the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, rants, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

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

Page last tweaked @ 4:55am PDT, 4/20/2005

RSS Feed

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

Now available!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order from

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute 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


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

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

March 2005
February 2005
January 2005

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

How to donate to this site:

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

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

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

Buy stuff!

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

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
pat and paul
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

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

   Subscribe to the
   "Down Home" weekly
   playlist email service

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits, Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.

*     *     *
The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

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

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

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

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

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

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

New Orleans Menu Daily

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

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

Click here for a new daily recipe from Chef Emeril!
In vino veritas.

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

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

Reading this month:

Prime, by Poppy Z. Brite.

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

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

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

Chuck's Photo of the Day Archive


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

Meet the Fockers (***)

Lookin' at da TV:

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


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Creek Running North
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Right Hand Thief
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home:

Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
Right Hand Thief

The Final Frontier:

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


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)


Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

  Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Clarinet crusader.   Bunny Matthews of OffBeat interviews my old high school bandmade Tim Laughlin (from Google's cache, as OffBeat seem to be redoing their site at the moment). Tim's one of the best jazz clarinetists anywhere -- even though he and I had the same music teachers, the lessons must've really taken with him. He's at Jazzfest's Economy Hall tent this Friday at 2:55pm.

Quote of the day.   I am so stealin' this one.

"You've got a better chance picking fly shit out of black pepper with boxing gloves on."

-- Tim Laughlin, when asked by Bunny Matthews if he thinks the Saints will ever make it to the Super Bowl.

Yeah you rite.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New Orleans-bound!   This'll likely be my last day of posting for a while, as Wes and I are heading back home to New Orleans tomorrow. We'll be wallowing in food, drink, music, family and friends for the next two weeks, and posting is likely to be scarce.

Expect huge gobs of food porn when we get back, though.

The Dozen Essential New Orleans Dishes.   From today's New Orleans Menu Daily, a list of what Fitzmorris considers to be the must-have New Orleans dishes. Discuss.

1. Oysters, raw and broiled.
2. Barbecue shrimp.
3. Soft shell crab.
4. Broiled or fried fish meuni`re, with or without almonds or pecans.
5. Gumbo.
6. Roast beef poor boy.
7. Crawfish étouffée.
8. Turtle soup.
9. Shrimp remoulade.
10. Café au lait.
11. Bread pudding.
12. Muffuletta.

I think I'll likely be having examples of all of these in the next two weeks, especially lots and lots of softshell crabs! (Good thing I still kept a coupla pairs of the 34" waist pants.)

Airline food?! Aieeeeee!!!   I don't eat it, and I never will, unless I'm on the verge of starvation. This boy always brings his own food aboard a plane whenever possible. This is why. Unless you're overpaying for first class, it's invariably inedible. *shudder*

You've got to be fecking kidding me.   Ratzinger? They picked Ratzinger?!

Well, congratulations, seventeenth-century cardinals. You couldn't possibly have come up with a worse choice -- the only member of the College of Cardinals whom I actively despised. Expect to drive many millions more people away from your church, and expect the ones who have already been driven away to distance themselves another few hundred thousand light years farther off.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, April 18, 2005

A spectacularly bad job.   That would be an apt description of my stated goal over the last couple of weeks, which was "Hey, I think I'll keep to a very strict WeightWatchers regimen and drop down below 160 to help counter the weight I'm going to put on in New Orleans in a couple of weeks." A noble sentiment, but the results could best be described as complete and utter failure.

The bacon bash of a couple of weeks ago didn't help, nor did Friday night's lovely dinner at Blair's in Silverlake with Robb and Jaason. I forgot my little black dining notebook, so some details will be lost to posterity, but the Champagne at the top of the wine list turned out to be the perfect apéritif before the evening's gustation. I tend to be a tad skeptical of crab cakes, particularly after swooning over the crab cakes at Commander's Palace (almost pure, unadulterated lump crab meat brought to the table in a ring mold). I decided to try these, though, as I'm generally trusting of Chef Marshall Blair's cooking (he has yet to let me down). His crab cakes were crisp and deep-fried, light on the inside with tangy seasonings amidst the Dungeness crabmeat. Good, but I'm still sperled by huge bass drums of lump blue crabmeat and only the subtlest hint of seasoning.

The main was wonderful -- sautéed skin-on lake trout filets, with butternut squash purée and blueberry farro with a chanterelle nage. Absolutely lovely flavors, and the fish was perfectly done, simply presented. I loved the farro, which I had never tried before and which is apparently really good for you (I chose something healthy ... go figure!). I'd get that again in a heartbeat, but there's more exploring I want to do on his menu. Jaason got the beef shortribs, which were falling-off-the-bone tender and looked fabulous. Wes went with the duck (one day that boy's going to turn into a big half-duck, half-softshell crab); he'll have to fill in the details, I'm afraid.

The dessert was pretty good, but the whole didn't quite add up to the sum of its parts for me. Strawberry-filled crêpes with tarragon ice cream sounded fascinating, but I was reminded after I took my first bite that I'm not a huge crêpe fan, and I wished the tarragon ice cream were more strongly flavored (I'm going to try a batch at home after we get back). It was topped by a piece of candied Meyer lemon peel, and I found myself wishing I had gotten something chocolately. Wes loved his hazelnut and caramelized banana tart, and Robb and Jaason split some enormous chocolate-peanut sundae thing, which was alluring and terrifying.

Blair's is a lovely (if tiny and often crowded) neighborhood restaurant that offers dishes far above the usual neighborhood joint. It's actually one neighborhood over from ours, but less than 10 minutes away (no farther than Cinnabar, really) where we'd only been once before, but after tonight we'll certainly go again and again.

About last night.   Oh, and my further failure to slim down was compounded by last night's meal. We had had plans with our friends Gregg and Mike to have a dinner of choucroute garni (French for "garnished sauerkraut"), the pride of the Alsace, which we all love and which I hadn't made since cooking school.

I never was a fan of sauerkraut. My old roommate Andy back in gradual school was a sweetheart and a great roommate, but had a few really bad habits. One of them was to dine on sauerkraut, dumping it right from the can or jar into a saucepan and heating it up, thereby quite literally stinking me out of the house. He'd then shout through the window to tell me how wonderful it was and how much he was enjoying it, and I'd reply with graphic retching noises.

In my second year at UCLA's nighttime culinary arts program, my chef-instructor was a diminutive-looking woman named Cecelia DeCastro, who could remove your head from clear across the kitchen with one quick lash of the tongue. She started picking on me from day one, after it seemed that I was the only one in the whole class to successfully carry out the first homework assignment -- make a classic chicken stock. I don't know what the other students' problem was -- perhaps I was the only one who actually read the feckin' recipe -- but she said my stock was perfect, was the only one in class that was perfect, and from that day forward she dubbed me "the overachiever". My questions were harder than everyone else's during oral quizzing; in fact, most everyone got one question, but she'd keep asking me five or six or seven, until she tripped me up. I got the stinkiest, most difficult dishes, the ones with the weirdest ingredients, the ones nobody else wanted to make.

I loved it. She was a great teacher.

Anyway, when I saw that one of the dishes was a braised sauerkraut with pork, I whispered to my cooking partner about Andy's stinky eating habits, and how much I hated sauerkraut, and how I hoped someone else would get assigned that dish. Naturally, Chef heard me from 40 feet away and thundered that I would be making the choucroute. Great.

Turned out that I loved it. Done properly, sauerkraut is cooked after thorough rinsing in at least two changes of water, and squeezed dry. (Hear that, Andy?!) I used my old recipe from class -- first off, you get fresh sauerkraut in the bag, from the refrigerated section of the supermarket, or better yet, freshly-made from a deli. After thorough rinsing it's combined with sautéed onion, garlic and Granny Smith apple, then it's cooked in white wine (preferably a Riesling) and pork or chicken stock, with a seasoning sachet of juniper berries, a little caraway, parsley, bay and cracked black pepper. Then ... there are the pork products.

The "garni", or "garnished" aspect of the choucroute is the various smoked pork products included. I had two extra-thick smoked pork chops from the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen in Beverly Hills, which were plopped on top of the choucroute and braised for about an hour. Then on top of that went a one-pound ring of their housemade Polish kolbase sausage. Mixed in with the choucroute was several one-inch pieces of that fabulous Summerfield Farms bacon we've been eating for the past two weeks, and then I grilled up some of the EDSK's excellent andouille.

That, with some roasted new potatoes and four kinds of Alsatian beer, was dindins. Fantastic, but low-fat it ain't.

Dessert was a surprise -- Gregg and Mike brought over some loquat clafoutis, topped with crème fraîche, made with loquats they had picked yesterday from their tree. Unbelievably good. I can't wait until our loquat tree is ready, but it'd be just our luck that they'll probably be at their peak of ripeness while we're in New Orleans, and the birds will have gotten them all by the time we get back. I have plans for loquat preserves and loquat liqueur, if we can get any. The clafouti was washed down with a few drops of F. Meyer Quetsch Dark Red Plum Eau-de-Vie, which was lovely (and which prompted me to pull out some Meyer Poire Williams eau-de-vie that I had in the cabinet, and which went particularly well with the clafouti and gave me ideas for later).

Sigh. I'm going to have to do lots of walking when I'm back home.

Running with scissors.   Steve Gilliard, today (via Mary ... thanks!)

You know, Bush doesn't scare me much. Because at heart he's a coward. He will never stand up to anyone who can possibly help him, even if they threaten to take the country down with them.

I don't scare easy, some nerves, but very little real fear.

Bill Frist scares the shit out of me.

If you've ever cared for small kids, you know the scariest thing they can do is the thing they do not know is dangerous, jumping on couches, running with scissors, picking up glass.

That's what I think about Bill Frist.

He is running with people who don't mind the shotgun and the sniper's rifle as a tool of political debate. The people who are talking about juducial whatever, oppression, activism, think they are marching with God and that is a scary thing to see in action. Because their highly fucked version of God is a psychopathic killer who is obsessed with judging people. Love and justice is nowhere in their picture.

