looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.
2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.
Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting. If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.
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:
"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.
Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order directly from Shout! Factory Records, where all profits will be donated to New Orleans disaster relief through the end of March 2006.
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, AllAboutJazz.com
"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy, PopMatters.com
"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times
Digital Dish is the first ever compilation volume of the best writing and recipes from food weblogs, and includes essays and recipes contributed by me. Find out more and place an order!
U.S. orders: Non-U.S.: 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 get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!
(99 and 44/100% link rot)
2005: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2004: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2003: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2002: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2001: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
2000: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
1999: Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.
My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...
Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!
NOLA.com & The Times-Picayune
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)
New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.
2 Millionth Weblog
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
People Get Ready
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
The Internet's most comprehensive
and indispensible database of
authenticated cocktail recipes,
ingredients, reseearch and more.
By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)
Museum of the American Cocktail
Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
Celebrating a true American cultural
icon: the American Cocktail.
* * *The Sazerac Cocktail
(The sine qua non of cocktails,
and the quintessential New Orleans
cocktail. Learn to make it.)
The Footloose Cocktail
(An original by Wes;
"Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
"Very elegant, supremely
sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)
The Hoskins Cocktail
(An original by Chuck;
"It's nothing short of a
masterpiece." - Gary Regan)
* * *Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
(A few things we like to
drink at home, plus a couple
we don't, just for fun.)
* * *Peychaud's Bitters
(Indispensible for Sazeracs
and many other cocktails.
Order them here.)
Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
(Complex and spicy orange
bitters for your Martinis,
Old Fashioneds and many more.
Order them here.)
Fee Brothers' Bitters
(Classic orange bitters,
peach bitters and a cinnamony
"Old Fashion" aromatic bitters.
Skip the mint variety, though.)
* * *The Alchemist
Alcohol (and how to mix it)
(Gary & Mardee Regan)
The Art of Drink:
An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
(Jeff Berry, world-class expert
on tropical drinks)
The Cocktail Chronicles
(Paul Clarke's weblog)
The Cocktailian Gazette
(The monthly newsletter of
The Museum of the
DrinkBoy and the
Community for the
(Robert Hess, et al.)
DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog
news & insider info)
La Fée Verte
(All about absinthe
from Kallisti et al.)
(Ladies United for the
Fine Spirits & Cocktails
Martini Republic: Drinks
(featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)
The Ministry of Rum
(Everything you always wanted to know)
The Modern Mixologist
Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
Swanky et al.)
(F. Paul Pacult)
The Wormwood Society
(Dedicated to promoting accurate,
current information about absinthe)
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Chocolate and Zucchini
Mise en Place
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
In vino veritas.
The Oxford Companion to Wine
The Wine Spectator
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers
Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena
Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.
Reading this month:
The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories, by Philip K. Dick.
Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.
Listen to music!
Chuck's current album recommendations
La Bottine Souriante
The Old 97s
The Red Stick Ramblers
Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots
Miles of Music
New Orleans Bands.net
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV
Long Beach Bayou Festival
Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA
WWOZ (New Orleans)
Live audio stream
KCSN (Los Angeles)
"Down Home" playlist
Live MP3 audio stream
Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
(A rich history of N.O. radio)
Air America Radio
(Talk radio for the
rest of us)
Grateful Dead Radio
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
KRVS Radio Acadie
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
(Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
(Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)
Films seen this year:
In the cinema:
Match Point (****)
Underworld Evolution (**)
The New World (****)
V for Vendetta (****)
The Frighteners (***1/2)
Eating Out (**)
Dead and Buried (***)
Heavenly Creatures (****)
Minority Report (****)
The Constant Gardener (***-1/2)
Lookin' at da TV:
"The West Wing"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
The Food Network
A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
J. T. Seaton
The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)
My photographs at Flickr
The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy
Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed
Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley
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
by Al Capp
by Emily Flake
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner
by Walt Kelly
by Greg Peters
by Ted Rall
This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow
XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak
AlterNet.org (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
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.)
Whitehouse.org (Not the actual White House, but it should be)
Weblogs I read:
The Carpetbagger Report
Creek Running North
Ethel the Blog
Un Fils d'un État Rouge
Follow Me Here
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
More Like This
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
This Modern World
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?
Your Right Hand Thief
Matthew's GLB blog portal
Friends with pages:
The Final Frontier:
"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, CNN.com, 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
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.)
"Eating, drinking and carrying on..." -- Adelaide Brennan
Sunday, April 30, 2006
With these hands ... We pray for the strength, Lord ... to rebuild this city.
Just a quick check-in after one of the best Jazzfest days ever. Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris was beyond amazing in a brilliant, sassy, funny, devastatingly emotional and ultimately joyous set to start off at the Jazz Tent. Then Don Vappie, encouraging rebirth of the city and especially its music education for the young. Then Sonny Landreth, smokin' as always. Then an astonishing set by Allan Toussaint and Elvis Costello, whom I can't wait to see on tour. Then ... the Boss.
It's been 26 years since I've seen him, and once again he put on one of the best shows I've ever seen. I'll let Steve take over from here, from the piece he wrote tonight:
The rain stayed away, but the tears flowed freely when Bruce Springsteen capped a rousing, moving, inspiring and all-those-other-adjectives-that-long-ago-got-overused-for-the-Boss-at-his-best performance with "My City of Ruins," turning the key line of his song associated with post-9/11 New York into a very present tense as "my city is in ruins." And in the process he showed that he was indeed the perfect artist to close the first weekend of the first JazzFest coming as the city tries to recover from ruin. The tears came in his first encore song, following 90 minutes that had already touched with grace and power on hope, frustration, anger, gallows humor -- in other words, all the things left floating around New Orleans after the waters receded -- exactly in the tradition of Pete Seeger, the folk singer Springsteen has paid tribute to with his new "The Seeger Sessions" album. None of the rumored guests (Edge, Elvis Costello) materialized, but they weren't needed.
In full hootenanny mode with as many as 19 backing musicians wielding fiddles, banjo, pedal steel and horns among other things, he brought old spirituals (the opening "Mary Don't You Weep" with its line about Noah being shown a rainbow and the stern prophesy of "no more water but fire next time"), workers tales of tragic nobility ("John Henry," a tale of sweat equity if there ever was one) and civil rights anthems ("Keep Your Eye on the Prize"), making them all relevant to the immediate surroundings not just with the lyrics and tone, but with dips into New Orleans music traditions. The horns in particular mixed Dixieland and second-line funk, and Springsteen's own early '80s song "Johnny 99" was turned into something that could have been a rollicking number from the late New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair, under a portrait of whom Springsteen performed on the Acura Stage, well over 70,000 captured by every note.
Read the whole thing, it's great.[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, April 28, 2006
Jazzfest in 1 hour and 45 minutes! Given my lack of time for weblog posting, let me refer you to the site where my good friend Steve will be posting about Jazzfest three or four times a day (Why? Because AOL is paying him, woohoo!) -- Blogging New Orleans. There are categories for "Recovery" and "Pictures" and "Videos," but Steve's stuff will probably all be under the "Jazzfest" category. Have fun!
Oh, my.[ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
It's Jazzfest time in New Orleans ... (Sing it, Dave ...)
At Jazzfest time in New Orleans
The city is jumpin' an' all it mean (?)<
Come on down, mom and pop,
It's just as great as the Mardi Gras.
We're gonna jump and shout,
Let the good times roll, that's what it's all about.
We're gonna jump and shout,
Let the good times roll, that's what it's all about.
At Jazzfest time in New Orleans,
Come on down, lemme hear ya scream!
Never could make out that second line ... anyway. We leave this morning, heading home to New Orleans for two weeks of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and therefore posting will likely be light to nonexistent over the next two weeks. There's wi-fi where we'll be staying, but don't count on my having lots of time to post. I'll be checking email and Looka! posts, so if anyone's gonna be at Fest, drop me a line. (Gotcha, Barry, Ashley and Louis.)
If you're stuck somewhere outside of New Orleans, you can keep up with what's going on via streaming webcasts from WWOZ, and there'll be streaming video from MSN. Be sure to tune in on Sunday at 11:30am Central Time for the set from my friend Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris; I got a little forewarning that she'll definitely be on the webcast, although I forgot to ask whether it's 'OZ or MSN. Let's hope for both!
Besides soaking in the music and, I hope, doing a day or two of volunteer work with the Katrina Krewe, we'll be eating. A lot. We've got scheduled meals so far at Cuvée, Bayona, Ye Olde College Inn (mmmm, fried oyster, bacon and Havarti poor boy ...), Café Adelaide, The Bistro at Maison de Ville, Drago's (mmmmm, charbroiled oysters ...), Cochon, (mmmmm, pig!), plus one shrimp boil, one crawfish boil, various and sundry stops for muffulettas and poor boys, a possible stop at Creole's Lunch House in Lafayette for stuffed bread, and not to mention all the food at the Fest.
Although we'll miss Creole's Stuffed Bread (and Miss Merline, and Mr. Raymond) dearly this year, there's some really delectable-lookin' new stuff to check out (via Michael, who emailed these suggestion to a friend of ours, and to which I've added my own comments):
Andouille Calas with Green Onion Sauce: This is the most intriguing new item this year. Andouille is, of course, the spicy, chunky, heavily smoked sausage from Acadiana (and LaPlace!), and calas are deep-fried fritters of sweet batter and leftover cooked rice that were a New Orleans breakfast tradition for years. They've been fading away of late, but some dedicated folks are keen to bring them back. This savory variation looks fantastic; I'm definitely trying this.
Tajadas with Pork (Crispy Fried Plantains with Spicy Fried Pork and Pickled Cabbage: Oh my. I'm really excited about this one. Mmmmm, spicy fried pork ...
Plus some other old favorites:
Hot sausage poor boy from Vaucresson's: Best hot sausage in Louisiana, says Michael, and thus probably in the world. I have to confess I was a little disappointed with the hot sausage the last time I sampled something from the Vaucresson's booth, but I'll definitely give them a try this year. Their hot sausage poor boys use whole links, whereas I prefer patties, but I'll get over that. (God, I still miss the hot sausage at the late, lamented Gene's, which was destroyed by Katrina ...)
Cochon de lait po-boy: Tender, shredded pit-roasted pork on French bread with mynez, simple and perfect. We never miss these, and the third incarnation of Jazzfest cochon de lait is almost as good as the first, which we miss (I especially miss the combo, which was cochon de lait and French fries with gravy).
Crawfish sack, Oyster Patties and Crawfish Beignets: "Crawfish sacks" are a little deep-fried beggar's purse filled with crawfish in a spicy sauce; "oyster patties" are a puff pastry shell (or "patty shell", as they used to call 'em at McKenzie's) filled with a creamy oyster stew; and crawfish beignets are savory batter with crawfish tails, topped with a white rémoulade sauce. All are excellent, and old Jazzfest stand-bys. They're available separately or as a combo plate, which at $8.50 or so is one of the most expensive items at Fest but filling and very much worth it. Louise thinks this combo is too "wanky", and also apparently thinks it's nasty to eat a crawfish's sack (hey, if I'll eat the poo vein, I'll eat the sack), but the dishes are excellent, as are the accompanying sauces.
Fried soft-shell crab po-boy: On the first day of Fest, this is the thing I'd get right after my first Creole's Stuffed Bread, and you must have at least one of these during every Fest. Get there early as the lines get long. They're usually really good, but their quality is entirely dependent on the quality of the soft-shell crabs that season. A few years ago the crabs were bad, and the long lines dwindled. Michael says the crabs he's seen lately have lookd really good, big and fat, so now should be a good time for this.
Pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo from Prejean's in Lafayette. (I love that their menu is also available en français.) This is amazing; smoky and exceedingly tasty. When they had it to you you'll think you've paid too much, but after you taste it you'd gladly give them another $5 if they asked for it. Don't eat it too fast; savor every drop.
Crawfish enchiladas: Very simple; crawfish tails and spices, rolled up in a tortilla with a creamy sauce. Michael says he eats this several times each year; I like 'em too, but I usually only have 'em once.
Caribbean Fish and Curry Chicken Pattie from Palmer's Jamaican Cuisine. I've never had this, but I'll try it this year. It's another favorite of Michael's; 'simple cooking but fantastic, one of the best deals at the Fair Grounds.'
There's so much more that there's really not enough time to talk about it, and certainly not enough time (or stomach volume) to eat it all: Sausage and jalapeño bread, Cuban sandwiches, sweet potato pone, boudin balls, ya ka mein, spicy crawfish sushi roll, Oysters Rockefeller bisque, jama jama with red-hot sauce and plantains, plus all the local Creole specialties like red beans, jambalaya, etc.
One caveat -- there's one dish that you'll hear people rave about, and you'll see long, long lines for it: Crawfish Bread. Everybody will tell you that they love Crawfish Bread. Basically, it's just some crawfish tails baked into an empanada-like pie with about sixteen tons of melted cheese. Some people love it, but Michael and I are in agreement that this is the single most overrated dish at the Fair Grounds. Need I also remind you what Dean said: "Crawfish bread is all right, if you don't mind not having a bowel movement until June."
Unheralded genius. Yep, everybody knows about Professor Longhair, and Dr. John, and these days (sadly, mostly due to Katrina) more and more people know about the great Allen Toussaint as well. It seems, though that not enough people outside the circle of hardcore New Orleans music lovers seem aware of the massive contributions to New Orleans music of James Carroll Booker III, "arguably the greatest rhythm and blues pianist who ever lived." There's a pretty good profile of him in the Chronicle, including some amusing anecdotes about his musical genius:
Booker had attended a concert by Jimmy Smith, one of jazz's great organists. "Booker was backstage," Billington said. After the show, "Booker told Smith, 'You know that song you played, you hit a wrong note in the bridge.' Smith kinda grumbled. Booker said, 'Look, lemme show you.' Then he played it just as Smith played it with the wrong note, and then played it the right way. And Jimmy Smith said, 'Dang, you're right.' Then, just to mess with Jimmy, he played the whole thing backwards."
Start with "Junco Partner" if you don't have any Booker, then try to ... well, buy all the rest of them.[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
I scream, you scream ... ever'body love ice cream, rock ... rock my baby rock. (Yeah, go George Lewis.)
I mention that great old jazz song to remind all y'all to get your free ice cream today ...
Tuesday, April 25th is Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's, and you know what that means... free ice cream for you!
As a way to thank our customers for their support and to celebrate 28 years of scooping the chunkiest, funkiest ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet, Ben & Jerry's scoop shops are giving it away! Around the world, scoop shops are opening their doors from noon to 8:00 pm, to serve up a free scoop of your favorite flavor (or better yet, a new one you've been wanting to try, like Turtle Soup™, Peanut Butter Swirl or Lemonade Sorbet).
So grab a pal and come on down to have some 'scream on us! Like we said... Oh Happy Day!
Mmmmm, free ice cream! (Hey, does anyone have Free Bacon Day?)
Death of a theatre. When I was in college I worked as an usher at the Village Aurora Cinema Six in Algiers (that's on the Westbank of New Orleans, in case you didn't know), from early 1980 until right before I moved to L.A. in August 1982. I got paid a whopping $3.35 per hour (minimum wage at the time, for an annual half-time salary of less than $3,500), but also meant that thanks to a professional courtesy agreement among mosts local theatres I didn't have to pay a movie admission anywhere in the city for two years. I saw lots of movies, and saved quite a bit.
Yesterday I got an email from a guy named Kent, who must have started working at the Aurora right after I left. He stumbled across a videoblog done by a guy who had apparently grown up in Algiers with the Aurora as his neighborhood theatre. About three years ago he returned to Algiers some 20 years after having moved away and was shocked to find it being demolished. It's eerie. I recognized everything; what was left of it, that is -- the side of the lobby where I usually worked, looking back to my usher's station; the concession stand; the projection booth; one of the smaller theatres on my old side.
It's sad to see, but suburban regional theatres have been dying in New Orleans for years. Not only is the Village Aurora gone, but so is Belle Promenade (along with the entire mall), the magnificent Robert E. Lee in Lakeview (as Juliette said, the theatre "was deserted long before the 17th St. Canal breach, but it's an even sadder sight now"), the Plaza Cinema 4 in New Orleans East near my parents' old house, where I also worked briefly (the entire Plaza shopping center is now a ruin, as is the Grand Theatre multi-plex that was built adjacent to it and was itself doing lousy business before Katrina), the Kenilworth Cinema, where I was a projectionist for several months, the Lakeside Cinemas at the Lakeside shopping mall, the Lakeside Theatres across Vets (including the fabulous theatre that used to be an old church), the Sena Mall in Metairie (now Martin Wine Cellar), the downtown Joy ... it's so, so sad.
Speaking of the Joy, in the course of some Google-research for this post I stumbled across an independently-produced local documentary called No More Joy: The Rise and Fall of New Orleans' Movie Theatres. I know nothing about it, or if it's any good or not ... but screw it, I'm orderin' it today.
The good news amidst all this sad nosgalgia is that the venerable Prytania Theatre is still open, the only single-screen movie theatre in the city or anywhere near it. (Check out Juliette's entire set of N.O. movie theatre photos, all post-Katrina.)
Village Aurora Cinema Six. Man, have I got some stories from that place ...
Idiots. I sometimes (if not often, if not always) suffer despair at the mere mention of the Louisiana state legislature. I remember someone's anecdote of "Hayul, ah remembuh when legislatuhs used ta throw chicken bones at each otha and get inta fistfights on th' floah of th' legislacha ..." I don't think they've progressed all that far since.
The latest, besides their constant attempts to ban abortions with no provision for the health of the mother and impose creationism on state classrooms? Yet another attempt to ban flag burning.
A lawmaker from southwest Louisiana wants to toughen the state's existing law that bans burning the United States flag, though his plan would have no effect because the U.S. Supreme Court says flag burning is protected under the First Amendment.
Louisiana's existing flag-burning law cannot be enforced because the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that a similar Texas law was unconstitutional.
But Sen. James David Cain sponsored a bill raising the maximum fine for flag burning from $100 to $1,000. The maximum jail term would remain at three months.
Cain, R-Dry Creek, amended his measure so that it would take effect if an amendment to the U.S. constitution is ratified that bans flag burning.
A Senate judiciary committee passed the measure Tuesday without objection, sending it to the full Senate.
With all that needs to be done in Louisiana, with all the important work before the state legislature, this asshole is wasting time trying to increase the penalty for flag burning, which is already protected protest speech?
Anyone remember the last Louisiana legislator who was so preoccupied with flag burning? Yep, that's right ... David Duke. In fact, the only bill he ever wrote was not to ban flag burning, but to reduce the penalty for assault to a $25 file if the person convicted of assault had assaulted someone who was burning a flag.
Aren't you proud, Sen. Cain? Moron.
Yay, Mick! Via Barry K., from the otherwise loathsome U.K. paper The Sun (although perhaps not as loathsome as The Daily Mail):
Mick Jagger booked the same set of suites in Vienna's Imperial Hotel for the Rolling Stones tour that President Bush was hoping to use during a summit in June -- and he has refused to give it over. A source close to Jagger told the U.K. Sun: "Bush's people seemed to be under the impression that they would just hand over the suites, but there was no way Mick was going to do that."
Tony Blair may be Bush's poodle, but Mick certainly ain't. Heh.
Your tax dollars at work, Part 254,966. (Via Wes.) What, again? Sadly, yes. From today's New York Times:
When Robert Sanders was sent by the Army to inspect the construction work an American company was doing on the banks of the Tigris River, 130 miles north of Baghdad, he expected to see workers drilling holes beneath the riverbed to restore a crucial set of large oil pipelines, which had been bombed during the invasion of Iraq.What he found instead that day in July 2004 looked like some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad. A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed. A supervisor later told him that the project's crews knew that drilling the holes was not possible, but that they had been instructed by the company in charge of the project to continue anyway.
A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work came to a halt.
The project, called the Fatah pipeline crossing, had been a critical element of a $2.4 billion no-bid reconstruction contract that a Halliburton subsidiary had won from the Army in 2003. The spot where about 15 pipelines crossed the Tigris had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and the export terminals and refineries that could generate much-needed gasoline, heating fuel and revenue for Iraqis.
For all those reasons, the project's demise would seriously damage the American-led effort to restore Iraq's oil system and enable the country to pay for its own reconstruction. Exactly what portion of Iraq's lost oil revenue can be attributed to one failed project, no matter how critical, is impossible to calculate. But the pipeline at Al Fatah has a wider significance as a metaphor for the entire $45 billion rebuilding effort in Iraq. Although the failures of that effort are routinely attributed to insurgent attacks, an examination of this project shows that troubled decision-making and execution have played equally important roles.
The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.
It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.
The company in charge engaged in what some American officials saw as a self-serving attempt to limit communications with the government until all the money was gone.
And until Mr. Sanders went to Al Fatah, the Army Corps of Engineers, which administered the project, allowed the show to go on for months, even as individual Corps officials said they repeatedly voiced doubts about its chances of success.
Ah, the good ol' Army Corps of Engineers. The same people responsible for making sure that New Orleans will be protected during the next hurricane season, which starts in just over a month.
We are so fucked.[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, April 24, 2006
Photo of the day. Glass flowers, Bellagio, Las Vegas.
The entire ceiling of the reception lobby of the Bellagio looks like this; the photo only shows a small part. It's pretty spectacular.
That sinking feeling ... as Bush's approval rating is now 32%, according to a new CNN poll.
I wonder how many rats will sink with this ship?
Speaking of our despicable leaders, Digby tells us yet more about how despicable they really are: "The sheer volume on inhumane activity that the Bush administration has endorsed or perpetrated is so huge that it's hard to keep up."[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, April 21, 2006
Cocktail of the day. I'm such a geek. I can't believe I'm doing this. I'm not one of these people who run right to the computer and blog everything they do right after they do it. I actually have a life. Yet here I am, five minutes after Wesly made me the fabulous cocktail I'm having right now. Well, he's finishing up a documentary on the Mintority Report DVD that I've already seen, and I've got five minutes.
He got the inspiration out of Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology, and it's not a drink we haven't had before. He just used some special ingredients, followed Gary's suggestions (i.e., garnish with a lemon twist and/or a cherry, and Wes opted for the "and"; using a different bitters than usual) and knocked me out. Boy, this is good. I shudder at the idea of ordering one in a bar, though ... how many bartenders will scoff and say, with a harrumph, "All my Manhattans are perfect."
The Perfect Manhattan
Wesly's Friday version
2 ounces Sazerac Rye (6 year old).
1/2 ounce Carpano Punt E Mes sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth.
3 big dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
Large lemon twist.
Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker; stir for no less than 30 seconds.
Twist a nice dose of lemon oil over the surface of the drink; garnish with the lemon
peel and the cherry.
You get a great flavor from the Peychaud's, and the extra level of bitterness you get in the Punt E Mes helps make up for the bitterness in the Angostura that we're not using in this version. Absolutely superb.
