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.

Page last tweaked @ 5:59pm PST, 9/28/2007

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

September 2007
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:

The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Douglas Brinkley.

Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

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
   Stream the last "Down Home" for 1 week
   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 (****)
Death at a Funeral (***)
Ratatouille (*****)
Once (****)


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, September 28, 2007

The Cocktailian: Crème de violette lifts the Aviation to the moon.   To the very blue moon, in fact.

Rothman and Winter Creme de Violette

In today's edition of Gary Regan's fortnightly column he writes as himself, joyously announcing the arrival to these shores of a long-awaited and long-lost cocktail ingredient, one that you had to go to quite a bit of trouble to obtain if you could obtain it at all ... until now.

Thanks to the effots of Eric Seed and Haus Alpenz, we now have the first Crème de Violette liqueur offered for sale in the U.S. in decades, from Rothman & Winter in Austria. In case you're new 'round these parts and haven't heard me sing its praises before, it's a lovely, delicate liqueur made from violet petals, in this case from two different varieties of the flower, macerated in grape spirits and sweetened with cane sugar syrup. It's the key ingredient in such classic cocktails as the Blue Moon and the original version of the Aviation cocktail.

I actually wasn't aware of violette's presence in the original Aviation until I read an article to that effect by David Wondrich a while back, and it makes perfect sense; the little hint of violette in the original recipe gives the drink the hue of a bluish purplish sky that you could fly right into.

Gary offers a new cocktail, his tweak on the Aviation switching up a liqueur and a juice; here's the version he made of the original Aviation, after finding that the old recipe of 2 parts gin, 1 part lemon juice and a couple dashes each of violette and maraschino made the drink far too sour for his taste. Use a robust gin like Tanqueray or Beefeater.

The Original Aviation Cocktail
(adapted by Gary Regan)

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce crème de violette.
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Combine with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or Champagne flute.

Here's the version of the Blue Moon we've been serving, using our dwindling stash of the rare Benoit Serres violette from Toulouse, France ... which we'll now happily be able to replace with the excellent Rothman & Winter product.

Blue Moon Cocktail
(Chuck's current version)

2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1/2 ounce lemon juice.
1/4 ounce créme de violette.

Combine with ice and shake for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist or, if they're in season, three fresh blueberries on a cocktail pick.

You can tweak the ingredients slightly to your taste. Taking the lemon juice down by 1/4 ounce results in a sweeter, violettier (?!) cocktail. Taking the violette down by 1/4 ounce gives it extra tartness and makes the violette more subtle. We've made 'em both ways; both are good.

The blueberry garnish looks really great.

More cherry goodness!   La Parisienne Cherries in Kirsch Our friend Daniel dropped me an email last night to let us know of his current choice for cocktail cherries, which sound fantastic. La Parisienne is a brand of Morello Cherries in Kirsch, preserved in clear cherry brandy with a little sugar, and while it's not exactly Marasca cherries in Maraschino, it's damned close. It's also French and not Italian, but who better than the French to know how to make desserty awesomeness by putting fruit in booze?

They're available by mail order from a company called Marky's, which specializes in delicacies like caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, truffles and other delectables. Don't panic, though -- the 18.5 oz/575g jar of Cherries in Kirsch is only $11.90 plus shipping, which is actually a better deal than the Luxardo. (It's a pretty jar too, so hush.) It's also available in a big but less pretty 37 oz/1050g jar with a rubber seal for $22.40 and a massive 112 oz/3.15kg jar for $63, in case you want to open your own cocktailian bar. This product sounds like a heck of a deal, and Dan, who's been using them for a couple of years now, says they're "perfect in a Manhattan, on ice cream, or right from a spoon ... truly delectable."

(You've also gotta love this Marky's place, that has an entire category for "brandied fruit in liquor." Actually, the category is entirely La Parisienne's, also featuring their Prunes in Armagnac and Raspberries in Brandy.)

So go for the La Parisienne, the Luxardo or your own homemade batch, but let's start saying "no" to neon-red faux-maraschino cherries from the grocery store, just as we're saying "no" to badly made cocktails. If you're not going to skimp on your ingredients, if you're going to eschew the use of low-quality commercial ingredients like bottled sweet-and-sour, why skimp here?

(Thanks, Daniel!)

O Streetcar!   Very, very good news from New Orleans:

St. Charles Avenue streetcar

More than two years since they were last heard rumbling along the neutral ground Uptown, streetcars are making a comeback on St. Charles Avenue.

The Regional Transit Authority tested a streetcar on the St. Charles line Wednesday; it successfully went from Lee Circle to Napoleon Avenue. The RTA hopes to have the cars running to Napoleon in October.

[...] The entire line could be up and running by spring 2008, the RTA said. The Federal Transit Administration is paying for the project, with a price tag of $14.2 million.

"It's a another sign that we're coming back little by little. We still have a long way to go, but we're coming back," New Orleanian Clara Badowski said.

That's gonna feel really, really good.

More good news: N.O. East rises ...   just a bit. But it's a pretty encouraging bit.

After being wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, the Winn Dixie at Chef Menteur Highway near Read Boulevard is ready to reopen.

The 50,709-square-foot New Orleans East location will showcase Winn Dixie's latest design concepts, including a warmer color palette, brighter lightning, wider aisles, self-check out lanes and the new Winn-Dixie logo on the store front.

Other special features include a stand-alone deli serving a variety of prepared meals; a bakery with muffin cart and bread warmer; a "wing bar" featuring a selection of flavored fried chicken wings; a wood-burning rotisserie; a salad bar; an olive cart; a hot food bar; expanded meat and produce departments; and an expanded wine section with a selection of international cheeses nearby.

I used to live right behind that Winn-Dixie when I was a kid. When I drove back to that neighborhood it was even more devastated than my parents' neighborhood, with water lines ranging from 6 feet to up to the eaves, and that shopping center was trashed, and I mean trashed. It looked like permanent ghost town. The very idea that they've fixed up that Winn-Dixie is going to mean a lot for Da East.

When I was a kid that was quite the bustling little shopping center. There was a K&B (c'mon, sing dat song) a tavern, my barber, a TG&Y five-and-dime, a McKenzie's Pastry Shoppe (mmm, turtles ... take anudda bite outta dat Blackout Cake, Dick Bruce!), and across the parking lot a Barker's department store and a Harry's Ace Hardware. I wonder what else'll come back. Has anything else reopened there besides the Winn-Dixie? Anybody out there in Da East who can tell me?

Buuuuurgers.   Ooh, we were bad last Friday. Very bad indeed.

Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger

We had dinner at Everest, a burger joint on North Lake Avenue in Altadena. They used to be a Tops Jr., affiliated with the local Tops burger joints, but this one either changed just its name or maybe its ownership too. That aside, the menu's exactly the same, for the most part. Great burgers, plus dogs, pastrami, gyros and a few Mexican items. This is their Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger, and for a thin-patty well-done burger, it's really really good.

You do have to be a bit careful at Everest and Tops, though. Make sure you order a "junior" sized French fries, because if you don't your fries will fill a box that's either shoebox-sized or a box big enough to pack a mink stole. They're quite good too.

If only that burger was a little thicker and medium-rare ... mmmmm.

We're gonna be bad tonight, too. One of my all-time favorite bands, BeauSoleil from Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, are playing at The Mint tonight, right around the corner from my old house. And right across the street from The Mint is L.A. Burger, one of the best burger stands in the city. Their signature dish, considered by many to be the best burger in L.A., is called the ABC Burger. That, of course, stands for ... Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger. Oh boy.

The greatest uilleann piper in the world?   Why were we having dinner on N. Lake Ave. in Altadena last Friday? Only because one of the greatest musicians in the world was playing, in a wonderful, tiny (49-seat) performance space that's in the back room of a coffee house called Coffee Gallery. The Coffee Gallery Backstage has been running a terrific series of acoustic music shows over the last few years, but this time they've outdone themselves.

Paddy Keenan

Paddy Keenan plays the uilleann pipes, or Irish bagpipes, and was a founding member of The Bothy Band, an Irish traditional band who, along with Planxty, changed Irish music forever in the early- to mid-1970s, playing traditional music in new arrangements and with the ferocity of a rock band. Paddy's bandmate Dónal Lunny once called him "the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes," which has stuck for over 30 years (for better or for worse). I've always been partial to Liam O'Flynn of Planxty as my favorite piper, and in many ways he is, but Paddy ... the man's a monster!

To look at him or talk to him you'd never realize, though; he's a very low-key, quiet, unassuming and very friendly guy. But on that most sweet (and irascible and notoriously uncooperative) instrument he's ferocious. Then he'll turn around and play slow airs that'll bring tears to your eyes. Jigs, reels, hornpipes, set dances and slow airs, plus some songs offered by his guitar accompanist, John Walsh of Kilkenny.

Watching and hearing the man play, my scalp tingling, I realized that Wes and I were two of the 49 most fortunate people on the planet on that particular Friday evening.

Paddy Keenan's seisiun

At the end of the second set he invited any musicians on the audience who had instruments with them to come up and jam with him, playing some of the more well-known tunes he's been associated with. It was great to see a couple of kids join in, and the impromptu session players also included Nicolas Buckmelter on tin whistle, formerly of the local Irish band Ciúnas, sadly no longer a going concern, according to Nic. "I certainly didn't anticipate playing with Paddy Keenan tonight," he said after the show, and it was incredibly cool of Paddy to invite them. It's so typical of the Irish traditional session attitude, though -- if you've got an instrument and you can play, join us!

You really need to check out Paddy's music. See his website for his solo work, and seek out the Bothy Band material as best as you can. It suddenly seems to have gone out of print, so some digging might be necessary.

Homemade gin.   No, not the dreaded "bathtub gin" of Prohibition days, but making your own gin, at home, without a still, starting off with vodka and a pile of botanicals. (Hey, who was it that said that he considers vodka to be just "unfinished gin?" I think it was the guy who makes No. 209 gin, but I forget.)

Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender and excellent cocktailian blogger in Portland, takes the same approach, saying, "[W]hat many people don't realize is that gin and vodka begin life in the exact same way. You could even say that gin is nothing more than infused vodka. In fact, I've used this exact line on so many customers trying gin for the first time that I've decided to prove it to myself! What a better way to waste a bunch of time and ingredients while getting an opportunity to learn more about my favorite mixable spirit, right?" Right indeed, and a nifty idea.

While the homemade product isn't really going to provide much competition to all the fabulous gin makers out there, and while gin kinda isn't really infused vodka (because once you infuse the neutral spirit with the botanicals it goes through a second distillation, which as one of the commenters says "makes all the difference in the world") and while you end up with a spirit with a little brown tint to it, you can come up with some very interesting, very personal blends that might help you understand gin a little better.

Add this to the list of fun homemade things to try one day! This could be the perfect use for the next bottle of vodka I receive as a gift.

Booze from Hell.   While I'm nicking posts from other cocktailian weblogs, I simply couldn't believe what this post from Camper led me to.

It was a descent into Hell. First off, a "seizure inducing website" as Blair put it (although that's the first thing I thought of as my eyes beheld it and I fought not to keel over with convulsions) for what's got to be the worst abomination to hit liquor store shelves yet -- caffeinated schnapps. Gee, it's both an upper and a downer, and given the list of flavors ("Cherry Bomb?" Good Christ. How Robitussiny do you think that is?) I'd say it's a triple-threat: upper, downer and emetic.

To quote Mistah Kurtz / Col. Walter Kurtz, "The horror ... the horror ..." To quote Arthur, King of the Britons ... "Run away! Run away! ... Keep running!"

Quite possibly the vilest swill I've seen from the liquor industry, but with a certain entertainment value, given that it's something at which to point one's fingers and laugh.

Hey, how's the food at that restaurant?   It's crap. (A followup to our amusing menu post of the other day.)


Via my pal Mike at Franklin Avenue, who said, "Put aside the unwise decision to name their restaurant 'Golden River.' Apparently someone should have really proofed this ad before it hit print. The great thing about language... there's a world of difference between a 'b' and a 'p.'" Yes, I'd love some crap in my golden river, thanks very much. (*flee*)

I'm also fascinated by the fact that their business is as "Chinese Cuisine and Florist." I suppose that's convenient for any dish containing rose petals, at least.

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  Thursday, September 27, 2007

Proper cherries for your cocktails.   You're a true believer in "garbage in, garbage out." You've taken the time and gone to the expense of obtaining the finest ingredients for your cocktails -- great spirits, fresh juices, etc. You make a classic recipe, and then, looking for the garnish the recipe calls for ... you plop in a neon red, artificially flavored, artificially colored "maraschino cherry." 'Cause that's pretty much all you can get, right?

No, not right at all. Store bought "maraschino cherries" are a cruel joke, actually, and a remnant of Prohibition and 19th Century food preservation techniques. Let's go over a little history, shall we?

Well, before we get to the history, let's deal with language and pronunciation for a bit. Most people pronounce the word "mara-SHEE-no," but it's actually pronounced "mara-SKEE-no," especially if you're talking about the liqueur. (And while we're tangentially on the subject, may I remind you that similarly the word "bruschetta" is pronounced "broos-KET-ta," not "brush-SHET-ta," especially if you're a waiter in an Italian restaurant. Argh. But I digress.)

"Maraschino" is an Italian word, meaning of or from the Marasca cherry, a sour variety of Morello cherry that grows well only in the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia, and across the Adriatic Sea in parts of Italy. It's the source of the wonderful Maraschino liqueur so essential in many classic cocktails, mostly as the Italian brand Luxardo or the Croatian brand Maraska. (In fact, according to one historical article I read, the Croatians had been making liquor out of Marasca cherries since the 1500s, and in 1817 an Italian named Girolamo Luxardo moved to the Zadar region of Croatia with his family as a consular representative, and his wife Maria discovered the joys of the local liqueur and began making it herself. Her husband opened a distillery a few years later, and the rest is history.)

In the old days, pre-Prohibition, a Maraschino cherry was a dark red sour Marasca cherry preserved in Maraschino liqueur, and was predictably delicious. Around that time American food scientists, never content to leave a good-tasting thing alone, were looking for ways to preserve cherries other than by soaking them in booze (as brandied cherries were a popular item as well). The method they settled on was to take fresh cherries, usually a Royal Anne, and brine them in a lye solution (!), which strips them completely of all color and flavor but firms up the flesh considerably, making them very hard to damage and giving them a very long shelf life. A hideously garish red dye was chosen to replace their color, and they were kept in a sugar syrup flavored with an almond extract or, more likely bitter almond oil or artificial flavoring (some speculated this was a feeble attempt to approximate the wonderful nutty undertones the inclusion of the pits gives to true Maraschino liqueur.)

For some reason these became wildly popular in America, echoing Louisiana musician Marc Savoy's sad-shake-of-the-head observation that our societal commercialism excels at taking something real, true and good and fucking it up so that the American public will buy it. Oddly enough, while this transition from real to fake maraschino cherries was occurring in the early part of the 20th Century, a 1912 law mandated that the definition of a maraschino cherry was "marasca cherries preserved in maraschino," and that the bleached-and-dyed Royal Anne variety had to be called "imitation maraschino cherries." Although this type of preserved cherry had been around for 20 or more years by 1919, the introduction of Prohibition dealt them a death blow in America, as nothing preserved in alcohol was allowed to be legally sold.

What it all boils down to is this: commercially-produced "maraschino" cherries in this country look and taste terrible.

I'm referring to the red ones, of course; the monstrously vile green ones barely merit a mention at all, other than a strong warning that if you see one your best bet is to treat it as if it were toxic waste and dispose of it quickly, never allowing it to touch, much less pass, your lips.

So then. What the hell do you use to garnish a cocktail?

Well, making your own brandied or maraschino-preserved cherries is dead easy. Get a few pints of fresh cherries when they're in season, pit and de-stem them (I hear that running them through a food dehydrator works really well for this), heat them up in maraschino liqueur, brandy or a combination of the two to your taste, optionally adding a bit of sugar to taste for sweetness. Heat them very gently, over very low heat for about 5 minutes. Allow them to cool, seal them up in rubber-seal jars and keep them in the fridge. You can also plump dried Bing or sour Morello cherries in brandy or Maraschino for a few days and also keep those in the fridge as well. They won't be quite as pretty -- although they do plump up they never quite shed all their wrinkles -- but they're tasty too.

Or you can do like top-notch cocktailian bars like The Pegu Club do and find Luxardo cherries.

The Luxardo company which produces the most excellent maraschino liqueur that's their signature product also sells jars of "Marasche al frutto," real Marasca cherries preserved not in maraschino liqueur (sadly) but in a rich, pure cherry syrup. They're dark and round and perfect and really, really good. They're also expensive and extremely hard to find. Dean and Deluca in New York used to carry them but apparently don't anymore. Preiss Imports is the primary importer of Luxardo cherries into this country but they're a wholesale distributor and only sell to the trade; you can see if your local liquor emporium is a customer of theirs and implore them to order them for you.

Or you can take that bit of advice Wesly always offers: "Google is your friend."

Luxardo Cherries!

My Luxardo cherries arrived last night. Wooooohooo! My source is Corti Brothers, a "fine wine and gourmet foods Italian grocery store" in Sacramento. Oddly enough it was listed on their website but not in a way such that I could click on it and order it. One phone call solved that, and the very nice man took my order over the phone. You can call them toll-free at (800) 509-FOOD and ask for the Luxardo "Marasche al frutto" cherries, 360 gram jar, item #1821, $17.99 each. "If you want to use a 'maraschino' cherry in your drink," say Corti Brothers, "then use the grown up version ... Corti Brothers is delighted to supply you."

The flavor of these cherries is marvelous, light years removed from that day-glo red stuff in the supermarket, which you should really never use again. It's easy enough to make your own, but even though they're kind of expensive, I can't recommend the Luxardo product enough. Two of those on a cocktail pick in your drink creates an atmosphere that simply reeks with class.

Cocktail of the day.   So, you've got these fancy new cherries, real Marasca cherries! What do you do? What drink with which to showcase them properly?

Well, the choice is obvious. We've been talking about it a lot lately anyway. What better cocktail to garnish with Luxardo cherries than the most classic cherry-garnished cocktail of all?

A Top-Shelf Manhattan

Look at that. So much classier, and a million times tastier, than those neon-red monstrosities from the grocery store.

Wes had had a pretty rotten day yesterday; it was really no picnic for either of us. We've got a dying-or-dead car -- the Bug's about to give up the ghost -- and we're thinking at this point that it's not really worth fixing, certainly not worth spending another thousand dollars on. We're probably going to have to take on another car payment now. Sigh. We made the decision to go for it last night. Therefore, this cocktail was medicinal as well as for pleasure. We broke out some of the good stuff.

Our Top-Shelf Manhattan No. 2

2 ounces Rittenhouse Bonded 100 proof Rye Whiskey.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash Abbott's Bitters (produced in the late 1930s).

Stir. Strain. Garnish with two Luxardo cherries on a pick.

It's what the doctor ordered.

Dinner.   The plan was to bring home some mole verde con puerco (green mole sauce with roasted pork over rice) from Monte Alban, a wonderful Oaxacan restaurant in west L.A., for dinner last night. Genius Chuck forgot it in the fridge at work. Sigh. The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Yats gang aft agley.

Time to improvise. I had some of those Trader Joe's thin-crust small pizza rounds in the fridge, very thin pizza dough topped with chopped spinach, herbs and olive oil, all ready for whatever toppings we could come up with. Speck (smoked prosciutto) uld have been nice, but we didn't have any, so julienned Danish ham filled in. Some herbed goat cheese from France (our neighbors Chris and Kim had showered us with nearly a year's supply of cheese, which Kim's mom had gotten as spoils from working a fancy food show), some fresh figs from the tree, some tiny cherry tomatoes from our Organic Express delivery box, salt and pepper, into the oven for 5 minutes and then a few more under the broiler.

Ham, Fresh Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza

On the side, we sliced up some perfectly ripe pears, also from the bi-weekly delivery. They were so ripe, in fact, that they started browning almost immediately. They were perfect, though; your teeth just sank through 'em, and they had a marvelous flavor and texture. All that and it was only 7 Weight Watchers points too. Who says good eats have to be bad for you?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cocktail of the Day.   I was browsing through the eGullet Spirits and Cocktails forum yesterday, reading about vermouth, and stumbled across this one. It sounded vaguely familiar but I knew I had never tried it before, so it was a natural candidate for our evening's cocktail. Unfortunately I was the only one who had one, though; Wes was feeling a bit off after trying a neighborhood hot dog stand advertising "Chile Dogs." Let's just say it was no Hot Doug's, that the frank was good and the bun was fine but rather than "chile" it was an endlessly greasy industrial-grade commercial chili that did a bit of a number on him. He was craving a soothing digestivo (although it wasn't quite into straight-shot-of-Branca territory), so the glass of Amaro Nonino I poured for him seemed to do nicely.