And Bill Frist thinks these people will lead him to the White House.

If George Bush wasn't a coward, he'd denounce that Bund rally over Passover. He'd call it what it is, a festival of lies and deceit. an unconstitutional attempt to destroy this country.

Frist and DeLay think that they can control these people with trinkets. If Frist had some brains, he'd run from this mess like his ass was on fire. But he won't because he wants to be their man, without doing more than saying shit that they want to hear.

Now, there is no excuse for Chafee to raise money with Frist or Lugar to play the loyal soldier. They will both be disposed of when they find a suitable replacement. These people are fucking lunatics who have no regard for anything but their dreams of a Christian America. Frist and friends play along like it's no big deal to destroy the judiciary. DeLay is an asshole, but Frist should know better.

They run along like children with scissors hoping that they can get to the construction paper and paste before they trip.

They are just so fucking reckless it is truly amazing to watch.

And terrifying. I hope Frist gets all the bad press and plummeting approval ratings he deserves for mixing himself up in this bullshit. If he doesn't ...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, April 15, 2005

Cocktail of the day.   You know what we're drinking today. Try not to have too many, unless you really need them. It's not all that great just a Bronx Cocktail with bitters added -- decent, but nothing to write home about -- but if you're going to drink them, today's the day.

Income Tax Cocktail

1-1/4 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce orange juice.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash Angostura bitters or other aromatic bitters.

Shake & strain, serve in a cocktail glass. No garnish.

As I mentioned last year at this time, at our house we prefer a different borough:

Brooklyn Cocktail

1-1/2 ounce rye or Bourbon.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce Amer Picon (Torani Amer).
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.

Stir in mixing glass with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Now that I could drink all night.

Quote of the day.   This'll work for today's obligations.

OK, I need some deductions. Marge, if anyone asks, you require 24-hour nursing care, Lisa's a clergyman, Maggie is seven people and Bart was wounded in Vietnam.

-- Homer Simpson

No rush ... y'all got 'til midnight!

Mixologist!   Yay! Just as I was talking about it yesterday, my copy of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail, arrived! Yep, a 200-page, scholarly, peer-reviewed publication, which isn't to say it's just as fun as it is informative.

Here's a rundown on the articles within:

A Brief History of Punch, by David Wondrich
Before the Cocktail become king, Punch was the favored social libation, combining spirits, citrus fruits, spices, sugar and water in a myriad of forms. David Wondrich traces Punch's curious origins and its evolution as it coursed through two centuries of popular culture. First appearing in a letter that dates back to 1632, Punch graced the lips of sailors and merchants involved in the East India trade. Bowls of Punch flowed at gatherings of nobles, sports enthusiasts and literati during the British Empire's rise, throughout the American Revolution and well into Victoria's reign before it was supplanted by its down-the-hatch successor, the Cocktail.

The Rise and Fall of the Martini: Following the Course of the Martini Throughout History, by Robert Hess
Few Cocktails have stirred the emotions of drinks scholars the world over as the Martini. Debates -- both written and oral -- have raged over the Silver Bullet's authorship, evolution and its execution for over a century. Robert Hess surveys his personal view of the drink's evolution through his extensive research of the historical records and offers readers an opportunity to launch into their own journey of self-discovery through a structred tasting flight. For what is any Cocktail worth if it doesn't refresh and satisfy on a purely subjective level?

History and Character of the Gimlet, by Paul Clarke
The Gimlet sailed the Seven Seas along with the officers and ship's surgeons who drank them regularly in hopes of staving off scurvy. Originally made with gin and preserved lime juice cordial, the Gimlet has evolved in its current resurgence and reinvention. Paul Clarke examines both the alleged origins of the Gimlet; the history of its most distinctive ingredient, Rose's Lime Juice Cordial; and the modifications and personal touches that have entered into thsis classic Cocktail vernacular up to the present day.

The Genealogy and Mythology of the Singapore Sling, by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh
Pretty and pink, the Singapore Sling has quenched thirsty British colonial palates at Singapore's famed Raffles Hotel sine 1915, when it was known as the Straits Sling. Ted Haigh warns readers not to dismiss this libation as another "Tiki" creation made by westerners to satisfy their desire to taste Paradise. He traces this tropical quencher from its island roots back to its true origins as the seventeenth century Sling and then offers readers a point of revelation. The sweet, fruity Singapore Slings most of us have experienced have little in common with its spicy and soda-less ancestors.

The Bellini, by Lowell Edmunds
Who says that ingredients don't make the drink? In the case of the Bellini, the main ingredient -- strained white peach purée -- is the difference between bliss and blah. Lowell Edmunds follows the origins of this Italian classic and the time-consuming yet wholly satisfying process it takes to create this warm weather favorite.

If You Like Piña Coladas, by Jared Brown
Cocktails are among history's bastard children, acknowledged years after their birth, and then only if they reach prominence. Once a Cocktail achieves notoriety, people begin to wonder who its parent is. But anyone who pursues this truth inevitably faces a dearth of information about the Cocktail's infancy. Yet Cocktail -- each as products of their time -- can speak volumes for themselves if we look hard enough. Most can be traced to the actions of an imaginative bartender or passionate amateur, the fads of an era and the tastes of a region. However, after delving into the birth of the most broadly influential Cocktail of all time, Jared Brown shows readers that the Piña Colada's history would be incomplete without a look at two other inventions: the electric blender and processed cream of coconut.

Antoine Amédée Peychaud: Pharmacist and New Orleans Cocktail Legend, by Phil Greene
As enigmatic as the origins of the classics themselves, myths and legends have built up around the term "Cocktail" itself. H. L. Mencken traced the word's etymology to a number of divergent sources. And although authorities agree that the term first appeared in print in an upstate New York newspaper in 1806, the person most associated with the word "Cocktail" was a nineteenth-century New Orleans pharmacist -- Antoine Amédée Peychaud. Phil Greene, a Peychaud descendent, dug deep into the records to find out more about his ancestor, who created Peychaud's Aromatic Bitters -- a prime ingredient in the first of the great New Orleans Cocktails, the Sazerac.

Down to the Sea in Ships: History of Gin and Plymouth Gin, by Anistatia Miller
The story of gin's origins begins with the history of two nations united in wars against France and Germany since the sixteenth century. In its early heyday, gin was called "mother's ruin" - the drin of the working class masses who paid a penny per serving in London's gin palaces throughout the 1700s. But as legislation restricted who could produce and sell gin to the public and new inventions improved the final product, gin became the spirit of the elite, especially when it crossed paths with the officers of Great Britain's Royal Navy who took the spirit with them around the world. Anistatia Miller surveys gin's birth and rise to prominence in the world of Cocktails, focusing on the history of one of its most famous brands - Plymouth Gin.

The Definitive Guide to Simple Syrup, by Darcy O'Neil
Water and sugar should be a simple matter of combining two essential elements in equal portions until completely dissolved, right? Chemist-turned-mixologist Darcy O'Neil shows there is more science to the making of simple syrup than meets the eye.

Twenty-First Century Cocktails, by Audrey Saunders
To leap into the future of Cocktails and create your own signature drinks, you need to master the classics so you can build from a solid foundation. A well-known proponent of the classics, Audrey Saunders presents her own personal voice of the Cocktail's future, going from the bar to the kitchen and discovering new elements to incorporate into modern classics.

The Long and Winding Road: Researching the History Chapter for The Joy of Mixology, by Gary Regan
For the average person, the idea of spending days, weeks, even months hovering over old books, the historical documents of a business, and the biographies of U.S. presidents is as exciting a prospect as chartered accountancy or actuarial work for an insurance firm. Gary Regan's account of his adventure into historical research for his book The Joy of Mixology proves that this road is, in truth, a riveting and eye-opening journey.

That oughta keep us busy for a while! Links for ordering Mixology are in the most recent issue of The Cocktailian Gazette. If you've got an idea for an article, get to work -- submissions for next year's issue are already being considered, and the deadline is October 1.

Speechless.   Why do I write about cocktails and drinking before I write about things like this? Could it be because you'd have to be piss-drunk to believe some of the shit that's happening?

I've never been more concerned for the future of this country than I am now. We're going to have to fight to keep it, y'all. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the radical clerics behind him are beginning their full-on assault on our democracy, and Frist is coloring his attempt to establish one-party rule in the Senate as a theocratic crusade. From today's New York Times:

As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees.

Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day "Justice Sunday" and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading "the filibuster against people of faith," it reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."

Atrios: "These people hate our country. It's really that simple. They hate the Constitution. They hate everything that we were taught (back in the day at least) is supposed to be great about the country."

If Frist and the extremist religious wingnuts whose votes he hopes to get for president in 2008 (why he's doing this, of course) succeed in eliminating the filibuster by simple majority, 57 million Americans (at least) will have no voice in the Senate.

Call every independent or Democrat of faith that you know, and tell them to call their Senators, write their newspapers, call their local news stations. You want to stop the imposition of a tyranny of the (barely a) majority? Then get busy.

UPDATE: Here's a statement from Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid:

I am disappointed that in an attempt to hide what the debate is really about, Senator Frist would exploit religion like this. Religion to me is a very personal thing. I have been a religious man all my adult life. My wife and I have lived our lives and raised our children according to the morals and values taught by the faith to which we prescribe. No one has the right to judge mine or anyone else's personal commitment to faith and religion.

God isn't partisan.

As His children, he does ask us to do our very best and treat each other with kindness. Republicans have crossed a line today. America is better than this and Republicans need to remember that. This is a democracy, not a theocracy. We are people of faith, and in many ways are doing God's work. But we represent all Americans, regardless of religion. Our founding fathers had the superior vision to separate Church and State in our democracy. It is a fundamental principle that has allowed our great, diverse nation to grow and flourish peacefully. Blurring the line between Church and State erodes our Constitution, and our democracy. It is a blatant abuse of power. Participating in something designed to incite divisiveness and encourage contention is unacceptable. I would hope that Sen. Frist will rise above something so beyond the pale.

