here, larger pieces of meat and a chewier texture, with a bold turtle flavor, and they didn't overdo it on the sherry. Wes quite enjoyed it and said so to our server, who replied, "It's pretty good ... I prefer Mandina's myself." Well! Awfully honest.

Insalata di Pomidoro

Being a big ol' cochon I decided to get a salad too, because it looked so good -- Insalata di Pomidoro with balsamic vinaigrette, blue cheese and crispy pancetta. A salad, how big could it be? Um, well ... really big, as it turned out. Huge, thick slices of Creole tomato, tons of cheese and an abundance of that lovely Italian bacon. I didn't quite finish it.

There were two entrée specials that night, and as it was a Thursday it was osso buco night, served in the traditional manner with saffron risotto. That sounded really, really good, and I was having difficulty deciding between that and the other special. Our server made the decision for me: "We have osso buco every Thursday. We only rarely have ..."

Crab Cakes

Crab Cakes. Columns of pure jumbo lump crabmeat, nearly all crab with very little binder, pan-seared and served atop battered, deep-fried mirliton "fritters" with corn maquechoux and a long-cooked tomato sauce. These were excellent, the crab cakes being second only to Commander's (whose crab cakes are a Platonic dish, the ultimate expression of crab cake in the Universe). The tomato sauce was a bit much, but the mirliton and maquechoux were very nice accompaniments.

Filet of Sole Meuniere with Lump Crabmeat

I'm trying to remembe the particulars of Wes' dish, and he may have to correct me later, but I do believe it was a broiled Trout Meunière with Lump Crabmeat and Whipped Sweet Potatoes, which looked lovely and, as I recall from the bit I got, tasted lovely as well.

Cinnamon-Almond Gelato

We split the dessert (thank GAWD), which was a variation on the old Italian dessert called tortino: Cinnamon-Almond Gelato with Grand Marnier-macerated Louisiana strawberries (and as you know, Louisiana strawberries are the best anywhere).

Irene's is reliable and tasty and fun, and for us a great place for late-night eating. People go there earlier and wait in 2-hour lines, which I've never done. We show up for dinner after 9:30, usually more like 10, and get seated without much of a wait at all. Follow that strategy, get the shrimp and oyster appetizer, pay attention to the specials and listen to your server! You'll be in for a great (and extremely affordable) meal.

Shameless plug alert.   The new (July/August '07) issue of the most excellent Imbibe Magazine (which, in case you don't know it, specializes in cocktails but features drinking of all kinds, including spirits, wine, beer, coffee, tea, etc.) has a terrific feature article by Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles entitled "Gone But Not Forgotten: Obscure Vintage Ingredients Are A Cocktailian's Holy Grail." The article features lost, rare and homemade ingredients such as crème de violette, Batavia arrack, Amer Picon, falernum ... and this stuff you may have read about in these virtual pages, called pimento dram.

Oh, um ... and the article begins thusly:

Chuck Taggart is ordinarily a pretty cheery guy. Author of "The Gumbo Pages" web site and a dedicated fan of fine cocktails, Taggart has a taste for the classic, the historic and the obscure. But when he's hankering to mix a drink with something that can't be found at his local liquor store -- or any liquor store, for that matter -- his patience has limits."

"I don't like being told I can't have something," Taggart says emphatically. While accustomed to the occasional challenge, he says the ingredient that has particularly stymied him is a sweet rum-and-allspice combination known as "pimento dram," made in Jamaica and available almost nowhere else. "It brings such an air of mysetery to a drink," Taggart says of the liqueur, which he first sampled at the home of a friend who has an extrardinarily well-stocked liquor cabinet. "It's really very simple stuff, but it has such a complex flavor. I was frustrated that I couldn't get a bottle."

And it goes on from there. My initiation into this liqueur was, as you may recall, was, as with so much else, thanks to Dr. Cocktail. We talk a lot more about pimento dram, and the several other rare liqueurs mentioned above. Paul did a great job on this, and it's exciting to see these ingredients get some exposure (and especially to find sources for them).