Better and better. While New Orleans is still Not Okay, things move forward a millimeter at a time. French Quarter Festival is this weekend, and next weekend is Jazzfest -- those will help enormously.
Chris "Mr. Clio" Wiseman offers his observations of some other things that are getting better:
Things that are better now in New Orleans than they were before Katrina and the Manmade Flood (feel free to add or correct in comments):
1. The Bud's Broiler on Calhoun.
2. The New Orleans Arena.
3. The New Orleans Saints' Starting Quarterback.
4. Most Sections of St. Charles Avenue are cleaner than ever before.
5. I know my neighbors better.
6. Taqueria Corona on Magazine Street.
7. Abita Beer.
8. The choices we have for mayor of New Orleans.
9. Our awareness of just how incompetent and cynically neglectful our federal government is. Sinn Fein. The truth has set us free.
10. My roof.
11. The Winn Dixie on Tchoupitoulas (also cleaner than ever before).
12. School choice in Orleans Parish.
13. Hubig's Pies. (I think they cleaned the equipment or something.)
14. Chef Leah Chase's stove. (Check that link. It shows why we are who we are, why this place will still be kicking thousands of years from now.)
NOTE: I look forward to the day when I can add things like our flood protection, the wetlands surrounding us, public transportation, bike paths, and high-tech industry.
My own observations/additions: I'll be at that Bud's next week, woohoo!! I can't speak for #3, as I know nothing about football. I'll take Chris' word for it. I'll add my parents' new house and my friends' new roofs to #10. To #12 I'll add my hopes that Holy Cross' purchase of the John F. Kennedy High School campus goes through. To #13 I'll say that now that I can't have Creole's Stuffed Bread every day, I'll just have more Hubig's Pies. (The lady at Terranova's says you have to get there early to get any flavor other than apple or lemon, so lovers of strawberry, cherry, chocolate or coconut pies should be early risers.)
Make sure you read the fantastic link at #14 about the gumbo z'herbes fundraiser for Leah Chase.On any other Holy Thursday, those foodies would have been lunching at Dooky Chase Restaurant, savoring the thick, rich, green gumbo that Leah Chase has been preparing for more than a half-century to represent the last meat to be eaten before Easter. Ingredients have varied from year to year, but her fil? always included sassafras leaves from a tree her father planted. Hurricane Katrina killed the tree and flooded the 65-year-old Orleans Avenue restaurant, which is not expected to reopen for nearly two months. But in the past five weeks, a group led by Poppy Tooker, a self-styled culinary activist, determined that the Holy Thursday gumbo z'herbes lunch must be served and that the proceeds would help Chase, 83, renovate the establishment where she has cooked for the likes of Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall and Lena Horne.
[...] Tickets sold for $75 to $500 per chair, and lunchers who paid the higher fee were serenaded by Chase's daughter Leah Chase Kamata. By the time the last plates had been cleared away, 225 people had devoured 50 gallons of gumbo, followed by heaps of crisp fried chicken and bread pudding topped with whiskey sauce, and about $40,000 -- nearly one-sixth of the total damage -- had been raised for the renovation.
And Chase was told she'll be given a new Southbend stove to replace the model that she had cooked on for more years than most of her staff has been alive.
Even though she was the guest of honor, Chase worked with [Chef John] Folse to prepare this year's gumbo, which featured collard and mustard greens, beet tops, carrot tops, Swiss chard, kale, green cabbage, peppergrass and watercress, as well as chicken, ham, stew meat and several types of sausage. Folse provided the sassafras leaves.
What a fantastic story. I won't have time to do it before I leave for Jazzfest, but as soon as we get back I'm making a huge pot of gumbo z'herbes. (I'll have to see if I can find some peppergrass when I'm home; any ideas?)
Soooo-EEEEEEE!! Pig, pig, pig!! Okay, how can you resist a restaurant whose name translates from the French as "pig?"
Well, you can't. Amidst the spate of new restaurants that have opened in New Orleans since Katrina (former Café Adelaide chef Kevin Vizard with his eponymous joint on St. Charles, Chef David English's new Seven on Fulton, which Poppy tried the other night) is the brand spanking new Cochon, co-owned by Chef Donald Link of Herbsaint, who's currently celebrating being nominated for "Best Chef - Southeast Region" by the James Beard Foundation. I didn't even know about Cochon's appearance, but Mary found out and quickly made reservations for the Pack for a week from Wednesday. The press release, out ten days ago, tantalizes us thusly:
Opening Cochon is a lifelong dream for Chef Link, who grew up in Louisiana's Cajun [and Creole] Country cutting his culinary teeth cooking beside his grandparents in their home. Keeping true to these roots, Link promises Cochon will remain an authentic Cajun and Southern-style restaurant featuring the foods and cooking techniques he grew up preparing and eating. This commitment is evident in the dishes on the restaurant's menu such as Spoon Bread with Okra and Tomatoes; Smoked Duck Breast with Marinated Green Beans and entrées from the wood-burning oven like Rabbit and Dumplings; Louisiana Cochon de Lait with Turnips and Cracklings; Oven Roasted Gulf Fish "Fisherman's Style" and his signature Catfish Sauce Piquante.
In addition to the genuine menu at Cochon, Chef Link and co-owner Chef Stephen Stryjewski will over see an in-house "Boucherie," including house-made Boudin, Andouille and Smoked Bacon.
Oh my Gawd.
Oh hell, let's just look at the menu:
The problem with this menu ... is that I want all of it.[ Link to today's entries ]
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Jazzfest sadness. The mainstay of Jazzfest food for me has been, for more years than I can count, something you've doubtless heard me talk about before if you've been reading this weblog (and the rest of the site too) for any length of time -- that miraculous little bun called Creole's Stuffed Bread. It was always the first thing I'd get, pretty much immediately upon my arrival at the Fair Grounds, and I'd often have a second one too. It's just ... so frackin' good I can't even do it justice. It sounds boring -- a fresh-baked bun stuffed with ground meat, sausage, cheese, hot peppers and spices. The end result is far, far more than the sum of its parts. Every Jazzfest day began with a warm greeting from Miss Merline Herbert, who's been making these for over 20 years and who sells them at the Fair Grounds: "Hey baby, how you doin'?!"
When the food vendor schedules for Jazzfest were published last week, there was one heart-stopping omission -- no Creole's Stuffed Bread. I can't imagine Fest without it, and wondered what had happened. That very day, our intrepid friend Robin went to the source to find out, and reported back to us:
Merline is not coming to Fest this year due to the loss of her beloved husband Raymond. Merline and Raymond were married for 43 years, and they worked together in their business [Creole's Lunch House, in Lafayette] for 22 years. Although Raymond had been fighting lung cancer for the past two years, he still came to Fest and loved seeing everyone, and worked as hard as he could.
Raymond succumbed to the cancer in July and Merline continues to be grief-stricken. She did not feel ready to come to Fest this year, but will return next year. I offered her condolences from the Pack and told her we would be thinking of her. She was lovely on the phone and seemed grateful for my call.
I'm so sorry to hear of Mr. Raymond's passing, and may he rest in peace. Miss Merline, you take care -- we'll certainly miss you this year, and we can't wait to see you next year.
Dems meet today in New Orleans. As Steve said in email this morning, this is "my kind of political stunt;" one, we hope, that is "the start of a real, ongoing effort to make the message real through action."
Wielding hammers, crowbars and shovels, Democrats plan to clean out hurricane-ravaged homes in this slowly recovering city, a project designed to highlight the party's criticism of the Bush administration.
The choice of New Orleans for the Democratic National Committee meeting that begins Thursday was part of a political calculation, as is a three-day agenda for the 400 delegates that combines party business with community service.
Eight months after Hurricane Katrina and the widespread criticism of the administration's response, Democrats hope their reconstruction work leaves an image with voters that lasts through the congressional midterm elections.
"It's reinforcing an impression that is widely held among the public and one that will be a critical theme for Democrats across the country - namely that this administration is dangerously incompetent," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist and a longtime adviser to party chairman Howard Dean.
Republicans chalked up the Democrats' New Orleans meeting to grandstanding.
"I'm not sure what the Democrats hope to gain except cheap political points at the expense of Louisiana and the White House," said Glen Bolger, a GOP strategist and pollster.
Yeah? Maybe, but if "grandstanding" actually ends up doing something to help New Orleans and its people, it's fine with me. What the fuck have the Republicans done for us since the storm?
Republicans accuse their counterparts of exploiting a tragedy in an election year.
Oh, for Christ's sake ... "9/11, 9/11, 9/11," 24 hours a day for the last four-and-a-half years, and they have the gall to accuse anyone else of exploiting a tragedy? Excuse me while I find something to throw against the wall ...
A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed that nearly six in 10 Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the relief effort for Katrina victims. By a 49-33 margin, respondents favored Democrats over Republicans when asked which party should control Congress.
Gee, could a contributing factor to that have been the continuing lack of desire of Congressional Republicans to allocate all the money the population of the Gulf Coast needs to protect themselves, including Category 5 hurricane protection and the restoration of the coastal wetlands? Instead, they're spending $10 billion a month on their little war.
So do some good in New Orleans, DNC ... show us what you can do. It's a chance for you to be relevant. Have some fun while you're there too -- French Quarter Festival is this weekend.
Oh, speaking of this weekend ... it's the mayoral election in New Orleans. This is gonna be a big one.
I noted one of the more interesting developments this week (via Schroeder via Oyster): the Louisiana Weekly, the voice of the state's black community for over 80 years, has endorsed Mitch Landrieu for mayor.
New Orleans' very survival is at stake.
Whoever holds the office of Mayor will represent, not just the city, but will become the face of the whole state. From day one, he must inspire confidence and the ability to influence decision-makers from Washington to Wall Street. He must inspire a sense of unity with his City Council to bring about true reforms. And, in a city wounded in the months after Katrina with racial and economic divisions, he must have the potential to bring together people of vastly different backgrounds and ethnicities to a common sense of purpose.
For that reason, for the African-American community, we cannot in good conscious recommend the re-election of C. Ray Nagin.
This is not because our editorial board believes Mr. Nagin did a horrible job before, during, or in the days just after Katrina. Given the near Biblical circumstances, anyone would have been overwhelmed. For all of the comparisons with 9-11, that disaster encapsulated three city blocks. Ours nearly destroyed a culture.
However, in the months since the storm, justified or unjustified, Ray Nagin has built a reputation nationally that inspires humor and contempt rather than the compassion this city needs to rebuild. Perhaps, the media took the Mayor's words out of context, but few real attempts have been made by Nagin to repair that image. The country is out of patience with our Mayor.
[... T]here is only one candidate who can bring Black and White together -- Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu.
As one of Oyster's commenters pointed out, though, Mitch is hardly new blood; father Moon and sister Mary were and have been around for a long time.
Oyster has some great posts on the mayoral race, its candidates and the complex issues surrounding it.
For a guy who likes to wear flight suits, notice that Bush does not so much fly as plummet. As Steve M. said in email this morning, his ratings fall so low so fast that not even Faux News can find a way to pretty 'em up:
President Bush's job approval rating slipped this week and stands at a new low of 33 percent approve, down from 36 percent two weeks ago and 39 percent in mid-March. A year ago this time, 47 percent approved and two years ago 50 percent approved (April 2004).
Thirty-three. Do I hear thirty?[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Blecchh. Posting resumes, gently; I've been sick for the past week and wasn't up to it. Upper respiratory flulike thing kept me fairly miserable and home in bed for three days ... man, what a drag.