Don't count on it, Harry. The man's a nut.

UPDATE: Via Hunter at dKos, a statement from Rabbi David Saperstein, of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

The news that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to join a telecast whose organizing theme is that those who oppose some of President Bush's judicial nominees are engaged in an assault on "people of faith" is more than troubling; it is disingenuous, dangerous, and demagogic. We call on him to reconsider his decision to appear on the telecast and to forcefully disassociate himself from this outrageous claim.

Senator Frist must not give legitimacy to those who claim they hold a monopoly on faith. They do not. They assert, in the words of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and organizer of the telecast, that there is a vast conspiracy by the courts "to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms." There is no such conspiracy. They have been unable to ram through the most extreme of the President's nominees, and now they are spinning new claims out of thin air.

Alas, this is not an isolated incident. This past week, the Christian Coalition convened a conference in Washington entitled, "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith." Their special guest speaker was the House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom DeLay. When leaders of the Republican Party lend their imprimatur to such outrageous claims, including, at the conference, calls for mass impeachment of Federal Judges, it should be of deep concern to all who care about religion. It should also be of concern to President Bush whose silence, in the wake of the claims made both at the conference in Washington and in the upcoming telecast, is alarming.

The telecast is scheduled to take place on the second night of the Passover holiday, when Jews around the world gather together to celebrate our religious freedom. It was in part for exactly such freedom that we fled Egypt. It was in part for exactly such freedom that so many of us came to this great land. And it is in very large part because of exactly such freedom that we and our neighbors here have built a nation uniquely welcoming to people of faith - of all faiths. We believe Senator Frist knows these things as well. His association with the scheduled telecast is, in a word, shameful. We call upon to him to disassociate himself from the claim that the Senate is participating in a filibuster against faith, and to withdraw his participation from the April 24th event.

Don't count on it, Rabbi. The man's a nut, and an ambitious nut at that. Still, we can hope he comes to his senses ... (yeah, right).

Not all it was cracked up to be?   From this week's issue of The Onion:

Heaven Less Opulent Than Vatican, Reports Disappointed Pope

HEAVEN -- The soul of Pope John Paul II, which entered Heaven last week following a long illness, expressed confusion and disappointment Saturday, upon learning that the Celestial Kingdom of God to which the departed faithful ascend in the afterlife is significantly less luxurious than the Vatican's Papal Palace, in which the pope spent the past 26 years of his earthly life.

"Where are all the marble statues, sterling-silver chalices, and gem-encrusted scepters?" the visibly disappointed pope asked. "Where are the 60-foot-tall stained-glass windows and hand-painted cupolas? Where are the elaborately outfitted ranks of Swiss Guards? Why isn't every single surface gilded? This is my eternal reward?"

Heaven, according to the New Testament, has "brilliance like a very costly stone... of pure gold, like clear glass..." with "twelve gates... each gate a single pearl." Yet the pope, who spoke from the afterlife, said heaven is nothing like the "solid-gold city" detailed at length by John of Patmos in the Book of Revelations.

"Evidently, the Bible was not intended to be taken literally, after all," John Paul II said. "Don't get me wrong: It's very nice up here -- quite beautiful and serene. It's just not as fancy as what I'm accustomed to. If I'd known Heaven was going to be like this, I would've taken one last tour through my 50 rooms of velvet-draped thrones and priceless oil paintings before saying 'Amen' and breathing my last."

According to the pope, Heaven is merely a place of unending peace and happiness, wherein all the spirits of the Elect live together forever in perfect harmony and goodness, basking in the rays of God's divine love.

"Up here, everyone is equal," John Paul II said. "No one has to go through an elaborate bowing ritual when they greet me. And do you know how many times my ring has been kissed since I arrived? None. Up here, I'm mingling with tax collectors, fishermen, and whores. It's just going to take a little getting used to, is all."

"Merely." Heh. The Onioneers' writing is brilliant and razor-sharp, as always.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Cocktailian Gazette.   Robert has just sent out the most recent issue of the newsletter of the Museum of the American Cocktail, featuring an article by Dale DeGroff and other museum news (including the publication of the first issue of Mixologist: Journal of the American Cocktail, weighing in at 200 pages!)

One line I didn't mind waitin' in.   There was a great turnout for Poppy Z. Brite's signing at Dark Delicacies last night, with probably 40 or 50 people showing up. Alas, we didn't get to chat with her as much as we might have liked, but that was just fine -- we were happy to see all those people there, and glad that they were all buying books. I just hope none of them bitched (even privately) that her new work isn't horror. I love sf, horror and fantasy too, have since I was old enough to read, but c'mon people ... a terrific book is a terrific book. Get your head out of the genre sometimes!

Poppy had mentioned a while back that she doesn't usually imbibe on tour, but from the looks of how things had been going lately Mary, Wes and I thought maybe she could use one. Sazerac lovers/evangelists that we are, we brought Sazerac fixins, but after having just read Poppy's story "A Season in Heck", also set in the world of Liquor, and wondering if Rickey's vehement hatred of Sazeracs came directly from the author's own tastes, I made sure we grabbed the bottle of Wild Turkey from the bar as well (we know she likes that stuff!). So, for perhaps the first time in the history of author signings at Dark Delicacies (and, I hope, not with any consternation or annoyance on the part of the owners, whom we didn't ask first but should have), a visiting author was served a Wild Turkey and soda from a 1940s-era glass from the Sazerac Bar at the old Roosevelt Hotel. We got kinda ravenous and ready for dinner, so we had to nab the glass back and pour Poppy's drink into a go cup (how New Orleans is that?)

For dinner we ended up at a nearby British pub for English food "Isn't that an oxymoron?" I guffawed to Carol, who pointed out that apparently these days London is one of the best eating cities in the world, and I don't doubt it. It was typical hearty pub grub, some good and some disappointing. Wes praised the sausage rolls, which sat in a pool of deep brown gravy that most certainly came from a big jar (it glistened), and I have to admit I love good sausage rolls but was attempting to behave myself. Mary got a Ploughman's Lunch, which came with an enormous wedge of Cheddar, about the size we'd put out for everyone at a cocktail party, a pile of crisp but tepid chips (fries) and various Branston Pickle and other pickly and salady accompaniments.

My cock-a-leekie soup (boy, don't you just love saying that? "Cock-a-leekie!") was overly salty and obviously made from a prepared commercial soup base (c'mon, it's a pub; what do you expect?), but the leeks were fresh and tender. My shepherd's pie was actually pretty good, although it was made with the same glistening bottled gravy that Wes had with his sausage rolls, and it was served with fresh carrots and peas that were so brightly colored I wondered if they had been spray-painted. The vegetables were, of course, prepared in the grand English tradition -- entirely devoid of seasoning. ("God save our gracious chef / long live our noble chef / God save the chef / Send him a pepper mill / Herb and spice jars to fill / Something tasty on the bill? / God save the chef") We had fun, though -- the Guinness was good, and there was this good but strange bluegrass band there, playing both twangy old traditional songs and Savage Garden covers.

By the way, if you're in the mood for comfort food and are looking for ran absolutely dynamite shepherd's pie, go to Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock and hope that it's one of the recurring specials that day. No dearth of seasoning there! And enough in one serving to feed the entire 42nd Royal Highland Regiment.

Chef or hunk? (Both.)   An article in last week's Los Angeles Chef Ludo Lefebvre of Bastide (hubba hubba) Times Food Section called to mind the irritation that Chef John Rickey of the (unfortuantely) fictitious New Orleans restaurant Liquor (in the Poppy Z. Brite novels I've been enjoying of late) feels when some people talk about him. Rickey wants to be known for his food, and bristles at media descriptions of him as a "prettyboy chef", paying what he considers to be inordinate attention to attributes other than his cooking.

Apparently not every chef shares his pain. In fact, Chef Ludovic "just call me Ludo" Lefebvre of Melrose Place's Bastide seems pleased as punch to flaunt what a hunk he is (note the photo to our left) in his new book Crave: The Feast of the 5ive Senses, reviewed in the Times. Thing is, he's not just a prettyboy chef -- the food is apparently amazing. It it accessible? Yes, but be prepared to seek out obscure ingredients and spend 5 hours to 3 days prepping. (Is he accessible? Sorry boys and girls, he's married.)

The food? Like its chef: "Absolutely alluring, but frequently infuriating." Some of it sounded fantastic:

A cake of apple confit was pretty fabulous: 20 thin layers of apples, scattered with citrus zest confit and slow-baked. It was intensely appley (it's a brilliant use of Granny Smiths), with an amazing texture, and a light, tart caramel sauce. A crème fraîche garnish played beautifully off those bright flavors. So what if it took 2-1/2 hours to prep, plus 5 hours to bake?

My other favorite was young garlic soup with thyme, scallops and gold leaf: basically young garlic and ginger simmered in milk, puréed to frothiness and poured around seared scallops over tender watercress. The gold leaf is optional, but it makes the dish look spectacular. This was extremely easy to prepare, and the subtle green garlic and ginger flavors were marvelous.

Some dishes, not so much, plus the typical bugaboo of a restaurant cookbook:

The book's strength and weakness are one in the same: the restaurantiness of the recipes. They're quite well thought-out in terms of do-ahead preparation. Just as in a restaurant, a natural mise en place suggests itself, so executing fairly elaborate dishes is actually pretty stress-free. For those who like to entertain, that's a huge plus. Many of the dishes are impressive and gorgeous. On the other hand, a chef who has a battalion of prep cooks and sous-chefs and a network of high-end purveyors at his disposal thinks nothing of calling for hard-to-find ingredients or labor-intensive preparations.

Too often for the home cook though, the added effort and expense of making the stock or procuring the exotic ingredients just isn't reflected in the final dish. And because the instructions aren't always thorough (and sometimes the recipes are flawed), they're best attempted by a fairly experienced home cook.