Paul and I will be speaking on a panel at Tales of the Cocktail, moderated by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh", entitled "Lost Ingredients: Obtaining (or making) rare ingredients for even rarer cocktails", which is sponsored by Imbibe and which also features Joe Fee of Fee Brothers (makers of orange, peach and lemon bitters among many others), Gwydion Stone, founder of The Wormwood Society. It'll be next Thursday, July 19, at 2:30pm. If you're in New Orleans, come see us! It'll be a blast, and we're going to have tastes of everything.

Hypocrite. H-I-P-P-O-C-R-I-T. Hypocrite.   Arch-conservative (and formerly squeaky clean) Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana seems to have gotten caught with his pants down, as do so very many of his holier-than-thou colleagues.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for "a very serious sin in my past" after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called "D.C. Madam."

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter said in [a] statement. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

Boy, don't you just love how these guys immediately start slinging God around as soon as they get caught swinging their dicks around? Audrey put it well in email this morning: "He received forgiveness from God? How does he know that? Did God send him a telegram? God must be tired of all these morons apologizing to him." We were all in agreement that he sounde presumtuous rather than humble.

His hypocrisy shines in light of this comment he made in 1998, via Think Progress. Vitter got his start in Congress after replacing Republican former Rep. Bob Livingston (who spoke at my college graduation ... God, what a bore) after Livingstong "abruptly resigned after disclosures of numerous affairs." At the time, Vitter argued that Livingston's infidelities were grounds for resignation:

"I think Livingstons stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess."

-- David Vitter, to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, December 20, 1998.

The money quote, however, is from Vitter's wife Wendy. (Thanks, Steve!)

In 1999, after designated House Speaker Rep. Bill Livingston (R-La.), abruptly resigned after disclosures of numerous affairs, Vitter successfully ran to succeed him representing suburban New Orleans.

Asked whether she could forgive her husband after an extramarital affair, as Livingston's wife had done, Wendy Vitter told the Times-Picayune: "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Ha! I wonder if he's still got his old fella.

How much you wanna bet Vitter won't put his money where his mouth was, after all his comments about Livingston?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, July 9, 2007

New Orleans' best cocktails: The Ramos Gin Fizz.   Master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans offers up his next mixology lesson. Perhaps the most famous New Orleans cocktail after the Sazerac, this drink is legendary for the elbow grease required to make it properly (a LOT of shaking), and the tale of how Huey P. Long brought the Roosevelt Hotel bartender with him to New York so that he could have this drink, his favorite, made properly. It's getting tough to find people who can make these well, so become one of those people who can make a Ramos Gin Fizz. Watch:

If you're concerned about using raw egg white, find pasteurized egg whites in cartons in the dairy section of your local supermarket.

We did it ... we really finally did it. You MANIACS!!   (Thank you, Chuckles Heston.) Yep, we actually made the "burgers" yesterday -- 100% hand-ground applewood-smoked bacon, cranked through an old cast-metal meat grinder. Sampling of photos below; full set of the madness here. (Of course I, being me, forgot to load my memory card in my camera. Fortunately my shiny new iPhone came to the rescue! Photos are in available light, and aren't half-bad.)

Makin' bacon burgers The old-school meat grinder works great
Patties! And we begin to fry
Flipping The finished bacon patties
et voila ... the finished product!

They were ... not bad. Pretty good, actually. Very bacony, as you can imagine. The pepper jack cheese was a good additioin. Interesting texture, but the fact that they were so crumbly and fell apart so easily tells us that if we were to do it again we'd need some kind of binder to help hold the patty together. Mary didn't particularly care for them, Dave liked them a lot (and wants to add mayo and fried egg!) and I'd think they're a bit too fatty to eat a whole one on one's own. We took a few bites and passed 'em around.

We all survived, and thanks for asking. I did suffer a few ill effects last night, but I think that was purely overindulgence. Besides the burgers we had our main course -- barbecued ribeyes and pork shortribs, plus a watermelon and arugula salad with balsamic dressing, dainty little Benedictine sandwiches, Wesly's famous bacon-wrapped, Parmigiano-stuffed dates, an antipasto platter with olives, cheese and prosciutto, a shrimp salad with (guess what) candied crumbled bacon, and desserts including raspberry-frosted chocolate brownies and Vosges Bacon Milk Chocolate bars. So yeah, a lot of food.

