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 @ 5:09pm PDT, 11/29/2007

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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)

November 2007
October 2007
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)

Cocktail Nerd
   (Gabriel Szaszko)

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.)

Mr. Mixer
   (Hundreds of cocktail recipes ...
   in Hungarian. Well, why not?
   Sajnos, nem beszélek magyarul.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Oh, Gosh!
   (Jay Hepburn)

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:

In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks, by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford.

Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to the Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich.

Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk.

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 after broadcastk

   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:

"Battlestar Galactica"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Top Chef"
"Father Ted"


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

  Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   This is an original creation by Robert Hess, which we found on his DrinkBoy site. It was concocted in 2006 for one of the "Spirited Dinners" during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, to accompany a dish at Antoine's called Filet de truite aux ecrevisses cardinal (de saison), or, filet of trout, grilled or fried, with crawfish tails in season (shrimp out of season) in a white wine sauce.

The Stargazer Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey (we used Sazerac 6).
1-1/2 ounces Lillet Blanc.
1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

This is a wonderful drink, with the spicy rye and citrusy, floral Lillet balancing one another beautifully. Wish I coulda tasted it with that dish.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blurring the boundaries.   So, the Fat Pack had a party a couple of years ago, our first featuring a chocolate fountain (into which we dipped bananas and other fruits and berries, marshmallows, chunks of pound cake, pork spareribs and bacon). Not long before this event a conversation started about cake and pie. We all pretty much agreed that we're all fans of both cake and pie, each having its particular merits, and started discussing lard vs. butter in pie crust, frosting-to-cake ratios, etc. Then we started talking about what makes it cake, and what makes it pie, and what if those definitions were blurred somewhat?

As a consequence of this conversation, Rick showed up at the aforementioned chocolate fountain party bearing a pie. But not just any ordinary pie ...

This was Cakepie.

Cakepie ...

The pie crust had been prebaked for a while, then painted with melted chocolate, then a layer of cherry pie filling was added. Then that was filled with chocolate cake batter and baked until set, and the top frosted with chocolate frosting.

It was weird. The concept was sound but needed tinkering. But it was really, really good.

... and ...

Flash-forward a couple of years or so, to last weekend's Second Thanksgiving, for which we had Mary's Baked Ham with LeeAnn's Pig Perfect Glaze, Nettie's Baked Yams with Kahlúa and Rum (whicih had actually caught fire in the oven and developed a lovely brulée crust with the marshmallows), Diana's Artichoke Casserole and fresh, scratch-made Cream of Asparagus Soup and my own Hot Sausage and Bacon Po-Boy Sliders. (Earlier in the day I wondered what Nueske's bacon would taste like on a hot sausage poor boy. The answer is, "Good.")

Oh, and Diana also brought this:


What is it? It's ... Piecake!

She took the pie-vs.-cake/cake-vs.- pie concept to its next insane level by flipping it on its headm making a two-layer yellow cake with an entire pecan pie and an entire pumpkin pie baked into it, then frosted with a milk chocolate frosting and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

She's mad. Mad, I tell you, MAD! Mad effin' genius ...

(Sorry for the crappy iPhone photo; I forgot to bring my camera to Second Thanksgiving.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NEW RSS FEED!   Okay, the old RSS feed I was running through is seriously banjaxed; I can't even access their site without it trying to open 40 tabs in my browser. Erik informed me that it hadn't updated in over a week (longer than my last post, even), so I'm doing away with that feed altogether.

I seem to have a locally-generated one working, so try this one on for size:

That should work. If not, lemme know.

(P.S. -- I may be putting out a call for help -- paid help, mind you -- to get this blog switched over to some kind of blogging software, probably either Movable Type, which my webhost already offers, or WordPress. Advice on which system is best will be appreciated. I'll also need the end result template to keep the blog looking just like this, though. Think of this as an unofficial, testing-the-waters call ... anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

Happy birthday, Miss Ella!   Ella Brennan, matriarch of the wonderful Brennan family of New Orleans, was born today in a bygone year (I would never reveal a lady's age, although she may be willing to do so herself). Although she no longer runs Commander's Palace on a daily basis (her daughter Ti and niece Lally do), she still lives right next door and keeps an eye on things. The king of New Orleans restaurants, a training ground for great chefs and one of the country's best, Commander's -- risen from the destruction of Katrina -- is in top form and as great as ever.

Have a wonderful birthday, Miss Ella ... and enjoy your birthday cocktails!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Now apparently back on a semi-regular schedule, Robert demonstrates one of my favorite cocktails, tart and bracing but very pleasant, and one that I also use to try to convert vodka drinkers into gin drinkers.

The Pegu Club Cocktail

This is a fairly old cocktail which is just now being rediscovered. Dating back to the 1920's this was the house cocktail at the "Pegu Club" in Rangoon. I often use this drink to help people who claim they don't like gin realize that there really isn't anything to be afraid of.

Ardent Spirits and The Cocktailian.   The Regans have a new newsletter out, which warrants your perusal. Among the delights within: a short, pithy review of Dave Wondrich's new book ("Imbibe is the best book ever written on the subject of cocktails and mixed drinks. Plain and simple. Best Ever. ... We mean it. Buy This Book Now."), and a visit to The Professor, whereupon we learn of a "Tuscan" variant of the Sidecar, made with a new Italian liqueur called Faretti Biscotti Famosi, with the "flavors of biscotti and offers nutty notes with hints of fennel, caramel, lemon zest and oranges."

Recovering from Thanksgiving stupor.   The meal went well (really well, in fact), but man ... I need me a sous-chef, or at least a prep cook. Yeesh.

I stayed tried-and-true for the Turkey this year, but brined it with a mixture I found ready-made at Surfas, consisting of salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, allspice, cloves and juniper berries. That was combined with 2 gallons of water, brought to a boil, simmered for a while, cooled to room temperature and chilled; then the turkey went in it for 12 hours or so. Thursday morning I got up, rinsed and dried the turkey, then made a mixture of 2/3 cup of softened butter and 1/2 cup of apple butter, rubbed that under the skin, stuffed the cavity with a quartered apple, a quartered red onion, and sprigs of thyme, sage, rosemary and marjoram.

Oh, then I wrapped the whole thing in bacon.

4 hours at 350°F, and the skin was crispy and the bacon had sorta fused to it, and the drippings included a touch of bacon fat (which also basted the bird, along with the dripping butter). When we carved it after resting it was practically gushing with juice.

The sides were pretty standard fare for us, but with a few twists. Instead of my own dressing recipe I made Chef John Besh's Shrimp, Andouille and Mirliton Dressing. There's no way I can get away without making my signature holiday dish, the Sweet Potatoes and Pears dish, but it had a different spin this year. The glaze is usually a Cane Syrup, Bourbon and Pear Glaze, but when I was getting ready to make this while the turkey was roasting I was gathering my mise en place and discovered that although I thought I already had pear nectar, I actually had none. Feck.

No time to whine about it, so I let my culinary training kick in and immediately took the next steps: 1) see what you do have that might work, and B) change the name of the dish. What I did have was some passion fruit nectar, which we keep on hand for making cocktails (especially tiki cocktails). That went in instead of the pear nectar, and given its brighter tropical flavor I thought it'd go much better with rum than with Bourbon; I then reached for the Lemon Hart Demerara rum. The end result: Sweet Potatoes and Pears with Cane Syrup, Passion Fruit and Rum Glaze.

I think this version is actually better. Gotta love happy accidents.

Next, my mom's classic Green Bean and Artichoke Casserole, with lots of olive oil, onions, black pepper, Italian bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano plus a little basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Wes' sister brought Garlic Smashed Potatoes with lots of tasty bits of potato skin, plus we had a Green Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Croutons, and a classic Cranberry Relish with Onions and Orange Zest. Dessert was a Banana, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Bread Pudding with Bananas Foster Sauce, plus a Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie someone brought, and a Pumpkin Pie that I must confess I didn't touch. Desserty imbibing was courtesy of Modern Spirits, just about the only flavored vodka we keep around anymore (besides Stolichnaya Razberi for the occasional Footloose). Their vodkas are very smooth, beautifully flavored and meant to be paired with food; the new flavor this year -- Pumpkin Pie, made with pumpkin purée and traditional spices, based on their family's secret pumpkin pie recipe.

Then I had to drive to Northridge and do a radio show, because I couldn't get a sub. Ugh.

It was mostly good, though ... nice to just sit and relax and listen to music instead of the frenzy of shopping, prep and cooking I had been doing for the past two days. I got some good calls from listeners too; it was nice to know that there were conscious people actually listening after their big meals! Then there was one call from some yutz who apparently took exception to my having played a Katrina-related song and referring to the flooding caused by the failure of the federal government's levees. I had no idea where he was coming from, but if he's going to presume to lecture to me on that being anything but a man-made disaster in that city, he can go back there as a stop on his way to Hell. ("I'll be writing you a letter about what you said." ... Uh, knock yourself out, pal.)