As for me, I got out the Rittenhouse rye and got to work on this drink, which was invented by bartender Enzo Errico of Milk & Honey in New York. You've undoubtedly heard me talk about Carpano's Punt E Mes before, but in case you haven't -- it's considered to be a sweet vermouth but is quite unlike the garden-variety sweet vermouths you find, in that it has a delightfully bitter characteristic to it, sort of halfway between sweet vermouth and Campari (maybe at or a little less than Aperol level) which, if substituted for regular sweet vermouth, lends considerable oomph to a drink.

I first thought of this as a wonderful Manhattan variation -- we do make Manhattans with Punt E Mes sometimes -- but further Googling led me to a piece Paul had written on this drink a couple of years ago. According to one of the commenters, Enzo's inspiration for this drink came not from the Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth, bitters) but from another favorite of ours, the Brooklyn (rye, sweet vermouth, Amer Picon and maraschino), with the Punt E Mes standing in for the sweet vermouth/Picon combination. Fascinating! I wonder what this drink would taste like with a dash of orange bitters tossed in. Before I start futzing with it, though, I made one as Enzo intended ...

The Red Hook Cocktail

The Red Hook Cocktail
(by Enzo Errico, Milk & Honey, New York City)

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce Carpano Punt E Mes.
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish is specified but I added two homemade brandied cherries.

It's mighty, mighty good. It's one of those combinations that seem so natural, even obvious, that you want to smack yourself on the forehead and say, "Jeez, why didn't I think of this?!" (You didn't think of it because you're a big doof and Enzo is made of awesome, that's why.) This one definitely goes on the fall cocktail menu I'm working on for our home bar. (We have a menu on our bar at home for guests, which we change seasonally. What a coupla geeks.)

Belated Happy National Cherries Jubilee Day!   Technical goofs kept me from getting a timely post up Monday, and I lost an entry which I had to recreate, hence my tardiness in wishing you well on Monday's national holiday. Such as it wasn't, as it were. "National Cherries Jubilee Day?" Who thinks up this stuff?!

Actually, though ... Cherries Jubilee is worth celebrating. It's one of those "old-school" dishes, back in the day when people went to fancy restaurants had had dishes like Veal Oscar and Shrimp Louie and Lobster Newburg, and is made into instant fun because it's a dessert containing liquor which you set on fire. And while it may have died out in many if not most restaurants these days, it's still served in New Orleans at old-guard Creole instituitions like Galatoire's, Broussard's and Antoine's. I remember the first time I ordered the dessert at Galatoire's, many years ago -- John, our waiter, flamed it at the table and then drizzled flaming cherry syrup onto the tablecloth, writing a capital cursive "G", before ladling the sauce and cherries into our dishes. It doesn't get much showier than that. (Don't try this at home, kids.)

Here's a pretty good recipe:

Cherries Jubilee

2-1/2 pounds fresh or thawed frozen cherries.
1-1/2 cups (less 1 tablespoon, divided) cherry juice (Trader Joe's is perfect).
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.
1 tablespoon arrowroot.
1/4 cup kirschwasser (clear cherry brandy).
1/4 cup brandy.
Vanilla ice cream, hard frozen.

Wash, stem and pit the cherries. Combine in a chafing dish with the cherry juice (reserving 1 tablespoon) and vanilla. Bring to a boil then cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Taste a cherry; if it seems too sour add anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons sugar to balance the sweetness with the tartness.

Combine the remaining tablespoon of cherry juice with the arrowroot and stir to make a slurry. Off the heat, add to the cherry mixture, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute until thickened.

Combine the brandy and kirsch and warm gently in a small saucepan. Add to the cherry mixture and carefully ignite with a long match or long lighter. Stir with a long, bent-handled ladle and quickly serve over scoops of ice cream.

You can substitute canned cherries, although they're not as good. If you can drain and measure the same amount of syrup from the cans you can omit the cherry juice, or add enough water to the reserved juice to equal 1-1/2 cups. You can also discard the drained liquid from the can and combine 1/2 cup each of simple syrup, water and cherry jelly. If you want to go wild, substitute a cherry ice cream for the vanilla, or Cherry Garcia!

Please try not to do the flaming "G" thing and end up burning your house down. That would be bad.

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  Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Aaaaah. Robert gets to The Big One, the first cocktail to enter my consciousness, thanks to Dad. (Thanks, Dad!) His latest video is thirteen minutes on ...

The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned represents what is perhaps the oldest form of cocktail known. Unfortunately it has fallen out of favor these days, and I rarely see people ordering it. I suppose this could be partially due to the fact that most bartenders don't know how to properly make it anymore. The atrocities I often see inflicted on this drink include leaving out the bitters, and topping it off with water or soda. Please, stop the madness and let's start making this drink properly again!

I don't like having a fruit salad being mashed into my drink, as I've mentioned before -- pulverized orange slice and (in a truly dopey move) shredded neon-red maraschino cherry. (What in the world is the point of that?! Don't muddle the cherry, for feck's sake!) I do, however, like the oil from an orange peel being expressed into the drink (this is how they do it at Seven Grand, too); I also like adding a dash of orange bitters if there's no orange peel handy.

On his DrinkBoy site, Robert has an amazing essay on the history of the Old Fashioned Cocktail, entitled "Renewing an Old Fashion". If you like this drink, everything you'll ever want to know about it is there, in a wonderful piece of cocktail scholarship.

Guest food pornographer of the day.   This came in email yesterday from Dave, who just got back from Las Vegas. We'd been eager to hear about Mario Batali's latest venture, so take it away, Dave! (No pics, sorry.)

B&B Ristorante, at The Venetian -- Rick (our Las Vegas guru) mentioned that Mario Batali had finally opened his Vegas restaurant, but Nettie was way ahead of him. She already knew all about it. So, this is one we'd have gone to, even without Rick's bringing it up. The menu sounds very similar to the one Diana described at Babbo, when she ate there with Audrey and Robin: a mix of fine house-made pastas and traditional ingredients with some more obscure "organ meats," like tripe, sweetbreads, duck liver, lamb tongue, and lamb's brain!

First, before we even ordered, they brought us a lagniappe from the chef: chick pea and tapenade bruschetta, which were smoky and wonderfully Tuscan-tasting, even though I don't normally care for garbanzo beans. My starter was three little truffles, made of goat cheese, and rolled in pepper and herbs. Nettie and Vicki split a starter of finely-sliced salumi served with delicious battered (!) and deep-fried olives. (That fulfilled the Fat Pack's deep-fried requirement!)

As a primo, I ordered the fabulously thin house-made pappardelle, covered with a hearty wild boar ragù, that was literally stuffed with chunks of the succulent boar meat. It was easily the best boar I've eaten outside of Umbria! Nettie got something called bucatini all'Amatriciana, which consisted of a beautifully al dente pasta, tossed with mouth-watering guanciale, hot peppers, and pecorino Romano cheese. Vicki had the homemade orecchiette with sweet sausage and rapini. That may have been my favorite. I kept diverting Vicki's attention, and sneaking bites off her plate!

My secondo was melt-in-your-mouth fennel-dusted sweetbreads with sweet & sour onions, duck bacon, and membrillo vinegar. It was to die for. The thin, crispy bacon was a perfect foil to the delicate and smooth-textured sweetbreads. And Nettie and Vicki split the absolutely scrumptious Lamb Chops "Scottadita," with eggplant in scapece and yogurt. We were almost too full for dessert, but still managed to split a delightful chocolate brioche soufflé, with vanilla icing, and a very-berry reduction sauce.

Austin's Steakhouse, at Texas Station -- Rick told us they had the best steaks in town, and, while we lack the empirical evidence of doing our own comparing, all signs are that he's correct. We loved this meal! Both Nettie and I (as well as our good friend, Marie) got the large, tender ribeye, though we could easily have shared one. They were that big, and perfectly prepared. This was truly flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth beef. The side dishes here are all very special as well: a tasteful mac & cheese, made with white cheddar and truffles (noticeably large, flavorful amounts of truffle shavings!), delicious potatoes gratinée, broccolini, grilled asparagus, and a mashed sweet potato that comes with a side of honey-cinnamon butter. With the cinnamon butter folded in, the sweet potatoes were out of this world!

Also, as foretold by Rick, the wait staff at Austin's is truly excellent. Fun and chatty, without being overbearing, they anticipated our every need and met it before we even asked. They even seemed to enjoy discussing the Food Channel's "Top Chef" with us! That Anthony Bourdain had declared a certain contestant's broccolini to be "wretched" and Tom Colicchio called it "the worst dish in three years of this show" became a running joke, and provided much fodder for amusement.

Hash House a Go Go (6800 W. Sahara) -- I do not exaggerate when I say that Hash House offers the BEST breakfasts I've ever eaten! And quite possibly the largest. Really... I ate there twice in four days! Once I'd sampled it, and realized how special it was, I knew I had to go back, and take Nettie.

The dishes at Hash House are meant for sharing; they are just too big to eat by one's self. But, in the interest of variety, we got four dishes between the four of us, shared them all until we were stuffed, and still had about 50% of the food left over to take home. This is the place that makes the Bacon Waffles -- large waffles with several strips of bacon griddled right into them! -- and they're as fabulous as they sound. They also offer a "hair o' the dog" special -- a 24 oz. Budweiser with a side of bacon -- and pancakes the size of large pizzas!

My favorite thing there is the Hand-Hammered Pork Tenderloin, served a variety of ways, but which I had à la Benedict. That meant two eggs on top of the tenderloin, along with an absolutely delicious light chipotle BBQ sauce, with chopped red and yellow bell peppers, and beneath the tenderloin, tomatoes, spinach, and a split biscuit. Then, all of that is placed atop two griddled mashed potato pancakes! Oh, and did I mention that the platter-shaped plates are roughly the size of a small car tire, and that the tenderloin is so big it covers the whole plate?

Nettie got the bacon waffle, and there was so much bacon in it that it stuck out the sides by several inches, looking like a side of bacon had been placed next to the waffle! Marie got the pork tenderloin, on my suggestion, and my second dish there (not the same day!) was a really great meat loaf hash, delivered in a large skillet, with two eggs, potatoes, biscuit, etc. They specialize in hashes (unsurprisingly, given the name) with all sorts of unusual meats. And another dish that we didn't try, but seems worth mentioning, was an eggs Benedict made with fried chicken, applewood smoked bacon, and a maple reduction syrup.

Decadent? You bet! But it was a super tasty and highly memorable breakfast experience. I doubt I can go back to Vegas now without making a stop at the Hash House. And here's some news that cuts both ways (good for the tastebuds; bad for the waistline): there is a Hash House a Go Go a couple of hours closer to us, in San Diego! Can you say "day trip"?!

Wow. The last thing we need in Vegas is another not-to-be-missed place (we've already got Rosemary's and Capriotti's ... but we have been wanting to go to Hash House a Go Go for a while now. Hmm, maybe that day trip to San Diego isn't a bad idea.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, September 24, 2007

Hello, stash!   I've been working on converting a former broom closet in our house into a liquor cabinet. Our little bar is pretty nice, but it doesn't come close to fitting all our bottles, which are on the floor to the left and right of the bar, behind the shelf/table unit that's behind the sofa, also on the floor to the left and right of that, and in the kitchen, and on the floor of the broom closet, and in the pantry. Sheesh.

So I knocked out the vertical partitions that kept me from being able to put liquor shelves in the closet, thinking I was being all handy and tough (and ending up with gigantic bruises on both shoulders from where I tried to apply some bodily leverage to get them out ... ugh). Now all I have to do is get the shelves cut and we'll have a huge amount of liquor storage. Yay!

As I started putting back some of the bottles that were already in the bottom of the old mostly-useless closet, I was struck by the beauty of our stash of 18 year old Sazerac Rye Whiskey. Several years ago, once we realized how scarce it was getting, we started socking some away for rainy days. Nine bottles left, in bottlings ranging from 2001 to 2005.

A beautiful sight

Shore is purty!

Alinea.   Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, one of the most innovative and some say best restaurants in the country (and one of the practitioners of "molecular gastronomy" where said practice hasn't slid into the ridiculous) has a cookbook coming out. Chef Grant Achatz, former sous chef of The French Laundry who's made quite the name for himself at Trio and now at his own place) has apparently written a book so precisely and lovingly describing what he does that you could practically open an Alinea clone in your own living room (provided you were a monstrously talented and passionate chef with massive amounts of restaurant knowledge, that is).

The book is already available for pre-order, which will also give you access to another website that's a companion to the book, which will feature things like demo videos of the dishes being prepared. Pretty amazing achievement, and I can't wait to see it. We're definitely adding Alinea to the must-go places when we return to Chicago (now that Trotter's is off the list pretty much forever).

In a bizarre recent turn of events, apparently Chef Achatz has been diagnosed with a substantial squamous cell tumor on his tongue (good lord!). According to Michael Ruhlman, he's doing well -- doctors have said his treatment is "exceeding expectations" -- and his first round of chemotherapy has shrunk the tumor by 75%. I understand that squamous cell tumors are rarely fatal but can be disfiguring, and I certainly hope this doesn't affect his sense of taste, which would be a catastrophic blow for one of the best chefs in the country.

Ruhlman updates that the next step is radiation, which is going to be tough. Best of luck, Chef Grant!

1859: First New York Times restaurant review?   As you may have read last week, the New York Times finally eliminated its absurd pay-to-read policy and now the entire content of the paper, and a significant and growing part of its archive, is now available to read free of charge. While digging around the massive NYT archive, Jason Kottke came across was purports to be the first restaurant review in that paper. [Full text here, as a PDF.]

The review has no byline, and is credited only to "the Strong-Minded Reporter of the Times." The genesis of this assignment came thusly, as described in the opening of the article:

"I wish you to go and dine," said the Editor-in-Chief to me one day September last, "I wish you to go and dine."

I confess that I was somewhat startled by this novel mode of address. The communications which usually pass from that illustrious man to this one may be judged of from the following specimen:

"Please go down to Staten Island and report the condition of the troops at Quarantine, -- then go to Flushing and gather the particulars about the calf with three heads announced by the gentleman who has just been here, -- and get back in time to go up to the Central Park." (As a rule, I have observed that I am always sent up to Central Park in very wet weather.)

I was therefore surprised at the novelty of the order to go and dine; but, always ready to do as I am bid, and, like the ghost of Hamlet's uncle, my hour being almost come, I turned to go, when I was suddenly brought up by an equally unusual question -- "Where do you dine?"

"I usually dine at ________," said I. I told him the place but I shan't repeat it here: I used to get a very passable bit of meat and a not unduly streaked potato for eighteen pence, at a place around the corner, to which I shall not more particularly allude; I am determined not to puff the establishment until they improve the gravy, which is not what the friends of the house could wish it to be.

"Very well," replied the editor-in-chief. "Dine somewhere else to-day and somewhere else to-morrow. I wish you to dine everywhere, -- from the Astor House Restaurant to the smallest description of dining saloon in the City, in order that you may furnish an account of all these places. The cashier will pay your expenses."

And so it began, and off he went on a journey that led us through nearly 150 years of restaurant reviews, all the way up to Frank Bruni.

Along the way he explains the difference between dining and mere eating -- "whereas all people know how to eat, it is only the French who know how to dine" -- lists seven types of dinner experiences to be found in New York, from most to least pleasant, and describes what one may expect from each type of establishment.

At the time the finest restaurant in New York was Delmonico's, generally thought to be the first proper American restaurant (followed closely by Antoine's in New Orleans, still run by the same family since 1840), and describes an experience at that establishment thusly:

Once let Delmonico have your order, and you are safe. You may repose in peace up to the very moment when you sit down with your guests. No nobleman of England -- no Marquis of the ancienne noblesse -- was ever better served or waited on in greater style that you will be in a private room at Delmonico's. The lights will be brilliant, the waiters will be curled and perfumed and gloved, the dishes will be strictly en r?gle and the wines will come with precision of clock-work that has been duly wound up. If you "pay your money like a gentleman," you will be fed like a gentleman, and no mistake... The cookery, however, will be superb, and the attendance will be good. If you make the ordinary mistakes of a untraveled man, and call for dishes in unusual progression, the waiter will perhaps sneer almost imperceptibly, but he will go no further, if you don't try his feelings too harshly, or put your knife into your mouth.

Sounds lovely, although I could do without a perfumed waiter.

The Strong-Minded Reporter also visited the "sandwich room" at Browne's Auction Hotel, described as an "eating-house:"

The habitués of the place are rarely questioned at all. The man who has eaten a sandwich every day for the past ten years at the Auction Hotel no sooner takes his seat than a sandwich is set before him. The man who has for the same period indulged daily in pie or hard boiled eggs (there are some men with amazing digestion) is similarly treated. The occasional visitor, however, is briefly questioned by the attendant before whom he takes his place. "Sandwich?" or "Pie?" If he say "Sandwich," in reply, the little man laconically inquires, "Mustard?" The customer nods, and is served. If his mission be pie, instead, a little square morsel of cheese is invariably presented to him. Why such a custom should prevail at these places, no amount of research has yet enabled me to ascertain. Nothing can be more incongruous to pie than cheese, which, according to rule and common sense, is only admissible after pie, as a digester. But the guests at the Auction Hotel invariably take them together, and with strict fairness -- a bite at the pie, and a bite at the cheese, again the pie, and again the cheese, and so on until both are finished.

"The experience of being a regular has barely changed in 150 years," Jason noted, and quite correctly. My usual waitress at John O'Groats doesn't quite just set my favored sandwich before me, but knows the particulars of my usual order to the smallest detail yet still double-checks it with me in case I've changed my mind that day. (I usually don't.)

Then the reporter visits the lowest form of public eating establishment on his list, a "third-class eating-house:"

The noise in the dining hall is terrific. A guest has no sooner seated himself than a plate is literally flung at him by an irritated and perspiring waiter, loosely habited in an unbuttoned shirt whereof the varying color is, I am given to understand, white on Sunday, and daily darkening until Saturday, when it is mixed white and black -- black predominating. The jerking of the plate is closely followed up by a similar performance with a knife and a steel fork, and immediately succeeding these harmless missiles come a fearful shout from the waiter demanding in hasty tones, "What do you want now?" Having mildly stated what you desire to be served with, the waiter echoes your words in a voice of thunder, goes through the same ceremony with the next man and the next, through an infinite series, and rushes frantically from your presence. Presently returning, he appears with a column of dishes whereof the base is in one hand and the extreme edge of the capital is artfully secured under his chin. He passes down the aisle of guests, and, as he goes, deals out the dishes as he would cards, until the last is served, when he commences again Da Capo. The disgusting manner in which the individuals who dine at this place, thrust their food into their mouths with the blades of their knives, makes you tremble with apprehensions of suicide...

Hmm, what modern establishments does this remind you of?

It's a great read; please do check out the whole article, it's fascinating.

One small aside ... Jason refers to New York's Delmonico's as having invented many dishes with which we're all now familiar, including Oysters Rockefeller. (Oh dear.) In an update at the bottom of the post he says, "According to their web site, a restaurant in New Orleans named Antoine's claims that they invented Oysters Rockefeller."


No, dear boy ... Antoine's doesn't claim to have invented it. They did invent it.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye, summer.   Damn, just as I got those great new silver(plate) julep cups in. Maybe I'll keep those handy for an unseasonal heat snap, but as it is now autumn as of today, time for a shift to some more autumnal tipples ... spicy whiskies, vermouths, and this is the time of year we tend to make more Hoskins Cocktails at home (which I heartily recommend for you too).

I'm also going to start playing around more with flips over the next couple of months, and I have an original recipe or two I'm mulling over. That oughta be fun, stay tuned!

Last night's "Down Home" archive now streaming.   If you missed my radio show last night, you've still got a week to catch it at your leisure, thanks to Sean. Find it here in three bandwidth flavors.