It was a lot of fun, but I'm not sure we'd do the ground bacon burgers again. I think the thing to do is to make a mix of 80% ground beef and 20% ground bacon, which is what they call a "squealer." THAT'S gonna be quite the experiment! (Thanks for the inspiration, Barry! You nutcase. Actually, we're the nutcases for trying it ...)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, July 6, 2007

Quote of the day.   From the man referred to as "The Father of the Bill of Rights:"

"The President of the United States has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardons for Treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, & thereby prevent a Discovery of his own Guilt."

-- George Mason, objecting to the presidential powers granted in the Constitution, 1787.

(Thanks, Rick!)

Dare we?   It's a true bacon burger -- i.e., no beef. *boggle*

I sent this link to the Fat Pack, wiht the email subject line "Dare we?" The resultant conversation went like this:

Steve: I .... I .... I .... speechless....

Dave: Hey, why haven't we thought of that before?? This is a must-try recipe!

Steve: Maybe one split among all of us. (Did I say that?)

Wesly: [referring to Steve's suggestion] Who are you?

Steve M.: Hey Dave, if you guys have a meat grinder at your house, I think I've found my dish for Sunday...

Nettie: I actually know where I can get a meat grinder. My Dad had one and now my brother has it. So I'm on it.

Dave: Yes, we will have a meat grinder... we wanna try this, too!

And it will happen this Sunday. I love these people. (Thanks for the tip, Barry!)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Plus ça change ...   Two hundred thirty-one years ago today a document was signed, and these words from it ring truer than ever.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Bush's opinion of America

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [...]

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

... plus c'est le même chose. (Thanks, Mary!)

Hot dogs!   What could be more American than that? (For better or for worse.) Dickie Brennan and some other Brennan restauranteurs are raising the hot dog bar this week. They'll be closed today, but you can still check this out tomorrow and Friday:

It's Back...the Great Hot Dog Challenge

What says patriotism more than a little healthy competition and a homemade hot dog?

Stop into Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, Palace Café or Bourbon House for lunch anytime between Wednesday, June 27th and Friday, July 6th (except July 4th when all the restaurants will be closed) to try a taste of pure American gastronomy.

Our friends over at Commander's Palace have resurrected the Great American Hot Dog Challenge, and have asked Tom Fitzmorris to name an official winner on July 3rd.

The following Brennan family restaurants will be participating in the Challenge, all aiming to win bragging rights among cousins: Bacco, Ralph's on the Park, Redfish Grill, Commander's Palace, Café Adelaide, Mr. B's Bistro, Bourbon House, Palace Café and Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse.

Let Your Palette be the Judge! Try one or all three of the following completely housemade dogs:

Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse - a housemade Prime beef frank on a toasted Creole bun, topped with peppers, onions, and melted pepper jack cheese, served with prime chipped beef chili and tempura battered pickled green beans.

Bourbon House - Foot long smoked BBQ Shrimp Hot Dog topped with green tomato pickles, Abita molasses mustard and crispy fried Cajun onion rings on a house-made garlic bun. Served with Tanya's macaroni salad.

Palace Café - Chicago meets New York ... and comes together in New Orleans! A combination of Chicago style Vienna beef and New York style veal "white hots" in a bacon wrapped swirly dog. Served on top a griddled manchego poppy seed bun with pickled mirliton & green tomato relish, melted manchego cheese, mustard and Creole tomato ketchup. Accompanied by grilled, fried red onion rings and BBQ red beans.

Oh my.

Unfortuately we won't be stealing any of these ideas and doing any grilling tomorrow. Temperatures are going to be in the 90s tomorrow and the last thing I want to do is stand in front of a grill. We'll be seeking air-conditioned refuges, and will probably see two movies. Maybe we can get a dog or a burger at Pie 'n Burger or something.

Libby's sentence "not unusually long."   From the From the Los Angeles Times:

In commuting the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush said that the former vice presidential aide had suffered enough and that the 30-month prison term ordered up by a federal judge was "excessive."

But records show that the Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby's. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice -- one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March -- got some prison time. According to federal data, the average sentence defendants received for that charge alone was 70 months.

