the gumbo pages

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

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

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

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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

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

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times

How to donate to this site:

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

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

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

Buy stuff!

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

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

August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

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

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

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


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Ashley Morris
Blogging New Orleans
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
Cocktail hour.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims." -- Charles H. Baker, Jr.

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

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.
   (Their weblog.)

*     *     *

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

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

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

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Book Collection
   (Constantly growing)

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters,
   plus new lemon & grapefruit bitters!)

The Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

*     *     *

   (The study of booze with Camper English)

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

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

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

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

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

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

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

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)
   (Lauren Clark)

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

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender/mixologist, Eugene OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

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

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

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

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

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

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

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

The Thirstin' Howl
   (John Myers)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

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

Let's eat!

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

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

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

In vino veritas.

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

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

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

Reading this month:

Dream Boy, by Jim Grimsley.

Sippin' Safari, by Jeff Berry.

Wicked Angels, by Eric Jourdan.

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

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

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

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

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)
   (Comprehensive listings)

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

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

In the cinema:
Babel (****)
Children of Men (****)
Notes on a Scandal (***-1/2)
Zodiac (****)
Grindhouse (**-1/2)
28 Weeks Later (****)
Spider-Man 3 (***)
Rescue Dawn (***-1/2)
1408 (***)
Live Free or Die Hard (***-1/2)
Ocean's Thirteen (**-1/2)
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer(**-1/2)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (***-1/2)
The Bourne Ultimatum (****)


Lookin' at da TV:

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


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

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

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

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

by Walt Kelly

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

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

Weblogs I read:

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

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
tracy and david

The Final Frontier:

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


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site


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

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

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

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

LOOKA! Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Friday, August 31, 2007

The Plucky Survivors hit the road!   On Wednesday my friends Mary and Rick left for their second (annual, I hope) trip across the back roads of the country in search of bacon, roadside attractions, awesomeness and America.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Day 1, much of which was taken up with the nasty part of travel -- i.e. flying and airports and security and the confiscation of your toothpaste for your own safety -- but when it finally gets going also features relatives, Polish sausage, cutthroat games of Cow and lots and lots of corn.

Day 2 is happening as you read, and will be updated later with tales of Maytag blue cheese, Dutch bakeries, the Amana Colonies (a German communal settlement dating to the 1800s) and The Maid-Rite in Cedar Rapids, about which we are assured we'll want to know.

There are even rumors that there will be video from the road this time, although Rick is skeptical about editing on the road and uploading where free broadband might be sparse. Perhaps this could also be a voyage of discovery of free wi-fi in rural and small-town MIdwest. Let's keep our fingers crossed, though, because said videos, if they do come to pass, will be damned funny.

Hit the road, Jack and Jill!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   For those of you who'd like to catch up with me in small daily doses, here are links to two more of Robert's excellent videos on cocktails and mixology.

Bloody Mary

The Bloody Mary represents a drink where everybody is welcome to test out their creativity just a little to see what sorts of unique twists they can add to this long-time classic. Start with the basic recipe and then see where that leads you.

#     #     #

Bitters, and the Manhattan Cocktail

Few drinks have been able to make the tortuous journey through American Prohibition and into the modern era unscathed by alterations, shortcuts, gimmicks, and obscurity. The Manhattan, retains a modicum of popularity, and is even made pretty much the same way it was back in the late 1800's when it first came onto the scene. Most notably, it is one of the few cocktails which you can still expect to be made with bitters.

Actually, thanks to the cocktail renaissance, I'm hoping we'll be seeing lots and lots more cocktails made with bitters, and that it'll be in more conventional bars rather than just serious cocktailian ones. (A boy can dream, can't he?)

Incidentally, here's how I made the Bloody Mary I had for breakfast last Sunday:

Chuck's August 26, 2007 Bloody Mary
(improvised based on ingredients on hand)

2 ounces Beefeater gin. (Why bother with vodka? It has no flavor.)
1 healthy pinch celery seed, ground for a few seconds in a mortar.
2 shakes Paul Prudhomme's Pork and Veal Magic Cajun Seasoning.
2 dashes Crystal Hot Sauce. (For flavor, primarily.)
2 dashes Habanero Tabasco Sauce. (For heat, and flavor.)
1 small dab Inglehoffer cream-style horseradish. (This stuff's powerful.)
1 dash Worcestershire sauce.
1 drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 small can V-8 tomato-and-vegetable juice (6 ounces, I believe.)

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, then add ice and give it a brief shake. Pour into a 12-ounce glass. Garnishes this time -- pickled okra, pickled green beans, olives and a slice of bacon, laid across the top of teh glass.

Oh my, it was good.

I like the idea of adding ground chile to a Bloody Mary, and I may try this next time. To the ancho I'd add some chipotle, or else a few dashes of a good chipotle sauce like El Yucateca or Chipotle Tabasco (which is quite good).

Music video of the day.   I went to see Wilco, one of my very favorite bands, at the Greek Theatre Wednesday night, and not unexpectedly the show was comprised of 42 kinds of awesomeness. Jeff was so relaxed and fun and just right on the money with every song, and that combined with the shining beams of supernova coming from Nels Cline's guitar (which had me going "Wow, wow, wow!" with a big dopey grin on my face all night) ... well, I was a very happy boy. I've been a Wilco fan from the day it formed after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, and Wilco just keep getting better and better.

Last weekend my friend Michael sent around a link to a video on YouTube that he said made him feel "all warm and fuzzy," and I finally got to it last night. I can see why. The Bottle Rockets, featuring Brian Henneman (former Uncle Tupelo roadie and occasional sideman), part of the St. Louis music scene, had had a long association with Uncle Tupelo as had Brian's previous bands Chicken Truck and The Blue Moons. This long friendship has continued past Uncle Tupelo, demonstrated here in this clip from a Bottle Rockets performance from January 2006 with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy sitting in for a cover of Neil Young's "Walk On."

Warm and fuzzy indeed.

"Democracy Now!" on New Orleans.   I missed this on the air yesterday, but thanks to the miracle of the Internetsss and archiving, we can listen to Pacifica Radio's signature morning program broadcasting live from the Lower Ninth Ward the day after the Katrinaversary of the U.S. government's floods. Topics include the state of New Orleans two years after the storm, allegations of relief money not making it to storm victims, and how New Orleans is rapidly turning from a public school city to a charter school city.

Thanks to Nate for the link; I hope to get to it this weekend myself.

The Great Iraq Swindle.   Another link from Nate (thanks!), appearing in the current issue of Rolling Stone, tells us about how Bush allowed an army of for-profit contractors to invade the U.S. Treasury. "Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ?Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government."

How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fiasco, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

It gets worse. Read on.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two years ago today.   Remember one thing -- this was not a natural disaster. This was a man-made disaster. (Specifically, a government-made disaster.)

Flooding in New Orleans, courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

As far as the City of New Orleans has come along ...

There are still huge swaths of destruction throughout the city.

The city still only has 60% of its pre-Katrina-and-flood population.

There are still people living in FEMA trailers.

There are still areas in St. Bernard Parish with no telephone service.

In the United States of America.

In the Twenty-First Century.

The rebuilding of a major American city nearly destroyed by the worst disaster in American history should have been the top priority for the current administration, who instead seemed more interested in the hopeless flogging of their awful, illegal war.

Via Oyster, here's today's news:

President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq...

The request... would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are not OK
(Image by Greg Peters of Suspect Device)

We are not OK. (And by "we," include the entire country.)

Hurricane Katrina today.   Joshua Clark sent me a link to a new site,, a supersite for the latest Katrina-related news,events, vital resources and "stuff that's constructive, informed and informative (which can't be said about too much of the media blather)."

Leading off is a listing of today's events in the New Orleans area.

Trombone Shorty in the Tremé.   Troy Andrews, who long outgrew the nickname he still carries, talks about his neighborhood, it's musican heritage and traditions, and shows us why the crippled and threatened institution of the New Orleans neighborhood is crucial to the city's cultural and spiritual survival.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Yeesh, I don't know how I managed to get so far behind on this fantastic video series. I think I was glancing at Robert's site, seeing only the first two episodes linked, and not reading the fine print that eventually said there were more than 20 episodes in the can.

The Small Screen Network site, which has done a beautiful job producing these videos, has the complete listing of what's been posted so far. If you're as far behind as I am and you don't want to slog through them all in one day, I'll post one or two of 'em every day until we're all caught up.

Since we don't have a new one from Chris for a few more days, let's get two under our belts today. Unfortunately they're not set up to be embedded in other sites, so please use the links below:

Bar Tools, and the Caipirinha

Without tools, we would simply be animals. So in this episode we'll do our best to keep all of you well established into the human race, by showing you many of the tools you need to further your studies in mixology. And in closing, our intrepid host will show you how best to utilize one of your tools to make the Caipirinha.

#     #     #

A Cocktailian Library, and the Champagne Flamingo

Part of learning about, and understanding cocktails and mixology, is having the appropriate research material available for not only information, but inspiration as well. In this episode we'll provide some suggestions for a few great books you may want to add to your library, and then close off with a great little cocktail, the Champagne Flamingo.

Once you're caught up, sign up for their update mailing list so you'll know as soon as a new episode goes up.

Does anybody really know what time it is?   (I used to love that song when I was a kid.)

Mary sent this news around this morning, and I'm kinda bummed about it too.

It's the end of time, at least as far as AT&T is concerned.

The brief note in customers' bills hardly does justice to the momentousness of the decision. "Service withdrawal," it blandly declares. "Effective September 2007, Time of Day information service will be discontinued."

What that means is that people throughout Southern California will no longer be able to call 853-1212 to hear a woman's recorded voice state that "at the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be . . ." with the recording automatically updating at 10-second intervals.

"Times change," said John Britton, an AT&T spokesman. "In today's world, there are just too many other ways to get this information. You can look at your cellphone or your computer. You no longer have to pick up the telephone."

Indeed, time already has stopped in 48 other states, he said. California and Nevada are the two remaining holdouts.

When I was growing up in New Orleans, it was 529-6111. I haven't dialed that number in 20 years, but I still remember it. There was a little ad before the time and temperature, but the one I remember the best is the one that seemed to run the longest. The sponsor was Werlein's for Music, a local instrument and sheet music store that was a local chain, and had its flagship store on Canal Street, in the space now occuiped by the Palace Café. The "Werlein's for Music" sign still adorns the top of that building, though, and I was thrilled to see it had survived the winds of Katrina.

As for the ad, before you really knew what time it was there was a gravelly, Yatty, droning voice that intoned, "Guitaws, drums, pianas, awgans 'n everything musical at Werlein's!" Then the robotic Time-and-Temperature Lady chimed in ... "Time ... three ... forty-seven. Temperature ninety degrees."

I'd still use the Time Lady every now and again to set my watch.

529-6111, now 853-1212. Gone. Sigh.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cocktail of the day: The Toronto.   Taking Murray's suggestion from the comments on the Hanky Panky yesterday, we decided to continue at full speed past the Branca Barrier. The Toronto Cocktail, from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David A. Embury's classic cocktail tome from 1948, was the choice and as it was Wes' turn to mix last night, I passed the recipe on to him. Since he thoguht that Embury's rather large proportions might make too big a drink (and after a long day at work, who wants to do math?), he decided to check a recipe on

Toronto Cocktail
( version)

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca.
1/4 teaspoon sugar.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add an orange slice garnish.

*sip* ... hey, it's pretty good. I kinda like this. The medicinal quality is there, more there than it was in the Hanky Panky, but it wasn't smacking me across the face, it was waving at me from the other side of the creek. It's quite an eye-opener, though, as it's really really dry. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course; I do like dry cocktails as compared to really sweet ones. But maybe this one could be a little less dry. "I don't think there's enough sugar," Wes agreed. "I'd go with a whole teaspoon next time." We did enjoy the drinks, though, but we certainly want to try the other version.

In Embury's book the Toronto is listed among the "Whiskey Cocktails of the Aromatic Type," along with the Old Fashioned, and is actually described as "a modified Old-Fashioned." The first recommendation is to serve it with ice in an Old-Fashioned glass, with stir-and-strain as the second. I think next time we make this it'll be with the original Embury proportions (although not his exact recipe; we'll continue with Murray's recommendation of our beloved Rittenhouse 100-proof rye instead of the Canadian).

Toronto Cocktail
(David Embury recipe with Murray Stenson's variation)

3 ounces Rittenhouse 100-proof rye whiskey.
1 ounce Fernet Branca.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional).

Build with ice in an Old-Fashioned glass and stir until the sides of the glass are frosty. Garnish with a curly strip of orange peel.

I'm also thinking of a variation that'll hearken back to my medicinal use of Branca, in hot water with honey -- maybe we'll see how it tastes with honey syrup (as long as drinking this drink doesn't make me think of being sick).

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The French 75.   Master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge in New Orleans continues his excellent video series with a World War I-era classic. There's a bone of contention over the recipe of this drink, with some claiming that it's a brandy drink, and even making Cognac connections from France to New Orleans in describing an appropriate lineage. The overwhelming consensus is that this is a gin-based cocktail, even though if you go to the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter (one of my favorite bars) you'll get it with brandy. I like it better this way.

That said, the brandy version is good too!

Great news!!   I got an email a week or so ago from Howard Rascoll informing me that the legendary Gene's Po-Boys, in the big pink building at the corner of Elysian Fields and St. Claude down in da Nint' Ward of New Orleans, is once again serving their marvelous hot sausage po-boys. "Gene's always made their own hot sausage, but Katrina wiped out our machines," said Howard. Even though they were able to reopen last year after being heavily damaged by both Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers' flood, there was no hot sausage on the menu. Looks like they got some new ones!

Gene's Po-Boys

sausage and cheese po-boy

HOORAY! If you're in New Orleans at the moment (which unfortunately I am not, and won't be for almost three months), hie thee to Elysian Fields and St. Claude and get yourself the best hot sausage poor boy in the city of New Orleans (which I hope it still is). Don't forget the cheese.

"Life is worth living again!!!" writes Howard. Yeah you rite!

Piiigs ... ooooon ... liiiiiine!   Yesterday I got an email from Ed in the U.K., who wrote to tell us of a present his lovely wife got him "just before our second Scottish wedding." (Wow, I bet that was fun.)

It's part of a series of online courses offered by an outfit called River Cottage, and specifically referring us to one called Online Pigs and Pork:

In this course you will learn the basic principles of good pig husbandry, the process of butchering a pig, and how to make your own air-dried hams, brine-cured hams, brawn, bacon, sausages, chorizos and salamis.

The course isn't just for pig keepers. You'll find it invaluable when buying your pork from your butcher or farmer.

You certainly don?t need to have your own pig to try out the selection of River Cottage recipes, which range from the simple to the more adventurous. All of the content is explained using video tutorials from Hugh and Ray, along with step-by-step guides which can be printed out. At the end of the course, you will be able to use everything but the oink! This course is suitable for small-holders, home pig-rearers, or just people who want more from their pork!