Featured artists include Lee Dorsey, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Leadbelly, Diamond Joe, Leo PRice, Larry Williams, Luther Kent & Trick Bag, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kevin Clark & Tom McDermott, Sidney Bechet, Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, Johnny Dodds, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Väsen, Josh Ritter, The Pine Leaf Boys, Zachary Richard, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Planxty, Christy Moore, Fisherstreet, Hothouse Flowers, John Mooney, Anders Osborne, Uncle Tupelo and brand-new music from Mem Shannon and Geno Delafose.

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Whiskey Sour.   Chris McMillian, our master bartender at the Library Lounge in New Orleans, takes me (and us) on a trip to my childhood again. This was another of my dad's favorites, along with the Old Fashioned and the drink that was probably most oft-consumed at family gatherings, the "Highball" (which in my family was always Seagram's V.O. and 7-Up). This one, which went down smoother than the powerful Old Fashioned, was the one I was allowed to have a tiny sip of most often.

Dad never did put egg white in his, but managed to get a halfway-decent head on them anyway. I love the addition of egg white in a sour -- don't fear eggs in your drinks! Just wait until I start foisting flips on you (which include a whole egg ... for a shiny coat).

I'll take Manhattan.   I love so many different cocktails it'd be hard to list them all and be fair, but there are three I keep coming back to, all whiskey-based (with all due apologies to the Martini and the Pegu Club and all the drinks based on other spirits), but I guess my three "comfort food" cocktails are the Old Fashioned, the Sazerac and what Gary Regan described in yesterday's article in the Chronicle as "the king of cocktails," the Manhattan.

Gary describes that while the Martini has morphed into what is frequently a mere shadow of its former self as a balanced cocktail, the Manhattan has generally been left alone:

There have been a few tweaks in the formula over the years ... later [around the 1980s] some folk started to omit the bitters, a sin for which they will no doubt pay come Judgment Day - but the vermouth in the Manhattan has remained an integral part of the drink all along.

With the notable exception of a 22-year-old newcomer to the bar in O'Hare Airport last year, to my knowledge there isn't a bartender on the face of the earth who would make a Manhattan with less than, say, 25 percent vermouth. The lad in Chicago, by the by, now understands the drink fully and is unlikely to risk boring lectures from patrons who order the drink in the future.

Ah yes, I've given similar lectures myself (and those of y'all who've already heard my Manhattan lecture, feel free to skip this post except for the two links to Gary), but unfortunately far more often than Gary seems to. I've had bartenders put just a drop of sweet vermouth in a Manhattan, the way they (in my opinion) mis-make a Martini. (The last time that happened I uncharacteristically didn't send it back, because I was in a non-lecturing mood, and at least he put bitters in. That won't happen again; next time it will go back.) I've had bartenders omit the bitters and actually say, occasonally with a scoff, "Nobody puts bitters in a Manhattan anymore." (I have to take a deep breath at that point and remind myself to be nice.) "My friend," a typical reply goes, "a good bartender would no more omit the bitters in his (or her) Manhattan than a chef would omit salt and pepper on a fine steak." Etc.

I usually try to avoid this last bit by 1) scanning the bar for the presence of a bottle of bitters, or 2) inquiring if the bar stocks them if I don't see any, usually accompanied by an apology, and 3) ordering my Manhattan with "an extra dash of bitters," which is the way I like it anyway, and because it gets the word "bitters" into the bartender's head. Still, I usually end up watching him or her like a hawk, making sure the bitters go in; if I see the Boston shaker being assembled without it, then ... "Excuse me!"

But unlike lucky Gary, I also have to watch to make sure enough vermouth goes in. In fact, I find myself having to remind them of the proportions (saying "I like it 2:1" rather than "You will make sure to put enough vermouth in it, won't you?"). All the time. Sheesh.

Major exception -- Seven Grand, of course. All I have to say is "I'd love a Manhattan, please," and then the guys will ask me what kind of whiskey I want in it, or will the standard Rittenhouse 100 do. One practically weeps in gratitude.

In his excellent article Gary goes over the history of the drink, talks about the importance of all its elements -- the whiskey, the vermouth, the bitters, the garnishes. The thing that's important to me about a Manhattan is the balance. Wes is the Manhattan-meister at home, and he's constantly tinkering with proportion and seasoning with the bitters, depending on what whiskey you're using. We tend to go back and forth between a 2:1 and 3:1 ratio, depending on the whiskey -- powerful, spicy, high proof like Rittenhouse Rye, or a softer, milder rye like Old Overholt, or if you're using Bourbon, which you're going to get in 95% of bars these days. You need to know your ingredients to know how to balance them, but 2:1 is a good place to start.

Gary also talks about Manhattan variations, including this yummy one we've made at home on occasion, substituting the Italian bitters Amaro Nonino for the sweet vermouth for an Uptown Manhattan.

Next step -- having a Manhattan in Manhattan. Soon, I hope.

Food porn photo of the day.   We went to a barbecue at the home of some friends last weekend, and our friend Carol, who's a chef, the brains behind a website called The Hungry Passport and leader of culinary tours to places like Ireland and France, brought a dessert. Quite a dessert, in fact.

Charlotte Royale

That's a Charlotte Royale (not, not a porn star name, sheesh) -- slices of jelly roll lining a Bavarian mold, filled with flavored Bavarian cream. Yum!

Musical performance of the day.   I've been a fan of the Irish band The Frames since they first started in 1990. Recently their lead singer and songwriter Glen Hansard has resumed his very brief acting career (you may remember him as Outspan Foster in "The Commitments" in '91) to star in one of the best films of the year, the Irish-made independent film Once (shot on a staggeringly huge budget of ... $160,000).

It's a completely wonderful little movie, and I wish there were more of them -- a beautiful story simply told, very well-acted, well-written and so sweet, with so much heart. It's an offshoot of a side project of The Frames called The Swell Season -- for the past few years Glen's been performing with a young Czech singer and songwriter named Markéta Irglová, who was the daughter of friends (and Frames fans) that Glen stayed with when he performed in the Czech Republic.

This song, "Falling Slowly," performed recently on "The David Letterman Show" while Glen and Markéta were touring the States, is one of the standouts from the movie and the album (originally a Frames song on their most recent album The Cost).

Go see this movie if it's still around. If it's not, get the DVD as soon as it gets its New Release Tuesday.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Down Home" streaming archive.   My friend Sean is determined and possesses a ferocity of will -- once he sets his mind to something you'd better stay out of his way. He's also a really great guy; I was very grateful when we wrote me a while back and said, "Your radio show needs to be a podcast. I will make it happen." (I also stayed out of his way.) Now, thanks to the kindness of his heart and his coding skills which are almost indistinguishable from magic, my radio show is now available for one week after broadcast as a streaming archive.

Initially he made it available as a downloadable podcast, but I was a little iffy on the legality of that, and was subsequently told that such a thing was "incredibly illegal." However, streaming seems to be OK, at least for the time being. We've found some other prominent radio stations doing it, and right now our GM is looking into it. I've heard nothing good or bad yet, so in the meantime we'll just keep at it until some RIAA putz who hates music and wants to take it away from you takes it away from you.

The link is, and the stream is available in three flavors -- a medium-sized, good quality stream; a low-bandwidth stream that sounds like AM radio but would be listenable via dialup; and a high-quality stream that's twice the bandwidth of the first version. Should be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.

As I said, the show will only be up for one week after broadcast, after which time it'll be replaced by the following show. Right now my September 13th show, featuring my musical tribute to the late Willie Tee, is still online, but as of tomorrow it should be replaced by tonight's show. You can always listen to the live stream at from 7:00 to 9:00pm Pacific time (0300 to 0500 GMT).

Woo! Thanks, Sean!!

A visit to Seven Grand.   Only our third, alas -- it may be our favorite new bar and only 7.7 miles away from home, but it takes a bit of effort to get there, especially if we want to take the train (two trains, actually) to get there without having to worry about driving back. As I've said, though, it's more than worth the effort to find a place that cares about cocktails, that has expert bartenders and makes their drinks with only the best ingredients.

Another visit to Seven Grand

We got there around 9, which is a bit later than we like to go. After that (and especially after 10 or so) the place gets really crowded, and you start to hear fewer orders of "Sazerac, please" or "Blackberry Julep, please" and more "Crown and Coke." In fact, as it got more and more packed, someone next to us actualy asked for a Red Bull and vodka. (Sweet sufferin' Jesus.) The bartender, to their infinite credit, said "We don't stock that stuff." We did see some of their house specials like the Brock & Co. go out, and a few other interesting things, but when it gets that crowded it tends to be more of the drink-to-get-drunk crowd and not the cocktailian crowd. Great for the bar's income, not so great for me having a good time. We prefer quieter times in our bars anyway, so next time we'll remember to keep hitting the place relatively early, so that we can have some quiet and some quality time with our bartenders.

Oh, and I love this sign behind the bar:

Four Ways for a Whisky

The fourth in the list, partially obscured by the old lamp (the shade of which is made from a big prop bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon) says, "Make it an Old Fashioned." Boy, do I love this place.

I had one of their house specials from the cocktail menu, and I think I'm mis-remembering the name -- Irish Appointment, I think; if it's not that it's close. It's a sour made with two kinds of Irish whiskey, actually, both Jameson's and Black Bush. The principle reminds me of lots of Don the Beachcomber's tropical rum drinks, in which two or even three rums were blended in one drink, all of their characteristics coming together to create something that you couldn't achieve with only one rum. It was the first time I'd ever had a drink with two Irish whiskies in one, and the two played together really well. (A harbinger for Catholic/Protestant - Nationalist/Loyalist reconciliation in a glass, let's hope.)

Wes went for bartender Damian's version of a Whiskey Smash, although this one, unlike the classic smash, contained no mint. Bourbon, lemon juice, a bit of orange juice, simple syrup, and ... hrm, something else I'm forgetting. It was very tasty, though.

Whiskey Smash

For my second drink, I felt like just having a whiskey. This is a whiskey bar too, after all, with 200 different kinds on the wall behind the bar. I decided to go for a whisky rather than a whiskey -- Scots whisky, that is, where one daren't spell it with an "e." I may have mentioned a while back that I finally had a Laphroaig epiphany (the magic switch in my head flipping after a friend's 7-year-old smelled it from the bottle and said, "It smells like bacon!"). Scotch-drinking friends had recommended that if I had embraced Laphroaig it might be time to take one leap further, to an even more intensely peaty/smoky single malt that many call "the aristocrat" if Islay whisky -- a 16-year-old called Lagavulin. There also seemed to be some brisk argu-- er, discussion as to which is the most intense and the best of the two. I was about to find out.

My First Lagavulin

The nose was a bit fruity, a little nutty, with a whiff of smoke as if I was standing near the smokehouse room in my favorite sausage shop (which, incidentally, would be the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen on Olympic near Doheny in Beverly Hills, and Continental Gourmet Meats in Glendale). On the palate ... extraordinarily smooth! Layers of flavor, like a tawny port with depth of oak wood and vanilla and standing right in the middle of the smokehouse and so much peat I almost felt as if I were cutting turf in the bogs of County Kildare (even though that's Irleand, it's still peat) and shoving it in my mouth as if it were chawin' tabacky. In the finish, more spice and the spray of the sea and a huge whomp of iodine. Holy crap.

(Here I let loose with a burst of Scottish expletives not unlike certain characters in "Trainspotting," although non-violent and not shooting smack, but rolling my Rs perfectly.)

I've never had anything like this, not even Laphroaig (which I still really like) is quite like this. Further exploration is mandated. I think now's the time to lay in a bottle of this stuf, as the weather begins to get a little snappier and we head toward autumn and winter.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cocktail of the Day: The Creole Fizz.   This one's a bit of a leftover from MxMo XIX, from Rick's mentioning getting his entry from Baker and also listing several other fascinating fizz recipes Baker had in The Gentleman's Companion. (Speaking of which, I've had a tendency to skip around in that book, and I've actually never read it straight through from cover to cover. I oughta do that. Soon.) One of the ones Rick mentioned that really fascinated me was the Creole Fizz, which I thought I'd whip up since we've got some beautiful Plymouth Sloe Gin.

I mentioned this to Rick, and in shock and surprise he uttered an expletive that called into question the legitimacy of the circumstances of my birth. Such is the reaction among cocktailians when you mention this stuff, especially in the context of you having some when they don't. (Hee hee. Sorry, didn't mean to be a gloating bastard.) That's because this is phenomenal stuff, redolent of the true fruit taste of the sloes, a perfect balance between sweet and tart, and none of the artifical cough syrupy flavor you get from pretty much every other sloe gin sold in this country. Fortunately he can get it the same place I got it -- by mail, from Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburgh, Scotland. They were one of the only liquor shops in the U.K. willing to ship to the U.S., and I got mine quickly and with little trouble. Unfortunately, such bottled joy comes with hideously expensive shipping costs. The 700ml bottles (odd, why not 750ml?) cost £16.13 each without VAT. Shipping will run £22, for a grand total of £54.26, or about $109.05. That's a lot ... but I think it's worth it if you care about quality, and only the best ingredients going into your cocktails. If all I have is bottom shelf, $8.95 a bottle sloe gin, then I'd rather not use any.

Let us implore the Plymouth company to export their sloe gin to the United States! In the meantime, let's make a drink. Here's Charles Baker's description:


Lyle Saxon gave us this one way back in 1930 during a visit to New York, tellign us about his acquisition of the old French Creole House on Royal Street.... Take either the Aziz Special or the New Orleans Fizz and substitute an equal amount of good imported sloe gin, and cutting the cream down a trifle. Garnish with a sprig of fresh green mint and that's all.

With all due apologies to Mr. Baker, I did tweak the proportions a bit. Here's the drink as I made it last night:

The Creole Fizz

The Creole Fizz
(Adapted from Charles H. Baker Jr.'s The Gentleman's Companion, Vol. I: Exotic Drink Book; or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Glass)

2 ounces Plymouth Sloe Gin.
1 ounce lemon juice.
1 ounce heavy cream.
1-1/2 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar.
1 ounce egg white.
Soda water.
3 drops orange flower water.

Combine all ingredients but the soda with plenty of ice in a shaker. Shake until you are exhausted, and your hands are stuck to the metal like Flick's tongue in "A Christmas Story" (at least one minute, preferable two or more).

Strain into a pretty glass, top with soda and garnish with a sprig of mint.

I can't emphasize enough how much it's worth it to procure Plymouth Sloe Gin. The use of any sloe gin other than Plymouth will make this drink infintely inferior.

"K-Ville" = Crapville.   The premise sounded so good so, perfect, so full of promise.

A cop show, set in New Orleans -- specifically, post-Katrina New Orleans. A show that'll use the city as more than an atmospheric backdrop; a show that'll make the state of things in the city and the city's struggle for recovery one of the primary themes of the show. A show that'll tell it like it is, while telling stories of life in a city that was nearly completely destroyed by the government's failure to protect its citizens and property as they promised. On FOX, no less.

Too good to be true, of course.

"K-Ville" is a bad cop show -- formulaic, clumsily written -- but it's so much more/less than that. It wastes potential. It doesn't really tell it like it is (although it occasionally tries). And it's another of those locally-filmed productions that SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.

We had a long discussion about this email yesterday, and one of my friends said, "The show has hired 80% of its staff from locals, has spend $17 million there thus far, is shooting as much on location as they possibly can and is totally committed to the city, with some people who aren't locals now considering it home. Support the show, y'all."

Well ... yeah. All that stuff's good, especially the part about people actually moving there to stay. The economic impact is good, the fact that they've hired local staff is good. Unfortunately from what I've seen so far, their local staff doesn't include a technical/cultural consultant or a music consultant. They also didn't seem to have spent any of their budget in seeking out and finding good writers. Where shall I begin?

The show is full of bad dialogue in which they seem to have taken a list of local terms, loaded it in a salt shaker and merely sprinkled it onto the bad dialogue, without it flowing from any kind of feeling, reality or natural aspects of the dialogue or characters. "Gumbo gumbo gumbo, Ninth Ward Ninth Ward Ninth Ward, cypress tree po-boy, take the neutral ground!!!" Sigh. Not quite as bad as that utterly wretched, degenerate abortion "The Big Easy," but almost. (Ironically enough, although I completely ignored it because the movie was so bad, apparently the extremely short-lived "Big Easy" TV series apparently got it right, according to friends; locales, language and music was supposedly spot-on. There were tons of local musicians in all the episodes, and Nettie said Kermit Ruffins was practically a regular. Go figure.) GET BETTER WRITERS!

Eyerolling moments like the woman who drives up in the new convertible that "only cost me two FEMA checks!" That absurd car chase that starts on Bourbon Street, screeches down the street and suddenly is below the bridge approach, and then crashes into the Casino. (Well, to be fair, nobody gets that kind of thing right in any city.) The silly, lame, generic, tourist-on-Bourbon-Street musical performance in the beginning, which could have included some recognizable local musicians who really need the gig. The ridiculous name "DuBois" for one of the episode's main characters ... did y'all even bother to find out some common local names, or did you get no further than "A Streetcar Named Desire?" Incidentally,'s White Pages listings show that only eight people in the city of New Orleans are named DuBois.

And our hero, who drinks constantly on the job and who tortures a suspect who turns out to be innocent. (Ah, in the George Bush era of entertainment we have to have our torture scene, don't we?) To the character's credit he does seem to be dedicated to the rebuilding of the city, and demonstrates the real pain that a lot of locals feel.

I have to confess, I still haven't finished watching the first episode -- I got fed up and turned it off after 20 minutes. I should at least try to finish it up before I go to bed.

This show has such potential that it's almost a responsibilty -- if they're going to take on this subject and this setting, they need to do it right. They need to tell the right stories, they need to get the local cultural details right, they need to use their unique position on weekly network television to show America what it's really like there, and WHY it's important to recover and rebuild. They have an inkling of the latter, but they need better writers. Swampwoman, in a comment responding to Schroeder's criticism of the show, said, "Despite all the inaccuracies which also made me cringe, overall it gets "the New Orleans brand" out there. I liked it, the all encompassing message it did send is that New Orleans is far from whole, and her people are still suffering mentally and emotionally."

There were a couple of flashes that held out some hope, scenes which reflected the sentiment mentioned above -- Boulet talking to his wife about what he's going through living in the city now ... I hope that sentiment connects. I'll give 'em another episode or two, but so far I'm not holding my breath. I know it's only TV, but I watch shows that are far, far better written than this. I know there are good television writers out there. Hire them now, K-Ville.

Odd Web Screen Capture of the Day.   From a news sidebar on Ummm ... ya think?

If it was a snake it woulda bit ya ...

(Thanks, Michael!)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MxMo XIX: Mixology Monday Fizz Roundup.   Mixology Monday XIX: The Fizz Gabriel's got his post up featuring all 34 fizz recipes submitted by MxMo participants. Man, what an amazing batch of drinks, from classic to new to all over the map: Bahia Honda, Fashionably Lillet, Mol' Fraisini, Bridgetown Bramble Fizz, New Orleans Fizz No. 1, Bird of Paradise Fizz, Non-Mojito, Practical Moscow Mule, Apricon Blow, Tchoupitoulas Street Fizz, Poire and Prosecco, East & West Indian Fizz, Sparkly Sangria, Champagne Cocktails, Mojito, Red Hook Fizz, Picon Punch, Union, Silver Fizz, Ramos Gin Fizz, Colonel Beach Plantation Punch, Boilermaker, Morning Glory Fizz, Apple Blow Fizz, an unnamed Champagne-and-Tequila-based cocktail, Apollo's Cup, Harper, Melbellini, Solano, Mackinnon Fizz, ER Champagne Smash, Basil Bubbly, and the Point and a Half Cooler. Whew.

Thanks so much for hosting, Gabriel ... great job! I'm sorry it took me so long to get involved with Mixology Monday (I am the God Emperor of Procrastination), but better late than never, and I won't miss it again. This is what the online cocktail community is all about -- sharing and learning and having fun.

Lunch at John O'Groats.   I know, I've talked about it before, but that doesn't mean it doesn't warrant another mention. One of my favorite places to eat in Los Angeles, John O'Groats, on Pico Boulevard just west of 20th Century-Fox studios, makes the best breakfasts in town and many of the best lunches too (although sadly they're no longer open in the evenings for their wonderful dinners, but happily that means that their general m anager and executive chef Paul Tyler, one of the nicest human beings in the Known Universe, gets to actually have a life). In fact, they rack up quite a number of bests, including their omelettes, shortbread, oatmeal, biscuits and fish and chips.