If avian flu is gonna be a lot worse than this, then we're fracked.
The Cocktailian. In the most recent edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column, The Professor, our cocktailian bartender, serves up something to mark today's 100th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 -- The Trembling Martini, simply a 6:1 gin-and-vermouth classic Martini, but made with locally-produced gin and vermouth (pretty cool, actually).
Cocktail of the day. Besides the above, we also offer an appropriately named vintage cocktail ...
The Earthquake Cocktail
1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce gin.
1 ounce absinthe or pastis.
Shake vigorously (while standing in a doorway) for at least 10 seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.
We'll be having this one tonight, I think.
All the President's Lies. Carl Bernstein, half of the Washington Post reporting team that broke the Watergate coverup and brought down a crooked president, lays out the case for his call for Senate hearings on Bush, now. The introduction, and a few highlights:
Worse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto voce, increasing numbers of Republicans -- including some of the president's top lieutenants -- now fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans -- nearing fifty percent in some polls -- who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq.
John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative, without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject: whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant.
Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington.
In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote -- hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties -- to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.
How much evidence is there to justify such action?
[...] The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy?used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.
[...] Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues have successfully evaded accountability for the dire consequences of their policies through a tried-and-true strategy that has exploited a situation in which the press (understandably) has no subpoena power and is held in ill repute (understandably) by so many Americans, and the Republican-controlled Congress can be counted on to ignore its responsibility to compel relevant, forthright testimony and evidence -- no matter how outrageous (failure to provide sufficient body armor for American soldiers, for example), mendacious, or inimical to the national interest the actions of the president and his principal aides might be.
[...] In the wake of the death and devastation in New Orleans, President Bush refused to provide the most important documents sought by Congress or allow his immediate aides in the White House to testify before Congress about decision-making in the West wing or at his Crawford ranch in the hours immediately before and after the hurricane struck. His refusal was wrapped in a package of high principle -- the need for confidentiality of executive branch communications -- the same principle of preserving presidential privacy that, presumably, prevented him from releasing official White House photos of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or allowing White House aides to testify about the N.S.A. electronic-eavesdropping program on grounds of executive privilege.
The unwillingness of this president -- a former Texas governor familiar with the destructive powers of weather -- to deal truthfully ("I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," he said in an interview with Good Morning America three days after the hurricane hit) and meaningfully with the people of the Gulf Coast or the country, or the Congress, about his government's response ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") to Hurricane Katrina may be the Rosebud moment of his presidency. The president's repeated attempts to keep secret his actions and those of his principal aides by invoking often spurious claims of executive privilege and national security in the run-up to the war in Iraq?and its prosecution since?are rendered perfectly comprehensible when seen in relation to the Katrina claim. It is an effective way to hide the truth (as Nixon attempted so often), and -- when uncomfortable truths have nonetheless been revealed by others -- to justify extraordinary actions that would seem to be illegal or even unconstitutional.
[...] After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.
The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush?at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.
There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.
Read the whole thing.[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Freedom On The March! (Domestic Edition). The only good election is one whose result you can influence (or steal).
Key figures in a phone-jamming scheme designed to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting in 2002 had regular contact with the White House and Republican Party as the plan was unfolding, phone records introduced in criminal court show.
The records show that Bush campaign operative James Tobin, who recently was convicted in the case, made two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around Election Day 2002 -- as the phone jamming operation was finalized, carried out and then abruptly shut down.
The national Republican Party, which paid millions in legal bills to defend Tobin, says the contacts involved routine election business and that it was "preposterous" to suggest the calls involved phone jamming.
Ah, the old non-denial denial. Two dozen calls. To the White House. Regarding a local election in New Hampshire. Gee, how many calls did they get from the other 49 states? Okay, it was just "routine election business", but the business of that election was to use illegal means to influence its outcome. Hey, if it stinks like a rotten fish ... (Via Steve M. ... thanks!)
Cocktail of the day. This one was nicely medicinal when I got home last night. I was feeling crappy all day and came home exhausted (even though it was a very light work day). It was very tasty, but sadly didn't cure what ailed me; I'm home sick today (blecchh). Maybe try this one just for pleasure.
I don't know anything about this drink's origins -- it was another gift from CocktailDB's Random Recipe link. It kept coughing up pousse-cafés, but Wes only needed to click it about 15 times to come up with this one.
1 ounce brandy.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine.
Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds and
strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a
lemon twist and a stemless cherry.
There's a little spelling variation; it was also listed as the "Froupe," but I think this is the correct spelling. We particularly liked the double garnish, and noted that this drink warms up nicely as you sip.
Idiot-in-chief. I found this video of Bush's Q&A session at Johns Hopkins University from yesterday on the weblog Philadelphia Will Do, under the title, "This Video Of President Bush, Speaking This Morning, Presented Entirely Without Comment, Except That You Should Watch For The Part Where He Pants Like A Dog Toward The End."
As a Stephen King character once said ... Jesus H. jumped-up Christ in a chariot-driven sidecar.
Let's have a look at that in print:
THE PRESIDENT: I was going to ask him [Rumsfeld]. (audience laughter) Go ahead.
Q: I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific... Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding -- (laughter.) I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (laughter.) I really will -- I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm -- thanks.
That man, who is the President of the United States, has been for five years and will be for three more, was completely befuddled by a question from a college student. It wasn't a particularly difficult question either, and a question I myself would like an answer to -- about how the private security contractors in Iraq don't seem to be covered by either military or Iraqi law, and how will we bring these people, currently running around lawless, under a system of law? I'd expect even a fictional president like Jed Bartlet to be able to answer this question immediately (and Bartlet would have knocked it out of the park; then again, Bartlet wouldn't have the country in the situation it's currently in). The man quite literally has no clue.
Steve pointed out in email that the flustered panting was pretty funny. He's right, it was. That's Empty Suit's new technique these days -- every time someone asks him a question he won't or can't answer, he makes a joke and gets a laugh. Yeah, it was funny, but the motivations behind getting the laugh are sinister.
It continued. Via Martini Republic:
[T]here was a question about human trafficking and the administration's decision to cut off funding of 'NGOs around the world who pragmatically combat sex trafficking by working with existing prostitution' groups."
THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate it. I'm -- it sounds like I'm dodging here, but, again, you know more about this subject than I, and I will be glad to call Condi and talk to her about our policy.
Then, on Iraq, this exchange:
Q: I'm wondering how might your recently formed Iraq Study Group under the U.S. Institute for Peace explore these striking similarities to forge a new relationship with Iraqis and educate Americans about the democratic principles inherent in Islam?
THE PRESIDENT: Great question. I believe that the terrorists have hijacked a peaceful religion in order to justify their behavior. I thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will pass on your comments to James A. Baker, who is one of the chairmen of the group going to Iraq.
Translation: I didn't understand a goddamn thing you just said, but I'll pass it along.
The impression one got from listening to Bush today is that your typical first year grad student is infinitely better informed on international issues than he is, even now, after 5 years in office.
First, it's deeply embarrassing for us as a nation. Second ... it's deeply, deeply scary.
Bush the leaky clam. Of course, just because he couldn't answer those questions doesn't mean he didn't ramble on and on and on ... about some things, but not others.
President Bush was generous of word yesterday when he took questions from a group of students at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
"I'll be glad to opine on it," he said on the topic of immigration.
"Kind of rambling here," he observed after giving a lengthy discourse on the benefits of freedom.
"I'm getting wound up," he confessed on the subject of protectionism.
"I'm not going to filibuster, I promise," he said, midway through an 865-word answer to a question about governing philosophy.
But then a second-year master's student asked about "Prosecutor Fitzgerald" and White House leaks to punish a critic. You could practically hear the zipper sealing the president's lips.
"Yes, no, I, this is, there's an ongoing legal proceeding which precludes me from talking a lot about the case," the president finally managed to say. All he could answer, Bush said, was that he declassified a National Intelligence Estimate because "it made sense for people to see the truth."
That answer neatly encapsulated the White House's response to the CIA leak imbroglio: No comment and non sequitur.
He's really good at those non sequitirs, too.
That's what 19%'ll getcha. It's apparently been an on-and-off tradition since 1912 (what do I know from baseball?) for sitting vice-presidents to throw the first ball at a Washington team's season opener. It hasn't been done since 1968, but Dick Cheney decided to revive it yesterday. The sellout crowd's reaction? Massive booing. As one baseball fan who was watching the game said, "He was booed ONTO the field, at the mound, as his pitch made it to the Nationals' catcher, and as he left the field." Crooks and Liars has the video.
Dick, just save us all a lot of trouble and resign now. And while you're at it, try not to shoot anyone in the face.[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, April 10, 2006
You've gotta be frackin' kidding me ... From the Times-Picayune:
Former FEMA director Michael Brown might be joining St. Bernard Parish as a paid consultant.
Brown, who resigned his FEMA post last September in the wake of stinging criticism of the agency's response to Hurricane Katrina, is expected to visit the parish next week. During his visit, Brown and parish officials will discuss the possibility of the parish contracting with Brown as a guide to help it navigate the bureaucracy of federal storm aid.
Brown now has a consulting business.
St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez said prices have not been discussed to this point, nor have any contracts been entered. Rodriguez and three council members met Brown recently during a trip to Washington, D.C.
Yeah, I bet Junior won't be wearing that "FEMA: Fix Everything My Ass" T-shirt he was wearing some months back.
What in the world can they be thinking? Michael points out that "the tapes that showed Brown warning Bush and Co. that Katrina was going to be a major disaster did a lot for Brown's image down here, and most of the vitriol has been transferred to Bush." Maybe. Maybe Brown's forte is not managing disasters but navigating absurd layers of federal bureaucracy. (Then again, the man quite literally couldn't even run a horse show.) And maybe Junior and his council are going even more crazy than everyone else.
In other St. Bernard news, officials gathered at a home in Chalmette last weekend to mark the 1000th home gutted in the parish since Katrina. Good work ... only 39,000 more to go.[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, April 7, 2006
The cubes are out. I.e., Jazzfest schedules, dates, times, stages, etc.
We're having an awful time slogging through these and trying to figure out who to see when. I think we're going to have to go every day.
Five drinks bartenders hate to make. Apparently no Cocktailian column this week, but instead we have this column by Bianca Antonacci as a special to the Chronicle.
I was predicting that this would include complicated drinks like Caipirinhas or Mojitos that require lots of muddling and the like, and that these drinks shouldn't be ordered when the bar is stacked three people deep. Well, that's just common sense, but as that's something many people seem to be sadly lacking it's a good idea to point it out. I was right on the Mojitos, but was shocked to see the rest of the list:
But some drinks are the bane of bartenders at any time of day. Here are five examples.
The Lemon Drop.
(Uh oh. A cocktail rant is coming on. I can hear my sister Melissa now ... "Watch out, Chuck's got cocktail issues!)
WTF? A Lemon Drop?! How easy is that? For one thing, 95 times out of 100 you're not even going to get someone who had to go through the odious, cotton-plantation labor of having to squeeze lemons for fresh lemon juice (the only way this drink is even remotely good); you're going to get vodka mixed with some bottled sweet-and-sour that tastes like shit. The author continues:
This very common cocktail can come as a shot or in a martini glass. It's a combination of vodka (commonly citron-flavored), fresh-squeezed lemon juice and sugar that threatens to leave you with a hangover.
People love Lemon Drops because they're fruity, sweet and often come in a glass rimmed with sugar. However, this drink is time-consuming to make and leaves the bartender with sticky hands.