Green lentils with cinnamon kept beckoning from the page. It called for Ceylon cinnamon, which, as it turns out, is locally available only at Le Sanctuaire in Santa Monica. We bought it mail-order from Penzey's Spices. I was miffed at having to jump through hoops to find it, but what a discovery: The cinnamon is arresting and delicate, with a lovely floral aroma. I was eager to cook with it.

The lentils are simmered in Evian water, with onion, clove, carrot, celery, a bouquet garnis and the Ceylon cinnamon. The cinnamon and lentils harmonized beautifully. A big chunk of butter is stirred in at the end, really too much, I thought; it drowned out the cinnamon. Finally, blanched diagonal-cut quarter-inch slices of cucumber are stirred in and simmered briefly in the lentils. Here, I think, Lefebvre took a really good idea and then went off the deep end. The slimy surfboards of cucumber are just weird with the lentils; they don't add anything to the dish. And Evian? Please.

Still, there are so many interesting ideas here that I intend to keep cooking.

That one's worth trying -- I love lentils, and we have Ceylon cinnamon (from Penzey's, natch, along with Vietnamese and Korintje cinnamon) in our cupboard. I think I'll skip all that butter and the slimy cukes, though. And the Evian? I think I'll be happy with Arrowhead, or maybe even good ol' Eagle Rock tap water.

(A digressive rant -- I read a piece in Gourmet by chef Tony Bourdain in which he visited Alain Ducasse's New York restaurant and sat there squirming in agony while the waiter extolled the individual virtues of all the bottled waters on the water cart he had brought to the table. (Water cart? Oh, for Christ's sake.) Y'know ... when we go out to a fine restaurant, if we've got the money we don't skimp or cut corners. We order truffles and foie gras if it's there and the dishes look good, we order appetizers, soup or salad, entree and dessert, we order cocktails, wine with dinner, Port or Cognac or some other after dinner drink and we always tip very well. Still, we just don't have it in us to spend between six and ten dollars on a bottle of feckin' water. I'd rather spend that on a glass of wine, thank you very much. And don't even think about giving me that condescending look or worse, a comment, when we say "No thank you, tap water will be fine." Digressive rant ended.)

Anyway, I think I'll add this one to my Wish List ... hey, I've got a birthday coming up in seven months!

New Son Volt coming!   From the Jay Farrar mailing list, via Tom (thanks!): There's a new Son Volt album due in a few months, although not with the original lineup of Heidorn on drums and the Boquist brothers on almost everything else; the new lineup looks really good, though, and I'm glad to see a Blood Orange in there. Here's the release:

"Okemah and the Melody of Riot" the new album from Son Volt, will be released by Legacy Recordings on July 12. The album features Jay Farrar (vocal, guitar, piano, harmonica), Dave Bryson (drums), Andrew Duplantis (bass, backing vocal), and Brad Rice (guitar) with guest appearances from Eric Heywood (pedal steel), John Horton (electric slide) and Mark Spencer (slide guitar, slide dulcimer, organ, backing vocal). Anchored by Jay's songwriting and propelled by a renewed rock and roll aesthetic catalyzed by a cast of new players, "Okemah and the Melody of Riot" was produced by Jay and recorded straight to analog tape in St. Louis during October 2004.

Here is the album's tracklisting:

Bandages & Scars
Afterglow 61
Jet Pilot
Endless War
6 String Belief
Chaos Streams
World Waits for You
World Waits for You (Reprise)

Straight to analog tape ... gotta love those old-fashioned guys. In case you're bewildered about the album's title, Okemah is Woody Guthrie's Oklahoma hometown.


Get DeLay out now.   (Via Kos) Aside from having the ethics of a Denebian slime devil, Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declares in an interview with the Moonie-owned Washington Times that there is no constitutional separation of church and state, no right of judicial review, and that the only reason we have any semblance of a right to privacy is that Congress didn't stand up to the courts. *boggle*

Q: You've been talking about going after activist judges since at least 1997. The [Terri] Schiavo case gives you a chance to do that, but you've recently said you blame Congress for not being zealous in oversight.

DeLay: Not zealous. I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.

And one day we'll be living in an authoritarian, one-party theocratic state because the people didn't stop him? Why are they even letting him stay around this long? Why isn't he out of a job by now?

The death of TV news.   From the LA Weekly: Former "Nightline" executive producer Leroy Sievers laments the death of serious TV news.

Q: What is going on with televised news?

Sievers: It's gone to hell.

Q: When did it start going to hell?

Sievers: I think it was gradual. I think CNN came in and really dumbed it down ... [a]nd about the same time -- this is mid- to late-'80s -- all the networks were sort of taken over by businessmen, who didn't care either. And we would say, "But look, we worry about every word, we craft every shot, you know we put such care into it."

There was news on TV, and it was respected and well thought of and people paid attention to it. We were the good guys. You could do good. Now we're scum. I got in trouble one time at a forum because I said: "People sort of get the news they deserve." If they weren't watching it, all this crap would go away.

[...] One of the things that happened at "Nightline" was that we did a focus group, first time since I've been there. In a bunch of different cities, and one of them was in Dallas, and they showed a whole bunch of different pieces. One of them was a day in the life of the John Kerry campaign. And it came back: Biased report. Well, how can it be biased? We were unscrupulously fair. They said, "Well, you covered John Kerry." We said, "Yeah." They said, "So it's biased." Something's happened with the public, and that's why I go back to "You get the media you deserve."

As Jon said ... cable news networks, you're hurr-urr-ting America.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Get Liquored up; tonight's Prime time.   Okay, shitty puns aside ... tonight at Dark Delicacies bookstore in Burbank (between Hollywood Way and Cahuenga) New Orleans author Poppy Z. Brite (of whom we're huge fans and who has been sweet enough to pop in here every now and again) will be signing books (and reading too? I'm not sure on that one), including her new one, Prime.

I've just finished Prime, and loved it. It's such a pleasure to read someone who writes about New Orleans so well, making its eccentricities, strangeness, uniqueness and traditions come to life such that it becomes a character of its own rather than a mere setting. The flesh-and-blood characters are people about whom we care deeply, it's funny and mysterious and absolutely revels in the joy of food. I've also been enjoying the portrayal of life in the restaurant scene. It makes me think that I'd have to be crazy to want to do that, especially considering my experience on the line is a microscopic fraction of what Rickey and G-man had before they opened their restaurant Liquor. But underneath the brutally long hours, extreme heat, extremely hard work, sore feet and crotch rot (read the book to learn more about that!), it's also inspirational. Maybe there's a modest little poor boy shop in my future one day -- you still can't get a decent roast beef or hot sausage poor boy in this city, and nobody gets the bread right.

I've said it before, I'll say it again -- if you love New Orleans, if you love food, if you're intrigued by a story of two chefs in love who make their dreams come true amidst much hard work, mystery, intrigue, danger and gallons of alcohol, if you love a good story, my recommendations for the year are The Value of X, Liquor and Prime. I already can't wait for Soul Kitchen and Dead Shrimp Blues, also featuring Rickey and G-man and their world, due out next year and the year after that.

Dark Delicacies is located at 4213 W. Burbank Blvd. in Burbank, (818) 556-6660, and the signing starts at 7pm. Y'all L.A. locals drop by.

Say bra, ya got ya name in da papuh!   Hey, I got a nice plug in the Washington Post today -- the "Staff Favorites" column in the Food and Dining section did a story on jambalaya, and apparently they like mine (woo!). They also ran the recipe, which is pretty cool. One of the Travel Section staffers had emailed me the other day about using my New Orleans lexicon in one of their articles, but I didn't get back to them in time to meet their deadline; I did, however, say they could go ahead and use anything else as long as they let me know and attributed the source. So, welcome, Post readers!

All praise the pig!   GreggO passed along a post from a food weblog called Orangette (hiya, Molly) in which an annual celebration of pork takes place among good pork-loving friends (hmm, that sounds vaguely familiar). Pork Week for these folks is the week after St. Patrick's Day, during which pork must be consumed every day. (I think I like these people.)

I'd suggest to the Fat Pack that we institute something similar, but with us it sometimes seems as if every other week is Pork Week.

I've still got some of that Summerfield Farms bacon left from Mary's birthday bacon bash ("The Château d'Yquem of pig!"), some good Canadian back bacon (not the sliced rubbery stuff from the supermarket), some andouille, and I think I'll pick up some more of those fabulous smoked pork chops from the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen in Beverly Hills. Sunday night we're having choucroute garni, fresh sauerkraut cooked in white wine and pork stock with spices and lots of pork products ... mmmmmmmmmm!

Gimme a break.   Mel Gibson is apparently planning to make a movie about the late Pope John Paul II. This is pretty fucking ironic, if you ask me, given that Gibson is a member of an arch-conservative right-wing nutball Catholic fringe group that considers itself splintered off from the 16th Century Council of Trent and doesn't recognize the authority of the Roman pope.

Methinks it's merely a moneymaking scheme, along the lines of the crucifixion nail pendants he was hawking along with the gory S&M-fest that was his last picture.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dear John ...   Fred Kaplan at Slate covers John Bolton's "appalling" performance at the Senate confirmation hearing for his appointment as U.S. ambassadodr to the U.N. -- "bloodless, evasive, and mendacious" -- and details why he is the latest Bush appointee to be wholly unfit for office.

"Jaw-dropping": Pay Gap Widens Between CEOs and Workers   Via Common Dreams:

The chief executives of major U.S. corporations enjoyed double-digit pay raises last year, adding to a record of ''jaw-dropping'' compensation largely undisturbed by recent years' falling profits and share prices and a wave of scandals involving management chicanery, the country's leading labor federation said in a new survey. Chief executive officers (CEOs) were being enriched at the expense of working families' retirement savings, the AFL-CIO said in its Executive Pay Watch study, released Monday as a Web site. The latest annual update aimed to rally support for labor and other investors who plan to force some 140 companies to confront pay issues at annual shareholders' meetings in coming months.