Friday was a day of rest, at least -- we went to see Frank Darabont's new film of Stephen King's story "The Mist," which was superb. It's always been one of my favorite King stories, and Darabont adapted it faithfully while expanding on it considerably. The last 10 or 12 minutes of the film take place after King's original story ends (or rather, just stops). The film is scary as hell, psychologically tense, and unrelentingly bleak. This is a good thing. The one thing that would have ruined this movie, which I was hoping wouldn't happen, would be the studio-enforced, obviously tacked-on sunshiney happy ending. I'll stop talking now.

Saturday was half-leisure and half prepping for yet another event at home that weekend, so with a few welcome interruptions for lunch in the neighborhood and dinner with friends (and meeting our friends' Jennifer and Daniel's new baby Sam!), I spent a goodly part of Saturday and part of Sunday making red beans 'n rice, Creole hot sausage, Louisiana Sunburst Salad (with mixed greens, port-soaked cranberries, toasted almonds and crumbled Stilton in a cinnamon-Tabasco vinagirette) and a big bowl of Columbian Exposition Punch, made with Jamaica rum, brandy, Chartreuse, oolong tea, orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and Champagne. It is, as the Doctor says, "a serious punch."

That was for Sunday evening, when we had three of our favorite bartenders and their significant others over to deepen our friendships and show our appreciation for what they do. Other bits of drinking broke out, of course -- we served Champagne Cocktails doused with our stash of Abbott's Bitters (recalling and honoring the warm hospitality we were shown on our first visit to the Doctor and Nurse's Casa de Cocktail many years ago), a similarly Abbott's-spiked Manhattan (with which we usually use Rittenhouse 100, but this time Wes used Sazerac 6 Year with marvelous results), a Hoskins and a round of amaro at the end. I was thrilled when I was asked if I had any amaro, or Italian digestivi -- Italian bitters for sipping after dinner. I so rarely get to break them out in this quantity, and around the room went small glasses of Fernet Branca, Nonino, Averna, Cora, Ramazzotti and Cynar.

We had a stupendously good time that night, despite how tired I was -- I was so loopy I actuall forgot the Hoskins proportions for a second, and then absentmindedly began to shake it instead of stir ("Waitaminute ... what the hell am I doing?!" said I, after about a second of shaking which was quickly stopped). Dude, NEVER schedule two big events in one holiday weekend again! That said, I have no regrets!

Tomorrow we'll have a little extra coverage of our infamous Second Thanksgiving, this year at Mary and Steve's house, and in preview I'll only say one word: Piecake.

Nagin = clueless.   Not only clueless, but hypocritical and stupid. He declares himself to be "disgusted" with the lamentably low voter turnout in the recent New Orleans elections (about 20%), yet he himself has failed to vote in the last three local elections, including the one in which a new governor was chosen.

If he's not going to actually do anything could he at least just shut the fuck up?

Presidential Debates Commission stabs New Orleans in the back.   You probably heard about this; in case you haven't, read on. Rob Florence in New Orleans sent this compendium of local coverage and reactions. (Emphases all mine.)

Dear American Voter,

Please read the following, circulate to your address book, and e-mail the members of the Debates Commission your opinion:

Paul G. Kirk Jr. <>,
John C. Danforth <>,
Antonia Hernandez <>,
Newton N. Minow <>,
Alan K. Simpson <>,
H. Patrick Swygert <>
(and any other member of the leadership of the Commission on Presidential Debates for whom you can find an email address).

#     #     #

Panel determines N.O. is not ready to host a presidential debate
By Bruce Alpert, November 20, 2007

WASHINGTON - New Orleans lost out in the competition to host one of the 2008 presidential debates Monday after the commission that selects the sites decided that the city has not sufficiently recovered from Hurricane Katrina to handle such a major event. Backers of the New Orleans debate, who had won the support of seven presidential candidates and three of the nation's leading newspapers, reacted with indignation and disputed the debate commission's assertion that New Orleans has not recovered its touch for staging national events.

"Politics trumped the moral decision," said Anne Milling, founder of Women of the Storm, one of the sponsors of the proposed debate.

"They missed an opportunity to help America," said Norman Francis, president of Xavier University, which joined forces with Dillard, Loyola and Tulane to host the debate. In passing on New Orleans' bid, the commission skipped an opportunity to award a debate to a historically black college for the first time.

One of the cities selected, Oxford, Miss., which will host the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, won even though it lacked the hotel rooms required by the debate commission, Milling said. The University of Mississippi is the host of the Oxford debate. The other winners announced Monday were Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., for a presidential debate on Oct. 7 and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. for the last debate on Oct. 15. The vice presidential debate will be held Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, which has hosted a presidential debate in three of the past four elections.

There were two alternate sites selected: Danville, Ky., and Winston-Salem, N.C.

Milling said that Paul Kirk, co-chairman of the commission, told her Monday that New Orleans just isn't far enough along in its recovery to host a presidential debate.

"That is clearly untrue," Milling said. "New Orleans met or exceeded every criterion that the commission set forth in its application process in logistics, finance and educational partners."

Louisiana elected officials reacted angrily to the rejection of New Orleans.

They noted that the commission's view of New Orleans as not ready to host a major event contrasts with the view of the NBA, which is holding its All-Star game here in February, and of the college football establishment, which is planning its national championship game in January.

Both of those events are much larger than the debate, which would have brought an estimated 2,500 reporters and hundreds of support personnel for the competing candidates.

"The commission appears to have lost sight of the public interest it was chartered to serve," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans.

"New Orleans was the only site supported by a bipartisan number of presidential candidates. The most prominent news organizations called for a debate in the city, and voters across the nation have clamored for the discussion the venue would raise about the federal government's role, responsibility and competence in a catastrophic disaster. Now it seems some inside the commission's deliberations set aside this unprecedented public consensus."

Landrieu said the decision was a great disappointment, not only for New Orleans and Louisiana, "but also to those of us who'd previously had faith in the commission's impartiality."

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that the decision "is harmful" to the region's recovery efforts. "There is no better way to help our recovery than to give a boost to the tourism engine driving New Orleans, and to debate issues important to the Gulf Coast and to our country at ground zero of our nation's largest natural disaster," Blanco said.

#     #     #

Empty talk can't justify debate snub
by Lolis Eric Elie, Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Every four years, the presidential debates serve as a calling card for our democracy.

People from around the world can see through the lens of American media outlets how civilly we are able to debate a small subset of the issues affecting our nation and the world.

Rarely does anything exciting happen. Probing questions are so absent as to make one wonder whether they are illegal. The candidates deliver pat responses with mock gravity. Then television stars tell us which of the candidates' empty responses we are supposed to be most impressed by.

When it's all over, we pronounce our country superior to those dark, undemocratic places where such vacuous public debate is not allowed.

Empty debate would have been made more difficult with New Orleans as its setting. It would be hard to brag about how well our democracy is working against a backdrop of FEMA trailers and broken promises.

In lieu of real assistance, the politicians in Washington have fed our recovery mostly on smiling faces, accusations of corruption, and grudging financial assistance.

The nation has been spared the inconvenience of seeing its failure at one of the precise times when national shortcomings are most visibly discussed.

The presidential debate commission chose Oxford, Miss., Nashville, Tenn., and Hempstead, N.Y., as the locations for the 2008 presidential debates. The people of New Orleans and all of hurricane-ravaged Louisiana have been denied another opportunity to have our enduring crisis again put on a prominent stage before a national audience.

For me, Oxford, Miss., is an ironic choice in that several friends of mine were exiled there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I myself am a regular visitor to that lovely town, so I can say with some authority that the great issues of the nation do not express themselves as forcefully on the streets of Oxford as they do on the streets of Lakeview or Gentilly.

In news articles announcing the decision, several explanations were given for the debate commission's decision. One commission member said there was doubt as to whether we could afford to pay our share of the costs. Another member cited the superiority of the proposals from other cities.

Anne Milling, whose organization Women of the Storm has fought tirelessly to keep our crisis before the national eye, offered an explanation.

"Politics trumped the correct moral decision," Milling said.

We do know that the commission's vote was unanimous, a sure signal that all the members agreed that whatever disagreements they had behind closed doors would not become public.

Which is to say, we probably never will know why the commission chose as it did. In this great democracy of ours, such important matters are kept secret.

#     #     #

November 23, 2007

Members of the Commission on Presidential Debates continue to come up with preposterous excuses -- some of them contradictory -- as to why they snubbed New Orleans as a debate site.