Paschal Smith, bartender at the Bitter End in San Francisco, says he hates making them "because of the damn sugar."
I call bullshit. How time-consuming is it to make a drink that consists of 1) vodka, and 2) a squirt of lemon juice (which they squeezed fresh before the rush shift and keep in a squeeze bottle), and 3) a splash of simple syrup? (Except if you order this drink what you're likely to get is even less time-consuming, because it'll be 1) vodka and 2) bottled sweet-and-sour.) The sugar rim on the glass, while time-consuming if done properly, is never done properly; it's done with a gizmo that contains a round moist sponge and a round well filled with sugar; you press the rim of the glass on the sponge and then dunk it in the sugar, and that takes about two seconds.
And sticky hands?! Poor you! Do you not have a sink behind the bar? Wash your hands every now and again! I'd like to think that you wash your hands frequently anyway, as you're handling things like garnishes and fruit that go directly into my drinks.
If the bar is busy and you crave that citrus flavor, consider having a Kamikaze, which doesn't include that bothersome sugar.
Except that the only way to make a Kamikaze taste remotely good is to use fresh lime juice and a high-quality triple sec like Cointreau; and what you're probably going to get is a cheap, too-sweet triple sec and Rose's Lime Cordial, also too sweet.
Now, to the truly hair-raising one:
Okay, you've gotta be frackin' kidding me. This is basic. A bartender who can't or won't make a Manhattan is like a chef who can't or won't cook an egg.
The Manhattan is a classic cocktail usually made from whiskey, sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters, served straight up or on the rocks with a cherry. Devotees favor this cocktail because of its old-time flavor and potency.
Bartender Eric Berchtold of the Cinch in San Francisco says he doesn't like to make Manhattans because, "Too many things go into it and everyone wants them made a different way."
Some insist on bourbon, others on Canadian whiskey or rye. Some people want cherry juice or Cointreau added.
The author is quite correct -- whiskey, sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. That's how it's done, and it's very basic. Proportions vary -- 2:1, 3:1, 4:1 -- but y'know what ... they all work really well. I prefer 3:1 myself, but I'll drink 'em at any proportion, as long as the bartender doesn't put a microdrop of vermouth in as if he or she thinks he's making a too-dry Martini.
Now, if you just order "a Manhattan" without getting any more detailed in your drink order, then you shouldn't bitch if the bartender uses Canadian instead of Bourbon, or whatever you like in it. Specify -- tell her or him what kind of whiskey you want. Now, if someone wants cherry juice or Cointreau in it, then it's not a Manhattan, and they should just say "A Manhattan with a little cherry juice", or "with a splash of Cointreau." The bartender can do this easily, and should do it without complaint ... because it's what he or she does for a living. There seems to be some really unnecessary whining going on here.
Berchtold has had patrons order the drink because it makes them seem debonair, yet when it arrives, they decide they don't like the taste of bitters.
Well, if you don't even know what a drink tastes like and you order it just to seem debinair, and then decide you don't like how it tastes, then you're an idiot and it's not the bartender's fault. Then again, how many Manhattan orders does this guy get which turn out to be people who just want to "seem debonair" but don't like bitters? This sounds like a stretch, to say the least. The bartender shouldn't blame the drink because a few people who order the drink are fools.
I hope this isn't to blame for the unfortunately wide belief among many bartenders that there are no bitters in a Manhattan because "oh, people don't like bitters anymore." Untrue. Put the bitters in unless someone asks for them to be omitted. Bitters in a cocktail aren't "bitter"; it's like adding salt and pepper to a steak. It seasons the cocktail, it makes it taste spicier, fuller, and ties the other ingredients together. It doesn't make the drink taste bitter. Sure, if you drink a shot of Angostura bitters, it'll be horribly bitter and you'll grimace. Along the same lines, you'll think a steak tastes far better with salt and pepper added, but I'll bet you won't want to eat a heaping tablespoon of salt and then crunch up a handful of black peppercorns, now, would you?
At least the author offers some good advice with regards to Manhattans:
When ordering a Manhattan, help the bartender by specifying the type of whiskey you want. If you want anything more than whiskey, vermouth and bitters, ask for it.
My order, if I know the bar can accommodate it: "I'd love a Manhattan, please, with Pappy Van Winkle Rye and an extra dash of bitters." (Or whatever good rye they might stock.) I like mine a little more spicy, and by asking for an extra dash it's a perfect way to get that while avoiding having to say something assholish like "And make sure not to leave out the bitters." Of course, 95% of bars won't stock any rye whiskey at all, so I'll ask for a Maker's Mark Manhattan with an extra dash, and most of the time bartenders accommodate that with no problem at all, as long as they have minimally competent skills at their job.
In my cranky opinion, any bartender who bitches about having to make Manhattans is in the wrong line of work, like a chef who bitches about having to cook eggs: "But some people want them over easy, and some people want 'em scrambled, and some sunnyside up, and some only want egg whites, for Christ's sake! (*whine!*) Please.
We forge on:
Oh. Only the most oft-ordered cocktail in the country. Well, I'm so sick of Cosmos that I must confess I'd bitch if I had to make them all day too, but at least I'd make them really well. I haven't had a Cosmopolitan in about nine years, after the one I was served at Spago in Beverly Hills. I dined there with friends, and the brother of one of my friends was a waiter there at the time and make sure we were very well taken care of. Drinks were on the house, as long as we gave our orders to him and not directly to the bartender. "If you want another one, just let me know," he cautioned. "If you order one yourself, you'll have an aneurysm when you see the bill." I asked for a Cosmo, and ... it was perfect. Perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, lovely citrus flavor from the citron vodka and the Cointreau, fresh lime juice and just a splash of cranberry to give it a pink blush. It was the apotheosis of Cosmopolitanness, and I knew that at that moment that I'd never be able to order this drink again, at any other bar, because no other Cosmo I'd ever had was a tenth as good as this one, and no subsequent one ever would.
That's part of the problem with the Cosmo -- nobody seems to have a set recipe (or rather, proper proportions), and almost nobody uses fresh lime juice. Once again, it's the scourge of Rose's Lime Cordial (which is only really good in a Gimlet, and damned few other drinks).
The popular Cosmopolitan carries the same pitfalls as the Manhattan. A basic recipe is vodka, lime juice, cranberry juice and triple sec (an orange liqueur). But ever since the character Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex in the City" demanded perfection in her Cosmopolitan, people have had high standards in what was originally a fairly simple drink.
While fresh lime juice is usually preferred, some people insist on Rose's Lime Juice. Others want sweet and sour mix added to sweeten the cocktail and give it a pinker hue. Sometimes Cointreau, a more expensive orange liqueur, is substituted for triple sec.
Without specific instructions, every bartender makes Cosmos differently. If you want it made your way, you have to specify.
True, and good advice. Unless you like eye-poppingly sweet drinks and don't care, ask if the bar uses fresh lime juice. Otherwise, specify the vodka you like, plus Cointreau, or you'll get bottom-shelf Fleischmann's vodka and bottom-shelf, $2 per liter triple sec more often than not.
Then, of course, she speaks of the dreaded Mojito, as I predicted. Do your bartender a favor and don't order one if he or she is in the weeds, but if the bar goes out of their way to serve them (i.e., lists them on a specialty cocktail menu and/or keeps a bunch of fresh mint on the bar) then by all means enjoy one.
The article finishes with a handy list of ten ways to stay on a bartender's good side, and of course, the most important one of those is tip, tip, tip! At least $1 per drink (including ice water), and we usually do much better than that. Also, make sure that if you order something wacky that you have the recipe memorized (or, if you're a geek like me, you have hundreds of cocktail recipes in your Palm Pilot).
When is a leak not a leak? Hint: When it's the President.
By the way, Bush's approval rating is now down to 36%, his lowest ever.
Big Brother is listening to you. (Via Wes.) Alberto Gonzales thinks the President can order wiretaps on you and me, without a warrant, any old time, domestic-only calls included. All they have to do is say "Al-Qaeda."
I say, let 'em keep spouting this stuff. At least it's out in the open, and it fuels the fires of discontent. 35, anyone? 34? Do I hear 33?
Quote of the day. A real president once said ...
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.
-- James Madison, fourth President of the United States
He was a very wise and prescient man.
Quotes of the day, part deux. Yeah, I know, we can't let it go. From two new reviews on DVDfile.com:
"'In L.A. nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.'
"I hate that line. It's pretentious. It's untrue. It's indicative of all that is wrong with the Best Picture Oscar winner of 2006. I've lived in Los Angeles for almost thirty years. The only time I ever crashed into someone was in college, when my overly focused search for a parking space made me bang into a car driven by a priest. And I assure you, as a Jew, I did not crash into him because I needed the touch of Catholic divinity. I just wanted to get to class on time."
-- Mark Keizer, in his review of the new "Director's Cut" DVD release of Crash.
"All the conspiracy theories are true.
"Mark my words. In five, ten, or twenty years, the histrionic whining of Academy-Award-winner Crash will have become a thing of distant, cloudy memory (call it the racial-tension equivalent of fellow Best Picture-winner Marty), but Brokeback Mountain will only increase in reputation and importance."
-- Mike Restaino, in his review of the new DVD release of Brokeback Mountain.
As I mentioned before, after we watched Crash in the weeks before Oscar night we, the inveterate DVD collectors/hoarders, decided not to keep it and sold it on Half.com for more than we paid for it.
Shame, shame, shame. The United States will not seek a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council this year, the State Department said Thursday, a decision that underscores its disappointment with the framework of the panel but also eliminates an opportunity to help shape it in its crucial first year.
The Bush administration's decision marks the first time that the U.S. has not sought a seat on the U.N.'s premier human rights body since the world organization was formed after World War II. It was apparently made in part because of fear that Washington, under scrutiny by human rights investigators for its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq, might not have won a seat in a vote of the General Assembly.[ Link to today's entries ]
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Cocktail of the day. Wes found this one after about fifty clicks of the Random Recipe button at CocktailDB ("It was one friggin' pousse-café after another!") until it finally spat out one he liked. I liked it too.
He tried to have me guess the name. His hint? "I prefer the term 'artificial person,' myself."
The Bishop Cocktail
1 ounce Bourbon.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 ounce orange juice.
Small splash of Yellow Chartreuse.
Shake with ice for at least 10 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass.
Or you could try this hint: "'Ow do you know what cocktail 'e drinks?" "Tattooed on the back o' his neck!" Oh, it's the Bishop of Leicester ...
Quote of the Day, from Video of the Day. Harry Shearer has a longtime custom of watching live network satellite feeds, and reporting on the unbelievable things the talking heads say during commercials, when they think they're not being broadcast and have a tendency to say what they really think. Harry's latest offering is from between-segment banter between the odious Chris Matthews and indicted soon-to-be-former Congressman Tom "The Bugman" DeLay, in which Matthews smooches DeLay's ass repeatedly for handing him a scoop ("Thank you for calling me. It was a good thing for me ... I owe you one. I owe you two.") DeLay offers the money quote, however, with this tidbit prompted by a mention of Hillary Clinton not having done well in a focus group on potential candidates:
"There's nothing worse than a woman know-it-all."
That, in addition to the interviews he did with Tweety Matthews and on CNN yesterday in which he insisted that everything he's ever done has been right and proper and that he's never made a mistake and never been remotely unethical and that he'd do it all over again ... I'm looking forward to hearing him continue to insist this from his prison cell.