Just last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 33-month prison sentence for a decorated Army veteran who was convicted of lying to a federal agent about buying a machine gun. The veteran had a record of public service -- fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War -- and no criminal record. But Justice Department lawyers argued his prison term should stand because it fit within the federal sentencing guidelines.

That Bush chose to make an exception for a political ally is galling to many career Justice Department prosecutors and other legal experts. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday the action would make it harder for them to persuade judges to deliver appropriate sentences. [...]

Sentencing experts said Bush's action appeared to be without recent precedent. They could not recall another case in which someone sentenced to prison had received a presidential commutation without having served any part of that sentence. Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time.

"We can't find any cases, certainly in the last half century, where the president commuted a sentence before it had even started to be served," said Margaret Colgate Love, a former pardon attorney at the Justice Department. "This is really, really unusual."

Said Ellen S. Podgor, a professor at Stetson University law school: "This is a classic case of executive activism as opposed to judicial activism." [...]

he Bush administration and the Justice Department have been tough enforcers of and advocates for the guidelines. And they have frequently been critical of federal judges who give lighter sentences.

That made Bush's announcement Monday all the more puzzling. The 30-month sentence was within the range of the federal guidelines, and was issued by a judge whom Bush had appointed to the bench.

So, surprise ... he's full of shit.

Amend the Constitution?   I've already begun to hear talk about limiting the president's absolute power to issue clemency, commutations and pardons. Seth Gordon, writing in Making Light, proposed this idea for a constitutional amendment:

Section 1. The President shall not, without the consent of Congress, grant a pardon or reprieve for any felony which was committed while the felon was an employee of the Executive Branch.

Section 2. The President shall not, without the consent of Congress, grant a pardon or reprieve for any felony in which the felon was an accomplice, accessory, or co-conspirator with a felon described in Section 1.

Section 3. The President shall not, without the consent of Congress, grant a pardon or reprieve for the felony of obstruction of justice, when such a felony impedes the investigation of a crime described in Section 1.

I have no problem with that whatsoever. However, I am not a lawyer, of course. Your thoughts?

Olbermann: Bush, Cheney "perilous to our democracy .. resign."   Keith Olbermann's greatest special commentary yet, on the commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence. Full transcript here; excerpts below. Read and watch it all.

Keith Olbermann's special commentary
Click picture for link to video

"I didn't vote for him," an American once said, "But he's my president, and I hope he does a good job."

That -- on this eve of the 4th of July -- is the essence of this democracy, in 17 words. And that is what President Bush threw away yesterday in commuting the sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The man who said those 17 words -- improbably enough -- was the actor John Wayne. And Wayne, an ultra-conservative, said them, when he learned of the hair's-breadth election of John F. Kennedy instead of his personal favorite, Richard Nixon in 1960. [...]

We as citizens must, at some point, ignore a president's partisanship. Not that we may prosper as a nation, not that we may achieve, not that we may lead the world -- but merely that we may function.

But just as essential to the seventeen words of John Wayne, is an implicit trust -- a sacred trust: That the president for whom so many did not vote, can in turn suspend his political self long enough, and for matters imperative enough, to conduct himself solely for the benefit of the entire Republic.

Our generation's willingness to state "we didn't vote for him, but he's our president, and we hope he does a good job," was tested in the crucible of history, and earlier than most.

And in circumstances more tragic and threatening. And we did that with which history tasked us.

We enveloped our President in 2001. And those who did not believe he should have been elected -- indeed those who did not believe he had been elected -- willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of non-partisanship.

And George W. Bush took our assent, and re-configured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.

Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise, or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.

Did so even before the appeals process was complete; did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice; did so despite what James Madison -- at the Constitutional Convention -- said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes "advised by" that president; did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder: To what degree was Mr. Libby told: break the law however you wish -- the President will keep you out of prison?

In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental compact between yourself and the majority of this nation's citizens -- the ones who did not cast votes for you. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the President of the United States. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the President of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the Republican Party. And this is too important a time, sir, to have a commander-in-chief who puts party over nation.

This has been, of course, the gathering legacy of this Administration. Few of its decisions have escaped the stain of politics. [...]

[O]ur democracy ... has survived the frequent stain of politics upon the fabric of government. But this administration, with ever-increasing insistence and almost theocratic zealotry, has turned that stain into a massive oil spill.