And let's face it, folks ... who doesn't want more from their pork?

The online course is available for a fee of £20 (about $40 in withering U.S. dollars), or for £35 you can become a member of River Cottages and get all their courses, including others on mushrooms and fish catching and cooking. Thanks for the tip, Ed! Here's hoping your lovely wife gets you the absinthe you want for your birthday. (And since Liqueurs de France ships from the U.K. anyway, your shipping costs are likely to be a lot cheaper than mine.)

Speaking of wanting the most from your pork, if you're a pork fanatic you'll definitely want to read the most excellent book Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them . Author Peter Kaminsky searches the world for the best pork, and you'll learn why the best pork in the world is light-years removed from the shrink-wrapped, flavorless stuff at your local supermarket; in fact, you'll learn that the best pork in the world is from a particular strain of pigs that are allowed to roam and forage on acorns and peanuts, and why that makes their meat indescribably delicious, and their fat almost good for you.

A day in the life of New Orleans.   Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Fausset takes you through his former hometown, "from daybreak to closing time, with diary entries that capture the faces and voices of a battered city that lives nonetheless by the defiant credo of its Mardi Gras Indian troupes: 'We won't bow down.'"

From an early morning start in New Orleans East to the Upper Ninth, Lower Ninth and Faubourg St. John, around town and into the projects, to the Columns on St. Charles and finishing up in the Marigny. It starts backwards from the top of the page, so if you want to read it in order go down to the bottom.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 27, 2007

Cocktail of the day: The Hanky Panky.   This is one that I had noticed in The Savoy Cocktail Book, which compiled by The Savoy Hotel's head barman Harry Craddock in 1930, but I never made it because it was was one that I feared. Why? Because I feared Fernet Branca, one of the three (four, really) ingredients called for in this drink.

I have a history of fearing rather odd drink ingredients -- there were days years ago when I feared both gin and vermouth, and now I'm gleefully swilling both of them nearly every day. I even grew to love Italian bitters, both as aperitivi and digestivi: Campari, Ramazzotti, Cora, Averna, Nonino ... I grew to love them all. But not Fernet Branca. For the longest time it was the sole bottle in our bar that we kept around strictly for medicinal purposes.

Lest you chuckle at that old excuse for keeping alcohol around, it's true. It's a strong herbal liqueur, and as we've known for centuries herbs are used medicinally, and have effects on human physiology. I once heard a guy refer to Fernet Branca as "the medicine chest in my bar," which for years was an apt description. If I ever had an upset stomach or nausea, particularly from overindulgence, all I needed was one shot of Fernet Branca and I would invariably feel better in less than five minutes. Hardcore Italian drinkers would take it as a shot, or sipped over ice; the person from whom I got the online tip recommended it the way his Italian grandmother took it, in a teacup with hot water and a tablespoon of honey.

The thing about Fernet Branca is not just its bitterness and herbal quality, which I can take and actually do enjoy. It's got a pretty overwhelming astringent medicinal quality to it that tended to remind me too much of the Nasty Medicine I had to take all through my childhood. I knew it had good stuff in it, but why must it have a layer of Nasty Medicine on top?!

Over the past few years Wes and I had tried a few cocktails that called for Fernet Branca as an ingredient. We never could get past that medicinal quality, and never made them again, nor any other Fernet Branca cocktails. I kind of gave up.

Then, two Fridays ago, there was another in a long series of advanced post-graduate cocktailian colloquia -- i.e., an evening of drinking at Dr. Cocktail's house. After waking up our palates with the liquid equivalent of a 2x4 upside the head -- sips of two wormwood-flavored bitter liqueurs (but not absinthes), Gorki List Pelinkovac from Serbia and the Swedish-style but Florida-made Malört, which Doc calls "eau de vie de dill pickle" and which is apparently hugely popular in biker bars, and both of which we rather liked -- we were offered a Fernet Branca-containing cocktail. If it comes from the Doctor's bar, I will try it, no matter what, so he told us about a drink invented by one Ada Coleman, who began work at the Savoy Hotel's bar in London in 1903, a drink that became her most famous and longest-lived. Harry Craddock, who began work there in 1920 and who published The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, included it due to its continuing popularity.

The trick with this one, explained Doc, was using a really large orange twist not only to garnish the drink but from which you express as much orange oil as you can. The orange oil sprayed onto the surface of the drink, both for flavor and aroma, is what tames the Fernet Branca, reels it in, transforms it from Nasty Medicine to a marvelous subtle complexity.

I seem to recall Doc making this with a 2:1 proportion of gin to vermouth (I'll have to double-check with him later), but we did it at the original proportion of 1:1. We did take Doc's suggestion, since it worked so well the first time we tasted it, to up the Fernet Branca content from 2 dashes to 1/4 ounce, and to make sure we sprayed a lot of orange oil from the peel.

The Hanky Panky Cocktail

The Hanky Panky Cocktail
(Created by Ada Coleman, The American Bar, Savoy Hotel, London, early 20th Century)

1-1/2 ounces dry gin.
1-1/2 ounces sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca.
Large slice of orange peel (1-1/2" x 4" approx.)

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist the peel over the drink to spray out as much orange oil as you can onto the surface of the drink; garnish with the peel.

(Dr. Cocktail variation from

1-3/4 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca.

It was very cool indeed to sip this drink while toasting its creator, who conceived of it nearly a century ago. I also have Ada (and Doc) to thank for finally breaking my fear of Fernet Branca, as we'll make the Hanky Panky often. Next goal, to have it in a cocktail without a big spray of orange oil to keep it in check.

Bacon world domination continues.   I should read Michael Ruhlman's weblog more often -- it's very entertaining, and I love the way he writes about food, especially as I've enjoyed his books The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, The Reach of a Chef and others (he's also co-written huge cookbooks with Chefs Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller, and collaborated on that charcuterie book I really want).

A few days back Ruhlman railed against what he alternately calls "the shame of the chicken Caesar" or even "the catastrophe of the chicken Caesar."

Does anyone know who first put cooked chicken breast on a Caesar salad and called it a Chicken Caesar? I wish I did. I've been upset about this at least for two years now because I remember railing to Todd English and Ming Tsai about it as we traveled together for an erstwhile cooking show. "The Chicken Caesar is an emblem of the mediocrity of American cuisine!" I would cry. Ming would chuckle and turn up the volume on his iPod, and Todd more or less ignored me as a run-of-the-mill crank screaming into the nor'easter of American food culture. Or so I thought.

[...] Why is it so annoying to me? It's not that meat on a salad is bad. I love meat with salads -- tuna, chicken, and beef have rich salad histories throughout the world.

Every single laminated menu serving any kind of American or American hybrid food seems to include the Chicken Caesar (if it's Mexican, it will be a Chicken Caesar Taco). Why? Two reasons, neither of them hopeful. The Chicken Caesar is the default meal for America eating out. Don't know what to have, have the Chicken Caesar. Everything else looks like crap? Have the Chicken Caesar. Hard to screw it up. The Chicken Caesar exists because everything else about American cuisine at the major chain restaurants is of relentlessly dubious quality.

[...] I cringe when I see the Chicken Caesar because it represents an embrace of the misinformed and unimaginative American diner, who for better or worse continues to shape our menus. I'll have a salad, the reasoning goes, because it's healthy (let's disregard what it's slathered with), and I'm hungry so let's pile on some chicken breast, the skim milk of the protein world. I'm not saying it's not healthy, that I don't like salad or that I think it would only be laudable were it a deep-fried pork belly Caesar (though I'd definitely give it a go if I ever saw that on a Cheesecake Factory menu -- we could batter it and call it the Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar!).

All I'm asking is for the corporate bodies that determine the menus of our mass market sit-down restaurants to consider a few more options beyond the mediocre Chicken Caesar. Put a little imagination into it!

I'm usually not dining in the kinds of places that offer a chicken Caesar as a menu option, fortunately, and I'm not sure I've ever even had one, for all of the aforementioned reasons. But, but ... that one mention ... deep-fried pork belly Caesar?!

Ruhlman's a man after my own heart, 'cause after tossing off that dish idea as a jokey aside, he went ahead and did it.

I humbly introduce ... The Chicken Fried Poke Belly Caesar. I didn't do the croutons because of the crispy nature of the pork but Donna suggested that for a truly innovative interpretation, we might cut the pork into crouton shapes, dredge and deep fry so that the salad would have all the appearances of a traditional Caesar. I love this idea and encourage Chris Cosentino to put it on his menu at Incanto.

The recipe is very simple, especially if you have some belly confit lying around with skin ... Bread and deep fry the slabs of belly until they're golden and crispy and the interior fat is molten. Serve simply, on cold crisp romaine lightly dressed with a lemony yolky dressing and garnish with excellent cheese. The dressing should be very acidic to stand up to all the fat!

Genius. (The post includes the full recipe and photos.) The Fat Pack will undoubtedly do this. I'll let y'all know when. (Thanks a million to Mike Stevens for the tip on this article!)

Keeping New Orleans in people's minds.   Say what you will about the (in my opinion) declining Los Angeles Times, they've done a good job covering the situation in New Orleans over the past two years, and keeping the city's plight fresh in the minds of its readers.

On Saturday there was this update on the city:

After Katrina, hope and despair coexist

Two years later, recovery in the beleaguered city, such as it is, is a complex, dynamic and messy affair.

The middle-class homeowners who gathered here on a recent weeknight call themselves the Gentilly Civic Improvement Assn. It's an unexceptional name -- one that belies the epic challenges they face.

The members talked public high schools; they said it'd be nice if Gentilly had one again. They talked about the storm-blasted tree canopy, and playgrounds neglected by a challenged city government. They wondered whether grant money might help. Maybe bake sales.

They talked about forming a security patrol, with each household chipping in $26 a month: That day the police chief had announced that the citywide burglary rate had increased 73% since before Hurricane Katrina. Angele Givens, the association president, liked the patrol idea but raised an interesting issue: "If you own an empty lot in Gentilly right now, you don't have much impetus to pay it."

Givens should know. She tore down her house after it was ravaged by Katrina, and she is hoping to rebuild. She isn't even living in Gentilly these days.

Two years after their city was nearly annihilated by a levee failure, the residents of this middle-class New Orleans neighborhood acknowledged that their surroundings still looked pretty bad. But they also insisted that things were slowly getting better. Just 31% of Gentilly's 16,000 addresses were reoccupied or renovated as of March, according to a survey by a Dartmouth professor -- but an additional 57% were finally being fixed up.

Private citizens, not the government, deserved the credit, they said -- a source of grim humor among those laboring to mend the neighborhood.

"Of course, we should also thank George Bush, Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin," resident Robert Counce said sarcastically of the president, the governor and the mayor as the meeting wrapped up.

The renaissance in America's most beleaguered city, such as it is, is a complex, dynamic and messy affair. Progress lives alongside stagnation, hope alongside despair.


Then yesterday our friend Steve had a wonderful article on the state of the music scene (although we'd like to smack the headline-writer):

This is a town so inextricably linked to good times and revelry that a musician could practically make a name with one celebratory anthem. That's the case with Al "Carnival Time" Johnson. Since 1960, "Carnival Time," the song and the singer, have been mainstays of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations. Even at other times of the year, his upbeat party tune, a musical tour of the Big Easy on Fat Tuesday, is played on the radio and performed at event after event by Johnson himself. Now he's singing a different tune. Johnson has released a new single, "Lower Ninth Ward Blues," which gives a very different tour of the city, a solo, gospel-ish piano accompanying his account of the devastation that came when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. Many neighborhoods were left largely lifeless, including that of Johnson -- who describes the ruins of his house in one particularly moving verse.

Twenty-three forty-nine Tennessee Street
We shared good and bad memories
I don't know which way to go
Because my home is not there anymore.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to some profound musical statements, but predictions that the horrific events would somehow introduce new meaning across the pop landscape evaporated within months. Two years after Katrina, the landscape of New Orleans music, like the landscape of the city itself, is radically different. Where the scene was dominated by party tunes and decades-old standards, where some of the most popular local acts could count on weekly gigs without having to stretch too much, now there's something deeper. And in a city where music more than anything -- except maybe food -- is its identity, something handed down from generation to generation, from Neville to Neville, Marsalis to Marsalis, this is crucial. The very repertoire of New Orleans music has undergone a sea change.


There were also a series of brief editorials, "Stitching Up New Orleans: "Katrina hit two years ago this week. How far has the city come; how far does it have to go? A newspaper editor, resident of the Lower 9th Ward, engineering professor and others give their thoughts."

A Times article today made me aware of an online non-fiction graphic novel (a.k.a. "webcomic," a term I'm not thrilled with either) entitled "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge" that I'd never seen before. It's really, really good -- Chapter 6 just went up, but you should go back and start reading from the beginning.

Also there was a recent bit about Brad Pitt, one of New Orleans' new best friends, who was on hand at a construction site in the Lower 9th Ward, a house based on a winning design in a competition he helped launch. The house has "many 'green' features, including blue walls treated with a nontoxic repellant for mold and termites."

"There's light coming in from all sides and a lot of ventilation," said Pitt, standing in what will be the living room. "A lot of thought has gone into this house."

The three-bedroom, single-family home is the first of five slated for the Holy Cross section of the Lower 9th Ward based on the winning design in a competition launched in 2006 by Pitt and the environmental organization Global Green USA.

The winning design, submitted by Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop APD in New York, includes energy-saving appliances, a cistern, toilets designed for water conservation, soy-based insulation, paperless drywall, solar panels and a roof on the second-story deck designed to help insulate the house and channel water to the cistern.

It sounds fantastic, but my one worry from that picture is ... it doesn't seem to look like a Lower Ninth Ward house. Let's not forget how important historic architectural integrity is to the culture of the city.

Finally, a sad note -- former New Orleans Jazz coach Butch Van Breda Kolff died last Wednesday at the age of 84. He was a lot of fun to watch at Jazz games, and when I was at Holy Cross they honored him by making him an honorary alumnus -- he gave a great speech that day too.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, August 24, 2007

See you at the ballpark, Harry.   Legendary Camellia Grill waiter Harry Tervalon, who took care of me on my very first visit to the Camellia at age 16 and countless times thereafter, and who was possibly the world's biggest fan of the New York Yankees, died last night of cancer at the age of 87.

In 1946, Harry Tervalon Sr. was the first waiter hired at a new diner when it opened in the Riverbend.

It was called the Camellia Grill. Tervalon would go on to work behind its counter for 49 years, setting a standard for service not normally associated with restaurants where the majority of the food is cooked on grease-slicked griddles...

Tervalon retired in 1996 but remained an integral part of the iconic restaurant's identity to the end. When the Camellia opened last April for the first time since the levees broke, Tervalon cut the ribbon.

