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Cocktails on Arrakis, Part 1

[N.B. — If you 1) haven’t read Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, and/or 2) aren’t a geek, then this post is likely to make little sense to you.]

My old friend Chris Caldwell, a writer and cocktailian living in Denver, issued the following post on his Twitter feed the other day:

“And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Sazerac!” #cocktailsonarrakis

I laughed, I groaned, I shouted “ARRGGGHHH!”, I wanted to buy him a drink, I wanted to slap him upside the head with a flyswatter. In other words, my natural reaction to a really great/awful pun.

But it got me thinking.

I wrote him back right away and said, “Shai-Hulud’ll get you for that, Chris. That said, The Crysknife would be a great name for a drink.”

He replied, “That was better than ‘I must not beer. Beer is the mind-killer. Beer is the little death that brings total oblivion.'” Oh, gods. *facepalm* Okay, it’s a good thing I wasn’t in the room with him, because he’d have flyswatter prints on both cheeks.

“Or ‘May thy coupe glass chip and shatter.'” Hmm, that’s better. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Or ‘When you reach the bottom of the drink you dare not drink, you’ll find me staring back at you!'” Oh, oh … the boy’s on a roll.

I told him that now he has to make a Kwisatz Sazerac. It would, of course, have to have a faint whiff of cinnamon, to recall the spice melange — “the smell – bitter cinnamon, unmistakable.”

Not only that, we need to get to work on other Dune cocktails too. The Crysknife, of course. The Heighliner? The Gom Jabbar! Chris said, “A Gom Jabbar would be an awesome drink! ‘I remember your gom jabbar, you remember mine!'” I mentioned this to Matt “Rumdood” Robold, and he immediately said, “You mean a Gomme Jabbar, of course.”

*SCREAM!* Genius!!

A while after our initial conversation Chris got back to me with the results of his experimentation. “Surprisingly good,” he said. It’s really just a simple Sazerac variation, but the geeky pun is just too priceless to pass up, and warrants a post of its own — the first, I hope, of several posts featuring Cocktails on Arrakis.

It’s still a rye base with a rinse of absinthe. A spiced simple syrup is the main difference, plus some orange bitters (the color of the spice) and an orange peel instead of lemon.

Don’t add a splash of the Water of Life, though, because you’ll die an agonizing death. Or, if you’re female and can transmute the poison, you’ll become a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother. Or if you’re male, and you don’t die, you become …

(by Christopher Caldwell)

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 bonded rye whiskey.
1 barspoon Spice-Must-Flow Syrup.
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters.
1 dash Regans’ Orange Bitters.
Splash of absinthe.

As in a traditional Sazerac, coat a chilled Old Fashioned glass with the absinthe and discard all or most of the excess. Combine rye, Spice-Must-Flow syrup and bitters in a chilled mixing glass and stir with ice for 30-45 seconds. Strain into the absinthe-coated glass. Twist the orange peel over the drink. It is the will of Shai-Hulud that you drop the peel into the drink (especially if you’ve cut it to look like a sandworm).


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon green cardamom seeds (not pods)

Crush the stick and seeds in with a mortar and pestle. Toast the spice gently in a small saucepan, tossing constantly, until it begins to become fragrant. Add the water and sugar and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain out the spice through a fine strainer and pour into a jar. Keep in the fridge; should last about a month.

Stay tuned for the Gomme Jabbar — the high-handed enemy. My idea for the base was a navy-strength gin; Matt thinks Wray & Nephew Overproof, which I may like better and should be sufficiently deadly. Don’t worry, though — it kills only … animals.

P.S. — Chris has one of the most consistently great Twitter feeds of anyone I know. Follow him.


It’s Carnival Time!

As Al Johnson sings, “It’s Carnival time … everybody’s havin’ fun!”

In fact, Carnival season has been going on for a week now, having begun as true to tradition on January 6, the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Carnival kicks off in New Orleans with the very first Carnival ball that night, put on by a krewe called the Twelfth Night Revelers. Also that night, another group called the Phunny Phorty Phellows take over a streetcar for their first-night-of-Carnival revelry.

Phunny Phorty Phellows

The Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night 2011. Photo by Jim Hobbs, via Creative Commons

We’ve got a nice long Carnival season this year, which I love — Mardi Gras Day isn’t until March 8. That means there’s more time for … King Cake! You can read more about the tradition at the links, but in a nutshell … King Cakes are a sweet, coffee-cake like ring cake decorated with purple, green and gold sugar (the colors of Mardi Gras), available from Twelfth Night until Mardi Gras Day. (There are those who make them available year-round, but it is BLASPHEMY! BLASPHEMY, I TELL YOU! to eat King Cake anytime other than between these dates. Just don’t.) Baked into the cake is a small plastic baby, and if you get Da Baby in your piece of King Cake, you are obliged to throw the next King Cake party. This is a lot of fun, but can be problematic if your luck (good or bad, depending on your perspective) leads you to get the baby numerous times in one Carnival season. As a cartoon in artist Bunny Matthews’ old “F’Sure!” strip, which featured actual dialogue heard in New Orleans once portrayed, a guy said, “Yeah, when I was a kid at St. Rita’s, I got da King Cake baby five pawties in a row! My mama almos’ died,” to which his podna’ replied, “Yeah brah, ya shoulda swallowed dem!” (If this isn’t hilarious to you … well, it’s a New Orleans thing; you wouldn’t understand.)