[...] An analysis of securities filings showed that CEO salaries rose 12 percent in 2004 compared with average raises of 3.6 percent for rank-and-file workers, further widening the world's largest gaps between executive and labor pay. The average CEO of a major corporation received $9.84 million in total compensation in 2004, the AFL-CIO said.

[... Business Week] also found that CEO raises once again dwarfed those of the average worker, who saw pay rise 2.9 percent, to $33,176 per year, and concluded: "Nearly 40 of the nation's chief executives walked away with more than $20 million, excluding windfalls from option exercises. There have been improvements, but pay for performance is still not the standard practice everywhere. Some [corporate] boards, at least, are still lavishly rewarding CEOs who deserve far less."

The United States long has had the industrialized world's largest gap in pay between chief executives and blue-collar workers. CEO compensation swelled from 85 times what workers earned in 1990, to 209 times in 1996, and 326 times the following year. In 1999, CEO pay surged to a record 419 times the average worker's wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Out here where I live, the CEOs live in 6,000-10,000 square foot houses in Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Malibu, and their employees generally can't even afford a "starter" house or fixer-upper on their salaries. At $34K per year you couldn't even buy a crack house in this city. (Actually, if you already owned a crack house and were selling crack from it, you'd be making a lot more than $34K per year.)

A debate worth having.   I really need to keep up with and pay more attention to the website. After stumbling upon the brilliant idea of the "Battlestar Galactica" episode commentary podcasts, I've stumbled across "BG" producer/writer Ron Moore's blog, thanks to an Atrios post. I'm going to reproduce Moore's most recent post in its entirety, as an example of one of the many reasons (besides the amazing creativity of everyone involved in it, the brilliant writing, acting, photography, effects, etc.) why the new "Battlestar Galactica" is so fucking good.

There's an interesting thread on the Galactica message board here at SciFi.Com entitled: "Human Rights Abuses in the Show". The central question debate therein, concerns whether or not Kara was justified in torturing the Cylon prisoner in "Flesh and Bone" as well as some of the other practices and methods we've seen the officers of Galactica use, such as the interrogation of Valence in "Colonial Day."

Not only is this a (by and large) intelligent and thoughtful debate on a serious topic, it also brings up a question I'm often asked -- namely what are the politics of the show and what is its political agendat? The quick answer is that the show doesn't really have a political agenda in the sense that it's neither liberal nor conservative in the way those labels are thrown around in the sound-bite era of demagoguery that currently passes for political discourse in this country. One would be hardpressed to say that watching Laura Roslin break her word to a prisoner and then kick him out an airlock would be advancing a progressive, liberal agenda, or that Adama questioning his society's worthiness to be saved is somehow indicative of a conservative bias.

I certainly have my own political views and it would be disingenuous at best to say that there's some kind of firewall between my beliefs and those portrayed on the show. I'm the head writer -- my views and thoughts are on life are on display every week, including my political predilections. However, I don't see the show as a platform to advance my political belief system or my own views on morality. I do see the show as an opportunity to raise questions in the minds of the audience and ask them to think, which is something of a rariety in these days when politics seems to be about stoking emotionalism and finding simple-minded slogans to stand-in for actual answers to complex problems. ("Culture of Life!" "Right to Die!" "Ban Smoking!" "The Ownership Society!")

"Galactica" is both mirror and prism through which to view our world. It attempts to mirror the complexities of our lives and our society in turbulent times, while at the same time reflecting and bending that view in order to allow us to extrapolate on notions present in contemporary society but which have not yet come to pass, i.e. a true artificial intelligence becoming self-aware and the existential questions it raises. Our goal is to examine contemporary culture and society, to challenge (and sometimes provoke) our audience, but not to provide easy answers to complex problems.

I firmly believe that what Kara Thrace did to Leoben in "Flesh and Bone" was wrong. I believe that a society which employs torture on the defenseless captives in its custody has crossed a bright shining line that civilized people should not cross. Likewise, I think that Laura Roslin promising a man freedom only to kill him in the end is abhorrent to the ways in which I want my president to behave. However, I also understand why each of them did what they did. I understand the emotional, psychological and moral quandries which can lead two moral, good people to take such ghastly actions. And, in the end, I also believe that it was true to who characters really are, and that trumps everything else.

Would I personally behave the same way in similar circumstances? I hope not, but neither am I so confident of my own immunity to the pressures felt by an interrogator charged with finding a nuclear weapon or to the enormous weight sitting on a chief executive trying to protect her citizenry that I can say I would absolutely have made the more "moral" choice.

Was it wrong for Adama to dissolve a legally constituted judicial tribunal in "Litmus" simply because he sensed it becoming a witch-hunt or was he actually protecting the larger concepts of justice? Was it right for Lee to shoot down a civilian ship knowing full well that it was probably filled with innocent human beings or was he making a pragmatic choice to protect the greater number in the fleet? Is Tyrol a fool for protecting Sharon or is he honoring the most fundamental human emotion of all -- true love?

These are the debates that I hope you have among yourselves, your families, your friends. I want the show to provoke you into thinking about the times you live in and the choices that are being made all around you every day. In a time when the President of the United States actually asserts that he has the power to arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely without charge or appeal, any citizen (indeed any person on the face of the Earth) simply by designating them as an "illegal combatant," we should all be engaged in a vigorous and energetic debate about who we are as a people and as human beings and exactly how we do intend to respond to the very real threat posed to this nation and to the foundations of liberal democracy posed by people capable of, and willing to, fly airplanes into buildings.

I hope this show makes you think. I hope this show makes you question the moral choices that are being made in your name and by your representatives. I hope this show angers you at times and makes you outraged at the actions that good people like Kara and Laura sometimes take. But the show is not a polemic; our aim is not to screech and demagogue these issues in search of facile answers. Good people can make bad, even horrific decisions, just as bad people can make noble, even righteous ones. Balancing civil liberties with security is a complicated, difficult gymnastic act which defies the easy, pat answers typically served up by an hour of episodic television.

If the show does have a single, consistent point of view, it is probably best summed up by something Lincoln said during his second inaugural address:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all..."

Think about that. Debate the meaning of that simple idea. For that, more than anything else, expresses this show and the politics behind it.

An intelligently written show for adults, that makes you think, that actually prompts debate of societal issues? Nah, surely not. Go back to watching that stupid Paris Hilton un-reality thing. (Incidentally, we're big fans of "Lost", too.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, April 11, 2005

The coming war on the judiciary.   Some Salon articles you should read; if you're not a subscriber, just sit through the commercial and get the site pass.

In theocracy they trust: Christian right leaders denounced separation of church and state and prayed for a judge's deliverance to Satan. And their Capitol Hill allies were right there with them.

Conservatives convened at the two-day ["Confronting the Judicial War on Faith"] conference to figure out what that something should be. The event was remarkable in bringing together lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers with unabashed theocrats. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Texas, shared the stage with prominent adherents of Christian Reconstructionism, a Calvinist doctrine that calls for the subordination of American civil law to biblical law.

Other strains of the religious right were represented as well -- Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s conservative niece, was there, as was Catholic anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly. Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court Justice who lost his job after he refused to remove a two-ton granite Ten Commandments monument from his courthouse, received an adulatory welcome. There was Tom Jipping, a counselor to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch who used to work at Concerned Women for America, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council. All were united by a frantic sense of crisis symbolized by [Terri] Schiavo, who has become a mythical figure, martyred and quasi-divine, in the stories that percolate through America's evangelical subculture.

Having won control of two branches of the federal government, the activists of the religious right have come to see the courts as the intolerable obstacle thwarting their dream of a reborn Christian nation. They believe in a revisionist history, taught in Christian schools and spread through Christian media, which claims biblical law as the source of the Constitution. Thus any ruling that contradicts their theology seems to them to be de facto unconstitutional, and its enforcement tyrannical.

Some believe that the problem can be rectified by replacing liberal judges with conservative ones. Others, noting that even judges appointed by Republicans often rule against them, have become convinced that they must destroy the federal judiciary itself. Thus, ideas offered at the conference ranged from ending the filibuster and impeaching all but the most right-wing judges to abolishing all federal courts below the Supreme Court altogether. At least one panelist dropped coy hints about murder.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, originally scheduled as the keynote speaker, was called away to Pope John Paul II's funeral, but he delivered a laudatory welcome via video. DeLay accused the judiciary of having "run amok," and said that to rein it in, it would be necessary to "reassert Congress' constitutional authority over the courts." His endorsement was one of many signs that this intense conclave, with all its apocalyptic despair and exhilarated calls for national renewal, represented something more than a frustrated eruption by the febrile fringe. However odd the ideas emanating from the conference seemed to a secularist, they are taken seriously by people with real power in our nation. Indeed, they're taken more seriously than such oft-derided relics as "separation of church and state," which the conferees treated as a devilish heresy.

[...] On a Friday panel titled "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny," a constitutional lawyer named Edwin Vieira discussed Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence vs. Texas, which struck down that state's anti-sodomy law. Vieira accused Kennedy of relying on "Marxist, Leninist, Satanic principals drawn from foreign law" in his jurisprudence.

What to do about communist judges in thrall to Beelzebub? Vieira said, "Here again I draw on the wisdom of Stalin. We're talking about the greatest political figure of the 20th century ... He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty. 'No man, no problem.'"

The audience laughed, and Vieira repeated it. "'No man, no problem.' This is not a structural problem we have. This is a problem of personnel."

As Dana Milbank pointed out Saturday in the Washington Post, the full Stalin quote is this: "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Milbank suggested that Kennedy would be wise to hire more bodyguards.

"The wisdom of Stalin"? Jesus H. Christ on a crutch.

Here comes the Scalias: The religious right may have lost its battle over Terri Schiavo, but its war against "liberal judges" has just begun.