On Thursday, Camellia staff wore the message "RIP Harry" taped over their name tags. At 1 p.m., chef Matthew Tanner silenced the crowd by rapping on a metal shelf with the dull end of a heavy knife. He credited Tervalon for teaching the restaurant's staff about serving customers with personality and professionalism.

Tanner then honored Tervalon by repeating the signature weather report he'd give to anyone who asked:

"It's chilly in Gentilly, rainin' hard in St. Bernard, raisin' hell in Slidell, two below in Tupelo, little slippy in Mississippi, and all wet in Chalmette."

Man, I loved the weather report.

I also loved all the lingo he'd shout out to the chef after someone placed an order -- a burger or sandwich dresed was "put a dress on it!" A takeout order was "goin' bye-bye!" He was friendly and funny (even if you heard the same jokes over and over, they were still funny), and a consummate professional. He was there to make sure you had a good meal and a good time, and he always did a great job. I can't even count how many times he took care of me (and I'd always hope the timing of the wait was right so that I could be seated in his section (but if I ended up getting seated in Mr. Bat's section, I didn't mind at all). And always, his farewell was "See you at the ballpark!"

The first time I dined at the Camellia I was seated all the way to the right, and Harry took care of me. My first order was their Grilled Frankfurter with Cheese and Bacon Sandwich (which is really terrific and a lot better than it sounds), with fries, an iced tea and a chocolate freeze with ice cream for dessert. I was a little confused and unclear of the concept and protocols at the Camellia, and waited for Harry to present me with a bill so I could pay him. He in turn was waiting for me to leave my tip, take my order slip and head to the cashier (whom I hadn't really noticed on the way in because of the big crowd), and kept wondering why I was still sitting there. "Can I get you anything else?" he asked. "Water? Anything?" No thank you, I murmured, in those days still too shy to do something radical like say, "May I have the check please?" Eventually the puzzled Harry figured it out, and gently pointed me in the direction of the cashier. A few months of occasional visits later, and I began eating lunch at the Camellia Grill every day, for the majority of my freshman year at Loyola. (That was when I stopped being the painfully skinny kid I was in high school, and got a li'l meat on my bones.) Harry took care of me for most of those lunches, and many more lunches, dinners and late/early breakfasts thereafter.

Thanks for taking care of me, Harry.

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Old Fashioned.   I got a little behind on this feature, sorry ... after the last one they did the Lemon Drop, which I decided to skip, but now we're back with my longtime favorite cocktail, and my dad's favorite too -- it's the one he first taught me to make. When I was a kid, if I was lucky and if he was in a generous mood, I'd get to make this for him when he got home from work. Ah, a quality New Orleans upbringing -- you teach the kids the important stuff early.

Chris is The Man here ... no club soda (the ruination of any Old Fashioned) and no muddled fruit (I want a strong whiskey cocktail, not a fruit salad; if I wanted that I'd order a Cobbler). I do like the orange peel in it, though, and I often like Peychaud's bitters in addition to or instead of the Angostura (I got that from my dad; Peychaud's was always his favorite).

Most if not all Old Fashioneds you order now (if you can even order one and get it made properly) are going to be made with Bourbon, but if you really want to make this drink great make it with rye.

I occasionally like to make what I call a "Houlihan Old Fashioned" or a "Hot Lips Old Fashioned." I was watching an episode of "M*A*S*H" once, one of the episodes later in the series when Margaret Houlihan stopped being a one-dimensional ninny and foil to Frank Burns, and started to be developed into a more complex and human character (whom I liked very much). She was in the officers' club, went up to the bar, and ordered her favorite drink -- firmly but politely, and with a tiny grin and a twinkle in her eye. "Old Fashioned. Straight up. No fruit."

Margaret was awesome.

Sarajevo, 9/11, New Orleans.   Alexander Wolff, a reporter who covered the disaster areas in the first two aforementioned places and events, recounts what he found on a recent visit to New Orleans. He does it from a sportswriter's perspecive, but he has a good eye, and I especially liked this bit:

What I love most about the city -- and what, I believe, argues most eloquently for its preservation, regardless of the cost -- is the devotion to it of the people who live there. Its music is a cultural treasure. Its food is too. There are precious few Arby's in New Orleans because no one wants anything but the debris po' boy at Mother's on Poydras Street. Dunkin' Donuts hardly stands a chance because a beignet at Café du Monde cannot be improved upon. And the daily newspaper is not dying in New Orleans, where per capita readership of the local paper is higher than in any other city in the country, because neighbors have a common sense of investment in their town.

Sorry, USA Today. Love your multicolored weather map, but ever since I got back from New Orleans, it reminds me of mold.

Besides, it's the weather page of the Times-Picayune -- and the fate it foretells -- that America should care about most.

Yeah you rite. (Thanks, Steve!)

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  Thursday, August 23, 2007

Makin' bacon.   It's not just a euphemism, either. A while back I watched Alton Brown make homemade bacon, and it looked pretty easy, but the cold smoking apparatus he built (out of three old gym lockers) seemed a bit ... much. Barry sent along a link to some folks' description of how they made their own bacon, and just how many kinds of awesome it was, and y'know ... we can so totally do this.

Except, um ... I still don't have a smoker. (Yeah, yeah, I know.)

*scribble* ... *add to list*

Let them eat (bacon) cake!   Bacon cake? I'd eat it. In a heartbeat.

To be specific, it's a French recipe for an olive cake with lardons, which are little batons of bacon, cut from the slab. (Mmmmm, lardons ...) This week's Los Angeles Tiems Food Section includes a feature on savory versions of desserts -- clafoutis with tomatoes, zucchini crumble, and the aforementioned mindboggling delight ... Gâteau des lardons et des olives. Just look at it ... (*moan*) Next time I do a brunch we're definitely havin' this.


Quote of the day.   Truer words were never spoken.

"If you wanna make 'em happy, give 'em bacon."

-- Former "Queer Eye" foodie and current "Top Chef" judge Ted Allen, in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

Hey, that's three bacon-related posts in a row today. Can we make it to four?

Baconation.   Yes!!! Baconites of the world, unite!

A site called (oddly enough) HealthBolt has a rather astonishing list of bacony and bacon-flavored products.

A few comments ... the "bacon spray"? Forget it. The general consensus on the "David Burke Flavor Sprays" is that they taste either "awful," "terrible" or simply "not real food." I'm even more suspicious of the bacon-flavored toothpicks and bacon-flavored mints (they'd be "not real food" too) as I am of the "food spray," and as Archie McPhee also makes a supposedly bacon-scented car air freshener that smells like nothing (with a few chemicals added), I'm thinkin' not. (And apparently they're horrid.) Bacon ice cream? I'm already there! "Bacon water?" Um, dude, it's for dogs. Bacon chocolate? (*happydance*) Chocolate-covered bacon? Same thing. They're leaving out New Orleans' beloved praline bacon, though. Bacon beer?! Get me some!

Then there's Bacon Salt, which someone told me was pretty good, although if it's "vegetarian and kosher-certified" it can hardly be bacon now, can it?

Oh, and those bacon bandages? They look great, but they suck as band-aids. Thick and plastic and non-breathing, they're even worse than the plastic Band-Aids we had as kids. They do look great, though when I put one on a boo-boo and showed it to Wesly, he was aghast, thinking for a second that it was some kind of open wound.

Y'know ... I think maybe the best thing to do is to just eat bacon in its natural form, and use it in creative ways. I don't need bacon-flavored toothpicks. I'd rather just have a piece of bacon. And that's easy!

Los dogos de Los Angeles.   Let's make it one more, so you can count the bacon posts on all the fingers on yer hand.

It's an L.A. tradition ... if you're out late at night at a club, or near a sporting event or any other kind of major gathering, outside on the sidewalk you'll see street vendors making and selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

A thing of beauty

A recent episode of public radio's "Good Food" show featured a segment on this venerable and delicious tradition, starting 8 minutes and 10 seconds in.

Spago.   Okay, if you're polydactylic, you can count one more bacon-related post. Kinda.

After I took Wes to Spago in Beverly Hills for his birthday in March, we'd wanted to go back and try their tasting menu. We only (well, "only," sheesh) ordered off the menu, but we were shown what Chef Lee Hefter's tasting menu was going to look like that night, and it seemed spectacular, and also seemed relatively reasonable pricewise, considering everything you got. We also figured that our friends Robb and Jaason would really like to go with us, and unsurprisingly, they were enthusiastic about the idea.

After saving our pennies for four months, we decided the time was right. The timing worked out such that we could kidnap Jaason and take them there as a birthday surprise, and he had no idea what where we were going until we pulled up to the valet. ("Wow," I belive, was his reaction.) We were seated at a comfy center-rear table with a view into the window of the semi-open kitchen, and when the menus were put before us we hardly looked at them ... except to not that there was no menu insert regarding a chef's tasting being available this evening. Hm.

As soon as our server came back we asked about it, and said that it was kinda the entire reason we came tonight. He said, "Let me check with Chef, and I'll be right back." And he was, within two minutes, saying, "Chef says bring it on! Just let me know if there's anything you don't eat." I was up for anything, but Jaason had been having some uncomfortable, annoying, adult-onset food allergies, so he asked for no shellfish and no salmon, lest he spend the evening being itchy, and we were off to the races.

The wine came out almost right away, a 1999 Moët et Chandon Millésime Vintage Rosá, which was quite lovely, and then out came the first course, the amuse bouche:

Spicy Tuna Tartare in a Sesame-Miso Tuile Cone

Spicy Tuna Tartare in a Sesame-Miso Tuile Cone, which was about three bites' worth, absolutely delicious, and seemed to be a bit of a spin on the traditional amuse sent out to diners at Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry, which is a little ice cream cone filled with a red onion crème fraîche and topped with tuna tartare. Coincidence? Had someone overheard us talking about having been to the French Laundry? Was this a tip of the hat to that dish, or did Chefs Wolfgang and Lee do it first (I'd read the latter somewhere). In any case, anything that brings back memories of The French Laundry, even if it was a dish that Spago might have had first, is a good thing and is going to get me very excited about what was to come next.

In fact, I had no idea. The amuses bouche started to come fast and furious ...

Hamachi Ceviche with Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes

Next, Hamachi Ceviche with Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes. Just one bite really, but man, what flavor. It was fabulous, more like halfway between a tartare and a ceviche, which was fine with me; I love hamachi sushi and sashimi anyway, and I'd love to have that fish served ceviche-style more often.

The marvelous heirloom tomatoes in this little bite-of-a-dish were to be a running motif in this meal, as we'd soon see.

Duck Liver Mousse on an Apricot Tartlet

With only a few minutes to cleanse my palate with the lovely sparkling rosé, out came the Duck Liver Mousse on an Apricot Tartlet. It wasn't foie gras, sadly; Chef Puck is one restauranteur who's eschewed the use of foie gras in his restaurants. (That's a shame, because my first visit to Spago included their legendary "Foie Gras Three Ways" -- seared, terrine and mousse -- that was one of the best things I'd ever tasted, but I must say was also so rich that it nearly killed me.) What was amazing was that this mousse came very, very close to the intensity and richness of the foie gras mousse I'd had ten years ago. The apricot preserves or compote, which had been reduced and intensified in flavor, was the perfect foil for the richness of the mousse.

I can hardly express how monstrously good this was. I actually moaned and pounded on the table. And it was gone in one bite. And I almost cried.

And I asked our server, "Can I have twenty more of these, please?" He laughed.

Heartless bastard.

(Okay, not true, he was a really nice guy ... but still!)

Garbanzo Hummus with Za'atar Oil

Fortunately the next bite was completely different and strongly spiced, as if to help remove the memories of that duck liver apricot tartlet, over which I was still pining. Garbanzo Hummus with Za'atar Oil, in a little thin tart shell. The word "za'atar" means thyme in Arabic; green za'atar is a blend of Middle Eastern spices usually containing thyme, sumac, toasted white sesame seeds, savory, hyssop, oregano, cumin, and fennel ... or many other things, in many different combinations.

Hoo-boy, this was good.

Lemon Blini with Smoked Sturgeon, Dill Sour Cream and Osetra Caviar

From France to the Middle East and then to snowy Moscow ... Lemon Blini with Smoked Sturgeon and Osetra Caviar. Осторожно, двери закрываются! I dunno, I only know like eight things to say in Russian, but this little dish was so good that I just wanted to blurt something in Russian. It was such a quintessentially Russian dish, after all, and I wished there was much more of it. (This was getting to be a running motif so far. Can we come back and get an all-amuse dinner sometime, I wonder?) Wonderful stuff.

(By the way, that means, "Caution, the doors are closing." I rode the subway a lot when I was in Russia for a few weeks back in '93, and I got to know that phrase very well.)

Confit of bacon en croute

Bacon? Bacon? There's gonna be bacon!! It seemed a bit untoward to do a happydance in a nice restaurant, but if I had been some wacky celebrity with a reputation for being uninhibited maybe I could have gotten away with it. I'm not, though, so I didn't try. This was a chunk of bacon cooked in its own fat (ohhh, my) enveloped in a ball of savory choux pastry. Our server said, "It's like a civilized pig in a blanket."

Hidden toy surprise inside!

Oh look! There's a hidden toy surprise inside! It's ... bacon!! YAY!

Now that our bouches had been well and truly amused, it was, as the server informed us, time for the meal to begin.

A glass of wine was served, 2006 Mormoraia Vernaccia di Gimignano, a varietal that's apparently one of Italy's finest white wines, which I'd never actually had before.

Heirloom Tomato Sorbet

This was an Heirloom Tomato Sorbet, perched atop finely diced tomato "tartare," and after it was served the waiter poured heirloom tomato water around it from a small pitcher, and then drizzled it with some basil oil.

The intensity of the tomato flavors were astonishing in this dish. I can see where some chefs might try to put fresh mozzarella in something like this for a "deconstructed insalata Caprese" or something, but that'd be very inappropriate. The basil oil was the perfect herbal counterpoint to this rich, sweet tomato awesomeness, and anything else in there would just have been interfering.

A Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes

The theme continued with the next course, A Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes. Oh my, a tasting within a tasting! "Tartare" and "confit" of variously colored heirloom tomatoes, with Holly Farms ricotta, avocado, aïoli and a balsamic syrup. Just marvelous, and so far removed from the tasteless lumps you get in your supermarket that such things might as well be alien rocks compared to this. We have some truly tomatophobic friends, whose dislike of tomatoes seems to have little to do with how they taste and borders on the pathological, who'd run screaming from these dishes. I feel so, so sorry for them.

Out came another wine, a 2005 Celadon Grenache Blanc, to accompany the next dish.

Indian-Spiced Tail of French Langoustine

Indian-Spiced Tail of French Langoustine with cilantro raita, cucumber chutney and lentil purée. This dish was so good I just laughed. We were going around the world in four hours, if not eighty days, and Chef Lee was our balloon pilot. The sweetness of langoustine, which I love, marries beautifully with the sharp, hot Indian spices, cooled off by the raita and given some fruitiness and acidity from the chutney. We even got a little puréed dal too!