To my chagrin I realized recently that I hadn't been there in a while -- I'd really been trying to behave myself save for the occasional weekend indulgence, and I hadn't been there for weekday lunch since my last couple of trips home to New Orleans. Given that otherwise I've been a 17-year regular there, I was long overdue. Wes and I found ourselves on the Westside on Labor Day and there was no question as to where to eat.

I got my lunchtime usual:

John O'Groats' Club Sandwich

On the menu it's simply called a Club Sandwich, the most common and what some would say pedestrian of classic diner offerings. Here, though, call it The Club Sandwich-as-work-of-art, which is what this is.

This isn't just a sandwich. It's not just the best club sandwich in Los Angeles. It's one of the best sandwiches period, anywhere.

And it's simple, really. But it's the high quality of the ingredients and the care with which they're put together that make this dish, as any other great dish, something special and not "just a sandwich."

Sourdough bread, cut in-house from a whole loaf from an artisanal bakery (not just off the shelf). Toasted perfectly, so that it's still a bit soft inside but on the outside just rough enough to shred the roof of your mouth just a little. White meat turkey, carved off the bone (and not processed turkey roll). Emmenthaler Swiss cheese, also cut by hand. Applewood-smoked bacon, crisp. Ripe tomatoes that actually taste like something (i.e., a good tomato) rather than those red tennis balls in the supermarket, that resemble tomatoes after having been put through a deflavorizing machine. Crisp iceberg lettuce, with a great crunchy texture. A thick slather of real mayonnaise, not something diluted and squired from a squeeze bottle.

When Warren Zevon said, "Enjoy every sandwich," he may not have realized it but he really meant this one.

This whole exceeds the sum of its most excellent parts. Other than the red beans and rice I make myself at home, this is THE greatest comfort food dish in the city of Los Angeles.

Wes went for another of his old favorites:

John O'Groats' Fish and Chips

Widely regarded as the best Fish and Chips in the city (sorry, King's Head), this is beer-battered Icelandic cod, crisp and decidedly non-greasy, with their always-perfect fries. Again, simple. Again, highest-quality ingredients. Again, perfectly prepared.

Hmm. I need to get there more often. If it means nothing but spinach salads for lunch during the week that I go, then so be it.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Ah, we can take these one at a time now. The newest video has been posted at the Small Screen Network site:

The Cosmopolitan

First arriving in the mid '80s, the Cosmopolitan was "the" cocktail of the '90s. While it is still popular today, some may avoid it less they be seen as simply "following the pack". Since the Cosmo follows the classic-style formula of such great drinks as the Sidecar, Margarita, Daiquiri, and Aviation, there is nothing at all wrong with this drink, just be careful to make it with good quality ingredients.

Two observations -- if I were a personnified Cosmopolitan I'd think it a bit of a backhanded compliment to be described by saying that "there's nothing at all wrong with it," even though that's very true. It suffers due to its ubiquity, but it is actually a good drink as Robert says, a classic "New Orleans sour" as categorized by Gary Regan in The Joy of Mixology. The better version of this drink was introduced by New York bartender Toby Cecchini, who claims the best recipe (I'll post it once I get home, as I don't remember it offhand). I doubt you'll ever see that recipe outside of Toby's bar very often, though.

The problem with this drink lies with the second observation, which is that in 95% of bars where you order this drink you're not going to get it made with good quality ingredients, or in anywhere near a proper proportion. Go to a dozen bars, and it'll be made a dozen different ways. Nobody can seem to agree on what's the "proper" proportions for this drink, although Robert makes a learned version with balanced proportions. If you're really unlucky it'll be made by someone who doesn't measure, and who uses plain well vodka from the speed rail, too much cheap triple sec, Rose's lime cordial and way, way too much cranberry juice. The Cosmopolitan used to be my drink of choice for a while about 10 years ago, and more often than not they were made this way (I knew a few bars where I could get decent to good ones, at least).

I like to do sneaky things with Cosmopolitans these days -- if a guest asks for one I might sneak in a softer gin instead of the vodka, or if feeling less devious I might suggest, "Hey, wanna try something a little different, maybe?" and make a Footloose or a Pegu Club or something.

I can't really blame the drink itself for its ubiquity, but I think it might be time for the Cosmo to get in the back seat for a while and let some other drinks hav a chance to climb in popularity. More printed bar menus with more interesting choices would be a start!

Bourdain's most overrated.   Tony Bourdain (who was great on "Top Chef" last week, and whose last blog post was even better), tackles culinary trends he finds to be most precious and overrated in a funny bit in the current issue of Radar. Among them:

Pea soup topped with truffle oil: Truffle oil is the lazy chef's way to add value, by which I mean charge more.

Agreed. That said, one of our favorite locals, Blair's Restaurant in Silverlake, makes a Truffled Mac 'n Cheese dish that's really tasty, a huge portion (more than enough for Wes and me) and is only five bucks.

Mesquite-grilled Amish organic free-range chicken, served with Fijian mango chutney and accompanied by foraged mushrooms: It should never take longer to describe your dish than to eat it. Mango chutney was innovative when Bobby Flay did it in 1978...

Perhaps, but not so innovative when you think about the fact that cooks in India have been using it for 500 years.

[P]lease await the water sommelier: ... When the water sommelier comes over, I reach for my gun.

Bwahahaha! Go get 'em, Tony. Appropriately enough it should be a water gun. "Water sommelier" ... what precious bullshit. If a restaurant wants to sell bottled water, that's fine. I don't have to buy it. (I recall an interesting interview with Chef Mark Peel of the most excellent Campanile about bottled water -- he serves it in his restaurant because he wants to offer that as part of a fine dining experience; that's cool. That said, he NEVER drinks bottled water himself, always tap, and at home he stopped getting his delivery of expensive bottled water for his water dispenser and started refilling the 5-gallon jug from the garden hose ... and nobody noticed for seven months.)

As I've said before, if a server suggests bottled water and I ask for tap, then scowls or condescends to me for doing so, that's not fine and will be reflected in his or her tip. If someone were to come to my table and introduce himself or herself as a "water sommelier," showing me a menu of six, eight and ten dollar bottles of water and floridly describing them, I think I'd respond something like this: "Yes, thank you. I think we'll each have a 2007 Eau de Tap, on the rocks, vintage two minutes ago, please." I'd also have to consider whether or not I'd ever return to a restaurant that foisted something called a "water sommelier" on its customers. Sheesh.

I'll leave you to Tony's comments on the final entry on his menu of the overrated, the "Chocolate Martini."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, September 17, 2007

Mixology Monday: The Fizz.   Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles ... Chuck finally got his act together and remembered to participate in Mixology Monday! Well, barely.

Mixology Monday XIX: The Fizz

This month it's being hosted by Gabriel at Cocktail Nerd, and because I'm behind on blog reading this week I missed the heads-up until last night. Rick emailed me to tell me he'd posted the New Orleans Fizz No. 1 and would I like to contribute some history to the comments. "Oh, feck," I thought, "I forgot MxMo again!!"

I was determined not to miss it this time, so I leapt into last-minute frenzied research mode. Rick had gotten his fizz recipe from Charles Baker's Gentleman's Companion, and I didn't want to be quite so much of a copycat is to mine one of Baker's many other fizz offerings (although I might do one or two of them this week anyway, 'cause I haven't done them before and some of them look fantastic). I didn't want to do a gin fizz either, and decided to reach for an old standard -- Stanely Clisby Arthur's 1937 classic Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em (mine's a sixth printing from 1944 and hasn't fallen apart ... yet). I double-checked it for fizzes, and it was fairly thin in that regard. We had the Ramos Gin Fizz, plus a couple of Collinses, and basic "Gin Fizzes," consisting of gin, lemon juice, powdered sugar and seltzer water, either plain or in three other varieties -- Silver (containing egg white), Golden (containing egg yolk) or Royal (containing a whole egg). Classic, yes, but not exactly floating my boat.

I tried to think of some other spirits I might like to see in a fizz, and since I've been enjoying rum so much lately, and since I'd never had one, I thought, "Hmm. How about a rum fizz?"

Off to CocktailDB, where a search for "fizz" in a drink name turned up 114 results, 15 of which were based on rum -- some of which looked interesting, some of which really, really didn't, and one of which was called simply ... Rum Fizz -- rum, cherry brandy, sugar, lemon juice and soda. Relatively simple, but I saw it as a place to start rather than something I wanted to try for this event. Most of these fizz recipes called for soda, but I wanted something else.

As I was flipping through Arthur's book, I came across a recipe I hadn't really noticed before -- the Tchoupitoulas Street Guzzle, described thusly:

1 split ginger beer
1 jigger Cuban style rum

Ginger beer is not to be had these days, but ginger ale will do as well. Mix with ice.

Guzzle is a somewhat inelegant word meaning to drink immoderately or frequently. Prior to the Civil War days the Iron Horse tavern was famed for its guzzle. As it increased in popularity among a certain New Orleans street it acquired the name of that street and became known as the Tchoupitoulas Street Guzzle. Tchoupitoulas (pronounced chop-a-TOO-las) was the name of an ancient Indian tribe that had its village in what is now the upper part of New Orleans. Just what sort of fire-water was their favorite guzzle history saith not.

Bingo. I had my idea for a more interesting rum fizz.

I played around with a few ideas, and settled on this combination for what I consider to be the first version of this drink. I whipped up a batch, Wes and I tasted them, and he declared it worthy of a writeup for Fizz Day.

For the rum, I used Old New Orleans Crystal Rum, but Cruzan Light 2-year-old Virgin Islands rum would work well, or any good light rum with some character (i.e., not Bacardi). I changed the lemon juice to lime, to give it more Caribbean character. I continued that by removing the cherry brandy (e.g. Cherry Heering) and substituting one of my favorite old/new liqueurs -- it's been around for ages but has only recently been available in this country -- Clément Créole Shrubb. If you haven't come across it or heard me mention it here before, it's an orange liqueur not unlike Grand Marnier, but based on rum rather than Cognac and with a lovely, almost mysterious spicy quality. I had some rich demerara syrup left over from making Paul Clarke's Swordfighter Swizzle, so I added a teaspoon of that for a bit more sweetness and depth from the bit of molasses in that sugar. Egg white for a foamy head, and Angostura bitters for a bit more spice to help tie it all together. And instead of soda, a nice, spicy ginger beer-type ginger ale. Not that wimpy, might-as-well-be-7Up Canada Dry stuff, we're talking about the kind of ginger ale that's intensely peppery, such that if you smell it after you open the bottle, you immediately sneeze. The result? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

The Tchoupitoulas 
Street Fizz

The Tchoupitoulas Street Fizz

1-1/2 ounces white rum.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
1 teaspoon rich demerara syrup.
1 egg white.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
3 ounces (approx.) spicy ginger ale (we used Blenheim's).

Combine all ingredients with plenty of ice in a shaker. Shake the living crap out of it for at least a minute, until your hands stick to the outside of the shaker and you get so exhausted that you realize how truly out of shape you are, and that you would have been totally put to shame by Henry C. Ramos' shaker boys. Strain into a goblet, top with the ginger ale and garnish optionally with a little grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon.

(To make rich demerara sugar syrup, dissolve 2 parts demerara sugar (or else "Sugar in the Raw") in 1 part hot water. Cool, store in a jar and keep in the fridge.)

I'm probably going to play around with this one a bit more, but not a bad start.

New Orleans' best cocktails: The Brandy Alexander.   Not only the Brandy Alexander, but master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge in New Orleans also shows us that by varying one ingredient in each, you can also end up with two other classic after-dinner drinks -- the Pink Squirrel and the Grasshopper (another New Orleans original).

The Pink Squirrel, besides being a dessert drink, also falls into the general "squirrel" category of drinks, indicating that its primary flavoring ingredient is the almond-flavored liqueur crème de noyau.

Quote of the day.   Via Mary, who found it on

Guy: I don't understand! What is "pork roll"?

Jersey girl: It's hard to explain... It's like if bacon married awesome and they had delicious babies.

I'm not exactly sure what it is ... *googles*. Oh, wait. I know now. And I want some. Now.

Aaaah, Mike Wazowski!!   In honor of this morning's visit to the optometrist (and a new prescription for stronger lenses ... aah, getting old sucks) I thought I'd post this little experiment.

Mike Wazowski!

The idea was shamelessly stolen from Jessie, after having seen a similar photo in his stream and thinking, "Holy crap! I gotta try that!"

The photo was posted to a group called iPhone camera as microscope, which involves putting a magnifying device up to the tiny little iPhone camera lens and seeing what happens. I must confess this never occurred to me until I saw the eyeball photo in Jessie's photostream, and I'll certainly be playing with this technique more -- preferably with some more original ideas.

Oh, that's my eye, and I looked a little crazed here, and the look of the eye suddenly made my weird stream of consciousness shout out Boo's greeting to Mike in "Monsters, Inc."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, September 14, 2007

Photo of the day.   Last May we were visiting our friends Greg and Tom and were marveling at how their front porch looked. It's ringed with passion fruit vines, which had just burst into bloom. There was a hive of carpenter bees nearby who went nuts for the nectar of the passion flowers (naturally), and they were all over the place.

Carpenter Bee on Passion Flower II

I couldn't decide which one to post; I have two more, each with things I like about them and things I don't. This one, for the moment, wins overall. The other two are here and here.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   YAY! We're finally caught up as of today! From now on, we'll get one of these about once a week or so. I hope you enjoyed your ongoing crash cocktail courses; now at least you can slow down a bit.

The Harrington

Vodka is the most popular of spirits, it's lack of discernable flavor however, when mixed in a cocktail, makes it necessary to approach it's use slightly differently than other spirits. In this episode we use the "Harrington" to illustrate how vodka can play an important role in various drinks.

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Tales of the Cocktail - Final Days

We have been reminiscing about our great time in New Orleans. Here is our final video from Tales of the Cocktail. Hope you enjoy it.

I hope that the statement "vodka is the most popular of spirits" will become an outdated memory in this country, as (I hope) people begin to realize that it might be more pleasurable to drink a spirit that tastes like something. But as Robert points out, it does have its uses -- reducing the sweetness of a cocktail featuring a liqueur without eliminating the flavor of the liqueur itself. I haven't had a Harrington in a long time; maybe I'll try one soon. (I'll probably be tempted to remake it with gin, though.)

Dave Wondrich, via his first book Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated & Irreverent Guide to Drinking, introduced me to a cocktail that class for vodka, seemingly as its base spirit but the true flavor of the cocktail is really based on the liqueur (by David Embury's formula, something thought of as a modifier).

The Gypsy Cocktail

2 ounces vodka.
1 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur (NOT B&B!)
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This is actually quite nice. Dave says that you can make this with any "funky, herbal" European liqueur, such as Chartreuse, but he prefers this combination.

Speaking of Bénédictine and Chartreuse ...   I missed this story by Gary Regan when it appeared in the Chronicle about a month ago. Who knew that Purgatory could be a bit like heaven?

The Purgatory Cocktail
(by Ted Kilgore, Monarch Restaurant, Maplewood MO)

2-1/2 ounces Rittenhouse 100-proof rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce Bénédictine.
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
Lemon twist garnish.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

Whoo, I'm going to ask for one of these after I've had a crap day at work. I might even make one tonight (although I don't think I'll have a crap day today), but I think tonight we may be going to Seven Grand.

UPDATE: We didn't make it to Seven Grand tonight. Wes was tired after a long, crappy week at work and felt like staying in, so I decided to make Purgatory Cocktails tonight. Hopefully we'll make it to Seven Grand tomorrow, but for now, here are the fruits of our labors. Well, drinking labor. (Feel free to sentence me to such hard labor.)

The Purgatory 

Man. That's some big ol' drink. Gary's description was exactly right -- that particular rye is robust enough to keep the herbal flavors of the Bénénedictine and Chartreuse (especially the latter) at bay and make them play well together. Complex and spicy and powerful (we're talking about 2.5 ounces of 100 proof whiskey and 3/4 ounce of a 110 proof liqueur ... yowza), this is one to add to the repertoire. Keep Rittenhouse 100 on hand for this, most assuredly -- a softer rye like Old Overholt wouldn't work here; it's get wiped out. I'm not even sure Wild Turkey 101 Rye would work quite as well as the Rittenhouse does.

By the way, I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but just in case I haven't ... Rittenhouse 100 is the best rye value on the market today, in my humble opinion. A big, strong, spicy rye, an absolutely superb product, and it's dirt-cheap -- we get it for about $16 a bottle.

May I suggest the cowboy leg?   Via Vidiot comes ... the greatest ... restuarant ... menu ... EVER.

This sure beats the "sea lion pancakes" that the menu at "Mastro Food" in Alhambra (a Beijing-style restaurant where not a word was spoken unless it was in Mandarin) offered, among many other amusing translations that I can't remember at the moment.

My other favorite, that I see on lots of other Chinese and even Thai menus, is something called "pork pump." We LOVE pork pump! From what we can tell it's a really big meaty ham shank, braised for what must be hours in aromatic spices like cinnamon and star anise, until it is bathed in fat and falling off the bone. It is truly wonderful, and all we can figure is that someone meant to write "pork rump" on the menu, even though it's a hock or a shank and not a rump, and it kinda stuck. If anyone has any clarification on this I'd love to hear it.

Getting rid of the old mobile phone.   Now that I've got the iPhone and am settled with it, it was time to recycle the old phone. Deleting all the phone numbers and personal info first, of course, but then ... I lookd at the saved text messages. There were a couple of messages I just couldn't delete without saving for posterity.

JAN 19 2006 12:55PM


Needless to say, that one was misdirected.

(There was another one I had never deleted, sent August 28, 2005 at 8:51pm, from my sister as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans. I'm not posting that one.)

You only give me your funny papers...   When my friends get really chatty in email, I end up buried in an inbox avalanche that leaves me kinda feeling like Captain Kirk after he opened the storage container where the all the tribbles were breeding.

Close that door!

Yeah, like that. (Okay, I'm a geek.)

But despite the deluge the conversation is usually pretty entertaining. Today, for instance.

Audrey: (Referring to a certain celebrity) I've seen him when he was really drunk. Bit of an asshole. Maybe he'd be less of one when not blotto. I guess that's probably true of most people though, right?

Chuck: Not me. When I'm blotto I'll hug you, tell you how wonderful you are, and then give you money.

Nettie: So Chuck, wanna go have a drink? Or maybe two?

Wes: Don't get too excited -- I see him drunk all the time, he never gives me money.

Nettie: Damn.

Okay, well ... but there's all that and bacon too!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, September 13, 2007

Non-Chuck Photo of the Day.   The link to this one arrived in this morning's email from Michael, who said, "I didn't know you had a tattoo." Ha! I don't, actually, but he knows me well -- if I did have one it might just look like this:

Pig Tattoo
Photo by Marc Carroll

I had actually thought about getting a fleur-de-lis, demonstrating solidadrity and dedication to my hometown, but everyone's got a feckin' fleur-de-lis now ...

Hmm. If I ever get one and I don't get a cocktail glass it should probably be the noble pig. Or maybe a version of Rick's bacon-wrapped world (from a t-shirt design he did as a gift for us several years ago).

It's a bacon-wrapped world.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Almost there ... Robert's first video in today's catch-up is another one I remember from childhood, one of my dad's that he'd have pretty frequently. Next is a Cuban classic that brought me back to the Mint Julep, after having been put off of them for so long due to a really bad one I had a really long time ago.

The Whiskey Sour

Continuing with our coverage of Whiskey, in this episode we show you how to make a "Whiskey Sour". While these days the Sour is lumped into the Cocktail category, technically it is a drink style all its own, and includes such drinks as the Daiquiri, Margarita, Lemon Drop, and even Cosmopolitan.

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The Mojito

The Mojito seems to be "the" drink these days, but this drink dates from before the 1930's, where it was a popular drink in Cuba to refresh and relax with. In the late 1940's the drink burst onto the international scene when it was "discovered" by Ernest Hemmingway at "La Bodeguita del Medio". Properly made, a Mojito should always be made with fresh mint and fresh lime juice, but due to its ubiquitous popularity, you will often find bars using various unfortunate shortcuts to make them quicker, but sacrifice the quality in doing so.