The day after Terri Schiavo died, Gallup pollsters began calling Americans to ask them how various national figures had acquitted themselves in the operatic debate over whether to remove the terminally ill woman's feeding tube. The results seem to provide a simple outline of American opinion on the matter. In short, Americans think the Schiavo case was none of their business. The poll, like all other polls on the case, shows that Americans, by an overwhelming majority, don't think it was the president's or Congress' business, either. Asked what issues matter to them, Americans said pretty much the same thing they've been saying for months -- terrorism, healthcare costs, gas prices and the state of the economy. "Changes to how the federal courts handle moral issues" is an issue deemed "extremely important" by only 20 percent of the nation.

Here's the troubling thing: That 20 percent is running the country, and they're now pressing for such changes in the way the courts decide cases. While most Americans are apparently indifferent to the long-term implications of the Schiavo case, many religious conservatives see it as having lasting political utility. Its most important outcome, they say, is in highlighting an unsettling flaw in American governance. They call this flaw "judicial tyranny," though most of the rest of us know it by a friendlier name, "checks and balances."

And via adigal at DailyKos: "The Washington Post has a column today by Ruth Marcus which highlights the extremism of the Republican party --- some suggestions by Tom Coburn's chief of staff are mass impeachments, and simply firing judges with whom they disagree, for bad behavior. Just have Bush call them up and send in the capital police to help them leave their offices."

Senator's Aide Calls for Mass Impeachments of Judges

[...] At the same time, there is reason to fear that something has changed in the national climate when the chief of staff to a U.S. senator -- even if that senator is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- tells a public gathering, "I'm in favor of mass impeachment if that's what it takes." An "easier way," the aide, Michael Schwartz, said at last week's conference, would be to oust activist judges for bad behavior. "Then the judge's term has simply come to an end. The president gives them a call and says, 'Clean out your desk, the Capitol Police will be in to help you find your way home.'"

Schwartz went on to provide a helpful, if not exhaustive list, of which judges he had in mind, including the majority of the Supreme Court: "It is tenure for life as long as you behave well . . . as I know that Justice Kennedy and Justice Souter and Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg and the rest of that crowd have not done."

Schwartz may be a particularly extreme example, but he's not the only one. "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary," the spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), told the New York Times. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has threatened to cut off court funding. "When their budget starts to dry up, we'll get their attention," he said. "If we're going to preserve our Constitution, we must get them in line."

In his videotaped message, DeLay told the group, "Our next step, whatever it is, must be more than rhetoric." Odds are, this too is rhetoric. But it's an ominously open question whether those odds are quite as good as they used to be.

Tom Coburn is the right wingnut that Oklahomans elected to the Senate, in a fit of head-spinning what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking. If anyone needs removal from his job it's his aide, and himself as well if he were to actually advocate the destruction of our judiciary because they don't toe the extremist right-wing line.

Any apathy you might have about these people and their agenda is potentially dangerous; we ignore them at our peril. Will they be able to achieve any parts of their agenda? Probably not. Still, pay attention.

Appomattox.   From Ed Kilgore of the Democratic Leadership Council, an article on Confederate nostalgia, the romanticizing of the Confederacy as some kind of "Southern cultural heritage", and trying to portray it as being about "everything other than the ownership of human beings":

Today is the 140th anniversary of Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, which essentially ended the American Civil War.

[... I]n many heated conversations with my fellow white southerners -- and occasionally with Yankees who've been caught up by the Romance in Grey -- I find myself insisting on an acknowledgement of the reality of the Confederacy, and its consequences for our home region.

It was an armed revolution led by a planter class that could not tolerate restrictions on the "right" to transfer its human property into the territories.

It was a "Cause" centered in the states most dependent on slavery, made possible by a secession bitterly opposed by poor white farmers in much of the region, and imposed on them by the narrowest of margins.

It was a rebellion whose success entirely relied on the calculation that the people of the North would not sacrifice for abstactions like the Union and Freedom.

Its inevitable defeat plunged the South and all of its people into a century of grinding poverty, isolation, and oligarchical government. Its heritage has been used again and again to justify racism and every other sort of reactionary policy.

I look at Appomattox and see the end of a disastrous folly that killed over 600,000 Americans, maimed far more, and made life miserable for those of my ancestors who survived the Planters' Revolt. No romance. No victory-in-defeat. Just carnage and destruction in a bad cause made no better by the good men whose lives and futures it claimed.

It is far past time for southern pride -- which I share to an almost painful extent -- to attach itself to everything, anything, other than those four disastrous years that ended at Appomattox Court House.

More from Steve Gilliard:

I would just add this: the myth of the South is as much a creation of film and literature than anything, anything written during the actual war and it's aftermath. [...] What Hollywood has done is moderate the viciousness of the south and the war they fought. The "noble struggle" crap was revisionism promoted to hide the same of their racial war of conquest.

[...] Yesterday, I watched Shelby Foote lavishisly praise Nathan Beford Forrest for his military skills on the Civil War documentary. What came to mind is that Forrest, postwar founder of the Ku Klux Klan, actively murdered black soldiers. In WWII, he would have been tried and shot, as many SS officers were. The first thing anyone who talks about Forrest should say is this: he was a violent racist who violated the rules of war.

It has taken until the last couple of years for people to say the Civil War was an act of treason. Which it was.

The ignorance of the true nature of the Civil War is so great that blacks have been acting as Confederate reenactors. Which is about the same as Jews acting as SS reenactors. Which is a message lost to many people. The Confederacy is little different than the SS. Every time you see a flag or someone talking about the glory of the South, insert the words SS and Nazi and you'll be right. Which is a reality that most Americans have still yet to wrap their mind around.

As The Bottle Rockets sing, "Look, here comes another one, four-wheel drive / Look there in the window man, sakes alive / That good ol' boy's wavin' the stars and bars / It's a red, white and blue flag, but it ain't ours / Wave that flag hoss, wave it high / Do you know what it means, do you know why? / Maybe bein' a rebel ain't no big deal / But if somebody owned your ass, how would you feel?"

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, April 8, 2005

Cocktail of the day.   Okay, I don't usually post cocktails that I haven't tried, but this one's interesting-looking. Thing is, it calls for some very specific ingredients I don't stock ... I'll have to try one first before deciding, I suppose.

This is the signature cocktail of Café Giovanni in New Orleans, featuring the fine food of Chef Duke LoCicero. Unless you're a big opera fan, avoid the place like the plague on the three nights a week the waiters sing (God, I thought my eardrums would burst; I'd like opera a lot more if it weren't for the singing), but no matter what night you go you'll love the food. I still think of that foie gras appetizer served on pain perdu ... mmmmmmmmmm.

Although they sound potentially tasty, I've never tried either brand of flavored vodka used in this drink. Finlandia's a good brand, so I'd give them my trust (Are mangos really big in Finland? I tend to doubt it.). I've never tried any kind of Effen vodka, but I like the name ("Hey! Pass over that effin' vodka!").

This one comes from New Orleans Magazine, which has been publishing a local specialty cocktail every month. This is the first one I've seen that I thought I might want to try. (The original recipe was double this one, and would have made a six-ounce cocktail. I dislike the trend of larger and larger cocktails. Less is more.)

Belli Baci Cocktail

3/4 ounce Finlandia Mango vodka.
3/4 ounce Effen Blackberry vodka.
3/4 ounce pomegranate juice.
Splash simple syrup.
Squeeze of lime.

Rim a small cocktail glass with sugar as you would for a Sidecar.
Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into glass.

Anyone ever tried these vodkas on their own? Any good?

The Cocktailian.   This fortnight's edition of Gary Regan's column features some Aussies, an undeservedly obscure liqueur, and a delightful-sounding Summertime Cocktail.

Not only does it sound like a lovely apéritif, the recipe also produces a perfect little three-ounce cocktail. I wholeheartedly approve.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Mmmmmmm, baaaaconnnnn ...   This past Sunday we celebrated the birthday of our perpetually twentysomething friend Mary with a truly decadent extravaganza of fresh and cured pork products, to wit -- lots of sausage and bacon. Last month's issue of Saveur featured an article on "the best food in the world", which is, of course, bacon. They were also kind enough to provide a plethora of recipes for this heavenly food, and we were keen to try almost all of them.

Frying bacon AGAIN! Mmm, fried fried bacon.

First dish: Tempura Bacon. Easy enough -- lovely Niman Ranch bacon from Trader Joe's, fried nice and chewy-crisp, then coated in a simple tempura batter made from flour, club soda and salt and deep-fried until golden brown. This was surprisingly good (okay, so it wasn't so surprising to take bacon and then batter and deep-fry it, and it's still good).

The spread, first wave.

Okay, that's the spread, or the first wave of it, at least. Left to right: Billionaire's Bacon, which we just called "Bacon Candy". It's bacon that's packed on both sides with brown sugar and oven-cooked, then broken into bite-sized pieces. Diana, who made it, says it's far, far more of a pain in the ass than it sounds (very sticky and unwieldy during preparation, as you can imagine). However, it's really, really fucking good.

Next, Bacon and Stilton Cheesecakes. These were dead easy, particularly since we had gotten a mini-cheesecake mold (which makes a dozen) from some friends for Christmas. Make a crust out of bread crumbs, Parmigiano cheese, butter and a little Creole seasoning, then a pound of softened cream cheese mixed with a half-pound of softened Stilton cheese and a dozen strips of Niman Ranch bacon, diced and fried crisp folded in. Pipe filling into the mold over the crust, then chill -- no baking necessary. Oh my Gawd, these were good. Intense. Rich. (You really can't eat more than one.)

Then to the right of that, Peanut Butter and Bacon Chocolate Truffles. These were perhaps the least successful offerings, and according to Nettie also a pain in the ass to make. I get the peanut butter and bacon connection (given to us by Elvis Our King), but it just wasn't working all that well here. The bacon was (dare I say it?) superfluous. We might try a peanut butter bacon combo by itself, or perhaps strips of crisp bacon dipped in chocolate sometime ...