Langoustines, langoustines, mmm-mmmm! I wanna do an étouffé with those one day.

Sweet Corn and Mascarpone Agnolotti

Ohh ... Sweet Corn and Mascarpone Agnolotti, with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, from the main menu, and an apparent favorite of many Spago regulars. It is difficult to put into words how incredibly awesome this dish was. Our server said that this is on the regular menu as a first course, and some people just come in and order three of them for their whole meal.

(Only three?)

I think I can get away with two of 'em actually, and soon we're going to come back and do just that. It'd make for a relatively affordable trip to Spago, if we behave ourselves. Pretty much a Platonic dish.

With this we sipped a white Burgundy, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru, Henri Prudhon.

Herb Brioche-Stuffed Quail

Herb Brioche-Stuffed Quail, with a purée of celeriac, ragout of chanterelle mushrooms and nectarine, and a thyme jus. Every element was great, the nectarine and chanterelles reflecting the season, the creamy celery root purée, the perfectly seasoned jus. Mmmmm. And a 2005 Dredonna Nottorno Sangiovese to go along with it.

Slow-Roasted Spring Lamb

Then we were brought a 2004 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros, Napa Valley, to go along with the last of the main courses -- Slow-Roasted Spring Lamb with Jerusalem artichoke, zucchini purée, tomatoes and saffron-olive pastina. Rosy red, just as I like it, the incredible tomatoes making a return appearance to accenet the dish. I loved the saffron pasta too; pastina is one of the smallest pasta shapes, almost like Israeli couscous but a little smaller.

Whew. A little while to rest, then ...

Cheese Course

"I know, Gromit! We'll bring the boys some cheeeeeeeeese!" A cheese course, of course. I might have been a bit wary of this, given how full I could have been, but the courses were so perfectly sized and expertly timed that I was quite ready for this. Clockwise from the lower left, we've got Chimay, from Belgium, with house-made quince paste; Brillat-Savarin, a triple-cream from Normandie, with port-date compote; and Saint-Agur with nectarine compote. At center was an apricot sauce for all three cheeses.

Apricot Vol au Vent with Apricot Sorbet

Dessert! Home stretch! I must confess that as good as this looked, we were a bit crestfallen when we saw that it wasn't chocolate. It was an Apricot Vol au Vent with Apricot Sorbet, with mulberry compote and crème anglaise. It was very, very good at least, and made me remember the intense apricot along with that duck liver mousses so much earlier in the meal (hours, in fact). I enjoyed it but sulked a bit over the lack of chocolate as I sipped the 2006 Knappstein Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia along with it.

Then ... we were saved!

Hazelnut Panna Cotta with Chocolate Sorbet

YAY, chocolate!! Hazelnut Panna Cotta with Chocolate Sorbet, in fact, sort of a deconstructed gianduia, which was great great great. The chocolate was intense, tasting like one of the single-bean varieties from Venezuela or Ecuador that I'd been enjoying lately, and we finised things off with an absolutely lovely 2005 Dashe Zinfandel Port. Some kind of deliciously evil mind-reading was going on here, as we love Zinfandel and especially love intense, jammy, high-alcohol Zinfandel "ports" to go along with chocolate.

If you could each amuse bouche as a course, which I do, given the complexity and intensity of their flavors and their amazing preparation and presentations, we ended up having sixteen courses (six appetizers, seven courses, one cheese plate and two desserts) in about four hours, with eight wines and two good friends.

That is the way to spend a very memorable evening, and this meal is one of the four or five most memorable meals of my life. May there be many more.

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  Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Non-Chuck photo of the day.   I came across this in one of the photostreams I follow regularly in Flickr, and immediately said, "Hey!!" It was taken on Coney Island in Brooklyn on July 4, 2007.


Thanks a million to Jase Samsara for his wonderful photography and for his kind permission to post this photograph.

Cocktail of the day.   I'd featured this one a few years ago, but it's time for a return visit. One big reason is that I've acquired a new source of passion fruit flavor for cocktails. For a while I'd been using a fresh fruit purée, bought frozen from a local restaurant supply company. But that stuff's expensive, and if you don't use it all right away the flavor and color aren't as robust as when you first open it; you also have to buy a fairly large quantity.

Beachbum Berry, in his new book, declares with horror that his venerable standby, Trader Vic's Passion Fruit Syrup, suddently dropped the actual passion fruit content of their product to zero; it's now all-artificial. Bah. Other syrups by Monin and Torani were deemed to be unacceptable substitutes, but the Bum found a product from a company called Finest Call ("a brand that does not usually live up to its name"). They have a product called "Passion Fruit Purée", which contains 13% juice, and has a nectar-like consistency. It's got much more body than a thin syrup, and while it's not a pure fruit purée (it's sweetened, for one) it's more like halfway between a purée and syrup. It's damned good stuff, much to my surprise (although given the Bum's hearty recommendation I have to say I wasn't all that surprised).

When I'm in a die-hard mood, or if I know I'm going to use it relatively quickly, I'll still go for the frozen pure passion fruit, but until then this stuff'll do fine (especially in tropical drinks, like the Beachbum's Own we made the other night). I wanted to see how it'd work in this old cocktail, which calls for the pure juice.

This cocktail is from the wonderful and long out-of-print Café Royal Cocktail Book, from the long-gone London restaurant of the same name whose bar was a nexus of fine cocktailian arts in the 1930s and which provided work for many an expatriate bartender who decided that he wasn't going to let Prohibition legislate his livelihood, his calling, out of existence.

The Melody Cocktail

The Melody Cocktail
(Created by G. W. Parker)

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce passion fruit juice (substitute nectar, but it's sweeter).
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc.
2 dashes Calvados.
2 dashes Cointreau.

Shake and strain.

It worked quite well, actually, although it produced a much sweeter drink. It wasn't impossibly sweet, though, and it might be one that'd convert a self-proclaimed gin-hater. (I love converting self-proclaimed gin-haters.)

While I did think it was acceptable, I have to say that when you make this drink with a pure passion fruit juice or purée, it is truly spectacular. I'm gonna be trading Tom and Greg a big bag o' figs when their passion fruits get ripe!

Cocktail of the day, part deux.   I actually made the Melody on Monday night, but didn't get around to posting it until today, because yesterday I wanted to post about Tiki-Ti and didn't want to have too many competing cocktail shots in one day's worth of posts.

Last night it was Wes' turn, and he made Manhattans. Now, Wes has gotten to be the Manhattanmeister at our house. We do have some preferred combinations, but most of the time he experiments. Different whiskies -- rye or Bourbon? What proof? Spicier or sweeter? Different sweet vermouths -- Martini & Rossi, Punt E Mes or Carpano? (Soon we'll add Vya to that field.) What proportions? Different bitters -- Angostura, orange (Fee's or Regans'?), Hermes, Abbott's (if he's feeling extravagant)? It's fascinating to taste the differences, but I could throttle him for not keeping a notebook on all this. (Wesly, keep a notebook on all this!)

Last night I saw him go for for the George T. Stagg, and the "hazmat" release at that (i.e., 141.7 proof). "Holy crap!" I said. He looked at me. "I had a day," he replied. Fair enough, but I'm gonna need a water back on that one..

Two parts George T. Stagg, one part Carpano Antica Formula, 1 dash Abbott's Bitters. Musta been some day. It got better very quickly that evening. (Wooooooooooo!)

Cocktail abomination of the day.   The other day I was at Beverage Warehouse down in Mar Vista, my favorite place to stock up on spirits these days, buying a basketful of rums and some tequila and some of that fabulous St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, when I came upon a new display in the store that caused a thought balloon containing a question mark to appear over my head:


As I realized what it was, my jaw dropped. It's a new company called the Metropolitan Martini Company, who apparently are taking the old I-wouldn't-touch-that-with-a-ten-foot-pole-even-if-I-was-desperate Heublein "bottled cocktails" idea one step further into the ninth circle of Hell. They're premixed "cocktails," already in a "chic" acrylic (i.e., will sit in a landfill for ten thousand years) cocktail glass. All you have to do is chill, peel the top off and you're ready to go! (Straight to the ninth circle of Hell.)


This is a pretty appalling development. I can't say anything about what they taste like, although my first instinct is to speculate that the taste would fall somewhere in the "abominable" category, and I won't ever really know unless someone sends me a free sample. (Please don't send me a free sample.) One reviewer who'd actually tasted some of these seemed keen on the concept and packaging, oddly enough, but doesn't offer what I'd call the most enthusiastic description of how these things taste:

The vodka martini was pretty decent, and if you try Metropolitan Martini, then definitely go for the vodka martini. It's not the best tasting martini ever, but it's certainly not the worst.

That reminds me of one of my (many) favorite lines from the wonderful little movie called "Rocket Science" that's just out in theatres. The high school-age hero of the film, whose overwhelming stutter makes him unable to specify what he wants in the school cafeteria, tries to order the pizza but can't get the words out, and then it's too late. The scary cafeteria lady says, "Pizza's gone. All we got left is sloppy joes ... but they're not too terrible if you've never had really good ones before."

Continuing, he says that "[t]he martini isn't too vermouthy, and I found that a lemon twist really livened it up." So ... it's just some bottom-shelf industrial vodka and water and maybe a microgram of vermouth in a plastic glass with film across the top. For six bucks each.

The apple martini was a bit worse than the vodka martini, but still tasted equivalent to an appletini ordered from most establishments. It was a bit strong on the candy apple taste and reminded me a bit too much of a Jolly Rancher, but it was still a fair rendition, though not recommended as strongly as the vodka martini. Then, there was the chocolate. That was a disaster. It tastes like cheap diluted cocoa powder washed down with bad vodka, and I ended up dumping it after the first couple sips.

That's quite enough for me. Given that the first "appletini" I was ever served ended up being spat back into the glass and the contents of the glass deposited into a potted plant, I know just how this thing tastes.

These things seem to have been created with the idea of marketing them toward events -- "The label can be customized with a company logo and/or event information," says one press release, "and the case has built-in holes for straps so wait staff can walk around with them."

If I were offered one of these prefab things, I'd have to decline. Given the choice between something inferior and doing without, I'll do without. Why settle for processed crap like this, folks, even if you're only at a corporate event or a football game? Why settle for this idea at all, particularly considering the abominable waste of packaging, more acrylic crap to end up cluttering up landfills? The environmentalist in me is appalled.

I wanna drink these even less than I wanna eat some processed frozen dinner. (Ugh.)

The MSRP for these things is $12-14 for a two-"drink" tube -- they're $11.95 at Beverage Warehouse, non-degradeable plastic included. For a few dollars more than that you buy the whole bottle of decent spirits, for Chrissakes, and make the drinks yourself, about a dozen of them, in glass cocktail glasses, which you can wash and use over and over and over for decades. Any drink you make yourself is going to be many, many times better. Here's hoping this goes the way of DivX discs and 8-track tapes.

Just say no to this kind of thing, my friends.

Oh, crap.   Via, my other habit is going to start to get more expensive, it seems.

The price of chocolate will most likely go up, reports The Guardian. Cost increases in cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar and milk are to blame. You know, we continue to get up in the morning despite drowned polar bears as the result of global warming, wars, poverty, and the crisis in Darfur. But honestly? This is the last straw.

We've found a better (and cheaper) local outlet for Vosges' exotic candy bars, a great little breakfast lunch 'n dinner place in Los Feliz with outrageous pastries and desserts, where the apparent qualification for working there is to be enthusiastic and beautiful (I've got a writeup coming on our most recent meal there, with pics). They've got piles of 'em right at the register, including our beloved bacon bars. Next time we go I'm buying a dozen.

A unique new advertising slogan?   Speaking of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur ... as you've heard me mention, it's been the best and most popular new product of the year that we've come across -- it got multiple accolades from most of the cocktailians at Tales, and the guy at Beverage Warehouse told me it was "flying off the shelves."

Perhaps my favorite reaction of all has been from our good friend Gregory. For his birthday last weekend we gave him a bottle of Milagro blanco tequila and a little 50ml taster bottle of St. Germain. He was immediately taken with how beautiful the bottle is (who isn't?) and when I described what it was made of he was fascinated. "Can I just take a sip now?" Sure man, it's your birthday, you do what you want! He cracked it open, and sipped straight from the bottle. His eyes immediately widened, eyebrows shot heavenward and he blurted, "fuckWOW!!"

I'm not sure how Rob Cooper is gonna fit that into the ad campaigns, but I think it's worth consideration.

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  Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tiki-Ti.   I hadn't been there in years. That's criminal.

It's a tiny bar in the Los Feliz / Silverlake area of Los Angeles, and as Jeff "Beachbum" Berry points out in his wonderful new book, Sippin' Safari, it's one of two places left in the Universe where you can get tropical cocktails (also referred to as exotic drinks or "tiki" drinks) made exactly the same way they were made at the legendary Don the Beachcomber's in Hollywood in 1937. That's because Tiki-Ti was founded and first opened in 1961 by Ray Buhen (1909-1999), one of Donn's original bartenders, and is currently run by Ray's son Mike and grandson Mike Jr. They've kept not only their family legacy alive, but the legacy of the tropical cocktail, or rather the "faux" tropical cocktail, as the Bum calls it ... which was invented by Donn Beach.

I was vaguely aware of this history, but knew of Ray's background in the biz, when I started going to Tiki-Ti in the early '90s. It was always a lot of fun, and I had resolved, being a bit younger and more daring, to eventually work my way through the entire 85-drink menu. (I only got that far because there were certain drink's I'd come back to again and again.) To the best of my hazy recollection, I managed to get about a quarter of the way through it -- no mean feat in itself -- when life did what life does, rejiggered itself and pointed me in different directions, and for some reason my visits to Tiki-Ti dried up. Now that I'm experienceing a tropical cocktail rebirth, thanks to some of the great people I met at Tales of the Cocktail, and to the fact that Wes had never been there (my bad!), it was long past time for a return to Tiki-Ti.

I also discovered via the Bum's book that I was born on Ray's birthday, November 11 (which we proudly share with Kurt Vonnegut, Leo DiCaprio, Mose Allison, Marshall Crenshaw, Andy Partridge, Jonathan Winters, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the King of Bhutan). I think this gives me a little extra tiki karma.

Hello, Tiki-Ti!

It was originally a violin repair shop, and Ray bought in '61 because he was tired of working for other people. It's been a shrine to the tropical cocktail ever since. Since I couldn't remember where I had left off on the menu, I supposed that I'd have to start over again in my quest to go through the entire menu. Because of that, and because it was Wes' first visit, I figured the way to go would be to start with the bar's signature drink, Ray's Mistake.