They claim that the city hasn't recovered from Hurricane Katrina, that the Convention Center wasn't high-tech enough, that the debate would burden taxpayers with the expense of police protection. But Co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. could point to no specific criterion the city would be unable to meet. He said the commission's decision is not "an attack" on New Orleans' "ability to handle an event."

No wonder New Orleanians think the process was rigged and three presidential candidates have criticized the decision.

If the commission wants to demonstrate that it made a fair decision, it should publicly release the evaluations of bids from New Orleans and the other 15 cities that applied.

Mr. Fahrenkopf says the commission is a private group and therefore isn't obligated to release the evaluations, and that's correct. But that doesn't mean the commission is forbidden to do so.

If the 11 commission members want to convince New Orleans and the nation that they did their work impartially, there should be no reason not to release the evaluations. And if they're sincere when they say New Orleans should bid again in 2012, the city is entitled to know why in the eyes of the commission it fell short.

Xavier University President Norman Francis suggested that the commission was embarrassed because of the federal government's failures in the city. "If the word was that New Orleans wasn't ready, that's not the issue. They weren't ready for us." If that's the case, commissioners should admit it.

#     #     #

Friday, November 23, 2007

When my Canadian friends ask me why would I want to live in the United States, my reply is, "I don't live in the United States, I live in New Orleans."

It seems the members of the commision who select the sites for the presidential debates agree with me.

Jeff Hannusch
New Orleans

#     #     #

A disturbing, insulting move
November 23, 2007

The decision to reject New Orleans' proposal to host the presidential debate sickens me to the point where I have lost almost all faith in our government.

This would not be so bad had the committee had the forethought to create better excuses than what was presented to the New Orleans delegation. To say the city is not ready to host an event of this size is, to say the very least, absurd. Then to top it off, the commission further insults our intelligence by stating they are saving us money and because of that, doing us a favor.

The federal government was primarily at fault in ruining our city by building levees that were poorly constructed. Now the committee is building a case against us that doesn't actually exist.

Each and every one of the committee and anyone who had a say in this disturbing and insulting decision owes us all an explanation and an apology.

Leon Contavesprie
St. Rose

#     #     #

We know how to book rooms Friday, November 23, 2007

The Presidential Debate Commission "did a heckuva job" when they declared that Oxford, Miss., is ready while New Orleans is not. Since Katrina, New Orleans has handled two back-to-back conventions with tens of thousands of people, multiple football games inside one week and Mardi Gras and Jazzfest. How is it that suddenly New Orleans is not ready to host the presidential candidates with a few thousand staffers and journalists in tow?

I applaud the sputtering, incredulous indignation coming from our civic leaders and this newspaper, but what can the rest of us do to illuminate the absurdity of the committee's "not ready" excuse?

What if I, along with just 649 other New Orleanians, each booked one of Oxford's massive inventory of 650 presidential-debate-ready hotel rooms?

No harm done to Oxford; their hoteliers would be just as happy to sell out to us as to politicos and journalists. Those same journalists might pay a little more attention to this story if their only choices for lodging were Memphis or Jackson or even the not-so-ready New Orleans.

We know how to do this -- we did it most recently on Aug. 29, 2005 -- but this time we can all come back the next day, and our homes won't be playing host to floodwaters ushered in by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

W. Stuart Lob
New Orleans

#     #     #

City made GOP look bad
Friday, November 23, 2007

Clearly the decision not to hold a presidential debate in New Orleans was driven by the demand of the Republican Party to avoid embarrassment over the Bush administration's botched emergency response to the city after Hurricane Katrina.

And once again, it was clearly influenced by former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour's ability to swing things Mississippi's way to the detriment of Louisiana.

Louis Shepard
New Orleans

#     #     #

Let's just have our own debate
Friday, November 23, 2007

Let's deal with the presidential debate situation just like we've dealt with the recovery. Do it ourselves.

We should have our own debate. Most of the front-runners have expressed a desire to debate here. Why don't we take them up on it? We can have it on the levee at the Army Corps of Engineers building. I think that would be appropriate.

That was as nice as I could bring myself to say that. What I meant was, "Are you ----in' kidding me?"

Dave Gautreaux
River Ridge

#     #     #

Choosing city should have been a no-brainer
Friday, November 23, 2007

It is true that we have a long way to go in our recovery from the failed, federally constructed levees. But, it is also true that we have come a long way in that recovery, and we certainly are capable of meeting all of the criteria for hosting this debate. Choosing New Orleans for the site of a presidential debate should have been a no-brainer. What better backdrop could the country have for highlighting the importance of good leadership? What other locale could possibly offer the same bare-bones clarity of our national vulnerabilities?

New Orleans has, among its many assets, one of the world's largest tonnage ports. Remember all the barges of grain ready for export, stranded in St. Louis when the port here was closed after Katrina?

What happens here affects people across the country and across the globe. What's more, when American citizens see how easily fellow citizens can be tossed aside, they must ask if it could also happen to them.

Instead of taking the obvious, brave and insightful step of selecting New Orleans to host any of the debates, the commission showed cowardice and even malice toward us.

This was a historic opportunity to show unity behind our continued recovery.

Instead, for reasons as illogical as they are inconsistent, the commission chose to shove us aside. Frankly, this speaks volumes more about the commission and its incompetence than it does about us.

Philip A. Soulet Jr.
New Orleans

#     #     #

Flunk 'em
Friday, November 23, 2007

New Orleans not able to host a 2008 debate?

As a Jefferson Parish teacher, I say the presidential debate commission just earned an F!

Marianne Glass

Make your opinion known.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hoskins taste test: Torani vs. Boudreau.   I'd have already done this myself, if I weren't such a procrastinating eejit.

Actually, I do have a bit of an excuse -- my order for bitter orange peel seems to have gone missing, and rather than waste more time I'm gonna make a little trek to one of the Middle Eastern markets on Pico between Robertson and La Cienega, as I know they have dried bitter orange peel. It's out of the way, but doable.

The bitter orange peel, you may recall, is for making orange tincture, an essential ingredient in what I've taken to calling "Amer Boudreau," Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon replica, which was really good when I tasted it in New Orleans in July, and now, from what I hear, even better now that he's tweaked the recipe further. My aim, as I mentioned before, was to try that as the prmary flavoring ingredient in my signature cocktail, the Hoskins, instead of Torani Amer, which is what it was initially built around, and see what happens. The Torani was taking the place of the Amer Picon in the Mother-in-Law Cocktail that I was involved in helping resurrect at the time, and the flavor of that spirit inspired me to try to create a cocktail around it. Now, in that cocktail, the idea is to replace the original liqueur, which was a substitute in the M-i-L, with another substitute, which is actually a replica of the original. Follow me? I thought not. Let's forge on.

Since I hadn't gotten around to doing it myself yet, I put out a call to see if anyone who had completed a batch of Jamie's Picon replica was willing to give it a try, and intrepid Looka! reader Mike S. stepped up to the plate and made what's got to be the best comments post in the history of this weblog (and not only because he said nice things about my drink). THIS, my friends, is what cocktailing is all about! I now had the floor to Mike, whose post I have promoted from the comments section to the front page:

Standing before me, as I begin to type this, are two frosty cocktail glasses containing identically-made Hoskins Cocktails, both to Chuck's exacting recipe down to the flamed orange peel garnish (I don't play around much with things others invent). For the sake of science, I'll specify brands used: Plymouth gin (as specified, brilliant here); Luxardo maraschino (my favorite, I think, even over Maraska); Cointreau (as specified, the only triple sec/Curaçao I keep); Fee Bros. orange bitters (the only one I have). The only difference between the two, of course, is the Amer...

IN THIS CORNER (to your left as you face your computer screen)... Torani Amer, "America's answer to Picon"!

AND IN THIS CORNER (to your right)... "Amer Boudreau", Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon Replica No. 3 (as likely mismade by the undersigned), "A Canadian-American's answer to America's answer to Picon"!

Three things come to mind as I taste these two noticeably different cocktails (even my wife, who does not drink at all, could immediately tell that they were different on a single taste):

1. The Hoskins is really, truly, an exceptionally fine creation for which we all owe a debt of thanks to the proprietor of this site. Without exaggeration it's one of my very favorites, and I thank you for it. You should never be embarrassed or apologetic about reminding the online cocktail community of its existence and recipe -- that's a service you do for us.

2. I think I may have effed up Boudreau's Amer recipe, largely by using the wrong type of dried orange peel and perhaps (though I think less of an issue) by not steeping it long enough. Any errors or misjudgments resulting from this circumstance are mine alone; I'm sure a bottle made by Jamie himself is beyond reproach. Ah, well... live and learn... and try again! (All that said, it works pretty darn well in this cocktail and I certainly ain't pouring it down the drain, at least until another batch is ready to bottle.)