A few closer views:

Bacon candy. Bacon and Stilton Cheesecakes

These were all appetizers, believe it or not. The main course, by request from Mary, was for Hot Sausage Poor Boys with Cheese, made with a batch of my homemade Creole hot sausage, on the lightest, crispiest French baguette we could find (as really good poor boy bread doesn't really exist in Los Angeles) with American cheese, slightly toasted. Here's meself (wearing my Bacon Is A Vegetable t-shirt), hard at work frying sausage patties:

Iron Chef Creole! One of the best things in the world.

Unfortunately there were no pictures of the finished hot sausage and cheese poor boys, 'cause all thoughts of photography disappeared as I ravenously tore into mine, and every single sandwich was quickly devoured. Oh well. You know what a po-boy looks like. Use your imagination.

Then, the beginnings of dessert. Who says all desserts have to be sweet? I had ordered a few different kinds of bacon from The Grateful Palate, the wonderful folks who give us The Bacon of the Month Club. I got some real Canadian bacon for later use (the good stuff, a whole smoked pork loin of "back bacon", not the sliced rubbery stuff you get in the supermarket), some jowl bacon from Kentucky (more on that later) and, the pièce de resistance, a four-pound slab of Summerfield Farms Bacon from Virginia. Here's how The Grateful Palate describes this stuff: "Molasses and brown-sugar cured. Slab only. A great big, hedonistic pig bomb. Rich, super-intense flavors. Totally unique. The Château d'Yquem of pig."

Oh my.

Well of course, after reading that description, I couldn't not buy some. I took my super-sharp Masahiro Japanese cleaver and spent the next several minutes achieving sort of a pork zen state, slicing the entire slab by hand into what turned out to be perfect thick slices. Here's what it looked like as it cooked slowly in the oven:

The best bacon in the world?

I'm not sure I've ever tasted bacon better than this, nor am I sure that I'll taste bacon better than this at any time in the future (although I'll certainly keep trying). It was cured with so much molasses and brown sugar that you can see the caramelization it was leaving behind on the pan. It was a sweet, smoky pork explosion, completely unlike anything you've ever tasted from a supermarket package. I sliced it and cooked it so that it would remain just chewy enough without being rubbery, and the sugars in the cure provided the perfect outer crispness on each strip. It's fifty bucks for a slab, but that's fifty bucks very, very well spent. Everyone went nuts over this stuff.

Chocolate caramel cake Pies, shmies.

Mary made a fabulous cake with a chocoalte-caramel frosting (melted sugar until brown, cream added, chocolate added to that) that was fantastic, but by the time I had had some of this I was completely uninterested in the Marie Callender's pies that ended up on the table.

Net weight gain ... one pound. Guess I musta paced myself.

A suggestion for the PATRIOT Act.   Sixteen provisions of the USA-PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire this year, and Torturer-General Alberto Gonzales is currently urging Congress to renew it, and even to expand it.

I have a suggestion for the United States Congress: before voting for this bill again, why don't you try fucking reading it before you vote for it this time?

Quote of the day.   This one rendered me speechless.

"Jim, you think he's with Jesus now? We only have 30 seconds."

-- "Interviewer" Larry King, on CNN's "Larry King Live", Sunday, April 3, 2005, to actor Jim Caviezel (who isn't Jesus Christ, but who played Him in a movie) about the current status of the late Pope John Paul II.

The lack of substance, the complete inanity, the utter uselessness of the 24-hour cable "news" networks, with 1,440 minutes of time per day to fill with programming, truly boggles the mind.

From the Congressional Record.   Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) made these remarks on the floor of Congress yesterday, in response to George W. Bush's astonishing gaffe/misstatement regarding this nation's financial commitments and solvency, "dangerously close to implying that the federal government won't stand behind the trillions of dollars in debt held by creditors around the globe." (Via Atrios.)

Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, well, the President was on the road again today with yet another tightly controlled scripted, so-called town hall, before a carefully screened, invitation audience to tout to his plan to privatize Social Security.

Now, that is not unusual; in fact, the scripted town halls are all so similar that they can save the taxpayers a lot of money if he just stayed at Camp David or Crawford, Texas, and they just replayed the recordings of his earlier scripted, rehearsed town halls.

But the President did say today something extraordinary, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and suggested something unconscionable. The President said, "There is no trust fund." And then he went on to suggest that our Nation might not honor its debt to Social Security. This is what the President said does not exist.

Let me read from this. This is a Social Security Trust Fund bond, considered the best investments in the world, U.S. Treasury Bond. This is the most privileged of Treasury bonds issued to Social Security, redeemable at any time at full face value, unlike any other bond that they issue. These are the most privileged of their bonds. The President says it is nothing but an IOU. Well, here is what it says: This bond is incontestable in the hands of the Federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund. The bond is supported by the full faith and credit of the United States. And the United States is pledged to the payment of the bond with respect to both principal and interest.

The President questions that? He is questioning whether we are going to repay our most privileged debt to Social Security. We have $7.9 trillion of debt. He is adding to it at a record rate, borrowing $1.3 million a minute. Who is he saying we are going to repay and not repay?

Are we going to repay the Chinese but not the Social Security Trust Fund? Are we going to repay President Bush, he happens to have some U.S. Treasury Bonds in his personal portfolio, but not the Social Security Trust Fund? Are we going to repay other wealthy investors around the world and in the U.S., but not the Social Security Trust Fund? We are going to selectively default on our debt.

Suggesting something like that, if the bond markets believed the President, the dollar would drop to near zero tomorrow, and there would be an economic catastrophe, but they do not believe him. They know this is just politics and rhetoric on his part. There is no intention of the Government of the United States defaulting on its debt.

This year Social Security will collect $170 billion more than it needs to pay Social Security benefits, and they are invested in the trust fund. If what the President said is true, there is no trust fund, and we are not going to honor it, then Congress and the President are perpetrating a fraud of extraordinary magnitude on the working people of America, extorting through taxes $170 billion more than they need to pay current benefits that this President has no intention of repaying. That is unbelievable.

Every minute, every minute, this President and this Congress are borrowing $320,000 of Social Security taxes and spending it on something else. And the President says he is replacing it with worthless IOUs; they are not bonds, they are not investments. He questions whether they will be repaid. He questions the full faith and credit of the Government of the United States of America and its willingness, our willingness, to meet our obligations and our debt.

If what the President says is true, then we ought to give the working people of America, instead of the rich people of America, the biggest tax cut in history. Reduce the Social Security tax, which falls more heavily on working people. More working Americans pay more in Social Security taxes than they do income taxes to the Federal Government.

If he has no intention of repaying that $170 billion that he is borrowing this year of excess Social Security taxes, then we should not collect it under false pretenses. We should give people a big tax break. That would stimulate small business, employment, and put a lot of money in the pockets of working people. I am not advocating that.

But if he does not repay it, he should be advocating it, and instead of trying to switch the game and having an irrelevant debate over a so-called privatization plan which actually makes the funding problems of Social Security worse and would require another few trillion dollars of borrowing, in which I guess people would get these worthless bonds that the President questions.

Now, who is going to buy those worthless bonds? How is he going to continue to run the Government of the United States borrowing $1.3 million a minute if the bonds of this country are worthless?

This is an extraordinary and reckless statement for the elected President of the United States to make.

Let's keep those numbers plummeting, people ... and there's a midterm election next year.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Cocktail lovers, rejoice!   It's finally here! It's been a long time coming, too ... but Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 is finally shipping.

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6

Looking for the perfect Orange Bitters to use in your next Manhattan? Here's one to try. Cocktail expert Gary Regan has teamed up with the Sazerac Company to create Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6.

Regans' Orange Bitters were first developed in a loft apartment in Manhattan's Chelsea district when Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology, unable to find an orange bitters to suit his taste, decided to concoct some of his own. After a trip to a witch's supply store in Greenwich Village where he procured what he deemed to be a suitable mixture of spices and some freshly-dried orange zest, experimentation began. After four attempts, Regan was happy with his formula, and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 4 were born.

Unfortunately, when Regan made a second batch of his bitters, the flavors seemed to have changed. Whether this was because the second batch of spices was, perhaps, too old, or whether Regan hadn't written down the formula correctly, we'll never know. For the past few years, though, Regan has been working with the boffins at the Sazerac Company in New Orleans to perfect the formula, and we're please to announce that Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 is now available for cocktailian bartenders nationwide.

In The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935), author Albert Stevens Crockett asserts that, prior to Prohibition, orange bitters were more widely used than any other type of bitters. They were, for instance, integral to the Dry Gin Martini of that era, and they were widely used in other classics such as the Manhattan, too. "I think that a good mixologist should experiment with all kinds of bitters," says Regan. "If a recipe calls for one specific type, for instance, it's interesting to substitute another style when you make the drink for the second time."

The first bottling of Regans' Orange Bitters took place on Wednesday, March 23 at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The product's namesake was present to see 6 years of hard work and planning come to fruition. To add an extra element of fun to the momentous occasion, Gary signed one of the first bottles off of the line and randomly placed it in a case for shipping. So, a consumer will not only get one of the first bottles of Regans' Orange Bitters, but it will also be autographed!

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 adds a delightful complexity to all manner of cocktails and mixed drinks. Try some in your next Manhattan, or dash some into a Cosmopolitan or a Mojito -- you'll be amazed at the difference that just a few drops of this elixir can make.

You can order Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 online from the Buffalo Trace online gift shop at (click "Food", then "Mixes") or ask for it at your local liquor store.

In an eGullet post Gary says, "I'm just back from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky where I saw the first batch of bottles being filled and labeled. I must say that it's pretty weird to have your ugly mug on a commercial bottle. Especially when you no longer look like that (the beard's gone).

"The guys at Sazerac (the company that owns Buffalo Trace) were just great to work with -- really enthusiastic about the whole thing, and determined to pull it off, despite numerous problems with the [federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, regulatory agency for alcohol-related sales] who kept kicking back the formula saying it was too "potable." (In order to get approved as a bitters which, in the USA, makes it a food product despite the 45% alcohol by volume, the bitters must be deemed to be non-potable by the ATF.)