Ray's Mistake

A favorite sine 1968, the drink came about when Ray was making a concoction for a customer (an "Anting Anting," according to the Bum, and it's still on the menu too), but grabbed the wrong syrups by mistake. He was about to throw it away when the customer said not to worry, he'd drink it anyway. You can guess the rest ... "Hey, waitaminute ... this is really good!" And thus a signature drink was born, and a very popular one at that. It's also really really good, described as containing "our own super-secret flavors, botanic liqueurs, passion fruit and floated with dark Coruba rum."

The Menu

That's Mike Buhen in the background, behind the bar's fairly staggering menu.

Now, as for that second drink ... I wanted one that I didn't remember having before. Given the addled state of my Tiki-Ti memories, I had to take a guess, but I was pretty sure I hadn't had the Pearl Diver before. From the description on the bar's website -- "rum with a hint of almond flavor" -- it doesn't seem to be the same thing as the Pearl Diver's Punch Rick has been having such a great time with over at Kaiser Penguin, but whatever it was, it's hard to imagine it'd be bad. It wasn't. At all.

The Pearl Diver

For Mr. Wes, something that would figuratively, if not nearly literally, whoop him upside the head with a tiki. We toyed with a few different ideas and settled on ... The Uga-Booga.

One of the more expensive drinks on the menu, and you see why when you watch Mike make it, the Uga-Booga also has a bit of ritual associated with it. He mixes about half of it out of "Myers' dark rum and various juices," then proceeds to top it with the largest float of rum known to humanity, all the while shouting, "UGA-BOOGA!! UGA-BOOGA!!" which the gathered regulars and others shout back in response, the bar descending into a general cacaphony of uga-boogaing and various hollers and grunts until the drink is finally ready.

The Uga-Booga

That's a big, big rum float.

It's garnished with a pineapple chunk. It ought to be served with a walker.

It's also really, really good!

I'd say that all in all Mr. Wes did quite well.

Wes attacks his Uga-Booga Yay, I finished it!  And I'm still able to stand!

"Mmmmmm, drink. Hey, look! I finished it all and I can still stand! Um, kinda."

While we were there a couple of regulars came in and presented Mike with a gift -- two enormous bags of fresh mint from their garden. Just looking through the plastic bags I could see how beautiful and perfect it was, and as soon as Mike opened it the aroma enveloped us almost immediately. It was some of the best mint I'd ever seen or smelled, and an astonished and appreciative Mike passed the bag around, encouraging us to get our noses in and take a big sniff. Heady, wonderful stuff! The regulars (whose names I forgot, sadly, but I'm sure I'll see them again) then asked Mike if he'd make one of their favorite tipples using that mint, and a couple of minutes later there appeared a very beautiful Missionary's Downfall:

The Missionary's Downfall

It's similar to a Mojito, except made with dark rum. That may well be next on my list.

I didn't get a taste of that one, but I did get a taste of the drink that was served to my right. The girl sitting next to me couldn't decide what to get, so she was offered The Wheel. According to the rules you only get to spin once, but it wasn't busy yet and she had expressed a distaste for the first one she landed on, so Mike let her spin again. She ended up with a Doctor Funk, containing Demerara rum, lime juice, lemon juice, grenadine and a bit of Pernod. She was a bit anxious about it being too "licorice-y," but Mike assured her that it didn't overpower, and I offered that I'd bet a little touch of anise in a big drink like that would be a perfect touch. She ended up liking it and offered me a sip -- it was fabulous! The next night we made one at home (no pictures, unfortunately), easily done because the recipe appears in Beachbum Berry's Intoxica!, a must for the collection of any tropical drink fancier (along with Beachbum Berry's Grog Log).

We resolved that it would be merely weeks, if not days, before our return to Tiki-Ti. Only 83 more drinks to go.

Quote of the day.   (Thanks, Steve!)

"I'm afraid that I don't admire people that much. Maybe my plumber."

-- Jazz great Sonny Rollins, when asked which living person he most admires, from Vanity Fair's monthly "Proust" interview column.

Our plumber is awesome, by the way.

Bush, to America's sick children: "F-off and die."   You begin to wonder if you could ever be more astonished or outraged by what this piece of cockroach excrement in the White House is capable of perpetrating next, and then you read about this: (emphasis mine)

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a monthlong Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children's Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

Because, God forbid, that would smack too much of sociallized medicine (cue boogieman music), which would be like inviting Lenin to come over and have his way with your wife. And because sick children with no health insurance coverage don't seem to bother him.

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said yesterday that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children and would impose standards that could not be met.

"We are horrified at the new federal policy," said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. "It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children."

Stan Rosenstein, the Medicaid director in California, said the new policy was "highly restrictive, much more restrictive than what we want to do."

The poverty level for a family of four is set by the federal government at $20,650 in annual income. Many states have received federal permission to cover children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level -- $41,300 for a family of four. In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent -- $82,600 for a family of four -- but the change is subject to federal approval.

California wants to increase its income limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 250 percent. Pennsylvania recently raised its limit to 300 percent, from 200 percent. New Jersey has had a limit of 350 percent for more than five years.

As with issues like immigration, the White House is taking action on its own to advance policies that have not been embraced by Congress.

That's because this White House does not believe in the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and considers itself to have absolute power in the so-called unitary executive.

Steve M. pointed out in email this morning that he struck an even more evil note when he first threatened to veto the CHIPs program. It's just not needed, he explained. "I mean, people have access to health care in America ... after all, you just go to an emergency room."

(*thump head on desk over and over*)

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  Thursday, August 16, 2007

Well, so much for that idea.   I spoke too soon ... sigh. I fully intended to participate in Mixology Monday this month, but after I decided to do that we ended up being gone for most of the weekend, plus a busy day all day Monday and a concert Monday night, hence no time. I suppose I could have thrown something up just to be in it -- tossing out the Hoskins recipe again, which would at least have fulfilled the orange theme, but I wanted to do something new. I guess I'll try again next time.

The concert, incidentally, was by Squeeze, who've been one of my very favorite bands since I was about 18 and whom I'd never seen -- there was always some reason I couldn't go to every show, and I think I finally just gave up. I didn't even know they'd reformed this year (after breaking up for the second time in 1999), and didn't even get the tickets until Friday. They were ... AWESOME. Forty-two kinds of awesome. I can't remember the last time I'd had so much fun at a show. I'd heard some live recordings from the early '90s and they sounded just as good, if not better. So at least know that the lack of posting yesterday and most of today was the result of your Humble Weblogger being very, very happy.

Sorry for the lack of posts the last two days, though. The three days of busy was followed by an attack of two days of lazy and unmotivated.

I was also so thoroughly gobsmacked by The Swordfighter Swizzle, Paul's contribution to MxMo, that I was both depressed (God, will I ever be able to come up with something as good as that) and inspired (Man, I've got to get to work and start playing with my Creole Shrubb and Demerara rums more!). Cocktail swilling for the most part has been pleasant and satisfactory this week -- a Tanqueray Martini and a Cinnabar Negroni, to name two -- but we had a niiiice one the other night to commemorate last week's long-overdue return visit to that venerable shrine to the exotic tropical cocktail, Tiki-Ti. It's one of two places in the universe where you can still get drinks made the same way they were made at Don the Beachcomber's in 1937, and it's only 10 minutes from my house. More about all that later.

Tales of the Cocktail: Absinthe.   I'm glad Paul is still covering this, so I'm not the only one dragging on practically a month after the event. Then again, I'm only halfway done covering Jazzfest and it's three-and-a-half months later, so let's just chalk that up to me being the God Emperor of Procrastination.

The absinthe seminar on Sunday of Tales was a repeat of the one held on the first day, which we missed because we were still in transit. They must have anticipated the demand, as the second was was full. I'd really been looking forward to this one, as it was being conducted by Ted Breaux, the New Orleanian responsible for much of what we know about absinthe today -- the true facts as opposed to all that mythology -- as well as being responsible for hand-making some of the finest contemporary absinthes in the world.

Ted Breaux, absinthe maker
Ted Breaux, holding up a bottle of pre-ban Pernod Fils absinthe, circa 1900

After going through his seminar, I realized that I'd have to rewrite the absinthe article on The Gumbo Pages for the 157th time, as yet again I learned more about this unjustly maligned spirit. Ted, armed with a great slideshow to accompany his talk, took us through the history and development of absinthe, which by the late 1880s became the most popular alcoholic beverage in France and Switzerland, consumed by millions of people every day.

Long story short, absinthe basically got a bad rap. It was wildly popular, given the French palate for anise spirits and (unsurprisingly) given the liquor's typical alcohol content of 68-70%. It became even more popular during the phyloxxera epidemic in the 1880s; a nasty outbreak of that little aphid nearly destroyed the French wine grape crop, making wines and brandies extremely scarce and extremely expensive. Absinthe consumption rose to fill the hole, and as the wine industry began to recover, they wanted their old market position back from the absintheurs. The combined onslaught of the wine industry and the rampaging temperance groups (quietly egged on by the wine industry), plus the addition of unscrupulous makers of cheap, knock-off faux-absinthe (which actually contained toxic chemicals) proved to be the triple death blow to the Green Fairy, which began to be outlawed in 1914.

Ted's own background is as a research chemist, and a fascination with absinthe was spurred on when he came into posession of some intact, sealed bottles of pre-ban absinthe, by reputable, fine manufacturers like Pernod Fils, who made one of the finest absinthes of the Belle Époque. He extracted some samples, did extensive testing ... and determined to his amazement that there was nothing particularly toxic about it. Much ado is made about "thujone," a chemical contained in the wormwood herb, the primary herb in the blend of several herbs used to make absinthe. Supposedly it caused hallucinations (which is extremely exaggerated); thujone will cause toxic reactions if consumed in concentrated quantities, but given the relatively miniscule amount contained in a serving of absinthe, you'd be long-dead of alcohol poisoning before the thujone in absinthe could have any deleterious effects on your health.

Ted's research efforts, eventually confirmed by other scientists, showed us that there's nothing toxic, dangerous or hallucinatory (unless you already have a tendency to see pink elephants after consuming 140-proof spirits). Van Gogh didn't drink absinthe, go crazy and cut off his ear -- "He was already crazy," quipped Ted. So no, it doesn't make you crazy, you won't lose your mind, and you're not going to see the ceiling breathe, nor will your potted plants start hitting on you and asking you out on a date.

What may likely happen, though, is the effect of all the herbs contained within the spirit. Herbal elixirs and spirits have been used medicinally for centuries, and we know that herbs can and do have physiological effects. The effect of absinthe is most accurately described as a sharpness or lucidity beyond the haze of the alcohol, as the different herbs combine their different effects -- some up, some down -- in what Ted jokingly calls "an herbal speedball."

What we're left with is a potent, highly complex, highly aromatic herbal spirit with a long, rich history and an extremely fun set of rituals that accompany its preparation -- all part of the mystique and enjoyment of this elusive elixir.

First thing to remember -- if you don't like the flavor of anise (licorice, fennel, etc.), you won't like absinthe. At all. People who don't like that flavor tend to react strongly to it, so be warned. Next thing to remember -- you can't make absinthe at home, any more than you can make single-malt Scotch at home. Anyone who purports to sell "absinthte-making kits" via the Internet is a charlatan and a fraud, and you'll end up with a horribly bitter, nasty maceration of herbs and vodka. Wormwood is one of the most bitter substances on the planet, but the distillation removes the worst of the bitter alkaloids, leaving a pleasant remnant of it in the finished spirit.

The best absinthes will come from France and Switzerland, who are the only nations with a historical tradition of making and consuming absinthe. There are Spanish brands, which are drinkable but mediocre. The Czech Republic became notorious for making what they call "absinth," without the "e" at the end, and perhaps they do deserve some credit for being the first to reintroduce a version of the spirit to a greater market in the early 1990s. Unfortunately with very few exceptions Czech "absinth" is unpalatable. They also seemed to have introduced the appalling technique of soaking a sugar cube in the spirit, setting it on fire, then dropping it into the 70 percent alcoholic-content spirit. Let's just say that it takes a true idiot to attempt to drink flaming liquor, and we all know you have more common sense than that.

The proper method for preparing absinthe can be seen here, courtesy of The Wormwood Society.

Then we began to taste! The first one we tried was a clear absinthe from Switzerland; for the most part Swiss absinthes are clear rather than green, the final maceration of herbs after distillation being skipped. The brand was called Clandestine, made by Claude-Alain Bugnon, and was formerly known as the legendary "La Bleue." He distilled his absinthe clandestinely (hence the name) for years, and while it wasn't technically illegal to make it it was indeed quite illegal to sell and transport it; the fines if you were caught were huge. It became a bit of a sensation among underground absintheurs who appreciated quality, but came at a high price -- usually about $200 plus shipping, and there was a chance it could get seized or lost. When Switzerland lifted the ban on absinthe in 2005 Claude-Alain was the first to go public with his brand, and it's won several awards since then.

Lovely stuff, with a nice, bright flavor and good balance between the anise and the bitterness of the wormwood. It's on the acquisitions list.

Next, we tried Ted's latest, called PF 1901, a recreation (Ted calls it a "tribute") to the best-known and most popular (and one of the best) pre-ban absinthe, Pernod Fils. The original Pernod absinthe was retooled after the ban into a pastis, but this stuff is probably as close as you'll get to the real stuff without coming across an incredibly rare original bottle.

PF 1901, extrait d'absinthe

It's amazing how it works. Take in the bouquet at this stage and you'll get lots of strong alcohol (natch, as it's 70%), with some hints of the anise. For proper preparation and serving the water is slowly dripped, ice-cold, from a pitcher or, even better and prettier, from an absinthe fountain. Over a few minutes as the water drips into the spirit, it begins to "louche," or turn cloudy, as the essential oils from the herbs, held in suspension in the strong alcohol, begin to come out of suspension.


At this point it's almost an explosion of aroma, as wave after wave of anise and fennel and wormwood and all the other herbs within (such as hyssop and melissa) are released. The flavor of this beast is amazing, supremely complex with the anise dominant but not overwhelming. I could drink a whole lot of this stuff (but given its expense, I'd probably better rein myself in).

Incidentally, absinthe is now legal in the United States. Kinda. Actually it still may be a bit of a grey area, but the law under which an absinthe ban falls doesn't specifically mention absinthe -- it mandates that spirits cannot contain more than 10mg of thujone per liter. Ted's researches have shown that historical absinthes actually contained less than this threshold, cementing the proof that the hoo-hah about thujone was exaggerated at best, and bullshit at worst. (In fact, beware of any brands of absinthe advertising "high thujone levels").

This makes both the historical brands and their contemporary conterparts legal, apparently, and has led to yet another new spirit, created by Ted for a company called Viridian Spirits -- a forthcoming nationally-marketed brand of absinthe called Lucid, the first legal absinthe to be sold in this country in almost a century, currently available via mail-order from some NYC-area spirits shops (check the links at the Lucid site).

I've tried all of Ted's brands except for the Edouard, and they're all really good, the small-batch ones spectacularly so. Lucid, despite its unfortunate marketing plan (the liquor company's idea, not Ted's), is also quite good, although the anise is a bit toned down for the American palate. It's got a nice herbal complexity to it, though.