3. Even in light of all the above, especially my questionable batch of "Amer Boudreau", the Hoskins made with the Picon replica is, to my palate at least, clearly and emphatically the superior cocktail. Why? I'm not terribly experienced in putting culinary sensations into words, and one must always account for the possibility that I've really no idea what I'm talking about, but I'll give it a try.

First, as Chuck noted in his main post, Torani Amer is often described as having a pronounced "vegetal" and even "celery" character. I never really appreciated that until I tasted the Torani side-by-side with the Picon replica. Having done so earlier this evening, the cel-veg flavors in the Torani come screaming through, and not (to me at least) in a good or pleasant way. What screams out of the Picon replica is "BITTER EFFING ORANGE" and definitely (to me at least) in a very good and pleasant way.

This difference comes through immediately in the Hoskins, which may well be the defintive test for these two Amers.

EYE: Possibly attributable to the way I made it, but the Picon version results in a drink slightly lighter in color than the Torani version. Checking the Amers against each other directly, the reason is obvious: Torani is a few shades darker than my batch of the Picon. ADVANTAGE: TORANI (but nearly a tie here, as both cocktails have the beautiful dark golden-orange color Chuck's pictures reflect).

NOSE: Here's the first really obvious difference. In the Torani version, the scent of orange you get is mostly from the flamed orange peel garnish; in the drink itself I personally smell mostly the maraschino (especially with the Luxardo, which is very perfumey). In the Picon version, you get layers of complex orange scents -- first from the flamed peel, then, deeper, from that screaming bitter orange Amer, all in a very good way. It actually balances out (but does not block) that perfumy Luxardo maraschino scent, which is saying something. ADVANTAGE: PICON REPLICA.

TASTE: Here's the key, of course, the Main Event. To my palate, the version made with Torani is a marvelous drink with all the bitter undertones and complexity you could want, playing nicely off the sweetness of the maraschino and Cointreau. That balance is why the Hoskins is a great cocktail in the first place, and I've enjoyed many made exactly this way. But thinking critically about it, and especially in comparison to the Picon version, the orange is the rub: As with the nose, the orange flavor in the Torani verson comes really only from the burnt-oil orange peel garnish and the splash of Cointreau. Indeed, in some ways the dominant flavor of this version comes from the maraschino, punching though the bitterness of the Torani and playing off the Cointreau as the drink's finish recedes in the mouth. But it's in that finish that the cel-veg character of the Torani comes through in the cocktail: for me, it's unfortunately the last thing I sense as the flavors fade away. I just never noticed it before, until...

...I tasted the Boudreau Picon replica version. An explosion of complex orange layers from start to finish: burnt-orange up front from the garnish (side bar: this is a drink that just puts paid to the sad notion that garnishes have no impact on the ultimate flavor of a finished cocktail; what rubbish), strong bitter orange from the Amer in the mid-palate, and a soft, lingering sweet orange note as the finish fades away. All brilliantly in balance with the botanicals in the gin (something I rather miss in the Torani version), the bitter herbal (quite different from vegetal) notes of the Amer, and the cherry-pit nutty sweetness of the maraschino. No cel-veg notes at all. Absolutely brilliant, there's really no other words. ADVANTAGE, AND WINNER BY A KNOCK-OUT: BOUDREAU'S PICON REPLICA NO. 3.

(Actually, now that I've finished -- the post and both Hoskins, neither very frosty by now -- another thing comes to mind: The Hoskins is a seriously strong drink. Oy! I humbly blame any otherwise-embarrassing typos on the fact that I just drank two of them side-by-side. Ice tea with dinner tonight for me.)

I look forward to others' thoughts on this great comparison for two great Amers, each in their own right. Chuck, when your batch of "Amer Boudreau" is ready, I think you're in for a real pleasant surprise with your Hoskinses. For me anyway, it kicks your creation to a whole new level. The open question, I suppose, is whether it's a level you intended or even want for your drink. The "Amer Boudreau" version is very different -- undoubtedly a far more "orange-forward" cocktail (for example, the Fee Bros. orange bitters are completely lost; perhaps Regan's No. 6 would be better if I could ever get my hands on some). I love it all the more for that fact, and I will probably never again make it with Torani Amer. But only you, the drink's creator, can tell us if that's the way your Hoskins is supposed to be. I very much look forward to the answer.

I now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming.

... Wow.

I hardly know where to begin. First off, my undying thanks to Mike for being the first to try this out, and to describe his results in such careful, loving detail. You sir, should you find yourself anywhere near where I live, will not be paying for any of your drinks if we get the opportunity to meet and tipple. Next ... I really need to get my butt in gear and make a speed-steep version of orange tincture. I need to try this, like, yesterday. I can't wait to see what it does for the drink, and whether I will alter the recipe permanetly, recommending the use of this new flavoring base, or include Amer Boudreau as another option, or call it a Hoskins No. 2.

Even without tasting I'm inclined toward the latter two; one thing Torani Amer has going for it is its relative availability (you can order it online via Beverages & More, and I can easily find it on the shelves of my local liquor emporia. It's also bottled and ready to go, and doesn't take a month or more to make. That said, I'm very excited about this. Next step ... seeing if anyone I know has any vintage pre-reformulation Amer Picon and see if they'll spare 3/4 of an ounce of it for yet another taste test!

Thanks again, Mike!

Aged egg nog?   It hadn't occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense. Jonathan Hunt posts on a recipe for The Best Egg Nog, about which he says, "At an expat holiday party in Shanghai in the 1920s, my grandfather tasted the finest eggnog he had ever had. It took him seven years to wheedle the recipe out of the host. Once he got it, he gave an annual party on the Sunday evening following Thanksgiving to make the nog. Unlike most eggnog recipes, this one calls for aging the egg nog for at least 3 weeks prior to consumption, or up to a year, which allows the flavors to meld."

Wow. Brooks, who sent in the link (thank you!), said, "Are you not fascinated by the idea of an eggnog that ages for three weeks to a year? I know I am." I am too. I'll make a batch for Christmas this week, and a second batch for next Christmas! By the way, if you're worried about using uncooked eggs in this concoction, unless you have specific immune system problems, don't worry -- you probably won't have a problem, as long as your booze is strong enough. This article also explains what happens during that egg nog aging, and why that makes it taste so good.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, November 19, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Wesly dug this one up. It appears in Dr. Cocktail's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, although I had forgotten it was there. (Forgetting forgotten cocktails, we must not do that!) Fortunately, thanks to him and the Greater Siblinghood of Cocktailian Webloggers, it's being enjoyed again today. It should be enjoyed more often, as it's delightful and easy to make, and is a perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Campari for Campari newbies.

Campari can be a bit much for the uninitiated -- it's pretty bitter, and the Teeming Masses tend to have an irrational fear of the bitter -- but is a taste very much worth acquiring, especially in cocktails where it's a co-conspirator rather than an absolute dictator. A drink like this -- a kinder, gentler cousin to the Negroni -- makes for a perfect apéritif, giving your palate a nice little wake-up shake, rather than the slap of a Negroni (which is my favorite kind of slap). It's got an almost fruity aroma, with the Cointreau and the Campari combining with that magical alchemy into a flavor much like grapefruit, gentled by the vermouth and wrapped together and seasoned by the gin. It's a cocktail most bartenders will never have heard of, but one you could talk them through easily.

The Lucien Gaudin Cocktail

1 ounce gin.
1/2 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The drink is named for a wonderful French fencer, who competed in the Jeux Olympiques in the 1920s, winning gold medals in '24 and '28. "It is, therefore," says Doc, "a very mature Prohibition cocktail."

Food joy of the day.   Yesterday, Robb sent out The Fat Signal. "Rumor has it that Scoops will have Bacon Caramel, Bacon Chocolate, and Ham & Honey ice cream today (Saturday) Interested in going?"

That's a silly question.

Scoops, as you may have heard me talk about before, is a singularity of food genius in Los Angeles, in the form of a small, unassuming-looking ice cream parlor. The mad genius behind it, Tai Kim, creates flavors beyond your wildest dreams, often never to be made again unless by popular demand, often running out halfway through the day only to be replaced by something completely different. It's some of the best ice cream I've ever had, and can be had in the form of two big scoops for the ridiculous price of two bucks. (You pay more than that for one scoop at most of the decidedly crappy-by-comparison chains, and I am really sick of those mix-in places, by the way, but that's a rant for another day.) Most weekends he does a theme; this weekend there seemed to be two -- bacon and cheese.