"The finished product, though, tastes, I think, better than my original formula for the Regans' Orange Bitters No. 4 -- this version, though very similar in style and taste, is more bitter, and more complex. I'd love to hear comments from anyone who tries it."

The long wait is over, and now there's finally some competition out there -- Fee Brothers is no longer the only game in town. From a test bottling I tried a while back, I can testify that Regans' is significantly different. We'll do another tasting once our bottles arrive (which should be any day now) and let y'all know.

Most unpopular president ever in second term.   (Reposted from DailyKos) So "can we quit with the 'popular president' schtick?"

Here are the approval ratings for presidents as recorded by Gallup in the March following their re-election:

Truman, 1949: 57%

Eisenhower, 1957: 65%

Johnson, 1965: 69%

Nixon, 1973: 57%

Reagan, 1985: 56%

Clinton, 1997: 59%

Bush, 2005: 45%

Kos: "There's a 'mandate' for you. [Bush is] 11 points less popular than the next least popular president at this point in their term."

California's frightening real estate scene.   This story in Sunday's Los Angeles Times both scared the shit out of me (on behalf of many, many others) and made me drop to my knees to thank the Cosmos that we got into a good, affordable house at the right time, defying all odds.

The article talks about how realtors, banks and finance companies are talking people into taking interest-only, adjustable rate mortgages they can barely afford just to get into a house in this insanely skyrocketing real estate market ... but there's a catch. The day of reckoning -- when the adjustable rate expires, the new (and perhaps much higher) interest rate kicks in and you have to start paying the principal as well as interest. Many people who take these kinds of loans have no idea what they'll do when that day comes.

I have an idea of what'll happen -- they'll have to sell, or there'll be a foreclosure.

Are these people insane?   Y'know, I laugh when I watch Woody Allen's "Bananas", when the rebel leader ousts the dictator of San Marcos, then proclaims that the new official language of the Latin American country will be Swedish, that all citizens under 16 years old are now 16 years old, and that all citizens' underwear must be changed every half hour (and must be worn on the outside, so government agents can check). "Power has driven him mad," said one of his aides. It's a hilarious scene.

I'm not laughing anymore. It's now scary. Power has driven these men mad (I suspect there was madness in there to begin with).

"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Majority Leader, apparently issuing a threat to judges at both state and federal levels following the death of Terri Schiavo.

"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence.

-- Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), apparently rationalizing violence against judges.

How long will the wingnuttery go on? What will it take for we the people to finally demand the resignation of these people?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, April 1, 2005

More shameless ego-boo.   Okay, radio listeners ... you have yet another chance to be assaulted by the sound of my voice coming out of your radios, semi-nationwide.

As I mentioned a while back, I did another radio interview a few weeks ago, this time for Wisconsin Public Radio's program "To the Best of Our Knowledge". It's a really cool show, and I was very happy to be a part of it. As I believe I also mentioned, I think this interview went particularly well.

It's running in Wisconsin this Sunday, April 3rd, or you can listen to it here (Real Audio). The other stations across the country that carry it will air it that same day or later in the week. Unfortunately, the only station in the Los Angeles area that carries the show is KCLU in Ventura County, which is out of range, and it's not carried in Louisiana at all. Well, lucky for us we've got the Internetssssssss!

Check it out -- it should be fun. Hey, I'm on right after Roy Blount, Jr!

Sippin' vodka with dinner.   A while back, our friend Fred told us about a wonderful new spirits company who make artisinal infused vodkas that are designed to be taken with food, just east of us in Monrovia, California. They're called Modern Spirits, and their products sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, as is often the case with is, we never really got around to trying it.

Fortunately, they caught up with us. Melkon Khosrovian and his wife Litty Mathew, who make the stuff, approached the owners of our favorite restaurant over by our neighborhood, the fabulous Cinnabar in Glendale, hoping they'd stock Modern Spirits vodkas in their fabulous bar. Alvin Simon at Cinnabar tasted them and immediately said, "We need to get Chef Damon to do a dinner around these!" We're on Cinnabar's email list, the dinner was announced (and the email signed, as always, "The brother, the sister and the Magic Chef"), and we were in.

No pictures, unfortunately, 'cause somebody forgot to bring the camera (ahem ... oh well, the batteries were almost dead anyway), so you'll have to use your imagination. It'll help in your visualization if you've had chef Damon Bruner's superb food before:

First course: Lobster Ceviche with Sesame Cilantro Cookie. Served in a champagne saucer, beautifully tender and tangy and sweet, with a little savory tuile on top. I wonder if Chef Damon used a similar technique for preparing a lobster for butter-poaching, with the quick steep in just-boiled water so that the meat pulls away from the shell but doesn't cook. I'm gonna have to try making lobster ceviche at home ...

Accompaniment: Rose petal vodka & Champagne cocktail. This was lovely, but the rose vodka tended to get lost in the Champagne, which was assertively flavored. I think they were trying to keep the vodka servings small so that all the guests wouldn't be staggering out of the restaurant singing "Sweet Adeline" afterward. Fortunately, we got to taste some of it by itself, later on.

Second course: Seared Mexican Sea Scallop with Arugula & Shaved Black Truffle Vinaigrette. The scallop was big and fat and perfectly seared, just this side of raw in the middle, with a generous portion of truffle slices (preserved truffles, alas, but the fresh article isn't in season at the moment; still tasted lovely, though, but I can imagine how much better it'd be with the fresh article). When I get a scallop that's so big I have to cut it with a knife and take at least six bites to eat it, I'm happy.

Accompaniment: Black Truffle Vodka. This was ... astonishing. I'd never tasted anything like it. Melkon and Litty use Oregon black truffles for infusing their vodka, finding its milder flavor and lack of the garlicky punch that European black trufflfes tend to have to be more appropriate for their purposes. They nailed it. This was the first of their vodkas I'd tasted on its own, chilled (not frozen) as they recommend. Earthy, perfumey (you get a wonderful bouquet from this, and then it just blossoms on the palate) -- an entirely new experience, and one I'd recommend highly. This vodka would go beautifully with seared or grilled red meats (hell, any red meats) and anything you can imagine black truffles accompanying (toast and butter, for Gawd's sake). We're picking up a bottle of this one right away, and I already have a cocktail idea ...

Third course, intermezzo: Grapefruit and Mint Granita made with Grapefruit Honey Vodka. Lovely palate cleansing sorbet, but again I was a tad disappointed not to try this one on its own. The only other grapefruit vodka I've tasted (the only other that exists, I think) is Charbay's Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, and I wanted to compare the flavors of that with the Modern Spirits Grapefruit Honey Vodka. I suspect that when I get the chance, I'll find the Modern Spirits product to be more delicate and subtle, and a tad sweeter with the addition of a dollop of honey to the potion. I wonder how that stuff would taste in a Verena Abbott Cocktail ...

Fourth course, main: Filet of Roast Pork with Pear Peppercorn Sauce and Herbed Goat Cheese Potatoes au Gratin. The other choice was char-grilled Australian wild swordfish in rosemary-thyme broth, but you put pig in front of us and we say, "We want the pig. The swine is mine!" Oh my. Perfectly cooked, with a little crust on the outside and just pink in the inside. The sauce was fantastic, a dark, rich pork stock and a deglaze of pear juice, with surprisingly spicy cracked black peppercorns that seemed less spicy as the meal continued. Perfect size, too -- the filet was no bigger than the palm of my hand, and in fact was a bit smaller. I could have gone on eating it all night, but it was all I needed.

Accompaniment: Pear Lavender Vodka. This one was amazing as well -- not much bouquet at first, and on the first sip you get the floral notes of the lavender on the palate, and you start to wonder where the pear is ... and about five seconds later the pear sneaks in from behind and envelops the tongue. Delicate, subtle, complex. Just ... wow.

Fifth course, dessert: Molten Chocolate Cake with Chantilly Cream. Baked and served in a coffee cup, brought to the table piping hot, already beginning to melt the dollop of sweet whipped cream that came on top, cakey on the outside and hot and thick and runny on the inside. Fan-tastic. And then we took a sip of ...

Accompaniment: Chocolate Orange Vodka. The one-two punch. The death blow. We were okay until this course, and then by the time we were done with the cake and the vodka we were down for the count. Come get us with the wheelbarrow. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you ... we were blissfully happy. The vodka was, as were all its predecessors, wonderful. Sweet without being syrupy or cloying, a rich chocolate flavor and perfectly perfumed with the orange. Litty told us that she and Melkon get fine Belgian chocolate in the 10 kilo blocks and chop it all up themselves to make the infusion, and this is yet another reason why I love what they do -- it's a purely handmade product and a labor of love.

When chatting after dinner with Flame Simon ("the sister"), I mentioned that I thought the rose vodka got a little lost in the Champagne, and she leapt up to the bar and immediately returned with two cordial glasses with about half a shot of Rose Petal Vodka with a wee ice cube so we could taste it on its own. Ahhhhh ... there we go. As with its companions, the flavor was delicate but very much in the forefront, and not overly perfumey like rosewater. I can see this with Persian or Lebanese food, or with baklava for dessert.

The other flavors that we didn't get to taste that night were Candied Ginger, Celery Peppercorn and Tea, and I can't wait to try all of them. Melkon told us of a new cocktail they make at Voda, the oh-so-hip vodka bar in Santa Monica -- Celery Peppercorn Vodka shaken and strained into a cocktail glass which contains a cube of frozen, spiced tomato juice. Brilliant.

Check out Modern Spirits' website, read up on all the flavors, and from the site you can even mail order bottles from Mission Wines in South Pasadena if it's not available near you. I'd highly recommend it.

Quote of the day, which also doubles as Wine Review of the Day, courtesy of Natalie Maclean's wonderful (and free!) weekly wine newsletter, "Nat Decants":

CLINE SYRAH $17.95 California (D = dry): Dark fruit, leather and smoky oak. Full-bodied. Drink with pepper steak, barbecued meats and Brad Pitt if you can wrench him away from Angelina. Cad. Score: 87/100.

Hee hee. We love Nat.

March Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

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

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

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