To wrap up ... the seminar was an amazingly informative, fascinating and fun, and it led me to ... um, spend a rather shocking amount of money of the following couple of weeks. I'll go into more detail about that a little later on.

Ted Breaux's absinthes are available from Liqueurs de France, and if you go in with friends and buy three or four bottles you'll save on the shipping from the UK (which runs about £30 at the moment). They seem to be out of stock on the 750ml bottles for the time being, but you can buy 500ml bottles or 200ml "taster" bottles, plus several other brands including Bugnon's "Clandestine." They're quick, efficient, reliable and will generally have your spirits in your hands via courier within 4-5 business days.

Vive la Nouvelle Belle Époque!

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  Friday, August 10, 2007

Mixology Monday.   If you haven't been following this monthly feature over at Paul Clarke's Cocktail Chronicles, you should ... and I should have been. It's been going on for over a year now and have I participated in it even once? No. (Stupid, stupid, stupid.) I get distracted and forgetful and missed it over and over and over ... not this time.

Paul describes Mixology Monday thusly:

I've thought for a while that it'd be great to have a regular event in the fine cocktails and mixology community that would provide a way for readers and participants to explore some really great drinks and have a good time. Drawing on the examples established by the food blog community, with events such as Is My Blog Burning? and Wine Blogging Wednesday, I propose the start of Mixology Monday.

As with these other events, the goal for Mixology Monday is simple: Bloggers and other participants focus on a predetermined theme for each scheduled event, then blog about that theme by a certain date (being sure to notify the event host of their relevant post). Following that date, the host compiles a link-rich roundup of the event, and posts it on his or her blog. Couldn't be easier.

I feel like a doof, so behind the times ... sigh. Well, better late than never.

As I understand it, you don't necessarily have to come up with an original cocktail for this, just something cool you've been drinking or that you always wanted to try. The hosting site for this month is Gwen at Intoxicated Zodiac, who describe this month's theme:

The theme is orange because this particular fruit happens to be ruled by the astrological sign of Leo. The zodiacal top cat also rules juniper (so gin was a possibility until i found out about g-vine), mango (a little obscure, no?), rice (sake, perhaps.), tomatoes, olives, walnuts, marigolds, saffron and any plant that thrives in full sun areas of the garden, or that bears a heavy physical resemblance to the sun.

So put your celestial thinking cap on and make a killer cocktail in honour of Leo! All it must contain is the warm and passionate essence of the sun, vibrant ruler of the proud cat. Orange you exited? (I know, kill me)

Hey, I made the same awful pun 10 days ago! No sweetie, I'm not gonna kill you. I'm gonna hug you and do a happy dance. Cocktail swilling punsters ... come on over! Do you like bacon?

I'm in.

Tales of the Cocktail: Vermouth.   Sorry I didn't get to this yesterday. 'Twas very, very busy day, and Looka! doesn't pay the bills. Yet.

Looking through the Tales listing yet another seminar caught my eye -- Vermouth, conducted by Dr. Cocktail, Martin Doudoroff (his partner in CocktailDB and Erica Duecy of Fodor's. I was keenly interested in attending this seminar as I am a born-again vermouth drinker. Yes, I used to fear vermouth, not unlike how I used to fear gin. As my interest in fine and classic cocktails began to develop, and I began collecting and studying old cocktail books, I quickly realized that I wasn't going to get very far if I kept eliminating cocktails that contained gin or vermouth.

Quick lesson -- vermouth is a fortified, aromatized white wine (even the red vermouth comes from a white wine base) in three main flavors -- dry (or French), bianco (sweet white) and red (sweet, or Italian). The word vermouth itself comes from the German "wermut" which means ... wormwood. That's one of the bitter herbs used (or at least once used) in the making of this herb-infused wine, used initially as an aperitif and a tonic and as a way to mask the flavor of cheap white wine. Over the years it found its way into myriad cocktails due to its great flexibility as an ingredient.

I finally came into the world of vermouth via Italian / red / sweet vermouth, whichever appellation you prefer, about 8 years ago, and via the Manhattan, which quickly became one of my favorite cocktails. From there I made my way through countless classics, then to the Vermouth Cocktail itself (consisting solely of vermouth, bitters and grenadine) and eventually on to the summit of Mount Everest for those who quest to overcome a fear of gin and vermouth -- the classic Martini, 2:1 (although I prefer a 5:1 proportion myself).

Unfortuately my keenness to attend this seminar didn't keep me from being grievously late for it (we kept running into people we knew along the way), but we did get to taste a few things and hear about the Big Vermouth News -- that Noilly Prat, maker of what's probably the best dry vermouth in the mass market ("and that's swill," says Martin, which doesn't say much for the rest of it), is reformulating its vermouth to go back to their old 1856 recipe, which will be spicier, more herbal, perhaps even a bit more bitter, and will perhaps change the face of Martini drinking. Sadly they managed not to get their promised samples to them in time for the seminar, but apparently we can expect to see this stuff everywhere before too much longer.

Perhaps the most important lesson one can take from this seminar is this -- unless you are a bar with high volume or you swill a lot of Martinis every day, buy white / dry vermouth IN SMALL BOTTLES, and KEEP IT IN THE REFRIGERATOR. Even better, every time you open it spray in some of that inert wine preserver gas befoer you seal it up again. This stuff is wine, and wine goes bad; even fortified wines go bad eventually. The shelf life of white vermouth is a MAXIMUM of six months, maybe a year for the red in the fridge. I think one of the reason a lot of people say they hate vermouth in their Martinis is because someone's made them a Martini using a bottle of cheap dry vermouth that's been in the cabinet or bar for years and years and gets used a few drops at a time. The stuff went bad during the first Clinton adminstration, and you expect to be able to make a decent drink with it? Write a six-months-from-now expiration date on the label with a Sharpie, keep it in the fridge, and if you don't use it up by then throw it away and buy more -- it's cheap.

One nice goodie we got at the seminar was a handout (yay, I love handouts!) of interesting things being done with vermouth at some top bars and restaurants these days. I'd be pleased to share those with you.

House Apéritif, The Pegu Club, NYC
Created by Audrey Saunders

A 1-liter bottle Noilly Prat Extra Dry vermouth.
8 Macintosh apples.
1 crab apple.

Slice the apples thin on a mandolin.

Pour vermouth over the apples until they're submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 5 days, agitating the mixture a little bit each day.

Strain mixture back into the Noilly Prat bottle.

Serve a four-ounce pour, well-chilled, in a coupe glass (kind of a large Champagne saucer). For garnish, float a thin slice of crab apple over the drink.

This sounds fantastic, but I fear I might have a hard time finding one of the ingredients. Where, outside of Orr's cheeks, am I going to find crab apples? Farmers' markets, here I come -- they'll be in season during the fall.

Here are a couple by bar chef Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve and The Majestic Café in Alexandria, Virginia:

Thrasher's Riff on the Hemingway Daiquiri

1-1/4 ounces light rum.
1/4 ounce homemade cherry liqueur (see below).
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice.
3/4 ounce lime juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnisih with a cherry in the glass.

(For the cherry liqueur: Take a 1-liter bottle of Noilly Prat dry vermouth and 1 pint pitted Bing cherries. Purée the vermouth and cherries in a blender. Strain through a tripled-over cheesecloth.)

Bitter Sweet Gin Fizz

2 ounces Bombay gin.
1/4 ounce homemade sweet vermouth.
Dash of cherry bitters.
Carbonated sweet vermouth.

Pour over ice. Top the glass with the carbonated sweet vermouth (it will look like thte foamy head on a root beer). Garnish with microplane-grated orange peel.

(For the carbonated sweet vermouth: From 750ml sweet vermouth put 1/2 cup of it in a saucepan and heat. Remove mixture from heat and add two sheets of bloomed gelatin (1/2 of one envelope if using powdered). Whisk to dissolve the gelatin into the vermouth. Combine the vermouth-gelatin mixture with the remainder of the 750ml bottle of sweet vermouth. Let it cool and rest for a day. For service, pour the vermouth mixture into an old-fashioned soda siphon.)

Wow. That sounds fantastic, but might be a bit much for home use rather than regular restaurant service. That'd be something great to serve at a cocktail party, though. Cherry bitters might be a bit of a stretch -- there isn't a commercial product on the market at the moment -- unless Jamie Boudreau lets you buy a bottle of his housemade cherry bitters at Vessel in Seattle.

Here's one from the great L.A. restaurant where Wes took me for my birthday last year:

Central Park West
(Chef David Myers, Sona Restaurant, Los Angeles)

1 ounce Bourbon.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine.
1/2 ounce Luxardo Morlacco cherry liqueur.
1/2 ounce ginger syrup.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.

Mix all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously. Strain over ice. (It is important to note that at Sona we serve all rocks drinks with hand-chipped ice from large 25-lb. blocks.)

Wow, that's old school. Even Galatoire's doesn't hand-chip their ice anymore (and oh, the consternation that caused in Certain Circles in New Orleans).

Here's one from one of the many new friends we made at Tales this year:

The Astoria Bianco
(by Jim Meehan, Gramercy Tavern, NYC)

3 ounces gin.
1 ounce bianco (sweet white) vermouth.
2 dashes orange bitters.
1 orange twist.

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add gin, vermouth and orange bitters; stir well. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the orange twist.

That ... sounds lovely. I've done 3:1 Martinis with Lillet but not bianco, and we'll try this one this weekend.

Hmm, I think this one's gonna turn me on to a new whiskey:

The Black Market Manhattan
(by Brian Miller, Death & Co., NYC)

2 ounces Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.
1 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth infused with Market Spice Tea (from the Pike Place Market in Seattle).
1 dash Angostura Bitters.

Stir ingredients and strain into a coupe. No garnish.

(For the Market Spice Tea-infused sweet vermouth: Place four heaping tablespoons of tea to 1 bottle Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth. Let it sit for an hour to an hour an a half, then strain and refrigerate.)

This sounds great. Market Spice Tea is a black tea flavored with cinnamon, orange peel and other spices and essential oils. I've never had Bernheim whiskey before, but I'm interested in finding it now. I suppose you could substitute Maker's Mark (a wheated Bourbon, which by definition is at least 51% corn), but it wouldn't have nearly the same character; Bernheim's is 51% wheat.

Now, for some classics:

The Americano
A classic Italian aperitivo.

1 ounce Campari.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
Soda water.

Pour Campari and sweet vermouth into a highball glass filled with ice. Stir. Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon twist.

The Rose Cocktail
A classic Parisian cocktail.

2 ounces dry vermouth.
1 ounce kirschwasser (clear cherry brandy; Trimbach or Clear Creek recommended).
1 barspoon of raspberry syrup (we love Harry and David).

Shake ingredients with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

(Harry and David have supplanted our previous favorite, Smuckers, by having a great fresh raspberry flavor and by having less of a tendency to sink to the bottom of the glass.)

The Marconi Wireless
A classic from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, NYC

1-3/4 ounces applejack.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

If you're keen to explore further into the world of vermouth, especially sweet vermouth, I heartily recommend two products made by the Carpano company of Italy -- Punt E Mes, which is a vermouth that has a bitter, Campari-like character to it and gives some extra oomph to cocktails, and the magnificent Carpano Antica Formula, for my money the King of Sweet Vermouths (and the most expensive, at about $26/liter). Antica Formula is full of powerful spice, complexity and character, and you might have to rejigger the proportions a little bit. These days we're fond of Manhattans made with Rittenhouse 100 proof rye, Carpano Antica and either Abbott's Bitters (if we're feeling extravagant) or Regans' Orange if we're not (the latter is exceedintly tasty in this drink, though, and the extra spiciness of the vermouth makes up for the substitution from the usual Angostura; the Abbott's is just spice-o-rama, almost overkill but so dagnabbed yummy that we don't care.)

Incidentally, Mario Batali's favorite aperitivo at Babbo in New York is a fresh fruit juice or purée of the day, mixed 1:1 with bianco vermouth. Try it sometime, it's really good.

P.S. -- As much as I enjoyed the seminar itself, the magic moment came afterward, when a mixologist by the name of Jackson Cannon of Eastern Standard in Boston came up to say hi. We were just starting to chat when Lauren from DrinksBoston said, "Go on, show him!" Jackson drew one of his bar menus from his bag and presented it to me, and as I was looking down at the list of drinks I was impressed, and jealous. Sazerac, Alaska, Pegu, Monkey Gland ... look at all these drinks, and goddammit, I thought, where are the bars like this in L.A.?! (I have high hopes for Seven Grand, which we still haven't made it to yet since we both got sick). Then my eyes fell on one drink on the menu, and my jaw dropped. That would be ... The Hoskins Cocktail, my very own creation. My jaw dropped, and for once I was speechless. My reaction? I gave the guy a hug. I mean, jeez ... what else can you do?

I have to say, finding out that mixologists of the caliber of Murray Stenson at Zig Zag in Seattle and Jackson Cannon in Boston are serving a drink I created ... well, it's a great honor and inspires me to do more concocting. Thanks, y'all.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Loans that change lives.   Thanks to Steve, several of my friends and I have become aware of an organization called Kiva, which provides aggregated microloans to specific entrepreneurs in the developing world, to help them get their businesses started ... and to actually pay back the loans. (And they do.) For example, you can kick in $5 or $10 or $20 to a pig farmer in Honduras, or a restauranteur in Uganda, or someone like that, help them get going, and the loans are repaid to the lender (which I'd use to recycle into another loan to someone). We've looked into it and it's completely legit, with local representatives where the loans are distributed, and careful vetting by the Kiva folks. We feel very confident that our money is going where they say it is.

Steve helped The Fat Pack establish a collective lending fund a while back, and so far we've helped out Abdul Qurbonov, a livestock breeder in Tajikistan; Tatyana Ilnitskaya, a grocer in Ukraine; Hernán Caise, in food production and sales in Ecuador; Heng Heat, who runs a food market in Cambodia (and whose husband raises pigs, and her leftover funds wil be used to buy more pigs and purchase additional feed ... yay, pork!!); and Josefina Baltazar, a restauranteur in Bolivia. It feels good to be able to help people out and know exactly how your money's working, and to whom it's going; as Kiva says, "using the power of the Internet to make a one-to-one connection," and bringing people together like that is taking one small but important step toward makign the world a better place (or decreasing worldsuck, as the Green brothers would say). I like it.

You don't have to have a Fat Pack to join in, you can just do it yourself, or do it with friends as you wish. Twenty bucks goes a long way in a place like Cambodia or Zambia, so give some thought to getting involved.


And now, a slight digression ...

So far the only flaw I've come across with Kiva is that although most of the time they know the difference between the words "lend" and "loan" and the proper usage thereof ... sadly, it's not all of the time. They refer to the assistance they give people as "loans," and the big button for you to give money is labelled "LEND," as it should be. But then in the profiles of the lenders, one of the Kiva webmasters provided a field for explaining your thoughts behind lending that says, "I loan because ..."