Unfortunate shortcuts indeed. There's a certain bar at a certain restaurant in Los Angeles, specializing in Latin cuisine and which should know better, which was reportedly at one time making Mojitos with dried mint. Not only would I have sent such a horror back, I might have had to break my general rule of "Always be nice to bartenders" by at least lambasting the guy with a "How coud you?" for doing such a thing. The bad one I had years ago had crème de menthe in it, and was vile.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 12, 2007

RIP Willie Tee (1944-2007).   Born Wilson Turbinton in New Orleans, LA -- a marvelous keyboardist, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and teacher, member of The Gaturs, the seminal backing back of the early Wild Magnolias and most recently The New Orleans Social Club, has died at age 63 of colon cancer.

There'll be a long tribute to him on my radio show tomorrow night, 7-9pm PDT, KCSN 88.5 FM and

Cocktail of the day.   We enjoyed the Ginger and Coconut Water Caipiroskas (by Dale DeGroff and/or Audrey Saunders) we'd had at the Commander's Palace Spirited Dinner during Tales of the Cocktail '07, and although we didn't ask Dale or Audrey about this, I just knew in my heart and my gut that this drink was supposed to be a Caipirinha -- i.e. based on cachaça and not vodka -- until a sponsor intervened. It just didn't make sense in that regard, being paired with a dish that had rum in the sauce. I may be wrong about that, but I also thought that this drink needed to be made with cachaça and not vodka, and that I was going to do so at some point after getting back home.

The original recipe called for a jigger of vodka (oy vey), half a lime cut in four, an ounce of coconut water, a small slice of ginger and an ounce of agave nectar. When we tried this again the other day, it wasn't quite to my taste and I thought I would enjoy it more with a little adjustment.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I was thinking more about drinking than blogging, I must confess.

For the coconut water, what you need is a young coconut, available at some supermarkets but easiest to find at Asian or Latino markets, where they tend to be fresher and cheaper -- the ones we get are usually a buck. Opening them is the tough part -- use a cleaver, as shown in the above link. Once you crack that sucker open you'll get anywhere from 2 cups (usually) to even a quart of beautiful, nutritious, delicious coconut water out of it. Drink any leftovers that you don't use in making the drinks -- it's incredibly refreshing and very good for you. The flesh of a young coconut is very gelatinous and scoopable with a spoon, unlike the hard flesh of mature coconuts, so you can eat the rest right out of the shell (or even use some of it to garnish the drink).

Next specialty ingredient is agave nectar, a syrup made from the same plant from which we get tequila and mezcal. Agave nectar is relatively new, having only been developed during the 1990s. It looks like runny honey but is sweeter -- very, very sweet, in fact; if you're using this instead of sugar you only need 1/3 the amount. It has a low glycemic index, and since a little goes a long way it's apparently been increasingly used for sweetening by diabetics. There are mail-order sources on the net, but your best bet is probably to try and find it in a health food store. We got one small bottle via mail-order but it costs us twelve bucks, which is a bit expensive for my taste.

When we made this at home for the first time I was struck by how eye-poppingly sweet it was -- man, that's a lot of agave nectar, particularly considering that this stuff's 1.5-2 times sweeter than sugar. I can't imagine 1.5-2 ounces of simple syrup in a drink, so I knew I'd need to cut this down; we really needed to get the balance of sweet and tart more adjusted to my taste (I tend more toward the tart than the sweet). I thought about putting more lime in it -- I usually put a whole smallish lime in a Caipirinha -- but I didn't want the lime to overpower the fairly delicate flavor of the coconut water. In fact, I thought the coconut water needed to stand out more. I decided to decrease the agave nectar by 1/4 ounce and up the coconut water by 1/2 ounce, and see what happened.

Here's the variation I arrived at, and I think I may tweak it even more. As it currently stands I thought it had a more appealing balance for my taste, but if I try it again this week I'll try it with 1/4 ounce less agave, down to 1/2 ounce, and another 1/2 ounce of coconut water, up to 2.

Ginger and Coconut Water Caipirinha
(adapted from Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders)

1-1/2 ounces cachaça (we used Leblon).
1 slice peeled ginger, about the size of a nickel.
1/2 medium lime, quartered.
1-1/2 ounces fresh coconut water.
3/4 ounce agave nectar.

Muddle the ginger slice with the coconut water, then add the nectar and limes, and muddle again until the limes are thoroughly discharged of their juice. Add the spirit and an Old-Fashioned glass full of ice, shake for 10 seconds and pour the whole contents back into the Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and optionally a few scoops of young coconut flesh.

I want to do more with coconut water ... it's great stuff.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   We should be caught up by Friday. In the meantime, let's hear a bit about whiskey, in fifth- and fourth-to-last videos so far.


Whiskey is perhaps one of the most complicated of the spirits, Irish, Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Canadian, Blended, Straight... no wonder some people tend to shy away from it. Hopefully we can simplify some of these issues for you, so your next trip to the liquor store won't be quite as stressful.

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From Glen to Glen - Scotch (Presented by Charlotte Voisey)

Our very special friend, Charlotte Voisey of William Grant and Sons USA, gave a superb presentation on single malt Scotch while at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Fortunately, Small Screen Network was there to capture it all. We hope you enjoy it! Please check out Glenfiddich and Balvenie for more on these fine products.

Aah, whiskey. Hey, I've only got 200 or so to go through at Seven Grand (although honestly, I have had many of them already, so I've got a bit of a head start).

Worried about your chocoholism?   (Chocoholicism? Chocoholicness?) Alleged chocolate addiction? Well, don't. It doesn't actually cause a physical addiction, said a British researcher. The reason you can't stop eating it is just because it tastes so feckin' good.

"Food behaviour can look like addictive behaviour in extreme situations but chocolate does not fit these criteria," Rogers told a meeting sponsored by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Many people point to certain compounds found in chocolate -- such as phenylethylamine -- that produce a buzz when they reach the brain as evidence chocolate is addictive, Rogers said.

But many of these compounds also exist in higher concentrations in other foods with less appeal, such as avocados or cheese, and do not cause addiction despite what many chocoholics believe, he said.

Instead, a social attitude that chocolate is "naughty but nice" may actually drive people to see chocolate as a forbidden pleasure and desire it even more, Rogers said.

"In other words, chocolate is a highly desirable food, but which according to social norms should be eaten with restraint," he said. "However, attempting to resist the desire to eat chocolate only causes thoughts about chocolate to become more prominent, consequently heightening the desire."

Naughty? Forbidden? Nonsense. I think that for happiness and well-being you should eat chocolate every day. I do, pretty much -- usually a square from a bar like Valrhona or Vosges or something like that, no more than 1.5 or 2 points, and I'm good at making those suckers last. Nibble off a bite, and let it melt on the tongue, taking its time ... mmmmmmm.

In fact, a food scientist is now saying that high-quality chocolate is "better than prescription medicine" when it comes to reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Cocoa flavonoids in quality dark chocolate have a range of beneficial effects on the blood and circulation system, and Prof Corder said the best products to buy were those with at least 70 per cent cocoa, as they were the most likely to have high levels of flavonoids.

His research has confirmed that these improve the elasticity of blood cells, so reducing the risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes and heart disease.

But watch what chocolate you eat. "Milk chocolate, chocolate-covered sweets and the popular chocolates you buy in boxes are a waste of space," Prof Corder, a pharmacologist at London University, said. "They're just sugar, fat and nothing much else, apart from a bit of flavouring.

"People who are used to sugary, fatty chocolates should remember it takes two or three weeks to educate the taste buds to higher-quality chocolate - once you do that, if you go back to your old sugary chocolate, it's horribly sweet and tasteless."

[...] "The problem at the moment is that, during the manufacturing process, 70 to 90 per cent of the flavonoid constituents are destroyed. Flavonoid levels can also vary depending where the cocoa beans come from, so the food industry needs to bring in a quality-control mechanism to accurately measure flavonoid levels and we need a clear labelling system."

Hmm, that 99% Lindt we talked about the other day might be just what the doctor ordered.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chocolate dark as the depths of deep space.   Chris sent me a link to the first eating chocolate I've ever seen that's a whopping 99% cacao.

I'm really curious to try this. I've got some Valrhona and Scharffen Berger 85% at home, but I've never even heard of 99% eating chocolate. That's usually what's called "baking chocolate" or, worse, "Baker's chocolate," a Hershey's sub-brand that by itself tastes like charcoal briquettes. That's because Hershey's chocolate is just about the worst in the country, and undoubtedly one of the worst in the world -- I tasted something called "Soviet chocolate" in Russia that was better.

The article mentions why, in passing:

A normal Hershey bar is rumored to contain about 11% cocoa (and could get worse). The "Special Dark" Hershey bar is just 45% cocoa.

The "Special Dark" is just about the only one I like. I do like milk chocolate too, but as I've mentioned before, Hershey's chocolate just sits on the tongue like a piece of wax, and doesn't melt nearly as nicely as well-made chocolates do.

As for the "getting worse" mentioned above, as I've posted before, Hershey's is spearheading a drive to get the FDA to change the legal definition of chocolate to include artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes, trans fats and other ersatz ingredients. Boooooooooo.

That said, I've heard that their "Reserve" chocolate line is pretty good, but if they're trying to change the legal definition of chocolate so that they can sell crappier chocolate bars and still call it "chocolate," I'll be boycotting their product. But I digress.

The thing that cracks me up about the Lindt 99% is that the foil wrapper actually has warnings for you to "ramp up" to this chocolate by working your way up from 70% to 85% to this. Yep, you need your gateway drugs, certainly, before you can handle the hard stuff.

Innards!   Via Michael Ruhlman, who was posting about Chef Chris Cosentino's acceptance of his challenge to put his Fried Confit Pork Belly Caesar Salad on his menu at Incanto. Cosentino's a big fan of offal, i.e. organ meats or "the fifth quarter." has a superb video interview with Chef Cosentino all about his views on offal, his early experiences, and his general philosophy toward eating meat and the "whole animal ethic" -- "if you're willing to kill it, you should shut the fuck up and be willing to eat all of it."

The interview culminates with his five-course offal menu at Incanto:

Beef Tendon and Sweetbreads with Rucola
with sliced red onion and serrano chile

Lamb Heart Tartare with Mint

Finanziera Piedmontese of Cockscombs, Chicken Liver, Duck's Tongue & Riso
Traditional stew with braised cockscombs, confit chicken livers, braised duck's tongues, hearts and gizzards

Whole Roasted Pig's Trotters with Bitter Honey Agrodolce
with broccoli rabe and polenta

Chocolate Blood Panna Cotta with Blood Oranges

I'd be willing to go for pretty much all of this. I'm unsure about the cockscombs, but given this guy's reputation I trust him, and I'd certainly try it. I've eaten ground-up hearts and gizzards in dirty rice since childhood, so that's not a problem. I love sweetbreads, and I have to say ... while you might recoil at the description, pay close attention to the video when they get to that pig's trotter dish. It looks fantastic. I'm a bit unsure about the blood-and-chocolate dessert, but as I've eaten and enjoyed boudin rouge and Irish black pudding, I should shut the fuck up and eat it -- especially given that it's one of the most diabolically funny and whimsical dessert ideas I've ever seen in my life.

I still have trouble with tripe and chitlins, though. Fortunately there was none of that to deal with on the menu.

Peaches and herb.   Gary Regan writes in the Chronicle about the interesting theme for his bartender workshops this year -- "retaining the integrity of the cocktail's base spirit... I wanted to be able to detect the specific brand of spirit used as a base in each and every new drink created by the attendees."

Wow. Makes me wonder how I'd do in a blind taste test of things, if I could pick out individual brands. Some of 'em I could spot, but others ... I dunno. How do you think you'd do, average reader?

The cocktail he uses to illustrate this idea, The White Nectar Cocktail, muddles a peach slice with mint leaves, adds Maker's Mark, simple syrup and something called "Numi White Nectar organic tea," which I'm not familiar with. Tea, he says, is "[o]ne of the most popular ingredients in this year's workshops." I do like tea in a drink, whether of the brewed variety or as an infusion (such as in Audrey Saunders' insanely good Earl Grey Marteani). The pint of oolong tea in the Columbian Punch is a marvelous and elusive ingredient that adds great flavor but which pretty much no one picks up on. (I love making proper oolong tea too ... watching those dark green rocks open up to this little forest of whole tea leaves and stems at the bottom of your teapot.)

Speaking of muddled fruit in drinks, Imbibe Magazine is co-sponsoring a cocktail contest with USA Pears for the perfect pear cocktail. Hmm, could be fun.

Speaking of Peaches and Herb, did you know that while there has only ever been one Herb there have been four different Peaches? Jeez, who knew they were so Menudo?

"Popcorn lung?"   I was popping a snack-sized bag of microwave popcorn yesterday (the "kettle corn" variety, that's a little sweet as well as salty, which I then season with ground chipotle chile, so that it's sweet and salty and smoky and hot, which is awesome, and only 2 WeightWatchers points) when one of my cow-orkers came into the kitchen and said, "You'd better be careful with that stuff. You could get popcorn lung."

"Popcorn lung?" I asked. What the feck are you talking about, I wondered but did not say.

Yep, there was this article in the Times last week about a guy who ate microwave popcorn every day, and now he has to have his lungs replaced because of some awful chemical in the butter flavor. People who work in the factory get this thing too." Good lord.

"Well, I never eat or buy anything with 'butter flavoring,'" I said. "I used to work at a movie theatre when I was a kid, and the artificial butter flavor that came in these huge plastic tubs was the vilest stuff I've ever seen."

"Go search the Times website, you'll see." I wondered if she was exaggerating.

She wasn't.

The disease is called Bronchiolitis obliterans, and is actually nicknamed "popcorn workers' lung." The culprit is a chemical called diacetyl, a natural by-product of the fermentation process, which when isolated has a buttery taste and has been used as the primary ingredient in artificial butter flavorings. (It's also apparently the substance cultivated by some winemakers to give their Chardonnays that "buttery" taste that some people like so much.) The problem with diaceytl is that it's toxic when inhaled over long periods, and people working with this chemical in microwave popcorn factories have ended up having their lungs destroyed. There is no cure. The only treatment is a lung transplant.

I knew that butter flavoring was nasty, but man ... I had no idea.

I'm touched by my cow-orker's concern, as she had seen me microwaving popcorn at work more than once. The guy she referred to in the article, though, had apparently eaten "several bags" of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years, and the unfortunate gentleman "liked the smell of popcorn so much that he would open and inhale from freshly popped bags." Sheesh.

Here's a wacky idea. How about flavoring butter-flavored popcorn with, say ... butter? Clarify it by removing the milk solids and it becomes more shelf-stable. There must be a way then to use goddamn toxic chemicals.

Of course, the best way to do this is to use a nice home popcorn popper -- ours can pop a huge tub of the stuff on just a few teaspoons of oil, and we can season it ourselves with whatever we want, such as real butter or olive oil or Tony Chachere's seasoning or whatever. Hold the diacetyl.

$55 per bottle ...   for water?

Boy, there sure are a lot of really stupid rich people. This is such a great scam that I'm tempted to get in on it, as they seem to be just begging to be separated from their money.

I particularly loved the statistic about how if you took the prices people seem to happily pay for bottled water and applied it to their water bill, they'd be paying about $100,000 per year. Remember that bottled water brands like Dasani (bottled by your local Coca-Cola bottler) and Aquafina (bottled by your local Pepsi bottler) are nothing more than a fraction of a cent's worth of your local tap water, unnecessarily "filtered" and sold back to you for two bucks.

Again, buy a reusable bottle and fill it from your tap. Sheesh. (And the next waiter that condescends to me because I chose tap water rather than bottled while dining at a restaurant will see that condescension reflected in his or her tip.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, September 10, 2007

Photo of the day.   Wes and I have been seeing this church sign in Pasadena for months now, and I keep forgetting to bring my camera. Once again, the iPhone comes to the rescue.

Powerpuff Jesus

We'd been calling him "Hello Kitty Jesus" for the longest time, but yesterday I realized that he's more Powerpuff Jesus -- look at that smile.

Go Jesus go! (And Powerpuff Jesus has saved the day once again!)

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Irish Coffee.   This one couldn't be easier for you to do at home -- just make sure your coffee's fresh and hot, your whiskey is good (Chris is using Jameson's, which is excellent stuff, but I'm a big fan of John Powers' myself) and your cream is freshly whipped, not squirted out of a can.

While some may grouse that this isn't "authentically Irish," it's still damned good, and I've had some feckin' fine Irish coffees in Ireland. It really hits the spot on freezing cold nights, when you've just been assaulted by horizontal rain coming from an Atlantic storm. If someone were to accuse me of acting like a tourist for ordered such a non-"authentically Irish" drink, I would, in an authentically Irish manner, tell them to feck off. (And that's if I was being polite, only after sayin' "feck" and not the Big One ... you know which one I mean, Father!)

Cocktail of the day.   This one's from Eastern Standard in Boston, a place where I would undoubtedly be a regular if I lived there (and who serves the Hoskins Cocktail on their current menu, meaning that to me they are made of awesome), created by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, one of their bartenders.

The Jaguar
(by Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, Eastern Standard, Boston)

1-1/2 ounces silver tequila.
3/4 ounce Amer Picon.
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
3 dashes Fee Brothers' orange bitters.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame an orange peel over the drink, but do not garnish with the peel.

The inspiration to make this came from Paul's post on it from a week or so ago, so you can read most of the details there. Although I really like it, I suspect it would be better when made with Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon replica (as I think they do at Eastern Standard) than with the Torani Amer with which I made it. The celery notes in the Torani product that we've talked about before come through a little more than I'd like. The way the tequila works with everything here is beautiful, though.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   In the home stretch of the catch-up, and in keeping with our Cocktail of the Day, Robert's going to talk about tequila today.

The Margarita

There are countless stories that claim to herald the origin of the Margarita, and to the best of my knowledge none of them have been definitively identified as the real one. Go ahead and debate this topic amongst yourselves if you wish, but in this episode we will instead focus on how to make a proper Margarita using silver tequila, Cointreau, and fresh squeezed lime juice.

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The Rosita

I feel that there are far too few good tequila cocktails available, and so I'm always excited when I encounter a new one to add to my collection. I'm hoping that you'll appreciate the complex collection of flavors that the Rosita provides as much as I do.

The Rosita is a favorite around here, and was the subject of one of my favorite cocktail photographs from a little over a year and a half ago.

The La Rosita Cocktail

This is apparently usually served on the rocks, but it's up in the photo, which is how we usually have it. Hmm, might have to try it on the rocks next time.

Doing our bit for the environment (not to mention our electric bill).   Yesterday we converted the majority of the lightbulbs in the house (15 so far, with another half-dozen or so to go) to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. I was dragged into this kicking and screaming ... but after getting one look at them, I was excited. I can't believe I hear myself saying this, but you should replace all your incandescent lightbulbs witih CFLs.

I've always despised fluorescent lighting -- flat and green and sickly looking. Little did I realize how far they've come in recent years. The ones meant to replace incandescent light bulbs (either the squiggly-looking kind, which we got and which are indistinguishable once it's in a lighting fixture, or the kind that look more like a regular bulb) match the intensity and especially the color temperature of my beloved incandescent bulbs so closely that I honestly can't tell the difference now. They're also instant-on, so you don't get that start-up flicker you may remember from the older-style fluorescent tubes.

The CFL bulbs with the same luminance as a 60 watt incandescent bulb only draw 15 watts, and don't give off nearly as much waste heat. This saves energy, and money too -- someone we know who replaced all the bulbs in her house said the difference in the first month's electric bill was striking. They also last a lot longer than incandescents, and despite the fact that they're a fair bit more expensive, we got them all from Wes' church, to which the bulbs were donated, and then sold for a mere $2 each. Not a bad deal at all!

There's an incredible amount of wasted energy in the use of incandescent light bulbs -- as much as I've always liked the way they look even I have to admit that. I was so pleasantly startled by how good the CFL bulbs look that I've wiped away my prejudice, and finally sensibly embraced how much energy they'll save, how much less coal they'll have to burn to power them, how much of an impact that can potentially make on the environment, and in the selfish department, how much money they can save us on the electric bill.

There are a few caveats, though -- the larger wattages tend to be a bit larger than an incandescent bulb, so if your fixture is a tight fit, then the bulb might not fit. That said, the 15w/60w effective bulbs fit in every fixture in the house. Also, you can't use them in any fixture that has a dimmer, and so far they don't work in lamps made for 3-way bulbs, although those are apparently on the way. In the meantime they'll work on the middle setting of the 3-way switch. And if you're keen on maintaining the color temperature you're used to with incandescent bulbs, check the package for a color temperature of 2700-2800°K.