It's National Grilled Cheese Month! It started last Saturday, and to think we forgot about it. Well, we were busy clogging our digestive systems with macaroni and cheese last weekend; if we had added grilled cheese sandwiches to the fray, we might as well have eaten wet cement.
Moving right along, though, the good folks at Clementine Restaurant in Century City do a great job celebrating The Month (although a lousy job of observing my rule of "Never resize my feckin' browser window, because it annoys the crap out of me," so consider yourself forewarned). This year they're having a Battle of the Sandwiches, featuring two selections per day, the winner determined by the number of people that order it. The final week of the month will be Tournament Week, with the winner declared by the 30th. Great idea! (I really love your food, Clementine, but quit resizing my feckin' browser window already.)
We're thinking of maybe having our own Cheese-Off this month (because dieting before Jazzfest makes too much sense), and I've got a few ideas already. I'm not too proud to steal from my mac and cheese recipes ...
Dubliner, Cashel Blue, Leek and Pears on Country White.
Provoletta, Gorgonzola and Speck Panini.
Monterey Jack and Queso Poblano with Carnitas and Sweet Pickled Chipotles.
Brie, Gruyère and Lump Crabmeat on Thinly Sliced Crispy Brioche.
Or just Dubliner and everything ... man, I love that cheese. Dubliner, streaky bacon and chopped dates on ciabatta. Dubliner and horseradish on brioche. Dubliner on Wonder Bread, whatever, I'll eat it.
What's your favorite grilled cheese sandwich?
In case you had any doubts ... A look at how Las Vegas slots and electronic voting machines compare (via Jack):
It's easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine, says University of Pennsylvania visiting professor Steve Freeman. That's because Vegas slots are better monitored and regulated than America's voting machines, Freeman writes in a book out in July that argues, among other things, that President Bush may owe his 2004 win to an unfair vote count. We'll wait to read his book before making a judgment about that. But Freeman has assembled comparisons that suggest Americans protect their vices more than they guard their rights, according to data he presented at an October meeting of the American Statistical Association in Philadelphia.
Is this how they'll achieve a permanent Republican majority?[ Link to today's entries ]
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Good feckin' riddance. In case you hadn't heard, indicted crooked Congressman Tom DeLay is withdrawing from his re-election race in Texas, after he won the primary. Why? Well, could it be because he realized that with growing distaste with Republican corruption he'd probably get his ass whipped by the Democrat in November, and that his ass will probably be in prison before too much longer, and was undoubtedly pressured by the party to take a fall for their sake? Of course, he's taking the coward's way out:
DeLay said he is likely to leave by the end of May, depending on the Congressional schedule and finishing his work on a couple of issues. He said he will change his legal residence to his condominium in Alexandria, Va., from his modest two-story home on a golf course here in the 22nd District of Texas. "I become ineligible to run for election if I'm not a resident of the state of Texas," he said, turning election law to his purposes for perhaps on last time. State Republican officials will then be able to name another Republican candidate to face Democrat Nick Lampson, a former House member who lost his seat in a redistricting engineered by DeLay.
As to whether he's being "noble" enough to fall on his sword for his beloved party (GOP trumps America, don't ya know), I think this is the real reason for his pullout, as described in the Washington Post:
DeLay also is entitled under federal election rules to convert any or all of the remaining funds from his reelection campaign to his legal expenses, whether or not he resigns, is indicted or loses the election. Election lawyers say one advantage of bowing out of the election now is that the campaign cash can be converted to pay legal bills immediately, instead of being drained in the course of a bid to stay in office.
Uh huh. It's the money. He gets to keep it all, so he can pay all those expensive lawyers he's going to need. How noble.
John Boehner, DeLay's replacement as majority leader, still refers to DeLay as having "integrity." The White House is lauding him as a man who did the President's work on the Hill. This seems to be a fairly typical example of the Republicans' idea of integrity, so let's get rid of Boehner too, and as many of the rest of them as we can. Remember, remember, the Seventh of November ...
Who is killing New Orleans? An article from the current issue of The Nation:
A few blocks from the badly flooded and still-closed campus of Dillard University, a wind-bent street sign announces the intersection of Humanity and New Orleans. In the nighttime distance, the downtown skyscrapers on Poydras and Canal Streets are already ablaze with light, but a vast northern and eastern swath of the city, including the Gentilly neighborhood around Dillard, remains shrouded in darkness.
The lights have been out for six months now, and no one seems to know when, if ever, they will be turned back on. In greater New Orleans about 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied, a vast ghost city that rots in darkness while les bon temps return to a guilty strip of unflooded and mostly affluent neighborhoods near the river. Such a large portion of the black population is gone that some radio stations are now switching their formats from funk and rap to soft rock.
Mayor Ray Nagin likes to boast that "New Orleans is back," pointing to the tourists who again prowl the French Quarter and the Tulane students who crowd Magazine Street bistros; but the current population of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi is about the same as that of Disney World on a normal day. More than 60 percent of Nagin's constituents -- including an estimated 80 percent of the African-Americans -- are still scattered in exile with no obvious way home.
In their absence, local business elites, advised by conservative think tanks, "New Urbanists" and neo-Democrats, have usurped almost every function of elected government. With the City Council largely shut out of their deliberations, mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, propose to radically shrink and reshape a majority-black and Democratic city. Without any mandate from local voters, the public-school system has already been virtually abolished, along with the jobs of unionized teachers and school employees. Thousands of other unionized jobs have been lost with the closure of Charity Hospital, formerly the flagship of public medicine in Louisiana. And a proposed oversight board, dominated by appointees of President Bush and Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, would end local control over city finances.
Meanwhile, Bush's pledge to "get the work done quickly" and mount "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen" has proved to be the same fool's gold as his earlier guarantee to rebuild Iraq's bombed-out infrastructure. Instead, the Administration has left the residents of neighborhoods like Gentilly in limbo: largely without jobs, emergency housing, flood protection, mortgage relief, small-business loans or a coordinated plan for reconstruction.
With each passing week of neglect -- what Representative Barney Frank has labeled "a policy of ethnic cleansing by inaction" -- the likelihood increases that most black Orleanians will never be able to return.
What are we going to do about it?
Mac and cheese recipe of the day. Here's the recipe for the other dish I made last weekend, the Italian-style. I based it on an Emeril Lagasse recipe for "Maytag Blue Mac and Cheese" (which, incidentally, is great). To make Emeril's original, use shells instead of cavatelli, use 8 ounces of Maytag Blue cheese or your favorite blue cheese instead of the provoletta and gorgonzola, omit the pancetta and instead of the ciabatta topping combine 1 cup fine dried bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. My variation:
Cavatelli with Provoletta and Gorgonzola Cheeses and Pancetta
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a large shallow baking dish with 1 teaspoon of the butter. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter.
- 3 tablespoons flour.
- 3 cups evaporated milk.
- Freshly ground white pepper.
- 4 ounces provoletta cheese, grated.
- 4 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled.
- 2 egg yolks, beaten.
- 8 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4" thick, diced
- Dash of Crystal Hot Sauce.
- Salt to taste.
- 1 pound cavatelli, cooked until tender.
- 2 cups cubed ciabatta bread.
- Olive oil.
Brown the pancetta over medium heat until browned. Drain on several layers of paper towels and reserve. (Save the fat for other dishes!)
Whisk in the milk, 1/2 cup at a time. Season with white pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the cheese and egg yolks; add pancetta, and continue stirring until cheese is melted. Season with the hot sauce and salt if needed. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and pour into the prepared baking dish.
For the topping, drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the ciabatta bread cubes and toss to coat. Season with salt, pepper and some herbs (basil, rosemary, etc.). Spread the bread cubes over the pasta and press into the surface. Bake until the pasta is bubbly and the top is slightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. (For additional browning of the topping, place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes -- don't let it burn!) Remove from the oven and cool 5 minutes before serving.
Quote of the day. Via Billmon.
When politics and religion travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. The movement becomes headlong -- faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thought of obstacles and forget that a precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it's too late.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune
The scary thing is that they'll push the rest of us over the precipice in their blind rush.[ Link to today's entries ]
Monday, April 3, 2006
Mr. Ernest Hansen, RIP (1912-2006). In his own way, he was one of the greatest New Orleanians of the last century. Statesmen, politician, writer, musician, chef? No, in fact, originally he was a machinist, but it didn't stop there. Mr. Ernest, along with his late wife, Ms. Mary, was the proprietor of Hansen's Sno-Bliz, considered by many if not most to be the finest sno-ball stand in the city, and has been for 67 years.
The sno-ball is one of New Orleans' greatest culinary creations, and you won't find it on the menu of fancy restaurants, or any restaurant, for that matter, save for those few places here and there that serve food along with their sno-balls, such as Tee-Eva's. They're everywhere, small neighborhood stands on the corner to larger stands that draw people from miles around. What made Hansen's Sno-Bliz the best, however, was Mr. Ernest's invention of the Sno-Bliz Machine, which shaved the ice so fine that it was finer than snow. That, along with Ms. Mary's house-concocted syrups in myriad flavors, which they poured on so that the ice was soaked all the way to the bottom, elevated the Sno-Ball to a work of art, and just about the best thing you could have on a blazing hot summer afternoon (I'd take one of those over a Dixie Beer on any such day, despite my now-it's-gone nostalgia for Dixie).
Ms. Mary and Mr. Ernest, serving sno-balls.
(Photo by Ed Newman)
Mr. Ernest died last Thursday of esophageal and stomach cancer. He was 94. I'm sad he's gone, but I gotta say, that was a good, long run.
To the above-linked, excellent obituary from the Times-Picayune, Poppy added this:
Mr. Ernest was the co-proprietor of what I consider New Orleans' best snowball stand, Hansen's Sno-Bliz. It's mentioned in [my novel] Liquor. He invented the machine that shaved the ice to a soft, snowy consistency utterly unlike the hard crystals you'll find in many local snowballs. Whenever I would go into Hansen's wearing a sleeveless top or dress, Mr. Ernest would always get excited about my tattoo of the Amsterdam city crest and start reminiscing about his youthful travels (which may or may not have actually happened; I could never really tell). You may recall that his wife, Ms. Mary (who concocted the delicious syrups that completed the snowballs) died shortly after evacuating to Thibodeaux in the storm. I imagined he would follow her soon. After a 72-year marriage, they were only able to bear seven months apart.
I hope they're still running their sno-ball stand on the other side.
Only in New Orleans. It's something we say a lot back home, and sometimes it's said so often it's in danger of becoming a cliché. But truly, sometimes you look at certain events and situations and still, even after all the shit that's gone down, all you can say is, "Only in New Orleans." This great story was posted by New Orleanian Ben Rosow at DailyKos.com, telling of a bike ride up past Tulane in the Fonatinebleau neighborhood:
[...] It was a sunny balmy day this afternoon, the air clear and dry like California. But beautiful days like this are always laced with irony and sadness in post-Katrina New Orleans. So after riding my bike through many blocks of flood zone on this gorgeous day, I was in a fragile mood when I crossed back over Claiborne Street by the empty McMain High School. I pulled over to the side of the street when I passed near the third floor room with the open windows where I used to stop to hear the band practicing on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. If you have ever heard a New Orleans High School marching band, then you know where jazz and rock and roll came from. In an age where teenagers around the country are listening to mind numbing rap at hellish volume, or vapid post punk with no new musical content, this was the only city in the America where, on a Saturday morning, you could see 7 young black pre-teens walking down the streetcar line passing a saxophone or a euphonium back and forth and trying to be the macho man who could play the impossible lick from the days band practice that nobody could get right. What a sight! You know that music is part of the culture when teenage boys think that horn playing is a man's work.