I rebroadcast The Fat Signal via SMS, email and telephone, and we managed to get a small but respectable crowd at Scoops by 3:30. (When Wes called Steve and recited Robb's alert, his instant response was "Oh my God! When are we going?!" I love these people.) When we got there we found out that sadly the Ham & Honey ice cream "didn't work out," for unspecified reasons. Our speculation was that it sounded great on paper (and it does), but came out tasting yucky. No matter he forged on, and here are the ice cream flavors we had between the five of us:

Bacon caramel -- The sine qua non of ice cream. Tai has refined this recipe, its third offering at least, probably more. It was smoother, subtler, and wholly delicious. There's no actual bacon in the ice cream, only bacon fat, used along with the fat of the cream to make the ice cream base, and along with the cream mixed with the caramelized sugar to make the caramel ribbon. A Platonic dish.

After we finished our first round of flavors Steve treated us to a second helping to share, at Scoops' absurd "refill" price of $1.50 (just up from the even more absurd price of a dollar). "This is the best thirty cents anyone ever spent on me," I said.

Bacon chocolate -- Also fabulous, with a more pronounced bacon flavor. This is very much like the superb Vosges Chocolate bar called Mo's Bacon Bar from their Exotic Candy Bars line.

Banana, peanut butter and bacon -- Or, as I called the flavor, "Elvis." This was great, a rich peanut butter and banana flavor, but unfortunately the bacon was so subtle as to be lost. I still really liked it, though, and would recomment to Tai to up the bacon fat if he's going to do it again.

Chocolate Porto -- Classic combination for dessert, chocolate and ruby port wine, now in one convenient ice cream! Wes got this one and loved it.

Brie & Rosemary -- The first one we tasted from the cheese category, and absolutely delicious. The creaminess of brie is perfect for making into ice cream, and the piney fresh scent and flavor or the rosemary was the perfect complimentary herb. I think I'd like to make this into a savory soup and add shrimp.

Cheddar & Cinnamon -- Another wonderful combination of flavors, but odd texture. Cheddar doesn't cooperate very well when being melted or incorporated into other things, and this had a more granular texture, plus little bits of actual Cheddar cheese in it, unlike the previous flavor. We really liked it, but it was ... odd.

Spiced Egg Nog -- Imagine the best egg nog you've ever had, frozen and creamy. Lovely. I'd have added a ton of brandy and/or rum too.

Pumpkin cheesecake -- This, along with the egg nog, was Steve M.'s favorite -- "both of which absolutely nailed their flavors."

Goat Cheese & Basil -- I wanted a pint of Bacon Caramel to bring home, and thought about getting another scoop of the Brie & Rosemary for seconds, but when I went up to the counter they were taking the last of it away. Oh no! But Tai immediately replaced the pan with a full one, and I was excited again, until I saw him pull the label off and affix another one. It wasn't Brie & Rosemary, it was now this one. We all immediately wanted tasting spoons of it. It was, amazingly enough, even better than the Brie & Rosemary, with a tart, intense chevre flavor, and the clean, anisey notes of the basil enveloping it all. Oooh. I wanted a pint of this to go too, irritating Wesly by making him pay for it because I had no cash left. I withstood the taunting, though; the end result will be worth it, and I think Wes will agree.

This place is just nuts, in the best possible way. Go there!

Food joy of the day, part deux.   Sure, it was only a coincidence. We were heading out to Pasadena on Saturday, before our Scoops adventure, to pick up the Thanksgiving turkey at Whole Foods. I was debating where to get off the freeway to best avoid traffic and wacky U-turns on Colorado, and Wesly suggested I get off at Michillinda instead of Madre or Rosemead. Of coure, what do we see as soon as we stop at the end of the Michillinda offramp? Top's Burgers, one of Pasadena's best burger joints. "Oh, look ... Top's!" Wes said, feigning innocence. Actually, he swears that he hadn't been planning this all along. Oooookay.

Actually, we'd been wanting to head to Top's ever since Robb told us about the "Kobe Bistro Burger" they now serve. Now, lo and behold ... we're here! Why not? We made the wise decision to split one, as it turned out to be Gargantuan. Also, given that they're supposedly using Kobe beef (more likely Wagyu beef, the same breed but raised domestically), there's no way they could really serve it as overcooked as 95% of the other burgers you'll get these days (and 100% of the burgers you get from big chains). "Could I get that cooked medium rare?" I asked. "Sure thing, medium rare." A medium rare burger. I could have kissed her right there.

I wasn't prepared for food photos, so out came the iPhone again.

Kobe Bistro Burger

Medium rare Kobe/Wagyu beef patty, well-seasoned. Smoked mozzarella cheese. Caramelized onions. Herb mayonnaise. Romaine lettuce. Tomato (sadly out of season now, but oh well). Ciabatta bun. Perfect French fries, skin-on, golden brown and crisp inside, fluffy inside, hot and right out of the fryer.

This was very, very good.

It can easily be split by two people, unless you have a big gut or don't mind feeling bloated. Top's has never been known for the skimpiness of their portions (the small fries being enough to fill a shoebox generally). Burger, fries, 2 refillable drinks (good, fresh, proper iced tea!) ... twelve bucks, split two ways.

Such a deal. If you're in the area, go get one!

Abomination.   After the burger we proceeded to Whole Foods to get our turkey. I like Whole Foods, to a certain extent. We can't really do our grocery shopping there -- not enough variety -- but they have a great (though expensive) meat, cheese and produce section. They also have a wide variety of truly wacky products (some of the aisles should be marked, "Really, who eats this crap?"), and as we were looking for artichoke hearts in the frozen section, I spied this:


"Vegan shrimp"?! Where do I begin?

For starters, it sounds like one of George Carlin's famous oxymorons, like "plastic glass" and "military intelligence." Products like this just baffle me, then enrage me, and then, inevitably, make me sad. It did pique my curiosity, though ... how exactly does one make "vegan shrimp?" Let's have a look at the list of ingredients, shall we?

Here are the first three: "Water." Five bucks for something made mostly of water. Okay. "Curdlan gum. Refined konjac powder." What the feck are curdlan gum and refined konjac powder?! I mean, when I look at the labelling of a processed food product I do tend to not know what some of the chemical food additives are, way down at the bottom of the ingredients list. But I'm not accustomed to seeing completely foreign products as the primary ingredients in a type of fake food.

I continued reading ingredients ... various gums and stabilizers, then oooh! Seasoning! "Garlic powder. Onion powder." Well, that's a start. Then, "seaweed extract." This was the only ingredient that had anything remotely to do with the sea, and apparently this product's only source of seafood flavor. I neglected to check what they used for the artificial coloring with which they painted shrimpy-looking orange stripes on this extruded product's "spine."

When I got home, I looked up curdlan gum and konjac powder. "Curdlan gum is a microbial fermentation extracellular polymer prepared commercially from a mutant strain of Alcaligenes faecalis var. myxogenes ..."

(Mutant? Mutant?! MUTANT!!!)

"Curdlan gum is tasteless and produces retortable freezable food elastic gels." Where to begin? Well, I want the primary ingredient in my food to be tasteless, don't you? Curdlan gum was approved by the FDA in 1996 as a thickener, stabilizer and texturizer. That sounds like an additive to me, not something that should be the primary ingredient in a purported food product. Alcaligenes faecalis is a bacterium. What kind of bacterium? "Gram-negative, rod-shaped, motile, does not reduce nitrate, is oxidase positive, catalase positive, and citrate positive, obligate aerobe that is commonly found in the environment. It was originally named for its first discovery in feces, but was later found to be much more common in other places as well."

Me: "..."

Great. It's a bacterium that comes from shit. Hence the faecalis. Presumably its current source is those "other places" now. Also, regarding this microbe, "[w]hile opportunistic infections do occur, the bacterium is generally considered non-pathogenic." Oh well, that's a relief. (Yes, I know, my beer, wine and spirits are the products of fermentation too, but generally not by formerly-fecal bacteria.) They apparently let you put this in all kinds of stuff, too.

To be honest, it's similar to the xanthan gum you see in lots of products. But it's a gum, a stabilizer, an additive, a "special effect." Not a primary ingredient. ("What's for dinner, honey?" "Xanthan gum!" For some reason I feel as though I should say the words "xanthan gum" in Jack Nicholson's voice. I know, I'm weird.) I'm unsure of this stuff's nutritional value, but I don't get the impression that it has very much.

And konjac powder? "Konjac glucomanan powder is pure soluble fiber, none protein, none fat, none sugar, none starch (sic sic sic sic), it is also gluten free and wheat free ... a 100% dietary fiber source obtained from the root of the konjac plant," also called the "elephant yam." Okay, powdered yam. What's the big deal about that? Well, it has zero protein. I know vegans sometimes have a tough time finding varied protein sources, but eating this doesn't seem like it would really work well as a protein source, would it?