The protection of the environment is turned over to those of one political party, who will financially benefit from the rape of the environment. The protections of the Constitution are turned over to those of one political party, who believe those protections unnecessary and extravagant and quaint.

The enforcement of the laws is turned over to those of one political party, who will swear beforehand that they will not enforce those laws. The choice between war and peace is turned over to those of one political party, who stand to gain vast wealth by ensuring that there is never peace, but only war.

And now, when just one cooked book gets corrected by an honest auditor, when just one trampling of the inherent and inviolable fairness of government is rejected by an impartial judge, when just one wild-eyed partisan is stopped by the figure of blind justice, this President decides that he, and not the law, must prevail.

I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war.

I accuse you of fabricating in the minds of your own people, a false implied link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

I accuse you of firing the generals who told you that the plans for Iraq were disastrously insufficient.

I accuse you of causing in Iraq the needless deaths of 3,586 of our brothers and sons, and sisters and daughters, and friends and neighbors.

I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent.

I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought.

I accuse you of exploiting that unreasoning fear, the natural fear of your own people who just want to live their lives in peace, as a political tool to slander your critics and libel your opponents.

I accuse you of handing part of this Republic over to a Vice President who is without conscience, and letting him run roughshod over it.

And I accuse you now, Mr. Bush, of giving, through that Vice President, carte blanche to Mr. Libby, to help defame Ambassador Joseph Wilson by any means necessary, to lie to Grand Juries and Special Counsel and before a court, in order to protect the mechanisms and particulars of that defamation, with your guarantee that Libby would never see prison, and, in so doing, as Ambassador Wilson himself phrased it here last night, of becoming an accessory to the obstruction of justice. [...]

[Richard] Nixon's mistake, the last and most fatal of them, the firing of Archibald Cox, was enough to cost him the presidency. And in the end, even Richard Nixon could say he could not put this nation through an impeachment.

It was far too late for it to matter then, but as the decades unfold, that single final gesture of non-partisanship, of acknowledged responsibility not to self, not to party, not to "base," but to country, echoes loudly into history. Even Richard Nixon knew it was time to resign.

Would that you could say that, Mr. Bush. And that you could say it for Mr. Cheney. You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday. Which one of you chose the route, no longer matters. Which is the ventriloquist, and which the dummy, is irrelevant. [...]

It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them -- or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them -- we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time -- and our leaders in Congress, of both parties -- must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach -- get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


And give us someone-- anyone -- about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my president, and I hope he does a good job."

Happy Independence Day.

Happy Fourth of July!   Our president just flipped us off, people, and flipped off the rule of law. Don't you feel proud to be an American?! What's next?

No one likes us
I don't know why
We may not be perfect
But heaven knows we try
And all around even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money
But are they grateful?
No they're spiteful
And they're hateful
They don't respect us so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded
And Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
Let's build an all-American amusement park there
They got surfin' too!

Boom goes London
And boom Pa-ree
More room for you
And more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town

Oh how peaceful it'll be
We'll set everybody free
You'll wear a Japanese kimono, babe
There'll be Italian shoes for me

They all hate us anyhow
So let's drop the big one now

Let's drop the big one now

-- "Political Science," by Randy Newman

How little has changed since that song was written.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Disgrace.   I was too angry and upset to post yesterday.

I wonder which is greater -- the contempt I have for the president and vice president of the United States, their ghastly corruption and their entire corrupt government (greater than any contempt I've ever had for any aspect of government in my lifetime), or the complete and utter contempt and disdain for the Constitution, the rule of law, the American people and common decency that Richard Cheney and his marionette George W. Bush have embraced so thoroughly.

It is, of course, the latter.

That said, the president, vice president and administration of this nation are a disgrace.

You know exactly what happened. Just as Scooter Libby was about to head to prison (where he'd undoubtedly sing every song he knows, and flip on everyone he could, and probably let this be known), his sentence is commuted. Cheney ordered this, because Libby is Cheney's friend stooge (I don't think Cheney is capable of the kind of emotion it requires to actually form a true friendship), because Libby knows things, and because Cheney pulls Bush's strings.