No, no, no, no, no, no, no. "Lend" is a verb, "loan" is a noun. You lend someone money; the money you lend them is a loan. You don't loan someone money, and the money is not a lend.

One of the online dictionaries says this: "USAGE NOTE" The verb loan is well established in American usage and cannot be considered incorrect. The frequent objections to the form by American grammarians may have originated from a provincial deference to British critics, who long ago labeled the usage a typical Americanism."

Horse puckey.

The unfortunate fact that the word "loan" may be well-established as a verb in American usage does not make it any less wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Snooty British critics who scoff "We are not amused!" when condescendingly referring to "American usage" notwithstanding, it is indeed incorrect, no matter what says. Why? Um ... because I say so. Because it bothers me. When I hear "loan" used as a verb it sets my teeth on edge, almost as if I've heard the proverbial fingernails on a chalkboard. No, worse -- it's like when you get a slice of pie and it's still got some of the aluminum pie tin on the bottom of the piece, and you don't know it's there, and you take a bite, and the aluminum foil pie tin piece makes contact with one of your fillings and you get this awful electric jolt through your head. (Okay, well, maybe not quite that bad, but bad enough.) It's the English minor in me, I can't help it. If you say "Can you loan me a dollar?" I will quite likely cringe, and will have to exert powerful restraint to keep from groaning audibly. And no, I won't lend you a dollar until you learn the difference between "lend" and "loan." I won't be mean or condescending about it or anything, but you're not getting that dollar.

If you use "loan" as a verb in my class I'll mark you off for it, and if I see it on one of your papers I'll circle it with my red felt-tip pen and write "NO!" next to it. Sorry.

I know I probably have to give up on "indices" but I'm not giving up on this one.

Verbing weirds language! (Except when it's funny, then it's OK.)

End of digression. (Wow, a grammar rant. That felt good.)

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Cosmopolitan.   Well, not one of Chuck's favorite cocktails, but our master bartender Chris makes a good point here. This drink is a contemporary classic because it was built on classic principles and proportions. Plus, if you're gonna be a bartender, you absolutely have to know how to make a Cosmopolitan to do your job. And if you're going to make this drink, you'd better learn to make it well.

My drinking tastes have changed drastically since this was my standard order for a while, about 10 years ago. Then in 1998 I was served a Cosmopolitan so perfect that I knew that no one would ever make one as good as that. (It was at Spago, incidentally.) I no longer have to have another Cosmopolitan, ever. I don't feel the same way when I get other perfectly-made drinks, but in this case I knew it was time to move on. (The worst Cosmopolitan I'd ever had was at Tommy Tang's in Pasadena, made by a hapless would-be bartender who obviously had no idea what he was doing. It was so unspeakably bad that I wasn't even mad, I just felt bad for the guy. Okay, I was a little mad, but I was nice when I sent it back.)

If you're a Cosmopolitan drinker, let me recommend another New Orleans Sour-category drink to you, which Wes invented back in 2000. It's fruity without being cloyingly sweet, and still has a bit of a bite to it ("Like Paul Lynde," said my friend Jordan, and the drink only escaped being called an "Uncle Arthur" because Wes had already come up with a name for it.) We haven't featured it in Looka! for a while, so it's time to revisit.

The Footloose Cocktail

2 ounces Stolichnaya Razberi raspberry flavored vodka.
1 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

This cocktail is included in Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology (thanks, Gary!) Even though we've pretty much moved on from flavored vodkas we're still fond of this one, and it's still a house special. It's better than a Cosmo, too! (In my not-so-unbiased opinion.)

Finishing Tales coverage tomorrow, I hope.   I was actually hoping to get to it today, but it wasn't meant to be. We'll hear about the vermouth seminar with Dr. Cocktail and Martin Doudoroff, and the long-awaited absinthe seminar from Ted Breaux, which was amazing, fun, incredibly educational, and which ... caused me to spend a fairly horrifying amount of money over the last couple of weeks. Seeyas tomorrow.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's always cocktail hour somewhere.   It is indeed, as Wes is fond of saying. My favorite online magazine Salon helps spread the cocktailian gospel today, featuring a terrific interview with my friend Paul Clarke, he of The Cocktail Chronicles, in which he explains to the world why all this cocktail stuff we obsess over is important (and so much fun). He was kind enough to mention yours truly (thanks for that), plus Rick and Darcy as well.

(I must also say thank you, THANK you to the article's author Robert Simonson for spelling my name correctly. See, you don't have to be Irish to know how to spell it! Imagine if it were never anglicized, you'd be dealing with "Mac an tSagairt" all the time, and nobody'd ever get the eclipsis right.)

There was one unfortunate link in the article, though ... back to Paul's site and a post I missed the first time around, in which he catalogued and posted the entire contents of his liquor closet. Oh dear. As a compulsive listmaker, I fear that that may be my next project, which I want to do even though I'm already in the middle of entering every book we own into LibraryThing (up to 720 and I'm not nearly finished). Sigh.

Cocktail of the day.   I don't think I've mentioned this one on Looka! in a while, although it's in the Gumbo Pages' cocktail listings (which sorely need to be updated, like so man other things). We had lots of these while we were home for Tales of the Cocktail, and so did our friends and many others at the event. That's unsurprising, considering that the event was based at the Hotel Monteleone -- this is the signature drink of its famous Carousel Bar, invented at the hotel by their then-bar manager Walter Bergeron. It's mighty good, easy to make and exotic enough to get wows from your friends when you serve it.

The Vieux Carré Cocktail

1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce Cognac.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 teaspoon Bénédictine D.O.M. (not B&B)
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Build all ingredients over ice in a double Old Fashioned glass; stir and garnish with a lemon twist.

I've seen some bartenders use dry vermouth, which is good too, but I think sweet vermouth works much better in this drink. For interesting variations try spicier vermouths like Punt E Mes or Antica Formula, and try different ryes too.

Okay, now that we've had a drink, it's time to get mad.

Why New Orleans Still Isn't Safe.   Have you seen the cover of the current (August 13, 2007) issue of TIME Magazine yet? You should go get it. It looks like this:

TIME Magazine - Why New Orleans Still Isn't Safe

The cover story, which sounds a lot like what most New Orleanians have been saying since August 30, 2005, should be nailed to the forehead of every member of Congress and every member of the Executive Branch too, while we're at it. It starts like this:

The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city's defenses should have withstood its surges, and if they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment "Heckuva job, Brownie." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city's man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government's response, but they still haven't come to grips with the government's responsibility for the catastrophe.

They should.

How these facts can continue to be ignored by our war criminal-run government is mind-boggling to me, but given the depth of their neglect for their own people I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.


Before Katrina, the Corps was spending more in Louisiana than in any other state, but much of it was going to wasteful and destructive pork instead of protection for New Orleans; one Corps project actually intensified Katrina's surge. After Katrina, a series of investigations ripped the Corps for building flimsy floodwalls in soggy soils, based on wildly flawed analyses--and shoddy engineering was only one way the Corps betrayed New Orleans. But while FEMA director Michael Brown's resignation made front-page news, Corps commander Carl Strock's resignation hardly made the papers. By the time Strock admitted his agency's "catastrophic failure" eight months after the storm, the U.S. had moved on.

As the disaster's Aug. 29 anniversary approaches, there will be plenty of talk about the future of New Orleans---how to rebuild; bring home the diaspora; and deal with crises like housing, crime and education. But in the long run, recovery plans won't matter much if investors, insurers and homesick evacuees can't trust the Corps to prevent the city from drowning again. "Katrina wasn't even close to the Big One," says Louisiana State University (LSU) hurricane researcher Ivor van Heerden, author of the Katrina memoir The Storm. "We better start getting ready."

Today, Corps leaders are rebuilding New Orleans levees, but they say it will still take four more years and billions of dollars more just to protect the city from a 100-year storm, the protection they were required to provide before Katrina. That's still paltry compared with Amsterdam's 10,000-year-storm protection. But Corps officials have also committed to restoring the surge-softening marshes, cypress swamps and barrier islands that are disappearing at a rate of a football field nearly every half-hour. They say they now understand that the survival of New Orleans depends on a sustainable coast. "This is not the Corps of old," says Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the agency's Task Force Hope. "The world has changed, and the Corps is changing too."

But for all the talk about restoring wetlands, almost every dime of the $7 billion the Corps has received since Katrina is going to traditional engineering: huge structures designed to control rather than preserve nature. And its latest plan seeks to extend those structures along the entire coast, calling for such massive levees across so much of the state that scientists call it the Great Wall of Louisiana. The Corps says it's just an idea, but Congress is about to authorize the first stretch of the wall--a $900 million, 72-mile (116 km) levee for isolated bayou towns like Chauvin, Dulac and Montegut. "Nothing has changed," says G. Edward Dickey, a former Corps chief of planning. "It's the same engineering mentality, except now they'll build the levees even bigger."

Bigger levees aren't all bad. New Orleans desperately needs them; one local slogan is, "Make Levees, Not War." But New Orleans needs its eroding wetlands just as desperately; another local slogan is, "Fix the Coast, or We Are Toast!" To prevent another disaster, the construction addicts of the Corps, their enablers in Congress and the U.S.'s cockamamie approach to water resources will all have to change. The Great Wall concept sounds a lot like the mistakes of the past.

When will they for Christ's sake take all this away from the Army Corps of Engineers?

Read the rest of the article, then you need to get mad, and stay mad. I'm serious. Don't let it consume you, don't let it be what you're all about, but a small part of you needs to stay mad about this until the problems have been fixed, and the people responsible for it are removed from the loop and held accountable. Email the link to this story to everyone you know. EVERYONE needs to read this article, and then they need to call and write their Congresspeople and Senators. And then call the White House, which will offer you their collective middle finger, but that reaction is something we can (I hope) bring up at their trials later on.

Plucky Survivors 2 starts in a few weeks!   My friends Mary and Rick are getting ready to hit the road again, driving across roadside America to see the true culture of this country, to eat lots of barbecue and pie, to play lots of games of Cow, and to provide entertaining distractions from the inconvenience and annoyance (which is how they see it) of serious chronic illness. Illness shmillness, there's far too m uch bacon to be eaten and Giant Balls of Twine to be seen, and weird museums and corn dogs and good and bad jokes to be told to let such things be too much of a bother.

The road awaits, as this year they plunge into the heart of darkness the Midwest, where all kinds of fun (and casseroles) await them. Stay tuned for remote coverage here, beginning on their departure date of August 30.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 6, 2007

Tales of the Cocktail: Cocktails and the Blogosphere.   Boy, do I hate that non-word. "Blogosphere." Please don't ever say it. I can forgive Peter Merholz for coining the term "blog" because he was actually kidding, being facetious, and it caught on anyway. Whoever's actually guilty of coining the term "blogosphere" should be boiled in a vat of the last few decades' worth of the foulest-smelling neologisms we can come up with. Actually, we can't blame the Tales folks; they're just using the term that's caught on. I just wish it hadn't caught on. I mean, "toecheese" is a better word than "blogosphere."

That said, Saturday morning's panel in which I participated with Paul Clarke (who was the moderator), Darcy O'Neil and Rick Stutz, all of whom write about cocktails on their respective weblogs, went really, really well. Whew. Paul and I were both a little worried that there might be more people on the panel than in the audience, but those fears were put to rest as the clock approached 10am. We had at least 25 people in the seminar, including several folks whose presence really honored me. (Actually, the presence of everyone honored me.)

Of course, there had to be a minor disaster, in the form of the wireless internet access refusing to work, so that we couldn't put the images of any of our weblogs up on the screen. Sigh. Next time before all seminars we need to head to St. Louis Cemetery #1, visit Marie Laveau, leave a few cents in offering, and ask her to keep an eye out for us. Despite that, I think everyone on the panel was able to illustrate what they did quite nicely just by their descriptions.

The main thing I was talking about was trying to strike a balance between educating new readers (perhaps unlike Paul, Darcy and Rick, I get people coming into the blog from Google searches that end them up on my site, and sometimes I have to assume that at least a portoin of my readership are new to fine cocktails, whereas those guys' sites are cocktail-specific) and keeping the fellow cocktail geeks in the regular readership interested. What we're all trying to do is spread the idea that Ti Martin articulated so forcefully at her seminar earlier -- we must no longer accept poorly made cocktails, any more than we would accept poorly made dishes from the kitchen.

Rick and I talked a bit about photography for our sites as well. His shots are always really terrific, and we discussed ways to make cocktail photography more interesting, which can be challenging; as Rick put it, "You're basically shooting brown liquid in a glass." It's good to have challenges to one's creativity.

Thanks to everyone who came, and especially to Paul, Darcy and Rick. It was great to be a panel with those guys, and I hope we can do another one next year.

Tales of the Cocktail: Spirits Glass Tasting.   I've gotta be bringing up the rear of every post from everyone who went to Tales this year, between getting sick and being incredibly busy at The Day Job and actually getting out of the house a lot this weekend. Plus I still haven't finished covering Jazzfest yet! *scream* Well, thanks for your patience, those of you who are left and who haven't bailed from reading this weblog thinking, "This guy's never gonna post." Better late than never! (That rationalization is getting tired, I know.) Second-to-last one here, almost done!

Georg Riedel

This was another one that I was tearing my hair out over. We got HYP-no-tized! by the fact that we were going to walk out of this seminar with $150 worth of Riedel spirits glassware, but it also meant that we missed another seminar led by Jeff Berry, Wayne Curtis and Steve Remsburg. Despite feeding our glassware fetish, this was a huge mistake (stupid, stupid, stupid!!) and I shall never repeat it. That said, the spirits glass tasting was fascinating and eye-opening and I'm glad we went.

Georg Riedel, head of his family's company, is primarily known in the world of wine for being the first (and best) at producing a line of wine glassware that is specific to each varietal of grape, with the theory, proven time and again in practice, that a properly shaped glass can greatly improve the taste of wine being drunk from it, and that the wrong glass can make a wine taste like almost nothing. Even though Herr Riedel is a wine drinker and not a spirits drinker, he's begun expanding his theories to the world of spirits and has come out with the first examples of a line of glasses exclusively for spirits.

People were clamoring to get into this one, and this was one of the panels at which a presenter's pass wasn't going to get you in for free -- with all this glassware being handed out, they were making sure everyone had bought a ticket, and the extras could stand in the back and watch. Fortunately I did have a ticket (whew), and we made our way to our seats. At each place at the tables there was a setup of nine Riedel glasses, three each of three different types.

Tales of the Cocktail: Riedel Spirits Glass Tasting

The three on the left were glasses made for drinking single malt whisky, the middle three made for Cognac and the three down the right side for tequila. In each type of glass was an ounce or so of each type of spirit, so we got to try each spirit in each glass and see what the difference was.