I'm encouraging everyone I know to give them a try, maybe even just a couple of bulbs to start out with. See how they look, and if you end up getting lots of them, see how much you'll save while doing some good at the same time.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Death and Rebirth of Mandina's, Part 5: "It's still Mandina's" ... Back from the Ashes but Not Out of the Woods.   In the final article in Brett Anderson's five-part series, the long-awaited day arrives. Eighteen months after Hurricane Katrina, old customers get a taste of a renewed New Orleans institution.

The first customers who walked into Mandina's on Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. were greeted with the flash of bartender Randy Pupura's camera. They responded with cheers.

"You're back!" shouted one man. He disappeared quickly into the throng, out of which another man reached over the bar with both arms to clasp owner Tommy Mandina's hand.

Someone cried: "Beautiful!"

Another: "It's a new era!"

By 11:15, every table was filled. The new restaurant can accommodate 145 to 150 patrons, up from 100 to 115 pre-Katrina. People who arrived at 11:30 were informed they'd wait an hour and a half to be seated. [...]

[However, w]hen co-owner Cindy Mandina, Tommy's daughter, arrived at the restaurant at 8:30 a.m. on reopening day, the Fire Department already had come and gone. A city inspector followed with what seemed like dreadful news: You can't open.

Find out what happened, and how it continues to happen every day (I'll spoil this much -- it's a happy ending), but Mandina's, as does so much of the rest of New Orleans, faces difficulties and higher costs. But they're more popular than ever, deservedly so, and thanks to their love and determination a true and vital part of New Orleans lives on.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Light at the end of the tunnel now, and within a few days we'll be down to posting one of these per week (or so). Until then, let's continue the catch-up:

Rum with Wayne Curtis

here is no better authority on the history of rum than Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. Wayne dedicated three years of his life to travelling the globe researching (read: drinking) rum. In this exclusive interview he imparts some of his great knowledge of the spirit. We hope you enjoy it.

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Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau - 90 Years of Aviation

In the last part of a 3-part mini-series I hope to see continue, Jamie Boudreau of Vessel - Seattle puts his own twist on the classic Aviation Cocktail.

Wayne's a great guy, and his book is fantastic -- a must-get for history buffs, cocktailians and rum aficionadoes alike. This bit of molecular mixology from Jamie is his wildest yet -- "Violette Caviar", made from crème de violette and gelatin, served alongside the drink.

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 10.   Finishing up in Chicago, and then heading home, alas.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Our first trip, PSSA 1 was all about legacy -- what do you leave behind? For PSSA 2 it was more about the things you do along the way to that legacy; the human journey, if you will, and human potential. What can people do? Transform worthless junk into art; save everything you ever owned; revitalize a town; run for President; take a bunch of rocks and make it a place of worship; create a national identity through mythology; assassinate a President; get your kicks on a the great American byways; take boyhood adventures and write a classic; unite a divided people by playing a ball game; brutally murder others; mourn the dead in creative ways; make a playground in the midst of death; ride the rails for adventure and work; make donuts and barbeque and cheese and cake and ice cream and Spam; make mistakes; celebrate; laugh; speak out. America is so very large and the possibilities within it vast. There are choices to be made within those possibilities and some of them will be terrible and some of them will be great, both in quality and size.

But it's not the quantity of anything that matters, unless, of course, you are trying to create the Largest Ball of Popcorn. But still: 35,000 pork chop sandwiches at an annual Hog Fest is impressive, but it only means something when each sandwich is made with care and concern, year after year after year.

And so it is on a magnet, of all things, which we picked up at the Hobo Museum, that summarizes Plucky Survivors See America 2 for us...

Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.

Amen. Now get busy planning next year's trip!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Wes' turn to mix last night, and he turned to an old favorite, Dr. Cocktail's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, for one I don't think we'd actually ever tried.

The Park Avenue Cocktail

2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce pineapple juice.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 teaspoons orange Curaçao.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Doc says, "Note the tropical character, invoking Carmen Miranda strutting down a New York boulevard." In fact, when I took my first whiff of the cocktail I thought he had put passion fruit nectar in it! "I didn't, but I smell it too," Wes said. Ah, the alchemy of cocktails.

The Death and Rebirth of Mandina's, Part 4: The High Cost of Coming Back.   The penultimate article in Brett Anderson's five-part series in the Times-Picayune continues, with a look at the financial bottom line of what it took to resurrect a 75-year-old restaurant from a termite-devoured building that had just been flooded with over 5 feet of toxic floodwaters.

Isadore Pilart drew in a deep, chest-heaving breath. "You can smell a restaurant going on in here," he announced through a grin that revealed two gold teeth.

It was the morning of Feb. 6, and the chef stood before three 50-gallon pots at the rear of Mandina's kitchen. Steam rose from the contents of each: maroon-red spaghetti gravy, burnished-brown turtle soup and the clear bubbling water he was preparing to turn into seafood gumbo.

A 15-gallon pot of tomato-based Creole sauce simmered nearby. The chef stirred it, coaxing several halved lemons to the surface. At 62, Pilart moves fluidly from stove to oven to freezer, exhibiting an ease of motion manifested outside the kitchen in a well-tailored look that recalls a laid-back Jelly Roll Morton.

Pilart, Mandina's head chef for 26 years, radiates calm, a quality that would prove useful in the days ahead. When he stuck a fork into the beef butts he'd started roasting an hour and a half prior, it was 10:30 a.m. Customers would start lining up in 24 hours.

It had been nearly a year and a half since food was served to customers from the kitchen of the original Mandina's, a New Orleans institution that dates to the turn of the last century. The new kitchen is twice the size of the one it replaced, extending behind the restaurant onto a lot made available by the demolition of a neighboring house previously used for storage.

Every single piece of equipment, from the 4-foot-long paddle Pilart plunges into large batches of soup to the 10-burner Imperial stove, is new. In a restaurant where the tools lost to the storm were thought to impart flavor from decades of seasoning, the vision of unblemished steel was a touch unsettling.

"We're going to have to burn the pots to get it all tasting right," joked Martial Voitier, Mandina's general manager. [...]

In the days leading up to the Feb. 7 reopening, the Mandinas found that they were not immune to the virus of doubt that infects all who choose to rebuild here.

On dark days -- and many of them felt that way -- the project appeared ill-advised. Last fall, Tommy Mandina, Cindy's father, described a typical day in his life on the construction site. "I go in there, fight with everyone, get depressed and leave," he said. "When will it open? Don't ask me."

Very little about the rebuilding project turned out to be predictable, not least its cost. [...]

The original estimate to fix and restore Mandina's was $800,000. The $500,000 the Mandinas received from their flood insurance policy, coupled with the $500,000 loan they took out from the Bank of Louisiana in the fall of 2005, should have easily covered the project.

It didn't even come close.

Read all about what it took.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   A little more catching up for you, if you're taking it a couple at a time ... today's pair of fine cocktail videos focuses on rum cocktails.

Rum and the Daiquiri Cocktail

Rum is a spirit who's history is tightly intertwined with the discovery and formation of America. It's traditionally made from molasses, and is often commonly used in tropically inspired cocktails. In this episode we will examine the origins of rum and how it evolved from being barely drinkable into becoming the foundation of such wonderful cocktails as the Daiquiri.

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The El Floridita Cocktail

The "Floridita" Cocktail gets its name from the Floridita bar in Cuba. If you glance through various cocktail books, you will most likely find a variety of different drinks that go by this name, I'm not sure which one should be considered the original version, but this particular one I find to be quite delightful. You'll also learn about how to make homemade Grenadine in the process. (And as to the name of this drink using the masculine "El" instead of the feminine "La"... I've been told that while the establishment takes the feminine name of "Floridita", in Spanish the bar itself is masculine, and thus "El" should be used. At least that's what I've been told.)

I'm finding myself to be not much of a fan of Bacardi these days. Given all the other rums I've tried, I'm finding Bacardi white rum to be sort of the vodka of rums (ooh, that's harsh). Try your Daiquiris with Cruzan Rum from the Virgin Islands, and I think you'll find it has more character and flavor. We're big Cruzan fans around here, and we even like some of their flavored rums, especially the coconut. I'm generally not a fan of those kinds of flavored spirits, but the coconut is particularly good (and they pineapple and banana aren't bad either). A simple Daiquiri made with Cruzan Coconut Rum is lovely on a summer afternoon ... you put de lime in de coconut and drink 'em both up; it relieve de bellyache.

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 9.   Mary and Rick say, "The last big day of driving takes us on a journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape of alien life forms and a death-themed mini-golf course. That's our kind of day!"

Plucky Survivors See America!

Though we've been on time every morning, this particular one we were running early with the unfortunate result that we landed at our first stop two hours before it opened. It's probably just as well - the Museum of Historical Torture Devices looked like the rest of The Wisconsin Dells, a big old, plastic tourist trap. It might not have been - but again, that's what we saw and that's how we're going to describe it. The whole place gave us Branson flashbacks so we weren't sorry to leave early.

Besides that gave us time for an unexpected stop on our route at the factory home of a regional candy specialty, the Cow Pie. We bought some for friends in honor of the official Plucky Survivor Road Game and also picked up other chocolate because it was there. And thus we started our day with candy and as you will see we will end our day with candy.

Our official site was probably the only thing we needed to see on the entire trip. Well, there was the pork barbecue, but this wasn't edible and so it wins in other categories. [...]

[O]ur final official stop was the place that was supposed to be our first official stop, the completely awesome 9-hole death themed mini-golf course in the basement of a funeral home. Alghrim Acres has been a family owned and run operation for four generations and our tour guide Douglas Ahlgrim's father built the first version of the golf course in 1964 as a diversion for his kids. Since then it has become a part of an ever-growing game room that two generations of children have played in, especially during the cold winter months.

You start on the hole with the metallic skull complete with red gleaming eyes, knock a ball through a shipping casket (Rick got a hole in one, thank you very much), chase one through a tombstone themed oversized pinball machine, and brave a mini-haunted house and a cryptorium (points off if you knock a ball into an empty grave) among other delightfully ghoulish diversions. Don't get us wrong, it's not high tech but it's just funny.

And they didn't get to go to Hot Doug's, due to it still being closed thanks to Doug's broken leg. They just missed it, though! Doug'll be back in business next Wednesday, September 12, because "Doug's leg is coming along nicely (and his bank account is not)."

Stay tuned for day 10, and the road home.

Ray Nagin sobers up.   He's not running for governor.

Mike made some interesting and amusing points in email: "In a way, I hope that Nagin does run for governor, only because he will likely get enough votes to prevent Jindal from winning in the primary. Republicans are pushing for Jindal to win in the primary so that they can spend more money on other races. Of course Nagin could never win a state wide election. He may be considering Dollar Bill Jefferson's seat. He would probably have a decent shot at it. [You've seen] the "C. Ray -- Not Lately" T-shirts? Now there are "Nay-GONE" bumper stickers. It would all be a lot funnier if things weren't so screwed up."

Ain't that the truth. Things really are screwed up when you find yourself actually missing Edwin Edwards.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, September 7, 2007

Astonishing music video of the day.   Somehow I'd managed never to see this performance, recorded in 1986 -- Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, jamming together on three pianos. (!)

This was recorded at Storyville Jazz Hall in New Orleans (and oh yeah, that's Ron Wood on guitar, looking like he was having the time of his life), with "King of Ging" Paul Shaffer leading the band. It's currently out on DVD as "Fats and Friends"

UPDATE: Whoops ... the video has disappeared from the hosting service due to copyright infringement. Unsurprising, and probalby our fault. Oh well. Buy the DVD though, it's very much worth it!

The Death and Rebirth of Mandina's, Part 3: Upholding a Family Tradition.   We continue with Brett Anderson's superb five-part series on how New Orleans institution Mandina's Restaurant rose from the muck of over five feet of toxic Katrina floodwater (courtesy of the government's levee failures) to serve poor boys, soft shell crabs and turtle soup yet again. Today the tale begins with Cindy Mandina coming to realize how much her family business meant to New Orleanians, after being stunned while reading an airline magazine in which Harry Connick Jr. raves about the place.

"I always thought of Mandina's as just a neighborhood restaurant," Cindy said. "Dad went to work. Mom was home raising the kids. Dad came home. That was it. Who knew?

If Cindy is guilty of having undervalued her inheritance, it could be because she represents the first generation of Mandinas to grow up farther than a flight of stairs away from it.

She and her sister, Valerie Larmeu, were raised in Metairie. Their mother Judy Mandina, who is divorced from Cindy's father, Tommy, never worked in the restaurant.

Tommy, like his father and uncle before him, was raised in the apartment above Mandina's -- a residence he maintained, on a part-time basis, until Aug. 28, 2005. The most time Cindy spent in that apartment was when she went there with her sister and parents to seek shelter during hurricanes.

"Mid-City didn't flood," Valerie quipped, paraphrasing the conventional wisdom her family once followed.

Cindy was a toddler when her father took over Mandina's from his father Anthony, who died in 1975. She started busing tables at 8 and writing checks to vendors such as the P&J Oyster Company when she was 11, in Tommy's view the ideal age to break someone into his business.

"When I get them when they're 15 or 16, they're a pain in the ass," he said. "Get them when they're 12, by the time they're 15, they can run the place. It's not rocket science."

Cindy's involvement in the rebuilding of the family business -- which included the opening of a Baton Rouge location in February 2006 and a Mandeville location eight months after that -- ensured that Mandina's would continue under the guidance of a Mandina for a fourth generation.

Were it not for her dogged determination, Mandina's might never have reopened.

In September 2005, Tommy, who is semi-retired, saw little reason to attempt returning to life as he knew it.

"He was devastated," said Cindy, who had taken over day-to-day operations of the restaurant just before the storm. "This is the building he grew up in. This was his whole life. To see it destroyed, like everyone else in New Orleans, he said, 'I'm done. This is going to be too hard and take too long.' I said, 'I want to do it.'

"I said, 'What's the worst possible thing that could happen, dad? We walk away with our heads held high. If we fail, we fail. Who's going to rebuild the city if it's not the people in their 20s, 30s and 40s? I wasn't born to be a quitter.'"

Cindy continued, "Plus, he had everyone saying to him, 'Are you going to come back Tommy? You have to come back. (Mandina's) is an institution. It wouldn't be New Orleans without it.'"

Ain't that the truth?

When I was outside Mandina's in early October of 2005, chatting with their insurance adjuster, my heart was sinking. He was telling me that Mr. Tommy was saying the exact things that were quoted in this article -- "That's it. I'm done." Apparently the insurance man hadn't talked to Cindy yet!

Tune in again tomorrow, when we look at the high cost of coming back.

Tales of the Cocktail video recap.   Small Screen Network, who produce Robert Hess' excellent video series "The Cocktail Spirit," produced a couple of short clip reels of the whirlwind events of Tales 2007. I managed not to be in any shots (whew), but fortunately lots of cool people we know are in there. Here's Part One and Part Two.

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 8.   Mary and Rick's second to last day on the road involves Spam, a dragon and a stegosaurus, donuts (of course), and a dead cat in a box. That was a new one even for them. Read all about it.

Plucky Survivors See America!

The Spam Museum was everything we could have wanted and so much more. Somehow, they managed to strike the right tone between understandable pride in their product (sorry, Hormel; we know you told us the ridiculously large statistics about the amount of Spam manufactured and sold every year, but it's flown out of our heads) and a winking knowledge that it's kind of, well, silly. It's Spam, for pity's sake. But it's also, in a way, awesome.

So is the museum, which was opened with not a ribbon cutting, but the pulling off of a giant lid of a giant can of Spam, with the help of three TV Moms (Barbara Billingsly, Marion Ross, and Debra Jo Rupp). There are interactive theaters with films and a quiz show, exhibits that explain the rather dramatic founding of the company (there were financial scandals) and displays of the inexplicable popularity of a certain canned pork product. Yes, there as an entire section on the famous Monty Python section. Everywhere was the distinct blue and yellow color scheme, and oh, you should have seen the gift shop. There was nothing that wasn't branded with that Spam logo and we mean that in a good way. And it was all free (well, not the gift shop, which was VERY pricey). Those Spam people; they've been around a long time and there's a good reason for it.

A quick stop for lunch (including Spam for Dave, who knows how to join a road trip) and then it was off to Ed's Museum in Wykoff, Minnesota. How to describe this attraction? Well, Ed was a local grocer (among other things including a Character with a Capital C) who ran a Jack Spratt franchise market from the 30's on.

He was also a, how to put this, pack rat. Who never threw anything out. At all. Nothing. Seriously. Ask us about the dead pet cat. No, better still, don't.

As for Ed's Museum ... it's best just to read the rest. This was a surprise for Mary, which I've known about since before they left. Read more about Ed's Museum here.

Me and Jack!   I had forgotten that the guest on KCSN's "Two on the Dial" last night was going to be the legendary Jack Klugman, which meant that I forgot my good camera as well as having forgotten to pick up a copy of his book Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship for him to sign. The iPhone came to the rescue, though ...

Jack and me

It was beyond awesome to meet him ... I grew up with "The Odd Couple," also seeing and enjoying him in everything from "The Twilight Zone" to "Quincy" (where one of my old teachers, Milt Gelman, was one of the writers). With all due respect to Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall are Oscar and Felix. (They used to do productions of the original play too; boy, would I have loved to have seen one of those.)

He's the nicest guy in the world, by the way, and hilarious, and full of so many fantastic stories of 60 years in the theatre, film and television that it'd probably take almost that long to tell them all. At 85 years old he's still working -- he's about to start rehearsals for a stage production of "The Sunshine Boys" with Paul Dooley, that's going to run at a theatre in New Jersey from October 11 - November 11. Wow.

I won't miss my chance to get him to sign the book either -- he'll be at A Different Light Bookstore in West Hollywood next Tuesday, September 11 at 7:30pm. Appearing with him will be Alison Arngrim, Julie Newmar (!) and Rose Marie (!!).

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Death and Rebirth of Mandina's, Part 2: Preservation and Progress.   Continuing with the Times-Picayune's five-part series about the destruction and reconstruction of local landmark Mandina's restaurant, as the restauranteurs envision a new and improved version of their grand old eatery, but face myriad construction and regulation issues.

The considerable task of gutting Mandina's brought little sense of accomplishment. In fact, it only clarified the immensity of the job ahead.

When Tommy walked back inside his restaurant, he looked around, but there wasn't much to see: a skeletal box of two-by-fours surrounding a brick fireplace that the Mandinas didn't know existed before the demolition.

It was cold. Tommy had just convened a meeting of seven craftsmen, none of whom lifted a tool to work. When they would return to do so was unclear when they left.

Tommy dropped the rolled-up plans he'd been carrying under his arm like a bundle of twigs. They landed on top of an air-conditioning unit on the floor, kicking up a cloud of dust.

"You sure you don't want to sell the place and move away?" he asked himself before falling silent, perhaps in hope that someone would answer.

The road is still long and hard, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel. More tomorrow.

Second night at Seven Grand.   Another night that makes us very, very happy this place exists, even though tonight it was particularly loud and crowded.

There was a small-batch Bourbon tasting last night, which we missed, but we did get to meet Fred Noe, son of Booker Noe and seventh-generation distiller at Jim Beam, responsible for such lovely whiskies as Booker's and Knob Creek. He's quite a character, a good ol' boy from Kentucky who loves what he does, and has a great time doing it. Apparently he'll be doing less of the meet-and-greets, as the master distiller position at the distillery is now open, and he's next in line.

They were so slammed last night that we wanted to avoid ordering anything too labor-intensive, so we opted for the drink we usually use to test a bar's mettle (even though we knew we didn't need to do so here), the drink listed first on their menu -- the Rye Manhattan. "Any preference?" asked Damian, our affable and expert bartender. (We're not only just getting a drink with bottom-shelf well Bourbon, we're being asked which of a dozen rye whiskies we want in our Manhattans. This never happens.) Nope, let's have it with Rittenhouse bonded (100 proof) rye, as the menu suggests. It was, of course, completely perfect -- the balance, the spice, even the cherry, which was dark and flavorful, not bright neon red and reeking of artificial almond flavor. I started comparing this to the last Manhattan we'd had out, which was at the Buggy Whip in Westchester -- spectacular steaks and sides, but lousy Mannattans. I was reminding Wes of how our bartender had made it -- "he makes it like he makes his lousy Martinis, completely unbalanced with only a drop of sweet vermouth," I was saying, just as Damian passed by us. "What, this one?!" he said, horrified. "No no no!" we reassured him. "This one's perfect, mate, absolutely perfect! We were just comparing to the last one we'd had elsewhere, which was lousy!" These guys really, really care.