This is on top of the vice president essentially declaring himself to be a fourth branch of government, answerable to no one, and the president and vice president refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas.

And now the president of the United States has used a constitutional power to commit what is quite probably an obstruction of justice.

And because Cheney-via-Bush commuted Libby's sentence rather than pardoning him outright, the conviction stands and the case remains on appeal, which means that Libby can plead the Fifth and won't end up testifying about Cheney before Congress, either.

If you've ever had any doubt (and if you have even up until this time, you're either blind or stupid or a sycophant), this should be your final confirmation that these men think they're above the law. Are we that beaten down? Are we that weary?

Oh, and how did the White House respond to the outpouring of outrage from the vast majority of the Americna people over this? They shut off their public phone lines. They don't give a shit what you think, and don't want to hear it.

Is this nation going to let them get away with it? Be very careful if you do, because God only knows what they'll get away with next.

You think this country is unrecognizable now? (And it is.) Just you wait.

There's an idea.   From The Washington Post: " The following is from a report written and released by the Judiciary Committee in 1974 in the aftermath of the Watergate crisis."

In the [Constitutional] convention George Mason argued that the President might use his pardoning power to "pardon crimes which were advised by himself" or, before indictment or conviction, "to stop inquiry and prevent detection." James Madison responded:

[I]f the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds [to] believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty...

Madison went on to [say] contrary to his position in the Philadelphia convention, that the President could be suspended when suspected, and his powers would devolve on the Vice President, who could likewise be suspended until impeached and convicted, if he were also suspected.

Call and write your representatives today. Demand an investigation.

French Quarter in greater danger than before Katrina.   Just when you thought our pile-of-shit government couldn't get any worse ... it does. This isn't just putting themselves above the law -- this is their neglect and culpable malcompetence that puts human lives and 300 years of history in danger.

The government's repairs to New Orleans' hurricane-damaged levees may put the French Quarter in greater danger than it was before Hurricane Katrina, a weakness planners said couldn't be helped, at least for now.

Experts say the stronger levees and flood walls could funnel storm water into the cul-de-sac of the Industrial Canal, only 2 miles from Bourbon Street, and overwhelm the waterway's 12-foot-high concrete flood walls that shield some of the city's most cherished neighborhoods.

The only things separating Creole bungalows and St. Louis Cathedral from a hurricane's storm surge are those barriers, similar in design to the walls that broke during Katrina.

"A system is much like a chain. We have strengthened some of the lengths, and those areas are now better protected," said Robert Bea, a lead investigator of an independent National Science Foundation team that examined Katrina's levee failures.

"When the chain is challenged by high water again, it will break at those weak links, and they are now next to some of the oldest neighborhoods, including the French Quarter, Marigny, and all of those areas west of the cul-de-sac."

J. David Rogers, another engineer with the National Science Foundation team, concurred with Bea's assessment that the French Quarter may now be in more peril than before Katrina.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers knew the levee repairs would heighten the risk to the French Quarter. One commander even called it the system's "Achilles' heel." To curb the danger, the corps reinforced the existing barriers. But engineers didn't have enough time or money to entirely replace the flood walls with higher, stronger ones.

Bea and other independent experts say those steps were insufficient.

"It wasn't, 'Get all the repairs done and then look at the rest of the system,"' said Ed Link, a University of Maryland engineer and a top adviser on the reconstruction work. "It was all being done in parallel."

The system, he said, is stronger now, but "it's misinformation to infer that it's an unintended consequence."

I really can't go on, because if I do I'm going to have a fucking stroke.

A glimmer of hope in Gentilly.   Some good news at least, small though it may be ... despite the fact that they've been almost completely abandoned by the government (local, state and especially federal), some of the people of Gentilly are getting up and doing what needs to be done -- themselves.

The sound of hammers and saws. New green grass. A few freshly painted facades. Birdsong piping from a young tree.

This is the Gentilly neighborhood today, once a backbone of New Orleans and all but given up for dead less than a year ago after flooding from Hurricane Katrina turned it brown and gray and silent in 2005.

Gentilly, home to about 47,000 people before the storm and a thin fraction of that now, is not dead. Haltingly, in disconnected pockets, this eight-square-mile quadrant north of the historic districts that line the Mississippi River is limping back to life, thanks to the struggles of its most determined former residents.