From my limited amount of Googling research today, it seems that the primary uses for konjac powder are for lowering blood sugar and cholesterol in people who are threatened by such things, and due to its being a high-level hydrophilic substance -- i.e., it absorbs tremendous amounts of water -- it's used in the same way as psyllium powder for people who are constipated. Yep, you apparently won't have any trouble getting rid of your "vegan shrimp" later on.

Before I get the inevitable "You're attacking vegans!" hate mail ... I'm not. I'm attacking fake food. Step back and take a good look at this stuff -- it's just appalling. If you're going to eat vegan, than eat vegan. Vegetables. Fresh, plant-sourced food. REAL food. This kind of manufactured, highly processed product seems to fly in the face of what being a vegan should be about; that is, eating fresh, natural foods from non-animal sources. This kind of engineered pseudo-food is about as natural as a Twinkie. I'll bet the factory that manufactures this stuff looks really fresh and natural, don't you think? In fact, it probably looks a lot like the Twinkie factory.

For another ... being a vegan and eating fake meat or fish, especially something as supremely fake as this, seems disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst. You can't have it both ways. Either you eat meat and fish or you don't. What's the point of pretending to eat meat and fish? Wes pointed out that this kind of product is likely to be marketed to people who have converted to veganism from being omnivores, but to me this would only serve to remind you of what you're missing. You're not going to eat one of these, especially if you've tasted sweet, delicious shrimp, and have it satisfy any kind of shrimp craving you may have. I guarantee you this tastes NOTHING like shrimp. It's just shrimp-shaped.

Is it that difficult to be a vegan and eat real food, or can you only resort to stuff like this?

There was more.

Further abomination

There is no such thing as a "vegan steak" or a "vegan sparerib." There are steaks from cows, and spareribs from cows and pigs, and then there's engineered, manufactured, processed, extruded, artifically flavored crap like this. It may be edible, but it's not real food. Ugh.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy birthday, Mia!   My scary-smart little cousin is FOUR today! (Four years old!) And her lame cousin is going to be late with her birthday present, sigh. Get used to it, kid ... cousin Chuck is the Overlord of Absentmindedness and the God Emperor of Procrastination.

Cocktail of the day.   We've been watching a series on the Fine Living Network called "Great Cocktails." When we heard about it we were intrigued but skeptical; I've seen plenty of bad TV about cocktails, and I was hoping this one would raise the bar. For the most part, it does. While we do disagree with some of the things espoused by the host (please don't encourage home cocktail mixers to freepour -- use a jigger!), generally the approach is very good, and they're talking to all the right people, including Duggan McDonnell, Audrey Saunders and Gary Regan. Speaking of whom ...

Gary, a major espouser of the "garbage-in-garbage-out" theory is even bold enough to advocate the use of powerfully flavored single malt Scotch whiskies in cocktails (something which causes a few Scotch-drinking acquaintances of mine to recoil in horror). I'm with Gary on this one, but it requires careful consideration of flavor and balance. On the last edition of "Great Cocktails" that we watched, Gary made a classic cocktail, the Rob Roy (basically a Scotch-based Manhattan, to those of you who may not be familiar with it), yet remade it entirely by using one of the most powerful Scotch whiskies in existence. When using so powerful an ingredent, you need to adjust the balance of your drink so that the Scotch doesn't completely overwhelm everything else. In this case the standard 2:1 (or occasional 3:1) ratio gets bumped up to equal proportions, with more bitters then you'd normally use.

Gary's a proponent of Peychaud's Bitters in a Rob Roy, and I'm very much with him on this.

It sounds mad, but trust me -- it works. I made these the other night when Wes wasn't feeling well. It wasn't strictly medicinal, although it did have that effect. It was, in addition, a ballsy and stupendous drink.

The Laphroaig Rob Roy
(from the delightfully mad Gary Regan!)

1-1/2 ounces Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch Whisky.
1-1/2 ounces Cinzano Rosso vermouth.
4 healthy dashes Peychaud's Bitters.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled Champagne flute. I'd omit the garnish, unless you had one of my friend Barry's smoked cherries (he threw a pan of them into the smoker when we was smoking a hunk of meat; technique descrbed here).

It cured him for a day, but then he got sick again yesterday. I should have made two.

Jazzfest '08 news!!   Six words: The Neville Brothers are coming home.

The brothers (and sons and nephews) Neville will be back at Jazzfest 2008, closing the festival for the first time since 2005. As you'll see in the linked article, they've all had a hard road, including the loss of homes and spouses and, in the case of Cyril Neville, a piece of his soul (which must have washed away for him to have said some of the things he's said). I wish good health to Aaron and Art, and healing and reconcilation to Cyril (who, when I saw the Nevilles last at the Hollywood Bowl, really seemed to have no soul or joy in his performance, which I'd never seen from him before; he looked as if he was only going through the motions).

The other great Jazzfest news ... second weekend Thursday is back!!! That was always my favorite Fest day, and we've missed it (although understood why it was dropped, fortunately only temporarily). I hope this means Jazzfest is as healthy as ever, and I'm already counting the days. Even though so much of it is a pain in the ass, it's still magic and decades-long tradition in my life I'm rarely, if ever, going to miss.

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Pisco Sour.   Master bartender Chris McMillian of the Library Lounge in New Orleans returns with a lesson on how to make another great drink, the national drink of Peru but invented by an American bartender there (which I didn't know).

Make sure the pisco's always Peruvian, for authenticity, and because my Peruvan friend Enrique might give you the stink-eye if you use Chilean.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Whoo, a new episode is up!

An Interview at the Zig Zag Café

We had the great pleasure of sitting down with the owners of the world famous Zig Zag Café in Seattle, Washington, Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty. They were gracious enough to discuss the history of this fantastic establishment as well as let us in on some classic and original cocktail recipes. Look for the recipes in future episodes.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kacy (and Murray!) at Tales of the Cocktail last July, and I know that when I finally make it to Seattle I'll pretty much be glued to a barstool at Zig Zag every night. I must once again express my jealousy toward everyone I know in Seattle, as they get to drink there and I don't, although said jealousy is somewhat ameliorated by the emergence of Seven Grand.

I really believe that really good bars like this should be just as common as really good rstaurants are, and there should be at least one or two in every neighborhood. Why is this so difficult? It shouldn't be. All it takes are people who care, and I'm encouraged that more and more of them seem to be stepping forward.

Da Flyin' Horses!   More small steps, and more good news from New Orleans.

Anyone who has been keeping up with the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts at City Park probably knows why Beau Bassich, the park's executive director, and the Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association, are giddy this week.

On Monday, Bassich, in a white T-shirt and khakis, was putting the finishing touches on the City Park's 101-year-old carousel, which on Nov. 23 will be opened to the public after being shuttered for more than two years.

"He's done an amazing job of getting it up and maintaining its historical character," said Largent in an interview from Spokane, Washington. "We've anxiously watched the restoration."

On Monday, Bassich, toting a glue-gun, was busy attaching tails, made of real horse hair, to the carousel's horses.

Nearly a half a million dollars was spent to restore the carousel and its building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of course, those of you who are from New Orleans know that we never call it "the carousel," it was always "da flyin' horses."

While I'm very glad to hear this, I also wish I'd hear about more houses being restored and neighborhoods coming back.

So wrong it's right.   I have only three words for you. Bacon Apple Pie.

That is all.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A big night at Seven Grand.   Last Friday night I wanted to begin my birthday weekend celebration at our favorite bar ("It's your birthday, anything you want," Wes said, and I was determined to milk that for the entire weekend if I could), so off to Seven Grand we went. There was a light-to-moderate crowed when we got there (early, as is our wont) so they weren't getting too slammed, and therefore we had plenty of time to hang out and chat with our bartenders; Marcos took care of us, and we had time to chat with Damien and Patrick as well. I decided to do something I don't think I'd ever done in a bar before. Had it been a sushi bar, I would have asked for omakase onegaishimasu ("chef's choice, please;" I think it literally means something like "Please do me the favor of entrusting this to you." Jon, help me out here.)

He asked if I had a base spirit in mind, and since was a whiskey bar and I drink lots of whiskey and whiskey-based drinks there, I asked for anything but whiskey. Wes wanted to start out with a flip. We took off from there.

A big night at Seven Grand

He started me out with a Corpse Reviver No. 2, and instead of Herbsait, Pernod or other pastis he used about a half-barspoon of Lucid Absinthe Superieure, which was a first for me. That gave it just a touch of extra complexity, and man was it good. The only other bars where I've been able to have this have been the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide and Arnaud's French 75 Bar, both in New Orleans. Such a pleasure to get this a short train ride from my house. Wes was given a Rye Flip, rich and frothy and topped with a grating of nutmeg.