As we sat there and chatted and laughed at the monster movies they had on the video screen in the corner ("Beast from 2000 Fathoms"! "One Million Years B.C"! Raquel Welch in a fur bikini! It was amusing to note that all the men looked like bearded hamburger and all the women looked like fashion models), we watched Damian make Sazerac after Sazerac after Sazerac. Not only is it exciting to see a Sazerac on the menu anywhere around here, and made well, it's even more exciting to see people ordering it and learning what it is.

After our Manhattans we took a deep breath and ordered the gorgeous Blackberry Juleps that our friends had last Friday, and I felt a little guilty at ordering something so labor-intensive while they were so slammed. At our request Dave, who took care of us while Damien was a nonstop blur of motion making drinks for other folks, just smiled and said, "Ahhh. I love making those." Again ... our kinda people.

Simple enough -- a few gorgeous, plump blackberries muddled with mint and sugar, then with Bulleit Bourbon added and a silver cupful of hand-crushed ice, garnished with two blackberries on a pick and a sheaf of fresh mint to send the aroma right up your nostrils ... oh man, what a lovely drink.

Just as we thought we'd finish up, Damien came back and asked us, "Do you like tequila and/or rye whiskey?" We loved both, we assured him, and he made us something that was apparently based on the El Diablo, although omitting the cassis, using freshly grated ginger instead of ginger ale, plus (I think) some pineapple juice, with Sazerac 6-year-old rye as the base spirit. Damian's hands were a blur, and we were a tad tipsy, so I didn't get the exact ingredients, but ... wow, I sure enjoyed that drink. Very spicy -- in fact, I think it was probably the first drink I've ever had to feature freshly grated ginger as an ingredient - and very, very refreshing. "You could get lost in this drink," he said, and he was right; there was layer after layer of flavor.

I may sound like I'm going on and on, but the very idea of a bartender asking us if we wanted to try something new, and walking US through a drink (instead of the other way around) and then serving it to us with pleasure ... boy. It's a bar that does what a great restaurant does.

We met tons more nice people, and laid our plans to work our way through lots of whiskies as well as to continue our cocktail explorations there, not to mention doin' some socializin'.

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 7.   In which our heroes had "an adventure filled day as we eat ice cream, meet a presidential candidate, eat more ice cream, meet a Hobo Queen, and then sleep in a place where a president slept. Just a typical Plucky day."

Plucky Survivors See America!

Rick - who we will remind you, just turned 41 - got carded not once, but twice trying to go into the casino with comments like "I would've placed you in your late twenties" more than making up for his gambling losses.

Mary didn't get carded. She's no longer speaking to Rick.

[...] Turns out that Obama was going to be in Storm Lake 45 minutes after us so it only took a little jiggering to land us beside the very pretty and somewhat choppy lake to hear the candidate's stump speech.

Said speech had a lot to do with health care, which was appropriate from the Plucky Survivors standpoint and when he took questions from the audience he graciously took one from Mary about his intentions for rebuilding and reviving New Orleans.

He had compassionate but practical things to say about immigration issues including the important role they currently play in the workforce. The only reason we're really bringing this up is because this subject recurred later in our day.

Living in Los Angeles, we don't get this kind of interaction with candidates. Usually when they get to us, things have been pretty much already decided, Primarily speaking, and so really all they want is our money. Further, although Rick grew up in Iowa, this kind of thing either didn't happen as much or as often or he was too busy eating Maid-Rites to notice.

But time and tide waits for no one and we had a big giant ball of popcorn to see. You may draw whatever parallels to that and modern politics that you'd like.

Can they top this day tomorrow? Well, it starts with Spam, so anything is possible. Stay tuned!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   We're gonna finish all these by next week!

Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau - The Vessel 75

An original creation by Jamie Boudreau of Vessel - Seattle, the Vessel 75 utilizes a maple syrup foam to add sweetness and mouth feel. It is a beautiful cocktail with a nod to the classic Old Fashioned.

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The Martini

It is time perhaps that we tackle that quintessential cocktail, the Martini. This drink originated in the late 1800s, and quickly became one of the standards, alongside the Manhattan. The pre-prohibition Martini however was different from what you might expect today in many ways, and frankly it was a lot better for it.

NOTE: Ok, so you got me pontificating about the Martini so much that I messed up making the dry Martini in this episode. I should have added a dash of orange bitters to the dry Martini cocktail just like I did to the sweet version.

Not to worry, Robert. The Martini is worth pontificating about. I've stopped allowing the use of the word "Martini" to mean any generic cocktail, at least in my presence. A Martini consists of two things -- gin and vermouth (optionally with orange bitters, which I like). There's no chocolate in a Martini. Sorry, but I've chosen to be a pain in the ass about this. Somehow, I don't think most of my readers would disapprove (particularly because even though I'm being a pain in the ass I still try to be nice about it).

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Death and Rebirth of Mandina's, Part 1: Hell's Kitchen.   Thanks to Michael for alerting me to this; I'd only been skimming Da Paper for the last week or so. Starting last Sunday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has been running a five-part series about the beloved Mandina's Restaurant, a local institution for 75 years and arguably the best neighborhood restaurant in the city.

When I made it back home for the first time after Katrina and the floods, five weeks after, Mandina's looked like this on the outside.

Mandina's Restaurant

Mandina's, closer

The water line was at 62 inches on the outside of the building. I was chatting with an insurance adjuster, who was waiting for Mr. Mandina to get there, and at the time there was some question as to whether the Mandina family would go on with it.

Here's a description from the article on what they faced inside:

The tableau brought to mind a Salvador Dali painting. The asphyxiating aroma suggested the inside of a garbage bin.

Cindy, 35, was joined by Martial Voitier, Mandina's bleach-blond manager and a 20-year employee. Both had visited the flooded-out restaurant, yet fresh astonishment still registered for them inside a building Cindy referred to as "maggot heaven."

Evidence of the rise and fall of Mid-City floodwaters was etched onto the walls of the Mandina family's 75-year-old restaurant, now striped by several brown-yellow flood lines, the highest measuring 5 to 6 feet off the ground. The bar along which generations of regulars rested many an old-fashioned had been lifted from its foundation and set down at a slight angle, like a boat washed ashore.

Chairs were stacked atop tables anchored by heavy metal bases. Because the restaurant's foundation sits slightly above street level, the water stopped just below the tops of the tables, some of which still were set with glass sugar dispensers and bottles of Crystal and Tabasco hot sauce, just as Cindy had left them on Aug. 27, 2005, a Saturday, the final evening of service at the old Mandina's. The flood's most striking visual impression was left on the tabletops themselves, a few of which had warped dramatically, their sharp corners curling downward in perfect symmetry.

"Oh, look at my menus," Cindy moaned, fingering an unblemished paper insert detailing Mandina's regular Sunday specials: shrimp Creole, fried chicken, trout amandine, Italian sausage with spaghetti and vegetables. "All ready for the next day."

Waterlogged boxes of unbroken Abita Amber and Barq's bottles littered the hallway leading from the bar past another dining room and into the kitchen, which felt creepily subterranean. The few rays of light that sliced through the darkness revealed a mass of heavy equipment corroded almost beyond recognition.

Voitier had to raise his voice to be heard over the hard buzz of insects and running water. "It's been dripping for at least two weeks," he said of the dishwasher. [...]

The office where father and daughter worked side-by-side at folding tables was in disarray, the victim of looters and the wind and rain that had entered through smashed windows. Time cards were strewn about the floor, where a copy of the Aug. 28, 2005, edition of The Times-Picayune -- headline: "Katrina Takes Aim" -- lay encased in its plastic delivery bag.

"We want to knock the building down," said Cindy, her New Orleans-seasoned accent the type most Americans guess is Brooklyn-bred. "But money is going to dictate what we do."

The journey took 18 months. Read more about it here today, and I'll link the rest of the stories, one each day.

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 6.   Yesterday was a full and rich adventure-filled Plucky day, as "we horked down MORE barbecue, saw a couple of great museums, and went a little insane." Not to mention all the axe murder stuff.

Plucky Survivors See America!

What we seem to do best is eat, and that's why we went down the street to grab some barbeque sandwiches from Gates, the other "best BBQ joint in Kansas City" because even though we had just eaten a pound of meat between us the night before we are in charge of deciding exactly how much meat is enough meat and apparently it wasn't.

Safely ensconced in a cooler for the 90 minute drive to St. Joseph, Missouri, we ate them in the parking lot of the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which made perfect sense at the time. We would show you a photo of our triple layer, overstuffed melting beef brisket and seriously porky ham sandwiches, each with probably half a pound of meat and some righteous sauce, but they didn't last long enough for even a shutter click. Sorry, Arthur Bryant; Mary, at least, is throwing her vote to Gates for "Best Kansas City BBQ." Rick tried to vote but his mouth was full. It sounded like "bwerfflmmmmmm."

Will the Plucky Survivors still be able to fit into their pants by journey's end? Only time will tell, so tune in again tomorrow ... same pork time ... same pork channel.

... uh ... What?!   Ray Nagin is delusional.

New Orleans mayor is said to be considering a run for governor;
polls give him little chance

Mayor Ray Nagin could be days away from announcing he will run for governor of Louisiana -- a move many in this stricken city regard as preposterous.

If Nagin runs, he will do so on his stewardship of New Orleans. But this is a city in great distress two years after Hurricane Katrina, with large swaths still empty, an appalling murder rate and a painfully sluggish recovery. Nagin's disapproval rating stood at 65 percent in a recent poll.

"He's clearly seeing his election potential differently than most of Louisiana. Statewide, Ray Nagin is dead in the water," said G. Pearson Cross, an assistant professor of politics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "One thing is clear: New Orleans has not had the forceful and dynamic leadership necessary to get recovery on the right track."

A member of Nagin's inner circle told The Associated Press last month that the second-term Democratic mayor planned to announce a run for governor shortly after Labor Day. He has already taken several fundraising trips, and his technical adviser secured the Internet address

Of the possibility of a run for higher office, the 51-year-old Nagin said: "The only way I would do something like that is if I thought it would help this recovery."

Nagin's detractors call him ineffective and bristle at the thought that he would consider higher office with nearly three years left on his term, city services in traction, and the black community that re-elected him suffering acutely since the storm. Privately, some said they suspect Nagin knows he has little chance but wants to use the publicity to ensure a political future in Louisiana.

I don't think he needs to be governor. I think he needs to be committed. Especially if he thinks he has a political future in Louisiana.

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Continuing our catch-up journey through all the videos I got behind on the last fwe months ... come along, shall we?

Sean Harrison - Master Distiller at Plymouth Gin

In this very special episode, Robert sits down at Zig Zag Cafe - Seattle with Sean Harrison, Master Distiller at Plymouth Gin. No, it's not just juniper.

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The Sidecar Cocktail

The Sidecar is a classic cocktail which most bartenders know, but seems to be rarely ordered. Part of this is because it is poorly made, and more often then not made with sour mix instead of fresh ingredients. Properly made this drink should be made with Cognac (or brandy), Cointreau, and fresh lemon juice. There are however a variety of ways these ingredients can be combined, the secret is how to do so in a way that presents a perfect balance.

Thanks to my friend René Engel for buying me my first Sidecar many years ago. I can't believe I hadn't even had one until then. My, how far we've come ...

Cocktail of the day.   Inspired by my catch-up on Robert's video series, I revisited this drink for the first time in a while, and I'm glad I did.

The Opera Cocktail

2 ounces Tanqueray gin.
1/2 ounce Dubonnet.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The maraschino was Maraska, and the bitters were Regans'.

Dubonnet, for those of you who may not be familiar with it, is a red aperitif wine in the same category as sweet vermouth, and fortified to 19% alcohol, so it'll keep for a little while (keep it in the fridge, though). It's classified as a quinquina, which is an aperitif wine that contains quinine, and a proprietary blend of spices. It originated in France, but is currently made in the U.S. It's quite lovely by itself, and is an ingredient in a number of classic cocktails.

Dubonnet comes in two varieties, as does vermouth and the other well-known quinquina/aperitif wine Lillet, both red and white. The rule of thumb, though, is that if it calls for Dubonnet, you want red; if it calls for Lillet, you want white. The white Dubonnet and red Lillet varities aren't nearly as good as their counterparts.

I like Dubonnet a lot, and haven't had it in a while. We had the dregs of a bottle in the fridge for Gawd knows how long, and now that I've got a fresh one (which is no probem for you to keep on hand; it's almost as cheap as vermouth) I'll be exploring more Dubonnet cocktails in the next few months.

13 Reasons Why We Are Not OK.   I meant to post this last week, on the two-year anniversary of the day New Orleans was nearly destroyed by the failure of the U.S. government-built levees and floodwalls, but got a bit frazzled and behind on things. New Orleans author Poppy Z. Brite offered her list of 13 reason why the city of New Orleans is not OK last year on the first anniversary of this man-made disaster, and this year updated the list to refect what's happening a year after that, i.e. right now. It is sobering reading, and a pretty definitive take on the situation for anyone who wants to know what's really going on.

I would normally never repost this much of a writer's writing, but this is a special case; Poppy's list was "disseminated far and wide" last year, and that made her happy; she wants everyone to know what's going on, so I'm going to do my best to help disseminate the update this year.

Last year's points ore in italics; this year's update below each point, in non-italic font.

13 Reasons Why We Are Not OK

1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn't flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the "uninhabitable sections," there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.

Power and water have been restored to every part of the city, which is certainly not to say that every individual home has these services. There are still people living in darkened, waterless shells of homes. Since moving out of the relatively sheltered Sliver by the River and into the very different world of Central City, I've learned that there are also people living without these services (particularly water) as a matter of course, not because the services are unavailable but because the people have fallen too far behind on their bills and cannot afford the charge to have them turned back on. I've spread the word that neighborhood folks are welcome to take water from our outside tap, and often hear/see them trudging away with containers in their hands.

2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.

Police presence has improved, but the NOPD still doesn't have the officers it needs or the budget to hire them. Check out this recent news story about a near-rapist in the French Quarter who strolled casually away from the scene of his crime as a concerned citizen followed him, desperately trying to get cops on the scene. The story contains the following quote from the concerned citizen: "The cops told me to go to the press. The cops were like, 'We need this out there.' They don't have the capacity."

3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup -- either FEMA or municipal -- for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.

Trash pickup is probably better than it's ever been, but in typical New Orleans tempest-in-a-teapot fashion, French Quarter activists are complaining about the size of the new cans (which really are too large for people living in tiny apartments with narrow alleyways) and the Nagin administration has made no real attempt to accomodate them.

4. There are no street lights in many of the "uninhabited" sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.

We're still a fairly dark city, but far better-lit than we were in March '06.

5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don't work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.

From what I can see, most of the stoplights are working most of the time. There's still a flasher at the fairly major intersection of St. Charles and Washington Avenues, but that has something to do with repairs on the St. Charles streetcar line, which currently only runs to Lee Circle but is supposed to go all the way to Napoleon Avenue by this fall. I can't speak for sections of the city I don't get to very often, such as Lakeview and New Orleans East.

6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.

More hospitals and private doctors are open for business, but the state of our medical care is still pretty dire. In a city where almost everybody is going crazy in one way or another, there's virtually no help for mental patients, who are usually either held in emergency rooms or jailed. State Attorney General Charles Foti failed in his attempted case against Memorial Medical Center doctors and other medical personnel who stayed through the storm and were accused of euthanizing elderly patients, but Foti's idiocy will probably drive medical personnel out of the city at a time when we desperately need them, and will certainly ensure that fewer will stay through the next storm.

7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, but it's crippling for people who work "normal" hours.

Most places have extended their hours until 9:00 or 10:00 PM, but there is only one 24-hour drugstore (the big Walgreen's on St. Charles) and still no 24-hour grocery store.

8. The city's recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.

The city's recycling program is still suspended indefinitely. The wetlands continue to disappear.

9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now -- the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her -- and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.

Much of the Lower Ninth Ward has been bulldozed, ending any possibility that further bodies will be found.

10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn't they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don't exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don't live here?)

Only one housing project has reopened, and few other provisions have been made for low-income housing.

11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it's campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he's gotten so far was "written on the back of a napkin."

Most of the abandoned cars are gone, but you can still find one pretty easily if you spend a little time looking. Hell, you can even still see boats lying around -- I pass by one every time I come home from the post office.

12. Many of the FEMA trailers -- you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each -- have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn't have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house's power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a "Katrina cottage" that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they're not allowed to provide permanent housing.

Lots of people are now living in FEMA trailers, which have been discovered to contain dangerously high levels of formaldehyde. Some people have had to move out of them after developing respiratory ailments, skin problems, and possibly cancer. No "Katrina cottages" are forthcoming.

13. A large percentage -- I've heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% -- of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting "expert" gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.

Every month or so we get a news story about how many of us are on antidepressants, how many are abusing drugs or alcohol, etc. The numbers are frighteningly high. The latest buzzword is that we're not having PTSD, but "continuing stress disorder" from living among wreckage and other constant reminders of what happened, still not having levees we can depend on, the increasingly out-of-control cost of living, etc. Many of my close friends are depressed, some so severely that I fear for their lives. (I expect they sometimes fear for mine too, though I think that if I were going to do anything like that, I would have done it last winter.) I myself am still taking two anti-anxiety drugs, Klonopin and Xanax. I've tried to get off them a few times, but since I started having severe panic attacks this spring, I feel more dependent on them than ever.

So there you have it: in some ways we are more OK than we were when I wrote the original post, but we are still not OK, and many of us probably never will be. Of course, the main reason we aren't OK is that 1500+ of us died needlessly, and people continue to suffer and die as a direct result of the failure of the federal levee system.

And that's the way it is, Wednesday, August 29, 2007 -- two years later. Sorry it took me a week to post this.

Add to that the skyrocketing cost of housing, the fact that the insurance companies are dropping homeowners left and right or else raising their insurance rates to astronomical levels (some friends of mine who live in an area which did not flood, and whose house received almost no damage, saw their insurance company attempt to raise their rates 120%, and after protest only lowered them to about a 70% increase -- the rough equivalent of the monthly car payment they had just finished paying off) ...

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Seven Grand.   Bliss. And Heaven.

We'd heard that a new bar had opened in downtown L.A. a little over four months ago, called Seven Grand, described at the time as a "whiskey bar." Nice space, great selection ... one of our friends dropped an email and said, "We should go soon!" Well, we were about to head out to New Orleans for Jazzfest, and that kinda got lost.

By the time we returned to New Orleans six weeks later for Tales of the Cocktail, we'd still been "meaning to get there," but hadn't yet, me being God Emperor of Procrastination and all (and when said God Emperor is forgetful and also "has no concept of time passing," as Wes puts it, that doesn't help). Then we were fortunate to meet a really nice guy named Marcos at the Lost Ingredients seminar I participated in at Tales, and ... lo and behold, Marcos was one of the main bartenders at Seven Grand. He started telling me about the place, and I started getting really excited, and we resolved to get there as soon as possible. We'd be flying back to L.A. the following Monday, and we promised to see him there on Tuesday night. The problem was that late Sunday and early Monday I started getting sick, thanks to Mr. Billy Bob, was flat on my back Tuesday night, missed two days of work that week and wasn't really better for seven days. Then at the tail end of that Wes got sick, and that lasted another week ... and before we knew it it was a few weeks later, we we still hadn't been to Seven Grand. Word got back to us that Marcos had been asking about us, wondering if we had been abducted by aliens, or something. That did it. We got on the train and went downtown last Friday.

Taking so long to get to Seven Grand was one of the dumber things I've done this year, but in this case it's better late than never. Because I think this bar is going to change our lives.