So I stood on my bike on the sidewalk below the band room at McMain and I imagined that I heard the band playing, horribly out of tune, scratching out a new chart for the first time. I imagined I heard a loud sax player enthusiastically showing off his favorite tune of the week. No... no, I was actually hearing a sax player, and playing exceptionally well. It wasn't coming from the band room, but the auditorium was right next door so I moved a few feet down the street toward the auditorium door. But it wasn't coming from there either. It was coming from across the street at the Ursuline Academy.
Now the ground around Ursuline is about 2 feet lower than that of McMain so where McMain took on about 4 feet of water, Ursuline took on about 6. But there is no flood line left on the walls of Ursuline and I noticed a few cars parked in a back access lot. So I crossed the street and started following the sound on my bike. I couldn't tell if it was coming from inside the chapel or if the music was outdoors but this was a seriously good player with a very full sound. The tune was something I definitely recognized but I couldn't quite place it. I followed the sound around a few corners until I came to a dead end between two wings of the building with a formidable plank door at the other end. THAT was where the sound was coming from.
As I sat and listened, an old nun appeared at a window and mouthed to me, "It's really loud, isn't it? I think they can hear it down on Canal Street."
"Well, I heard it on the street but it isn't so loud there," I said. "I like it."
"Would you like to come in?" she said, motioning to the heavy wooden door.
"Really? Yes, very much," I said ...
Start at the beginning, and read the whole thing.
March Macaroni Madness! Okay, so it's April, but scheduling couldn't pull it off in March. Yesterday we had a gathering at Mary and Steve's place to celebrate her birthday, as well as that of our friend LeeAnn, and the idea was for to everyone to bring a different macaroni and cheese dish (as Mary and LeeAnn are quite keen on the ould mac 'n cheese). A great idea, rife with possibilities, but with one potential drawback. To paraphrase my friend Dean, an M.D., "Enjoy all that cheese ... your next bowel movement will be sometime in June."
We were undaunted. Here's the list of all the dishes, starting with my two:
1. Italian: Cavatelli with provoletta and gorgonzola, with diced pancetta and ciabatta topping. (Custard style, with evaporated milk and eggs. Provoletta is an aged provolone that's mild but has a deeper, tangier flavor than most provolone you're used to ("The domestic provolone," said Rosario, our Italian deli owner, "she has no taste.") Gorgonzola went in for creaminess and sharpness)
2. Irish: Rotelle with Dubliner and leeks. (Simple besciamella/béchamel, no eggs. Rotelle chosen for its spiral shape, reminiscent of the Celtic spiral, and because it holds sauce really well. Dubliner is an incredible cheese from Ireland that starts off like an aged white Cheddar and finishes like a Parmigiano ... really, really good, and becoming widely available in America.)
3. Traditional elbow macaroni and Cheddar with bread topping. (Cook's Illustrated recipe, made by Mary.)
[ERRATUM: Yesterday we reported that the Traditional Mac and Cheese recipe from Cook's Illustrated was prepared by Mary. The chef of record was, in fact, Steve (as he was quick to point out). Looka! regrets the error.]
4. Double-cheese Elbow macaroni with Cheddar, Jack and Parmesan. (Made by Steve M.)
5. Organic whole-wheat elbow macaroni with gouda, portobello mushrooms and red wine. (I usually hate whole-wheat pasta, but this brand was very good. Made by LeeAnn.)
6. Cavatelli with gruyère, fontina and "about a jillion other cheeses" with bread and Parmesan topping. (Made by Diana.)
7. Cavatelli with Jack and green chiles. (Made with some of Diana's leftover ingredients from dish #6, and incredibly good.)
8. Rigatoni with extra-sharp Cheddar and bacon. (Made by Bianca. She arrived late and I was already in a food coma by then, so I forgot to get a picture.)
9. Traditional noodle kugel. (A delightful surprise ... instead of another savory one, a sweet mac 'n cheese dish for dessert. Made by Steve M.)
(Steve created a special musical playlist for the event, and none of us figured out the running theme until it finally occurred to Steve M. ... Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Dr. John a.k.a. Mac Rebennack, Blind Willie McTell ... you get the picture.)
They were all really good, but from what everyone was saying afterwards the general favorite was my Irish mac 'n cheese dish. It was based on the Macaroni and Cheese dish from the Cook's Illustrated book called The New Best Recipe, with the substitution of 1 pound of grated Dubliner cheese and one leek, minced and saut&eeacute;ed in Irish butter. The one thing that makes this dish is that amazing cheese, like an aged white cheddar with the finish of a Parmigiano. Nicking an idea from the Kerrygold site, next time I make this I'll do about 2/3 Dubliner and 1/3 Cashel Blue. Cheeses, Mary and Joseph ...
Here's the recipe:
Dubliner Macaroni and Jaysis
Preheat broiler. Adjust oven rack to lowest 1/4 of the oven.
- For the pasta and cheese sauce:
- 1 pound/450g rotini, cooked just past al dente until tender.
- 5 tablespoons/75g Kerrygold Irish butter.
- 6 tablespoons/45g flour.
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Colman's dry mustard.
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional.
- 5 cups/120cl whole milk or half-and-half (i.e., half milk and half cream)
if you want it extra-rich. It'll even work with 1% or 2% lowfat, but with all
this cheese, what's the point?
- 1 pound/450g Dubliner cheese, grated
(or 12 ounces/340g Dubliner and 4 ounces/115g Cashel Blue).
- 1 leek, white part only, split, washed thoroughly,
diced and sautéed in Irish butter until tender.
- Salt and white pepper to taste.
- For the topping:
- About 6 slices Irish brown bread, torn into pieces (substitute whole wheat bread).
- 3 tablespoons/45g cold Irish butter, cut into chunks.
For the cheese sauce, heat the butter in a large pot until it foams. Add the flour, mustard, cayenne (if desired) and whisk until no lumps remain. Add the milk gradually, whisking constantly, and bring to a boil, continuing to whisk constantly, scraping the bottom of the pot so it doesn't stick. (This makes a classic béchamel sauce.) Slowly bring the béchamel to a boil, which is necessary so that it'll thicken properly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until the sauce is the consistency of very heavy cream. Remove from heat, add the cheese(s), sautéed leeks, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Add the pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Pour into a buttered 9x13x2" baking dish.
For the topping, place the brown bread and butter in a food processor and pulse until crumbed and combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta.
To finish, pop the dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the bread crumb topping is deep golden brown and crispy. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn't burn. Serve immediately, and listen for comments. "What's this? Macaroni and ... mmmm, Jaaaaaaysis!"
YIELD: 6-8 main course servings, 12 side-dish servings.
I'll post the other recipe tomorrow.[ Link to today's entries ]
Sunday, April 2, 2006
Cream puffs + bacon = crazy delicious! Just to dispel anyone's fears that what I wrote on April Fool's Day yesterday wasn't complete and utter crap ...
Oh, the things you get up to at a Vegas buffet (Bellagio's buffet, in this case, last Sunday in Las Vegas).
Diana said, "You only did that so that you could take a picture." Not so. I ate the bacon along with my excellent cream puffs (perfect pâte à choux and pastry cream) with chocolate and raspberry sauces. It was great. And I'd do it again.[ Link to today's entries ]
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Uggghhh ... I think yesterday's food porn might have put me over the top.
Given how I've been feeling all week long, the sight of that huge slab of pork staring me in the face as I was working on the picture in Photoshop was kinda the last straw. Usually when I have a food hangover it's gone the next day, but this one's lingered all week long, and it's been a nasty one.
That, plus the increasingly fragile state of my health (if my doctor gets a look at yesterday's post, he'll probably say something like, "Why don't I just shoot you in the head now and get it over with, rather than you doing it slowly over the next several years with that food?") ... well, it's led me to some serious thinking, and a serious decision.
I've decided to become a vegetarian.
No more meat, no more eggs, no more cheese. Long life with a bland diet is, I think, preferable to quick death by food.
The food porn around here will change somewhat, of course. But hey, you won't believe how beautiful okra and tomatoes look in close-up.
Anyone want to join me? Health, and long life!
March Looka! entries have been permanently archived.[ Link to today's entries ]
Friday, March 31, 2006
New Orleans is Not OK. If you read anything today, read this. New Orleanian writer Poppy Z. Brite has a sledgehammer-to-the-head post up today which you should read, and which everyone you know should read. Every idiot politician from New Orleans City Hall to the Oval Office should read this too, so they'll know why we voted their asses out of office. (Emphases and added links mine.)
Occasionally I'm asked by friends Not From Here, "New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!" or "Are you doing OK?" or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they're contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it's very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker's dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.
1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.
2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.
3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.
4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.
5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.
6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.
7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.
8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.
9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.
10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)
11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."
12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing. [Link to NPR story.]
13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.
Copy, paste, and disseminate far and wide, with Poppy's blessing. Here's the permalink.
Commander's Palace, Las Vegas. Gotta have something good amidst all this today ...
Right now Commander's Palace in Las Vegas is the only Commander's that's open; the Brennan flagship restaurant in New Orleans got Katrina'd pretty badly (despite its initial appearance) and had to be gutted. It won't be open until summer, probably.
In New Orleans Café Adelaide, a superb restaurant in its own right, is also serving as a fill-in Commander's, as you can get certain classic Commander's dishes there now (turtle soup, Tasso Shrimp Henican, and the like). Other than than that, if you want a Commander's fix, it's Vegas, baby, Vegas!
Besides being Wes' birthday party weekend, the day we went to Commander's for dinner was also our friend Diana's birthday, so a double celebration was called for. We arrived early, so that we could get a little bit of an early start on the cocktail swilling and so that we could check out the newly-relocated Museum of the American Cocktail, which will reside at Commander's in Vegas for the next year until an eventual permanent home is found in New Orleans. It was nice to see the exhibit again, and our little things in it, but we were thrilled and surprised to see this, newly installed at this exhibit:
We were honored to be mentioned, and listed among that august group.
A few Sazeracs, Negronis and Gibsons later we sat down to order, extremely well cared-for by Santino, their fabulous maitre'd (who were were very glad to see back at the restaurant; he'd left for a while), our captain Steve and his waiters. First out came the amuse bouche ...
A little scoop of mousse made one of their appetizers, Tabasco "Mash" Cured and Smoked Salmon, in which the salmon is cured with the salty pepper mash from the white oak barrels that's later mixed with vinegar to make Tabasco sauce, folded into a mousse and served on a toast point with microgreen salad and a little jalapeño oil. I was tempted to order more of that salmon, but I knew what was coming ...
One of my favorite dishes at Commander's, and in fact one of my favorite dishes in New Orleans -- Tasso Shrimp Henican, with Crystal Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc, Five Pepper Jelly and Pickled Okra. This is the late Chef Jamie Shannon's dish, and its retention on the menu is a continuous memorial to his talent (we all miss him terribly). The shrimp are semi-butterflied and stuffed with a lardon of tasso ham, flash-fried and coated in the Crystal beurre blanc, served in a puddle of the jelly with the okra as garnish (and I eat all the garnish). This is served as an appetizer, but is so good that a double portion of it would make an entrée that would rival any shrimp dish in town (an idea I'm going to steal from Poppy one day). There were a few Commander's virgins in the crowd, so we had to get the shrimp and, of course, the crab ...