For the next round Marcos served us two cocktails inspired by Sammy Ross of Milk & Honey in New York, with whom he'd been working recently. For me, a Siesta, based on Partida blanco tequila, plus Campari. (I'll update later once I find my napkin-scrawled notes.) For Wes, a Bermuda Sour, based on Gosling's Black Seal rum, with a thick egg white head decorated with three drops of Angostura bitters, a toothpick dragged through them to make hearts. Oh my.

Third round ... I wanted to talk him through a Hoskins, which I did. My reasons were twofold: 1. I wanted one, B) I had only once tried to order it in a bar, and never in my own city (it had been in Vegas, at Petrossian Bar at Bellagio, our favorite Vegas bar, being served by Michael, our favorite Vegas bartender, and he had snagged some of the watered-down, contemporary version of Amer Picon, called "Picon Bière", and I wanted to try it with that ingredient), and 3. (okay, three ... our THREE chief weapons are ... ahem ... AMONGST our weaponry ... um, sorry) I wanted to see what he thought of it. It was, of course, perfect; as perfect as any I've ever made and perhaps even more so. And he did, in fact, like it. (Yay!) For Wesly, a Doctor Blinker, the variation on the classic Blinker Cocktail of the 1930s, which also appears in Dr. Cocktail's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, consisting of rye whiskey, grapefruit juice and raspberry syrup.

Then we were presented with something else to try, a sparkling cocktail served in a Champagne flute with a large lemon twist, called an Ambrosia Cocktail. It's a new one they were working on, and it was quite good; unfortunately at the moment I can't remember what else went in it except the Prosecco, but I think it's scawled on that napkin somewhere. After each of us had had a few sips, it was whisked away for Damien, Patrick and Brian to try, but we did get the rest of it back at the end. (Yay!)

One of the best evenings of tippling I've had in a long time, and certainly one of the best I've had in a bar ever. Thanks as always, guys.

Unfortunately the evening didn't end as planned. We had meant to go to Ciudad, chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken's downtown restaurant. We're big Border Grill fans, and even though they stop regular dinner service at 10 they still serve tapas and small plates at the bar until midnight, which is perfect for us after a night of tippling at Seven Grand, only a few blocks away. Except for that night ... on which the entire restaurant closed early for "scheduled maintenance," which may have been scheduled but said information didn't seem to have been placed anywhere useful, say, on their web site. We were highly annoyed, and the situation was getting a bit dire, as it was already 9:30 and Himself hadn't eaten yet. This scenario leads to much crankiness, ire, venom, vitriol and potential critical mass and thermonuclear explosion; if we didn't get some food in this boy soon the entire downtown area would have been flattened, and the entire city might be uninhabitable for thousands of years. (Okay, I exaggerate. But only a little.)

We fled back to our own neighborhood, and fortunately I had us at a taco truck (Durango's) within 20 minutes. Tacos de pollo, tacos al pastor and a carne asada quesadilla, two frosty beverages, all for a measly ten bucks, very filling and very tasty. Disaster narrowly averted.

Providence.   As I've mentioned before, our birthday dinners are always a surprise; we never know where we'll end up until we pull up in front of the place. I had two top choices on my silent birthday wish list. One of them was Osteria Mozza (good luck getting a table before 2008!). The other was Providence.

It was a place where all the culinary planets magically aligned. First off, the building it's in has great karma, being the former location of Patina before its move to Disney Hall. Then, their creative culinary triumvirate -- Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti, pastry chef Adrian Vasquez, bar chef Vincenzo Marianella. They have a menu of new and classic cocktails. They do dessert tasting menus. They just won a Michelin star. Hoo-boy.

The atmosphere was lovely. The lighting, subdued but not pitch-dark. The service, friendly, welcoming, professional. The music ... oh man! Mostly Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie that night. Then we were presented with the cocktail menu.

There were two sides to it: Classic Cocktails and Providence Cocktails. Here was the Classic side:

pisco sour (peru 1890) pisco barsol, angostura bitters, fresh squeezed lemon juice.

hemingway daiquiri (havana 1921) 10 cane rum, luxardo maraschino liqueur, fresh squeezed lime & ruby grapefruit juice.

negroni (florence 1920) bombay sapphire, martini vermouth rosso, campari

gin daisies (seattle late 1800s) plymouth gin, yellow chartreuse, raspberry syrup, fresh squeezed lemon juice

original mai tai (oakland 1943) appleeton v/x rum, marie brizard orange curaçao, fresh squeezed lime juice, monin almond syrup

jack rose (new york early 1900s) laird's applejack, fresh squeezed lime juice, monin pomegranate syrup

sazerac (new orleans 1859) hirsch 10 yrs rye whiskey, remy martin cognac, peychaud's bitters & pernod

ward eight (boston 1898) maker's mark bourbon, monin pomegrantate syrup, fresh squeezed lemon & orange juice

tommy's margarita (san francisco 1998) cazadores reposado tequila, agave nectar, fresh lime juice

Um. Wow.

We immediately ordered two Sazeracs, of course, as it's such a rare treat to be able to do so in a bar outside New Orleans, for us, at least; fortunately that's changing, as we know we'll be able to do it in San Francisco, Seattle and New York, and already do at Seven Grand. We were also very happy to see rye and Cognac blended in the drink, which is a great idea; this is how Dale DeGroff makes them. The Sazeracs we were brought turned out to be the only head-scratcher of the evening, a tiny flaw in the Kohinoor that was the evening.

They were a strange color.

A very strange, very light shade of pink, and I realized that the spirits themselves were very, very light. Our server noticed how we were looking at the drinks and, although we didn't say anything, picked up that we were concerned. He returned moments later with a mixing glass and julep strainer, saying, "You know, I thought these were a little small," and topped them up, adding that Vincenzo himself wasn't on the premises that night. Actually, we thought they were small too, but we were more concerned with the color, aroma and flavor.

I hadn't really thought about what rye was listed on the menu, and looked again. If it's the one I'm thinking of, they're using the Hirsch 10 Year old Canadian rye whiskey, which I've tried and really didn't like (I didn't like the Hirsch Canadian 12 year old either). I found it thin and insubstantial as compared to most other ryes, especially when mixed into a cocktail, and this whiskey makes for a very light, thin Sazerac unlike any you'd ever see in New Orleans. To my taste, the drink needs a far more robust rye, which even the perfectly respectable Old Overholt is. These days we're making them with Sazerac 6 Year, or more often now with Rittenhouse bonded rye. I don't know why that rye was used, unless it was to lighten the drink's profile to introduce a strong whiskey cocktail to a clientele that might not be used to it. I very much look forward, on our next visit to Providence, to discussing ryes with Vincenzo, and we'll have to make sure to visit on a night when he's there. In fact, we're talking about going back there just to sit at the bar and have drinks, because their drink menu looks so amazing.

We looked at the "Providence Cocktails" side of the menu too, and saw many fascinating-looking things, among them: the "Maryrose Martini," consisting of rosemary-infused plymouth gin, disaronno liqueur, mint syrup, fresh lemon juice and organic apricot juice; the "Mini-Cooper," with Tanqueray No. 10, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (yay!!), dry vermouth and orange bitters; "Luciano," with Knob Creek Bourbon, Campari, Aperol and Fee's lemon bitters; and the "Rhode Island Red", a tall drink with Herradura silver tequila, chambord, muddled fresh raspberries, agave nectar and spicy ginger beer.

I went for their take on a Gin Daisy, Wesly had the Mini-Cooper; both were outstanding. The odd (to my taste) choice of rye in that Sazerac notwithstanding, this is a world-class cocktail menu and we'll be back to explore it; soon, I hope.

Oh, there was one big screwup that evening, for which I can only blame myself. I broughgt my camera, but ONCE AGAIN ... I, being me, forgot to bring the memory card. Sigh.

I was saved on two fronts by my semi-guiltly exercised propensity for photo purloining, and by the crappy camera in my iPhone (which Wesly reminded me I had after the first courses had already gone by). Before our first course came, though, we were treated to three amuses bouche, two of which were cocktailian in nature.

You may remember the fascinating and fun article from the local paper's Food Section a while back, called "Cocktails You Can Eat", which featured two of Providence's offerings:

Gin and Tonic Gelee

The first was a Gin and Tonic Gelée, which was wonderful. It's made from Plymouth gin, tonic water and gelatin sheets, chilled until solid and then topped for serving with finely grated lime zest and "tonic powder," a mixture of baking soda, citric acid and superfine sugar for a little extra fizz on the tongue in addition to the tonic water's natural effervescence, which somehow was retained in the gelatin (I have no idea how that works; more food science magic!). It was like eating a gin and tonic -- fun, fun, fun.