SILVER TEQUILA: In the single malt glass there was NO nose whatsoever, harsh alcohol, very raw smelling. There was no floral component that the tequila maker described it as having. In the Cognac glass the nose was better, less alcohol burn in the nose and on the back of the palate, tasting fine but the flavors didn't seem to open up. In the tequila glass it was ... almost as if we were drinking a different spirit. Wonderful, complex, floral nose with vanilla and spice, and an amazing flavor with agave and roasted pineapple and pepper.

COGNAC: In the single malt glass there wasn't much aroma other than a bit of caramel, with a bit more vanilla. LOTS of alcohol, in fact a very high perception of alcohol content. In the tequila glass we got more caramel in the nose, more flavor in the spirit, with caramel and citrus in the palate and the flavors of the oak in the finish. It seemed drier as well. In the Cognac glass ... it was a miracle. HUGE in the nose, much more caramel and complexity, much richer than in the other two. On the palate was fruit and sweetness and caramel and spice and toast and NO alcohol burn whatsoever! Uncanny. It was softer, almost like sipping a liqueur. "In this glass," said Herr Riedel, "the Cognac is a ladies' drink. In this glass there is symbiosis with the Cognac." Wow.

SINGLE MALT WHISKY: In the tequila glass you got LOTS of peat, as if you were inhaling the ash from a turf fire, very little fruitiness. On the palate it was HOT, powerful, burny. There was a one-dimensional taste of alcohol. In the Cognac glass there was still a lot of peat but with a bit more fruit, oak and vanilla. Less alcohol, and sweeter! (What is it about that Cognac glass that makes things taste sweeter by its shape?! It's all the way that the glass directs the contents to specific areas of your tongue.) Smoke in the finish, plus a little coffee-like bitterness. In the single malt glass ... wow! Peat, barley and fruit in the nose, but with less intensity of any one element and more balance. On the palate the whisky had a beautiful, elegant character, and your mouth is filled with flavor. Creamy feel, and an intensity of all the flavors of dreid fruit and pepper and spices.

As Herr Riedel explained, this is the power of the right-designed glass. The glassware negates the need to dilute the spirit with water too (unless you've got a barrel-strength "hazmat" release). The brandy snifters go out to the garage sale now -- "completely inappropriate for drinking brandy," he said -- and it's those Cognac glasses for us from now on. I'm now inspired to sip more tequilas neat, using those glasses to help explore their character and not just using them in cocktails. And now I've got more of the tools we need to further our explorations into the world of Scots whisky and have enough glasses for our friends to come over and go there with us.

Next up in the Riedel spirits line will be an aquavit glass ... which should be very, very interesting.

Mandina's.   Still one of the best places to eat in New Orleans, and still the best neighborhood restaurant in the city (in my not-so-humble opinion). Mandina's is always a must-stop whenever I'm home, especially now. It's even better after the flood, actually, with the dining room more open than it was before; I really like what they did with the space. Shawn was off work on Saturday, so he, Maggie and Dillen, Wes and I headed there for dinner on Saturday night.

For my money, there's really only one way to begin a meal at Mandina's, and that's with turtle soup.

Mandina's Restaurant: Turtle Soup

With sherry, of course, and chopped hard boiled egg. They make a turtle soup that rivals the other best turtle soup in town, at Commander's Palace. Me, I love both versions.

Stuffed Trout

The regular menu selections are classics and you can't go wrong with them, but you're really in for a treat with the daliy specials. Today's was the stuffed trout, filled with crabmeat dressign, which caught Shawn's eye. Pretty spectacular, eh? It was fantastic, of course, and one of the more artful presentations at Mandina's. As is the case with most of their big entrées like this, it was accompanied by a completely ignorable dish of canned green beans, which I never touch but which for me has become somewhat of an endearing, expected touch to most of their meals. (I wonder how much of that gets eaten and how much gets thrown away.)

Wes' choice was a bit predictable, only because it was in season and there on the specials menu just one of the best things anywhere.

Fried Soft Shell Crab Meuniere

Fried Soft Shell Crab Meunière ... mmmmmmmmm. In our experience the soft shell crabs are always perfectly done here, and this was no exception, with that rich brown butter and lemon sauce that's a Creole classic. Oh my. Look at that crab, just waving at you. Eat me!

And what did I get? I got a cheeseburger.

Okay, before the stunned, appalled gasps ... before relatives of mine start recounting stories about how I wouldn't even eat seafood when I was a little kid, and how when my parents took me to really good seafood restaurants I would embarrass them by trying to order a hamburger or a grilled cheese sandwich ... yes, I ordered a burger. But this wasn't an ordinary burger, this was a Cheeseburger Poor Boy. And there's a reason I ordered it.

When we were home for Jazzfest we took a bunch of friends to Mandina's, and our friend Michele ordered a burger po-boy. I hadn't had one in years and years, and my ears perked up. That sounded ... really good, actually. If not for the fact that she had ordered it well-done (oh dear, oh dear, oh dear), it might have sounded good enough for us to order too; Wes was similarly interested. She promised us a bite each, and (ahem) she certainly had enough on her plate to do so without missing anything. Despite the fact that for me the meat was lamentably overcooked, it was amazing, and Wes and I resolved that next time we were at Mandina's one of us would order a burger po-boy, cooked only to a proper medium rare, or both of us would order oen and we'd split it. As soon as I saw soft shell crab on the menu I knew that that'd put the zap on his head, so I stepped up to the plate and fulfilled my promise.

I got more than I bargained for, quite litereally.

The Platonic Burger: A Cheeseburger Poor Boy from Mandina's

That ... that ... oh my Gawd.

I think this dish quite deserves the proper use of the adjective Gargantuan, and was probably the largest dish I'd ever been served to be given the name "hamburger." Or cheeseburger in this case. There were three patties on that French bread, dressed, with huge, thick slices of Creole tomato (the lettuce being more or less an afterthought, as it pales in comparison to the power of those tomatoes), and the burger patties just perfectly, perfectly cooked. I gaped for a bit at the prospect of eating that without help.

Let's get a closer look at that burger po-boy, shall we?

Close up of the Cheeseburger Poor Boy

Rosy red-pink meat, bless them! Fear NOT the medium rare burger, oh ye chain restaurants of little faith in your meat supplier! This is a burger the way the Good Lard intended, where you can actually taste the meat.

I was felled by this burger, as there was no possible way to eat it all (or even to eat half of it and not be uncomfortable afterward), but every bite was pure Platonic burger goodness. All those fancy-schmancy toppings at Father's Office in Santa Monica are really good, but for the purest burger experience it doesn't top this one. If you go to Mandina's, just try it sometime. Seriously.

Summer Deluge Summer Deluge 2

We spent what seemed like the next hour sitting on the benches outside Mandina's, trapped by a sudden torrential summer deluge. None of us had thought to bring our umbrellas from the car into the restaurant (which was, um, stupid), and we would have been soaked to the skin even in the short run from the door to the car. So we just sat there, watched and listened to the rain, and talked, which was great. None of us was in a hurry, and this was one of those nice New Orleans moments. It also gave me a chance to digest all that meat so that I could fit behind the steering wheel.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, August 2, 2007

They shot the La La.   New Orleans R&B musician Oliver Morgan, whose one big hit "Who Shot the La La?" was released in 1964, died on Tuesday in Atlanta at the age of 74. Keith Spera writes a remembrance:

Mr. Morgan grew up in the 9th Ward alongside Fats Domino, Jessie Hill and Smiley Lewis. He sang in church and with friends from the neighborhood. He recorded his first singles in 1961 for AFO Records under the pseudonym "Nookie Boy."

Three years later, "Who Shot the La La," a whimsical take on the mysterious 1963 death of singer Lawrence "Prince La La" Nelson -- who was not shot, but died of an apparent drug overdose -- became his first and only national hit. Recorded at one of engineer Cosimo Matassa's studios and released by the GNP-Crescendo label, the strutting party anthem featured keyboardist Eddie Bo, who is credited as the song's writer even though Mr. Morgan claimed to have written it himself.

Mr. Morgan toured nationally on the strength of the song, but eventually settled back into the life of a popular local entertainer. In nightclubs and at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, he performed with his trademark second-line umbrella. He was among the first to incorporate this jazz funeral accessory into a nightclub act, and never hesitated to lead a parade.

He did not release a full-length album until 1998's "I'm Home." Produced by Allen Toussaint and issued by his NYNO Music label, the CD finds Mr. Morgan covering a program of classic R&B compositions by the likes of Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, Otis Redding and Dave Bartholomew.

"He had 9th Ward soul," said Antoinette K-Doe, the widow of Ernie K-Doe and a friend of Mr. Morgan's for more than 40 years. "And he was a good father and a good husband."

For years, Mr. Morgan worked as a custodian at City Hall and then as the caretaker of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Chartres Street. He suffered a stroke in 1997, days after he finished recording "I'm Home." Indicative of his popularity amongst his peers, a January 1998 benefit concert in his honor at Bally's Casino featured Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Jean Knight, Tommy Ridgley, the Dixie Cups, Frankie Ford and more.

Mr. Morgan and his wife, Sylvia, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January. The couple resided on Tennessee Street just off North Claiborne Avenue in the Lower 9th Ward until Hurricane Katrina's breached levees destroyed their home. They moved to Atlanta, where a son and daughter lived, and bought a house there. Mr. Morgan had not performed since Katrina.

We'll remember Mr. Morgan on "Down Home" tonight, 7-9pm PDT on 88.5 FM in Los Angeles, and at worldwide.

Another promise broken.   This in via email from Steve M.; I hadn't been reading the papers yesterday. It's a good thing, as I might have popped a major blood vessel.

"The decider," Steve said, "has once again decided. Is it just me, or does anyone else remember this soulless, dead-eyed, miserable, conscienceless shitbag of a president promising to do anything to rebuild New Orleans?"

Oh yeah, that would be this bullshit speech, when he said this:

[T]onight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.

Steve continued, "I guess signing a bill funding it doesn't fall under that umbrella ... and sine he's no longer in the majority, Trent Lott's rubble can just stay that way."

From the Times-Picayune:

White House Threatens to Veto Water Bill

In a sharp and unexpected blow to Louisiana, President Bush threatened Wednesday to veto long-awaited legislation that would enhance hurricane protection along a Gulf Coast still struggling to recover from the devastating storms of two years ago.

House and Senate negotiators struck a bargain late last week on a $21 billion reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, with about 20 percent going to projects in Louisiana. The measure has broad support and is expected to get final passage this week before lawmakers leave for the monthlong August recess, and is expected to pass by veto-proof margins.

In a strong bipartisan vote, the House passed the bill 381-40 Wednesday.

But in a letter to key lawmakers, Bush's Office of Management and Budget said the price tag is too high. The administration also said the bipartisan deal shifted too much of the cost of new projects onto federal taxpayers and that it improperly green-lighted projects outside the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers. [...]

Among other things, the bill would authorize a 72-mile system of levees and floodwalls to shield Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes from storms sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico and up to $1.9 billion in Louisiana coastal restoration work. It would fortify New Orleans-area levees to withstand a 100-year storm and authorize $100 million for hurricane protection in Jean Lafitte and lower Jefferson Parish.

While the bill does not pay for the projects, it gives lawmakers the authorization to appropriate the money, something Louisiana has been waiting for since the last renewal of the Water Resources Development Act seven years ago. The clamor for action grew exponentially after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast and sent more than 2 million people fleeing from their homes in 2005.

Bush had made no secret of his concerns over the water bill, issuing two statements this spring raising objections to the spending levels. However, his veto threat took even those in his own party by surprise, particularly given his promises to improve hurricane protection around New Orleans.

Hundreds of billions for Iraq, jack shit for Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Considering the well-publicized criticism of the way the administration handled this (Hurricane Katrina) disaster, I'm stunned," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who vowed to "work enthusiastically" to override a veto. "I'm afraid the promise the president made to the nation in Jackson Square (to rebuild and restore New Orleans and the coast) comes across as hollow today."

Well, you go, Vitter. If you actually think more of your state and your constitutents than your party (which it sounds like you're beginning to figure out), and stay the hell out of other people's families, private lives and bedrooms (because same-sex marriage is not "the most important issue facing us today"), I don't care how many whores you screw or how many diapers you wear as long as you do your job.

I really, really want to see one of this bastard's vetos overridden.

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  Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Orange you glad?!   (You may wish to strike me, very roughly, for having made that pun. Please don't, and just indulge me instead.)

One of the more exciting product releases in the cocktailian world of late has been the announcement of Angostura Orange Bitters! (I can hear Joe Fee muttering "Goddammit!" right now ... sorry Joe.) Having a third readily available brand of orange bitters will only be a good thing, and they'll undoubtedly have a different flavor profile from both Fee Brothers and Regans'. What'll be particularly great about this is that due to the worldwide availability of Angostura's aromatic bitters, their primary product, which you can find literally everywhere (including supermarkets in Eunice, Louisiana, luckily for us when we had a hankering for Old Fashioneds at 9:30pm at our B&B in Eunice). As Robert said in the linked story,

It is their plan to have their new product available in all of the retail locations where their traditional bitters (which should perhaps now be referred to as .aromatic bitters., to differentiate them from .orange bitters.) are being sold. In other words (as far as the US is concerned) virtually everywhere, regardless if what they are used for is actually known.

I predict that just the broad availability, and hence visibility, of this product will by its very nature raise awareness of bitters in the minds of both bartenders and customers. This means that more bartenders will (hopefully) look at bitters in a new light, and begin to understand how to use them properly. Which will mean more bitters in use, which will mean more bitters sold, as well as bars stocking a variety of bitters, since they will now know that certain bitters work better in certain cocktails.

And how does it taste? Read what Robert says (you'll be happy!), and keep an eye out for them at your local stores!

The more whisky, the better.   That's a general truism, one that I might just adopt as one of my personal mottoes, and could very well work for you too.

It certainly seems to work for the producers of Ardbeg Scots Whisky, who have released a limited number of bottles labelled "Ardbeg Mór" ("mór" being Irish and Scots Gaelic for "big"), coming in at an impressive 4.5 liters of hooch, which'll set you back £350 (about $700 in our crap currency at the moment).

I think I'd want one as ... a centerpiece amidst my furniture, or something. Pouring from that into a little single malt glass might be a bit of a challenge, though.

Speaking of bitters ...   Here's a nice article from the New York Times on the bitters resurgence, an attempt to reverse-engineer the legendary and almost-lost Abbott's Bitters (fortunately, in case they don't get any on the market, I've been lucky enough to find nearly two quarts of the original stuff, probably enough to last us the rest of our lives), and especially the growing number of bartenders who are making their own bitters in-house. We need more bartenders like this in Los Angeles! Are there any? We'll be heading out to Seven Grand soon (finally, now that we're both over being sick), after having met one of their mixologists at Tales of the Cocktail. We have high hopes.

July Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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