But they have had to do so largely on their own, because help from government at any level has been minimal, in their accounts. In recent weeks, some residents have reported getting checks from the state's Road Home rebuilding program, but four-fifths of applicants have not.

Each block still contains only a handful of occupied houses. But a beachhead has been established here, a residential area critical to this city's survival and one that before the storm was dominated by black homeowners, professionals and multigenerational citizens of New Orleans.

A similar story is unfolding in two other once-flooded family-centered neighborhoods, neither of them flashy but both equally important to this city's future: Broadmoor, in central New Orleans, and Lakeview, in the northwestern corner, show signs of life here and there along the wounded streets. Neighbors, encouraged by the earliest post-Katrina pioneers, are moving back in.

All over the city, a giant slow-motion reconstruction project is taking place. It is unplanned, fragmentary and for the isolated individuals carrying it out, often overwhelming. Those with the fortitude to persevere -- and only the hardiest even try -- must battle the hopelessness brought on by a continuing sense of abandonment.

The selection process has been Darwinian, with a combination of drive, tenacity, luck and savings seeing the neo-colonizers through. New Sheetrock glimpsed through a window, often as not, was bought with scraped-together savings.

"I'm just keeping my head down," said Albert Felton, 76, a retired mechanic who has exhausted his resources on his frame house on Brutus Street in Gentilly, near one of the levee breaks. He has done most of the Sheetrocking, painting and sanding alone, and the task remains unfinished. "You don't see contractors out here," Mr. Felton said. "We can't afford them."

Read the rest.

Oh, and just a reminder ... that speech Bush gave in Jackson Square? When he had it all lit up with government generators and floodlights while the entire Quarter was still without power for its remaining residents and businesses? When he promised to do whatever it took, as soon as he could, to recover and rebuild New Orleans for its citizens? Those were all lies.

An uplifting opinion.   Cokie Roberts, NPR news analyst and commentator, and daughter of Louisiana politicians Lindy and Hale Boggs, writes a guest opinion in, of all places, the Billings (Montana) Gazette that needed to be said. I haven't always been her biggest fan, but I'm glad she and her husband wrote this.

New Orleans optimistic despite setbacks

It looks better. It really does. No longer do you see cars on top of houses, boats marooned in the middle of the street, piles and piles of personal possessions - a teddy bear here, a child's slipper there, poignantly reminding you that real people lived here. The vast devastated area of New Orleans and neighboring St. Bernard looks tidy now, almost pretty. In land so fertile that wooden fence posts often sprout shoots, a gray-green covering of grasses and reeds quickly filled the space where homes once stood, some of them for generations.

It's eerily quiet still. Where music blared out of bars or traffic whizzed past shopping malls, now birdcalls mix with the occasional hammer as the only sounds for miles. On some streets, one or two intrepid homeowners have rebuilt, their houses standing as islands in the boarded up, broken down sea around them. Driving past shuttered schools, padlocked post offices and sealed-up stores, it seems impossible that it's been almost two years since the winds of Katrina followed by the waters of the levee breaks wrecked whole sections of this wonderful old city that is Cokie's hometown.

Remarkable for their resilience, the residents of New Orleans remain incongruously upbeat. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (where Cokie's on the board) found more than half of the people in the area affected by the hurricane saying they were worse off financially than before the storm, but almost 70 percent expressing optimism about the future. Restaurant and hotel owners have put their money where their hearts are and valiantly re-created the world-class eateries for which the city is famous. A good time can certainly still be had by all.

So there's a mixed message coming from New Orleans boosters: Everything's OK, please come with your conventions and your cash. Versus: Here we are after almost two years, desolate and feeling deserted by government at every level. Both messages are true.


I keep emphasizing the dueling concepts in that last graf when I speak of the city. Yes, we're ready for you to come. The restaurant scene is booming, with more restaurants open now than before Katrina. The music scene, despite the diaspora of musicians around the country, is still rich enough to keep your soul in joy. The oaks are coming back along St. Charles. But yes, there are still people living in FEMA trailers.

I have the greatest respect for everyone who's sticking it out. It's you who are the hope of the city.

June Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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