Expatriate New Orleanians and others who love the city are now, thanks to the fact that we live in Da Future, ordering King Cakes over the Internets! They’re a bit expensive to ship, but as far as I’m concerned it’s worth every penny. Those of us who have baking skills or who live too far away for reasonable shipping, both of which apply to my friend Tiare in Sweden, make things easier by simply making their own!

King Cake, baked in Sweden! Looka dat! Just like ya mamma usesta go ova by McKenzie's ta buy!

I can’t bake worth a hoot, so this year I got mine from my old high school classmate Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes, which are some of the best in town. The first one I tried this year is one of his Pecan Praline King Cakes, which sounds really good. It was JUST delivered, and we’ll haul it to Seattle tomorrow to bring a little touch of Carnival to the snowy Pacific Northwest.

Speaking of pecan praline … King Cakes have come a long way since I was a kid. I grew up on the plain, dry, bready King Cakes made by McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes, and I loved ’em. A lot of people didn’t (the plain, dry, bready bit being a big reason why), but I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing for the rest of us. Most “plain” King Cakes today are at the very least a sweet, moist cinnamon coffee-cake dough, and many have myriad fillings — fruit, vanilla, chocolate, etc. Pecan praline is a new one on me though — nice going, Manny ‘n krewe — and I can’t wait to try it.

There are those who might want to take their King Cakes a bit … further. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Larry Ragusa.

Could it be … the ultimate King Cake? Awrite … I know what you want.

(Thanks to Greg Beron for sending this to me; that’s his brother Larry portraying “Larry.”)


New Year’s Broccoli Soup

Happy New Year! Bonne année! Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Dhaoibh! Feliz Año Nuevo! ‘N all that stuff.

I hope your holidays were happy and fun and safe and indulgent. It’s the latter part that’s kind of the problem for me. I was very, very indulgent during the holidays …

“Hey Chuck, what’d ya do during the holidays?!”

“I got fat!”

Yes, a very unwise step onto the scale after New Year’s Day revealed that the 35 pounds I lost once upon a time have now all returned. It may have taken seven years to do so, but I am now once again the fat motherfrakker I was in January 2004. Sigh.

Some of it isn’t just fried seafood po-boys, of course. If I may quote my friend Erick Castro, who responded thusly to someone who observed that he had developed a beer belly, “That is a WHISKEY belly, and I consider it to be a significant investment!”

Well, one thing we can do to help shave off some of that blubber is to eat a bit more healthily, smaller portions and more green stuff. I came across recipes for a “detox” diet for January in Bon Appetit, some of which looked interesting but it’s an awful lot of work (three meals a day from scratch) for someone who has to work all day, plus a 2-hour roundtrip commute. I did get some good ideas from it and from other sources though, and last night I cobbled together a remarkably delicious soup from a few different recipes plus my own ideas. Wesly responded very positively to it, and with tweaks it can be done with meat, dairy-vegetarian style or even completely vegan.

For convenience I bought two 12-ounce bags of prepared, washed broccoli florets and a 5-ounce bag of washed baby spinach — 6 minutes in the steamer or 2-1/2 minutes each in the microwave. Easy peasy.

I know I’m a pain in the ass about making homemade chicken stock, but I am aware of the realities of time constraints. You can use a good-quality prepared stock — I like Kitchen Basics, which comes in cartons. Swanson’s Low-Sodium version is also pretty good, and a lot better than it used to be. Whatever you use, make sure it’s as low in sodium as possible.

If you want to make it a little less healthy you could use full-fat yogurt or even heavy cream. Vegans, you’re on your own for substituting this one, or you could just leave it out.

If you don’t think you like broccoli, or that it’s smelly (well, it kind of is, when you’re steaming it), fear not — all the other elements in this soup help rein it in, and it’s really delicious. Bright, balanced, very satisfying and really, really good for you. Here’s how I did it.


1-1/2 pounds fresh broccoli florets.
5 ounces fresh spinach.
1 medium red onion, diced.
2 carrots, peeled and grated.
3-5 cloves garlic (to taste), minced.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.
1 avocado.
1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped.
4 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade.
6 ounces non-fat yogurt, preferably Greek-style.
Few pinches cumin, to taste.
Few pinches hot smoked Spanish paprika or ground chipotle chile, to taste.
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
1 to 1-1/2 ounces prosciutto crudo, julienned (optional).

Heat the oil and sauté the onions, carrots and garlic until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Throw in the spinach for the final minute or so and cook until it’s wilted. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli until cooked but still crisp-tender, about 6 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, add the broccoli, onions, carrots, garlic, avocado, ginger and chicken stock, and blend until puréed. Transfer to a pot, stir in the yogurt and season with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika/chipotle to taste.

Serve 1 cup as a side dish or starter, or 2 cups as a whole meal. Optionally, top with julienned prosciutto, diced Spanish chorizo or a small amount of salumi or charcuterie.

YIELD: About 9 cups

Now, time to get my big ass back to the gym. Sigh. The very thought. I need a drink.