I'm not usually a fan of crab cakes. Usually they have too much filler, too much breading, too much something which takes away from the flavor of the crab, which one would think a crab cake should feature. I've had crab cakes so thoroughly fried that they had a carapace that had to be cracked open, only to find lots of mushy breadcrumb dressing flecked with crab inside ... yecch. As far as I'm concerned, if you want crab cakes, you go to Commander's. Why? Because they're The Best Crab Cakes In The Universe. Over an inch thick, mixed with just barely enough dressing to hold them together, just enough seasoning to enhance, not to mask, the flavor of the magnificent jumbo lump crabmeat that consitutes about 90% of the composition of this dish. They're ring-molded, briefly seared on both sides and served barely warm ... absolute perfection.
When we were chatting at the bar there was a gentleman sitting there dining alone, having made a meal of a starter of the Tasso Shrimp and a small main course of a dish that so startled me that I think a comic-strip thought balloon containing "!!!" had appeared over my head. It's a dish I'd never seen at Commander's in New Orleans, apparently because it's the creation of the executive chef of Commander's in Las Vegas, Chef Carlos Guia, and hasn't made it to the Crescent City yet. It's a dish that I had never thought of, because, well ... who'd think of such a thing?! A genius? A madman? We debated that very question as soon as we saw the dish prominently featured front and center on the menu, inside a box so that we couldn't miss it: Foie Gras Gumbo.
A couple of us were immediately skeptical and suspicious, with Louise thinking it inappropriately highfalutin', gumbo being an earthy dish of the people, and the addition of foie gras being a rich man's affectation. Well, it was an expensive dish, but not that expensive; at $14.50 it's one of the most affordable foie gras appetizers I've ever seen (with the exception of the $9.95 seared foie gras at Café Giovanni in the Quarter, but that serving is about the size of your thumb.) It's not a huge serving either, not as large as you'd expect from a bowl of filé gumbo, but you have to think about how rich this dish probably is, and how it could floor you if you're not careful. This consideration is reinforced when you hear about how it's made; captain Steve explained it to us, but here's a more detailed description excerpted from Nation's Restaurant News:
Executive chef Carlos Guia roasts cubes of chilled foie gras, seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. He strains off the fat and uses some of it to saut? diced onion, celery, and red and yellow bell peppers. To that mirepoix he adds andouille sausage, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, wild mushrooms and Creole seasoning.
He adds the remaining foie gras fat and some flour to make a roux. He whisks in chicken and pork stock and simmers the mixture, skimming the top. He adds more Creole seasoning along with hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and filé powder.
He adds the roasted foie gras ten minutes before the dish is done.
As for our skepticism ... we were wrong, wrong, wrong. (Well, I thought we were, and I wasn't all that skeptical to begin with; in fact, I was kinda excited.) There's nothing wrong with taking a simple dish and elevating it to higher levels of complexity, and even a working man's gumbo is pretty complex in flavor. We ended up ordering one of these to share, and it's a good thing -- it's rich, very rich, and given all the other food that was to come that was probably wise. I must confess that it was so frackin' good that I was seriously considering ordering another one just for me (well, I'd probably give Wes some too), but if I had done that you would have had to change my name to Mr. Creosote by the end of the meal.
We got some sides too -- the Stone Ground Grits with Goat Cheese, Spinach Rockefeller and some Crawfish Étouffée (made with Breaux Bridge, Louisiana crawfish and superb), and then it came time for the entrée. Given this crowd and its history, you'd think that the seven of us would have ordered seven different things, with the plates orbiting the table all night as we take tastes (which we've done several times), but as it turned out, five of the seven of us zeroed in on the same thing ...
Well, we are The Fat Pack after all, and what do our lives revolve around? PORK! In this case, Kurobuta Pork Loin, and here's its description from the menu: Iron skillet seared Berkshire "black hog" served with fingerling potato steak fries tossed with toasted garlic and buttermilk blue cheese, cayenne ketchup emulsion and Creole mustard-bourbon sauce.
Um, holy frackin' bejeebies.
This was mind-bogglingly good; the pork seared to perfection, with a beautiful crust and perfectly pink on the inside, with that great tangy sauce (there was ketchup in that, go figure, and they say so proudly!). The fries, though, the fries ... Michael didn't like them as much, declaring them to be insufficiently crispy, and despite the fact that I'm a crispy fry fanatic I disagreed. They were crispy enough, and besides they were tossed with a topping (which makes my head spin just thinking about it right now). Fingerling potatoes have such a great flavor just plain and roasted, but like this, oh man. I actually left a little of the pork and finished the fries (well, I knew what was coming next).
Next, to our delight, was a dessert bomb, a Brennan specialty in which the table is bombarded with one (or more) of every single dessert on the menu, which also included a couple of plates of pralines decorated with "Happy Birthday!" in chocolate sauce for Diana and Wes. (Thanks, Ti!) Unfortunately my dessert bomb pictures are not the best, mostly due to two cocktails, two glasses of wine and the beginning of the onset of food coma. I'll try to see what I can salvage in Photoshop later, but for now the menu descriptions will have to do: Creole Opera Cake, thin layers of pecan genoise layered with chicory coffee buttercream and dark chocolate ganache, topped with Bourbon Chantilly and pecan praline cream; Passion Fruit Crêpes, housemade crêpes filled with passion fruit curd and California stawberries, topped with mixed berry granita and caramelized orange reduction suace; French Quarter Beignets, traditional New Orleans beignets dusted with powdered sugar, served with warm café au lait sauce and chocolate drizzles; Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé, Commander's signature dessert, a rich bread pudding whipped into a light fluffy soufflé and served with Bourbon whiskey sauce; and finally, the Brennan family classic, Bananas Foster, bananas cooked in brown sugar, butter and cinnamon and flamed with rum, served over vanilla ice cream.
Even though we didn't finish it all, the waiters were nevertheless impressed by how much we did finish (well, this group is not to be trifled with). It was the perfect capper for what may have been our best-ever meal at Commander's, and they've all been great. Taking very shallow breaths (as my stuffed-as-full-as-a-haggis stomach didn't allow much room for my diaphragm to expand my lung capacity), we waddled carefully out of the restaurant. Michael and Louise headed to Barbary Coast to see a band called Darby O'Gill and the Little People (hey, how were they anyway?) while the rest of us headed back across the street to Bellagio and digestivos at Petrossian Bar -- 20-year tawny port for Diana and Robin, Macallan for Steve, 16-year Hirsch Bourbon for Wes and a Chartreuse for me.
Later, we slept soundly.
No money for levees? Hey, New Orleans! 'Member when I said I'd do whatever it takes to rebuild your levees bigger and better then ever, no matter what it took? Well, turns out there ain't enough money to fix 'em up like I said. Sorry. Take lots of pictures of your city before next hurricane season so we'll all know what it once looked like.
The Bush administration said yesterday that the cost of rebuilding New Orleans's levees to federal standards has nearly tripled to $10 billion and that there may not be enough money to fully protect the entire region.
Donald E. Powell, the administration's rebuilding coordinator, said some areas may be left without the protection of levees strong enough to meet requirements of the national flood insurance program. Those areas probably would face enormous obstacles in attracting home buyers and investors willing to build there.
The news represents a shift for the administration; President Bush had pledged in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild New Orleans "higher and better." Now, some areas may lose out as they compete for levee protection. Powell's announcement, in a conference call with reporters, prompted denunciations from state and local officials who said the federal government is reneging on promises to rebuild the entire region.
"This monumental miscalculation is an outrage," said Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). "This means that, just two months before hurricane season, the Corps of Engineers informs us they cannot ensure even the minimum safety of southeastern Louisiana. This is totally unacceptable."
The change followed a surprise announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers that the levee reconstruction project, most recently estimated at $3.5 billion, would now cost $9.5 billion if insurance-certified levees were extended throughout the region.
I wish that at least they'd be as honest in their dishonesty as Earl Long was when he was governor, running on a tax cut platform and then realizing he'd have to raise taxes. When asked what he was going to tell the people, he said, "Tell 'em ah lied."
Clean house in New Orleans. The following information came via an email forwarded from Rob Florence in New Orleans, about a grassroots political movement called Clean House New Orleans. It all looks really good, but I fear it may be fizzling, at least as an organization; the "next meeting" listed was nearly two months ago, and since their blog was started in mid-February there have been no postings. Still, the stuff in the email is more than worth thinking about:
MISSION STATEMENT: To improve the political culture of New Orleans.
There is much anger and blame to go around. Profoundly failing us on the federal level are the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the President, and Congress. At the state level, Governor Blanco, various legislators, the bond commission, and the levee boards have been a disgrace. But as people lash out against at these agencies and officer holders, it is easy to overlook the tremendous amount of responsibility our city bears for this historic disaster. In the upcoming watershed election, New Orleans voters have a rare opportunity, even an obligation, to attempt to create a new political culture.
REASONS TO CLEAN HOUSE:
A) Past performance - THE KATRINA "PLAN" / Katrina stewardship which can't be blamed on the Corps or FEMA:
1) Communications - No announcement that the levees had failed until Tuesday morning, which was communicated by Jefferson Parish, not Orleans.
2) Superdome - Sending 50,000 people there as a refuge of last resort with insufficient sewerage, power, and security.
3) Flooded RTA & school buses - A indelible, shameful, iconic Katrina image.
4) Convention Center - An improvised solution: Authorities told people there would be buses at higher ground there yet there was no food, no water and nobody.
A constantly repeated complaint from those stuck there was that there was a total lack of order. On CNN, a man complained that there should be someone on a flatbed truck with a bullhorn telling people that the city was in control and they were OK, even if it was a lie. Furthermore, it was after people realized that they were in trouble at the Convention Center that they tried to walk across the bridge only to be turned back, an incident which has resulted in international disgust.
5) Hospitals and Nursing Homes - The City of New Orleans had NO PLAN to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes!!!
B) Current performance - All they do is fight, blame, and offer no plans.
C) Future performance - The next mayor and city council will be responsible for persuading a reluctant unsympathetic US Congress to take financial responsibility for the federal government's failures. As the congressional committee did in November, they will continue to grill our leaders and use failures such as flooded buses as an excuse to blame us for the situation in order to justify withholding funds. When grilled by Congress, new leadership can respond that they agree entirely and ran for office to improve upon their predescessor's failures. Whereas if we send the current leadership to Washington again, Americans everywhere will assume that we liked things the way they were and will be alot less sympathetic and less likely to support our demands for federal funding.
THINKING OF VOTING FOR A NEW ORLEANS INCUMBENT? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
FROM: "SAVING A CITY'S SOUL", by Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune, Friday, March 24, 2006:
"You don't have to live in New Orleans to understand that to go back to the old ways is to deliver a death sentence to this city in a way that even a hurricane cannot... So what do we do about it? To combat our legacy of political waste and incompetence, we have the power to vote to change things."
The more you think about the situation during Katrina, and the more you see what's being done (i.e., what isn't being done) locally in New Orleans, the more you think about getting rid of everyone in local office and starting over.
So NoTORIous! An only slightly fictionalized sitcom starting Tori Spelling, playing herself, amidst a gaggle of demanding friends and Loni Anderson as her perfectionist mother, in which Tori's looking for friendship, respect and love? Um, sounds unlikely on the surface, and a show I'd be unlikely to watch, but ya know what? It's pretty funny. I'll be watching and you should too, and that's not just because my friends Damon and Sharon are writers on it. There's a lot of humor from Hollywood in-jokes and celeb name-dropping, but that's all part of Tori's world, so if you ever wanted to make fun of celebrities, or watch celebrities make fun of themselves (and Tori's very charming as she goes about it), then check out this show, running ... um, practially around the clock on VH-1.[ Link to today's entries ]
Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
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