We've dreamed about a bar like this. Hell, we've practically prayed for a bar like this. I got tired of hearing friends in New York and Seattle and San Francisco talk about places like The Pegu Club and Zig Zag and Vessel Bourbon and Branch, with NO local equivalents, not only a good, warm, friendly bar but a cocktailian bar, where the people there really knew their stuff, knew cocktail history, was able to make drinks from the mid-19th Century as well as concoct new ones that we'd be excited about, that only cared to use the very best ingredients and took their time to make their drinks. The lack of this is the primary reason we stopped going out to drink, and started doing it almost entirely at home.

This is about to change, because Seven Grand is all this and more.

Marcos greeted us as we came up to the bar, and then offered us a tour of the place. It's a beautiful space, reclaiming the old Brock and Co. jewelry store in the 500 block of 7th Street downtown. Many of the architectural and interior details of the old space were reused in the design of the new -- the glass jewelry cases formed a bank of small windows near the ceiling in the room divider, wooden jewelry drawer fronts with gorgeous brass handles were mounted on the front of the bar, and the beautiful polished wood surface of the bar itself came from the boardroom table. Stuffed and mounted jackalopes adorn the walls, and the wall behind the bar features about 200 different kinds of whiskey (they're working on increasing their selection, hoping to put Bourbon and Branch in second place for selection, a noble and worthy goal). Warm, inviting and friendly.

I beamed as soon as I saw their current featured drinks menu. Topping it was a Rye Manhattan, using Rittenhouse 100, properly balanced with sweet vermouth and bitters. Second on the list was ... sigh ... The Sazerac Cocktail. We make killer Sazeracs at home, in vintage Sazerac glasses from New Orleans' Roosevelt Hotel, but the very idea of being able to go out and order a Sazerac, to have someone else make it for us, and make it well. Someone who not only has heard of rye whiskey and knows what it is, but stocks many different kinds (including Sazerac 18-year) and who, when we ask what kind of rye whiskey they have, don't show us a bottle of frakking Canadian Club. I hadn't had a sip yet and already I was very happy.

We struggled to decide what would be first, and agreed on one that I'd never had within the borders of the city of Los Angeles outside my own house -- another signature drink of the city of New Orleans, and one that's not easy to make properly, the Ramos Gin Fizz.

A Ramos Gin Fizz at Seven Grand

Ramos Gin Fizz

2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 teaspoon of bar sugar.
1 egg white (Seven Grand uses pasteurized egg whites, about 2 tablespoons).
1-1/2 ounces cream.
3 drops orange flower water.

The expertly blended ingredients were shaken for a long time and then topped with an ounce or so of soda and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Marcos and his fellow bartender Patrick started shaking ... and shaking ... and shaking. At one point each of them passed the shaker off to another bartender to shake for a whlie, then they took it back and shook it some more. It's rare to see Ramos Fizzes shaken this thoroughly even in New Orleans, so we knew they wouldn't settle for any short cuts. This drink was going to be done properly.

It. Was. Perfect.

I boggled, actually. Here we were, sipping beautiful Ramos Gin Fizzes. In a bar. In Los Angeles.

Next, another New Orleans classic, and the ancestor of many drinks including the Sidecar and the Margarita -- The Bourbon Crusta, supposedly invented at a place called Santina's Saloon in the French Quarter in the mid-1800s. I believe the Brandy Crusta was the original drink, with Bourbon quickly taking over due to its rise in popularity in America over French Cognac.

Bourbon Crusta

The Bourbon Crusta

2 ounces Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce Cointreau (or other triple sec).
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1/2 ounce lemon juice.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Shake ingredients with ice and pour into a glass that's been prepared with a sugared rim. Strain into the glass, and place a whole lemon peel around the rim of the glass.

This is the Crusta recipe that's been going around these days, but I like to reduce the liqueurs a bit, maybe just a teaspoon of maraschino and 2 teaspoons of Cointreau to make it a bit drier, but it's a good drink in either proportion. Incidentally, the recipe called for in Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks called for only a teaspoon of lemon juice, a half-teaspoon of curaçao and no maraschino at all.

We sipped, and enjoyed, and I said it again. "We're drinking Crustas. In a bar. In Los Angeles.

Next, one of Seven Grand's house cocktails, the Brock & Co., named for the space's former occupants.

Brock and Co.

Knob Creek Bourbon, a ginger-honey syrup, lemon juice, a splash of orange juice, on the rocks with a big slice of ginger as garnish. Bright and summery and refreshing, and it felt just right on this 90°F evening in Los Angeles.

Finally another house cocktail, featuring a Bourbon I'd never had before and a liqueur I can't seem to get enough of, The Elder Fitzgerald.

The Elder Fitzgerald

I didn't get all of the ingredients on this one, but it features Old Fitzgerald 12-year-old Bourbon and St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, the first time I'd seen St. Germain served in any Los Angeles bar. I hope it becomes a regular fixture.

We also spectated at a couple of the drinks that the nice couple we befriended at the next barstools over had had:

The Blackberry Julep

The Blackberry Julep, with fresh blackberries muddled with mint and a touch of sugar, with Bulleit Bourbon over crushed ice ... oh my. This was one of three juleps on their summer menu (they have seasonal cocktail menus!), also featuring the Kentucky Mint Julep (mint, house-made mint syrup and Maker's Mark, which they found worked best with this julep variation but made the blackberry one taste medicinal) and the Seven Large Julep (mint muddled with sugar and Black Maple Hill Bourbon, over crushed ice with a bit of sparkling wine).

The "Special" Mojito

This was Marcos' "Special" Mojito, made more or less in the traditional manner but topped with several dashes of Peychaud's Bitters. Wow.

Preparing one of the house juleps Master bartender at work

As much as I still want to get to these places, I think I can cut down on the jealousy I feel toward our friends in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, who get to drink at all those amazing bars all the time. We finally have a place of our own, and I think they'll be joined by others too. Los Angeles' time has come.

(That said, Murray, Jamie, Audrey ... we'll see y'all soon, no doubt!)

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Let's keep catching up, shall we?

Molecular Mixology with Jamie Boudreau: The Rosewater Rickey

In this special episode, the first in a series of three, Robert sits down with Jamie Boudreau of Vessel in Seattle. Jamie discusses and demonstrates the principles of Molecular Mixology in this episode with his creation, The Rosewater Rickey. Be careful! You might feel some heat!

#     #     #

The Japanese Cocktail

It's hard for me to understand how the Japanese cocktail has slid into obscurity. While you might find it listed in some of the modern cocktail books, you'll be hard pressed to find one that uses the original recipe from Jerry Thomas' "Bar Tenders Guide" published in 1887. Properly made this drink has the sweet almond flavor of the orgeat balanced against the brandy and the bitters to present a very enticing drink.

I'm fascinated by Jamie's explorations of "molecular mixology," yet some of the techniques might be a bit much for the home bar enthusiast and more suited toward the professional. That said ... I find myself really wanting to get a mister I can fill with Angostura Bitters so I can set the mist on fire. That's not such a handful, and appeals to my inner pyromaniac!

Plucky Survivors See America, Day 5.   Mary updates: "On Rick's birthday we started with donuts and we ended with barbecue. Oh and there was some other stuff in between. Mark Twain and Kansas City, but really... donuts and barbecue."

Plucky Survivors See America!

We started Rick's birthday (!!!) with a stop at Drive In Donuts, because Plucky Husband Steve caught an episode of Alton Brown on the Food Network raving about them. But the problem with all local donut places is that they start selling at 6am, which is not a time of day Plucky Survivors acknowledge unless something Plucky is keeping them up all night UNTIL 6am. When we got there at 9am, the offerings were already fairly limited, and it didn't help that the person ahead of us in line took the last of those white frosted round thingies stuffed with chocolate cream. We think they didn't do it on purpose, but we have our doubts. Rick actually saw Mary considering wrestling the woman to the ground for said donut, but something kept her from making a seen. What we had was fine, but our donut-hole shaped hearts still belong to Mel-O-Cream.

[...] We finished up the day Plucky style with a pound (literally) of various smoked meats from Arthur Bryant's BBQ restaurant. We declare ourselves fans of the Sweet Heat, probably because it taps into our sugar jones. Bryant's is considered one of the best BBQ joints in the country, and you won't get much dissent from us, though we liked the unusual large pressed sausage and the ribs the best.

There was lots in between donuts and BBQ. Read on!

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  Monday, September 3, 2007  ::  Labor Day

Plucky Survivors See America, Days 2 - 4!   We've got a bit of catching up to do ... I haven't been home to post much, and you'll see why below. Let's catch up with Mary and Rick, the Plucky Survivors, as they continue to discover America, donuts and pork.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Day 2: Bettendorf to Cedar Rapids, IA: Featuring dead jazz musicians, very much alive small-town America, something that approaches what might resemble the outer edges of the concept of "too much sugar," and an interesting new rule for Cow!

On advice from the tourism board, we stopped at a lunch place that had the word "Meat" in the name, and Mary decided to find out what the heavily promoted local bologna was all about. About three inches in diameter, along with locally made gouda, all heated and melted together on a soft bun, that's what it was. Also a bit of melted heaven.

Rick had a "Dagwood" sandwich, not nearly piled as high as its namesake would have liked, but the chopped ham, two kinds of cheese, bologna and more on a hearthstone bread hit the spot.

Then we were on our way to do some serious pillaging at a Dutch bakery we had read about (Jaarsma, in business since 1899), and we saw two bakeries doors away from each other. The choice was simple -- both bakeries. What? Oh, just look at the photo and see if you measure the amount of buttercream. Seriously, when one cake has four inches of inching alone and causes icing proponents such as ourselves to scrunch our foreheads and squeak "sweeeeeeeeeet" and put our forks down after two mouthfuls, you know it is pure sugar intensity. We regret nothing. And then went to the other bakery immediately.


So we were damn perky on our way to the next stop, which was about 20 miles of us going "ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?? HOW MUCH SUGAR WAS IN THA... then Mary fell asleep ... wow, sugar high leads to sugar crash.

The final official stop, long overdue in Rick's firm opinion, was for his beloved Maid-Rite. Midwesterners know of which he speaks but for those outside the region it's sort of like a sloppy joe but without the sloppy; loose meat, with a special seasonings, on another soft bun, plus mustard, pickle and onions. Ketchup optional. Thin sliced, well deep fried onion rings on the side. Aficionados can attest to its humble but delicious power and Rick accordingly horked down two of them, disproportionately happy about the whole thing. Mary had one and may not have been in the same gleeful state as Rick-it's one of those childhood comfort foods that will always mean more to one who grew up on them--but proclaimed it delicious nevertheless and it was more than made up for with the hand-dipped chocolate malt that disappeared quickly.

I read about those Iowa loose-meat sandwiches in John T. Edge's marvelous book Hamburgers and French Fries, and I've always been curious to try one. He did provide a recipe, as I recall, so maybe I can whip up a batch for them when they get back.

Day 3: Cedar Rapids, IA to Peoria, IL: "Will it play in Peoria?" asks Chuck. Well, Peoria (or rather Kiwanee) can play with me, apparently -- "We only have one thing to say ... HOG FEST!! Actually, we have a lot more to say, so ..."

[With Mary h]aving spent one of the finest weekends of her life at the Basile Swine Fest in Southwest Louisiana (where Chuck tied for first place in the Hog Squealing Contest, adds Chuck), that's all it took for us to switch the Plucky Nor'easter to the Midwest Express. You can see why we only use caps for HOG FEST. It's the only way to come close to our level of anticipation and enthusiasm.

And oh, how it lived up to the hype. A 50 years and counting local tradition in the form of a street festival, the first thing we see is a very long grill covered with boneless pork chops and pork patties. We opted for the former, and in Mary's case, her chop was a little small, so there were two, each about an inch thick, grilled to just the right moist doneness, with a touch of regional BBQ sauce, all on a soft bun. It was perfection in sandwich form.

As we photographed it for your envy, the couple next to us guessed we were out of town, because we were taking pictures of our food. Little did they know we take pictures of our food at home. Pleased we were visiting, they directed us to the local landmark bar, a beautiful piece of 1930's preservation, a gorgeously carved wood bar, tile floor and more. We decided to skip their other recommendation, the block of furniture stores, because Plucky Mobile just doesn't have room for a sofa. Not after all the HOG FEST t-shirts Mary bought.

Oh dear ... we might have to do a Swine Tour one day. Basile to Kewanee!

By the way, did I ever tell y'all the story about how I became a Hog Squealing Champion? I forget. But I also digress ...

Day 4: Peoria to St. Louis: The Plucky Pair gets their kicks on Route 66, honors honest Abe, and develops a mad crush on a giant piece of steel and concrete. Who knew?

The first town named for President Lincoln while he was still alive (he christened it himself with watermelon juice) still looks like a thriving place, but we weren't there for the sights. We were there for locally famous Mel-O-Cream donuts. Oh, my. Admire that oozing bismark in the photo. It goes up there with the HOG FEST sandwiches as memorable road trip food.

We nearly bypassed the former Pig Hip restaurant, now a museum to Route 66, because if it no longer serves its famous pig sandwiches, what's the point? Even worse, when we did turn up, we noticed something was missing: the entire museum.

A bronze plaque on a rock explained that just six months ago, the thing burned down, right around the time of the proprietor's 90th birthday. Dismayed, we went into the former office and found the man himself, Mr. Ernie, self-proclaimed "The Old Coot of 66" still holding court along with much accommodating wife Frances. The time we spent with them made the stop entirely worthwhile...

[Then,] a stop at the Museum of Funeral Customs right outside the gates. Exhibits on the history of embalming! Cases of mourning jewelry and clothes! The difference between caskets and coffins! Even a display about the Lincoln funeral train and a life size reproduction of his casket! For death buffs like Mary, there never was a better museum. It's a wonder she stopped herself from buying every book on display. But we wish we had eaten those coffin-shaped chocolates (complete with detachable lid and body inside) before they melted in the hot car.

Stay tuned tomorrow, as you goof off at work, lamenting the end of summer (which by season still has a few weeks to go), for Day 5!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Let's keep catching up gradually, if you haven't leapt ahead and done so already, with the series of superb videos on cocktail technique and history from Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess, in which he features a favorite of mine, plus one I've only had a couple of times but would love to have more often:

The Jasmine Cocktail

Gin can often be a daunting product to many people, but that's only because they haven't really had a chance to have a gin based cocktail which properly uses this product. You shouldn't have to swallow a mouthful of juniper with every gin cocktail you order. The Jasmine should provide you an opportunity to realize the value of gin.

(Boy howdy, I sure do love this drink. -- Chuck)

#     #     #

The Opera Cocktail

A pre-prohibition cocktail which highlights the value of orange bitters. Few bartenders will know this once popular drink, but is worth rediscovering.

I just picked up a fresh bottle of Dubonnet (the one we had had gotten a bit long in the tooth), so I think we'll rediscover the Opera tonight, perhaps even after having a Jasmine!

The Republican double-standard.   Nicked from Oyster, 'cause it's too damn hot to do anything that takes longer than nicking a post from someone else's superb weblog. "Regarding the Vitter/Craig scandals, Times-Picayune columnist James Gill writes:"

Ordinary mortals will have trouble grasping the nuances of the Republican ethical code in the U.S. Senate.

Trolling public restrooms in search of gay sex is definitely beyond the pale. Thus the GOP leadership would not touch Larry Craig of Idaho with a 10-foot pole.

But it is evidently jake for a member of the world's greatest deliberative body to enjoy the services of the world's oldest profession. [...]

Almost two months after Vitter's whoring came to light, it is clear he has been forgiven, at least on Capitol Hill. We can only guess why he is isn't a political goner too. The Senate moralists must deal in the subtlest of distinctions. [...]

Morally, there may be no discernible difference between Craig and Vitter...

But only politics can explain why Craig and Vitter have met such different fates.

Politics, i.e., Idaho's Republican governor is appointing a Republican to replace Craig. If Vitter were forced to resign, Louisiana's Democratic governor probably wouldn't. Oh, and Vitter only cheated on his wife with (blessed relief) female whores, amidst alleged nudge-nudge-wink-winks from his colleagues, diaper fetishes notwithstanding.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald had a superb article in Salon last Thursday, on the "contradictory and nakedly unprincipled posture [which] has now become the official position of the GOP leadership, led by its pious 'moral values' wing" which explains things very succinctly:

The only kind of "morality" that this movement knows or embraces is politically exploitative, cost-free morality. That is why the national Republican Party rails endlessly against homosexuality and is virtually mute about divorce and adultery: because anti-gay moralism costs virtually all of its supporters nothing (since that is a moral prohibition that does not constrain them), while heterosexual moral deviations -- from divorce to adultery to sex outside of marriage -- are rampant among the Values Voters faithful and thus removed from the realm of condemnation. Hence we have scads of people sitting around opposing same-sex marriage because of their professed belief in "Traditional Marriage" while their "third husbands" and multiple step-children and live-in girlfriends sit next to them on the couch.

They're all willing to cheer on the "rules of traditional marriage" which do not impose on them in any way (marriage must have a man and a woman -- no problem there). But no "Family Values" politician could possibly survive politically by seeking to enshrine with the force of law all of the other equally important prongs of "Traditional Marriage" (all of that dreary, outdated "until death do us part" business which would deny the "right" for Values Voters to dump their wives and move on to the "next wife" when the mood strikes, or remain shacked up with their various girlfriends and the like).

It goes without saying that no gay candidate would stand a chance of receiving the presidential nomination from the party that stands for Traditional Marriage. And indeed, the Idaho Family Values Association (entitled to great respect), in the wake of the Craig scandal, just called -- explicitly -- for the Republican Party to purge all gay politicians from the party:

The Party, in the wake of the Mark Foley incident in particular, can no longer straddle the fence on the issue of homosexual behavior. Even setting Senator Craig's situation aside, the Party should regard participation in the self-destructive homosexual lifestyle as incompatible with public service on behalf of the GOP.

But they would never call for the exclusion from the Party of political figures who dumped their wives and are on their "second marriage" or "third marriage" -- actions at least equally deviant from principles of "traditional marriage" as anything Sen. Craig did and which wreck the lives of Our Children far more -- because so many of their pious supporters engage in the same behavior, as Idaho's traditionally high divorce rates (.pdf) demonstrate. Indeed, the highest divorce rates are found in the parts of the country where the so-called "Traditional Marriage" movement thrives most strongly, namely the Christian Values regions in the South. Hence, no "Christian, family values" politician could faithfully adhere to a political position of "traditional marriage" and "traditional values" because to do so would be to alienate and condemn a huge portion of the members of that movement.

It is this same self-interested, cost-free moralism that explains how it could be that, with the exception of Mitt Romney, all of the leading presidential candidates in the Party of Traditional Marriage have personal lives that reflect everything except for those values, with all their wrecked marriages and multiple wives and long adulterous records and various "step-children" and the like. And even more revealingly, the leading lights of the Traditional Values movement -- from Rush Limbaugh to Newt Gingrich to Bill O'Reilly -- have some of the most morally depraved lives of any public figures, making most Hollywood celebrities seem chaste by comparison.

But their moral depravity is of the heterosexual variety, and thus perfectly tolerable, because to condemn them or repudiate them would be to make huge numbers of the Values Voters faithful feel condemned as well. And no political moralizing is possible if its mandates require real sacrifice or restraint from its adherents. That is and always has been the great sham that defines the exploitation of moral issues for political gain. It does everything except apply its alleged principles consistently.

Keep it up, fellas. I'm reminded of a marvelous quote I read on AmericaBlog on Saturday, in a post entitled "2008 shaping up to be a very rough year for the GOP", which quoted a Washington Post story thusly:

"About the only safe Republican Senate seats in '08 are the ones that aren't on the ballot," a GOP operative with extensive experience in Senate races said. "I don't see even the rosiest scenario where we don't end up losing more seats."

Further analysis indicated that they're likely to lose at least five seats. Sweet.

It's too hot.   Hot. It's too hot. It's too hot in here. It's too hot outside. The temperature has been up to about 103-105°F all weekend. Given that only one room in our house is air-conditioned, we've either stayed in there or simply fled the premises for more comfortable venues -- bars, restaurants, movie theatres. Within the next day or so I'll have a writeup about the Nirvana we found at the former.

I've found myself singing a song posted a few weeks ago by Hank from Brotherhood 2.0, which I came across in June and have been following ever since. It's damned catchy, actually, and it perfectly sums up my feelings today.

It's too hot. In fact, it's only 10:45am as I write this, and already 91° in the living room. We'll be bailing momentarily. See y'all tomorrow.

By the way Hank ... They Might Be Giants should totally cover that song.

August Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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