Mojito Spheres

Next were "Mojito Spheres," which wobble and jiggle a bit more than the gin and tonic gelée, and when you put it in your mouth you know why. The gelatin is only a thin skin holding it all together, and when you bite into it the whole thing explodes in your mouth in a gush of slightly thickened rum, sugar, mint and lime. Then you laugh. It's absolutely delightful. Turns out it's not gelatin in that concoction, though; Chef Vasquez, who makes the edible cocktails, uses substances like sodium hexametaphosphate and calcium alginate. More molecular mixology at hand, and it all works to serve the dish very well. We were hoping we'd see some interesting and surprising elements along those lines pop up in the main dishes as well. (By the way, those gorgeous tastimg spoons are by Swiss industrial designer Luki Huber and are made for Ferrán Adrià's legendary El Bulli restaurant in Spain, widely regarded to be the best on the planet. You can buy the spoons at retail for $30. Each.)

The third amuse, sadly unphotographed, was a beautiful, curved, vaselike shotglass filled with a pinkish-red liquid; on top of the glass, across the rim, was a deep green rectangular prism speared on a pick. This was Watermelon Juice with Wasabi Oil, and Honeydew Melon. The oil was somehow emulsified with the juice, with a subtle but wonderful burn, with which you washed down the crisp, clean piece of melon. Gone in a flash, and again, utterly delightful.

Next came The Argument. Such discussions arguments tend to sprout from our both wanting the same dish, which is generally sacrilege when we're out for fine dining, because if he's got the same thing I've got I can't get a taste of something different from his plate, and vice versa. We were in agreement on one thing, at least -- we both wanted foie gras. The two foie gras dishes (out of three on the menu) that were appealing to us were cold and hot, respectively: Foie Gras Parfait ("You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits. Have you ever met a person, you say, 'Let's get some parfait,' they say, 'Hell no, I don't like no parfait'? Parfaits are delicious!") and Lobster-foie gras ravioli with shaved black truffles, aromatics and a Parmigiano-Champagne butter sauce. (Oh my.)

Well, the ravioli seemed to be the killer -- it's got lobster, foie gras and truffles! How can you go wrong? Perfect birthday boy dish. But of course, Wesly wanted that too. I was also fascinated wtih the parfait, and I hadn't had a cold foie gras dish in quite a while. Decisions, decisions. Fortunately our waiter came to the rescue. He asked what we were thinking about for our entrées, and that clinched it for him. After hearing Wes' choice he said, "Okay, he gets the ravioli." Trying not to sound whiny, I pointed out that his foie gras dish had truffles in it too. When I said I was leaning toward the lobster for my main, he said, "How 'bout I shave some truffles over you lobster dish, and then we're all happy?" Brilliant! I love it when our servers think outside the box!

Okay, so ... the Foie Gras Parfait wasn't layered in a parfait glass (because that would be far too expected); it was deconstructed. Of the four items on the rectangular plate, one through four going left to right, the actual foie gras was at number three. It was a cylinder of perfectly smooth foie gras mousse, about the diameter of a Mardi Gras doubloon and almost two inches high, topped with cracked black pepper. It had a beautiful, silky smooth texture, an intense foie flavor and was rich without being overly so. I was reminded of the "Foie Gras Three Ways" I had had at Spago several years ago (seared, terrine and mousse), and the mousse on that plate, made classically with whipped cream, was delicious but so rich it nearly killed me. This mouse was just as flavorful but not as heavy, and I really appreciated that. I suspect another bit of molecular gastronomy, indistinguishable from magic, was at hand in the kitchen to keep that foie gras tasting delectable but not turning it into the mallet head it resembled.

To the left of the foie gras, at the number two position, was a quenelle of red beet purée, a flavor combination I'd not had with foie gras before and would like to have again, very soon. With so many preparations, especially seared ones, the foie gras is paired with cooked fruit or a fruit compote, and that pairing almost always works well. The beet was savory but, as you know, is also full of beet sugar. The compote had been reduced and thickened and the natural sugars intensified, and complemented the foie gras beautifully. To the right of the foie gras, at position number four, was some Gewürztraminer gelée, another perfect accompaniment; the wine was sweet and fruity but not as much as the compote, slightly in the drier side, and had a fun texture as well. Finally, to the far let, at the number one position on the plate, was a little pile of two different colored powders, one off-white to light straw in color, the other a deep, claylike red. The flavors were very familiar, but the texture was so unusual that I asked about them. "Foie gras powder and sour cherry powder," he replied. (!) The foie gras powder, he explained, is made with tapioca maltodextrin, and works in the proportion of 2 parts of this starch to 1 part of any fat. You whiz it up in a food processor, then force it through the finest sieve you have to make a fine powder. (I wasn't sure exactly how the cherry powder was made, given that it's not a fat, but I'm guessing the cherries had been freeze dried, then ground.) A fascinating condiment, and like none I'd ever had before (the technique is used extensively in the Providence kitchen). This was a tremendous dish!

Wesly's ravioli was fabulous, not unexpectedly. It was a very generous serving, swimming in butter sauce, with a very generous serving of shaved truffles. While the waiter was athletically whizzing the bigger-than-a-golf-ball-sized black truffle across the truffle shaver, apparently one of the shavings zinged off at an oblique angle and disappeared; oh well, a casualty, and it's gone now. But about halfway through the course Wesly said, "Don't move. Now, don't move your right arm but look at the the cuff of your left sleeve." I did. Lodged in it was a slice of black truffle. Ooh, spoils! But alas, no ... I quickly found out that I was to banish any such thoughts from my head.

"Now, please take that truffle slice and put it on my plate."


The boy is possessive of his truffles, apparently. But it was on my sleeve. I protested.

"You're getting your own truffles next dish! That one's mine!!"

Well ... fair enough, I suppose. *grumble*

And then, it was entrée time. It was at this point I was reminded of the iPhone in my pocket; I apologize for the monstrously poor quality of the pictures, but I suppose they're better than nothing. Think of them as more of a hint, an impression of the dish.

Butter-Poached Lobster

Butter-Poached Lobster, 1.5 pound females, tail and claw, with fava beans, young cipollini onions, a ginger and Jurançon douce wine reduction sauce, topped with a chiffonade of basil and shaved black truffles. This was ... pure luxury. Butter-poaching is, in my opinion, the finest method of cooking lobster there is -- the flesh remains delicate and sweet and doesn't get nearly as chewing as it does with steaming, boiling (which now just seems to barbaric) or even grilling. This is a perfect example of using extremely high quality ingredients, cooking them perfectly, treating them relatively simply and letting them speak for themselves. The favas and onions were just the right accents, and I love the flavor of ginger with lobster. The sauce was aromatic of ginger without the pepperiness, and a lovely floral characteristic from the wine, the variety of which was new to me. I'm not sure even so much as a drop of sauce remained on the plate when I was finished.

The wine I had with the dish, suggested by sommelier Diane, who was extremely helpful, instructive and friendly, was a dry version of the wine used in the sauce -- Cuvée Marie Jurançon Sec 2005. Jurançon, as I learned, is a region in the southwest of France famous for both their dry and their more prized sweet wines. Made from Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu varietals (all of which are new to me), the wine was gorgeous, with bright fruit and flowers and even a touch of honey, although it was still nicely dry.

Wesly's dish (sorry, the picture came out too dark to use) was duck, as I figured it would be as soon as I got through the list of entrées -- that boy loves duck so much, and has eaten so much duck, that I wouldn't be surprised if he turns into an enormous duck one day. We'll ignore the potential cannibalistic implications there and just talk about what he had: Air-chilled Muscovy duck (from Stockton) with a crispy galette of duck confit and a Japanese turnip stuffed with quince, chanterelle mushrooms and foie gras. (Oh my.) The galette was a small, round, crispy "cake," breaded on the outside and filled with confit. The turnip was hollowed out like a little white jack-o-lantern (face carving omitted), with the filling concealed under a little turnip lid. He raved. I'll let him add more himself in comments, as he'll do a better job of describing his dish than I will.

He was looking at the wine list and hoping for a zinfandel -- they had some good-looking ones on there -- but wanted to make sure that they weren't the kind of zins that were too big and too jammy, not wanting to overpower the dish. When Diane was taking our wine orders he told her this, and asked whether he should go with the zinfandel or if he should go with one of the lighter reds that still work well with duck, say, a pinot noir. She actually had an I'm-proud-of-you look on her face, and said, "Go with your instincts on this one!" Not only was he on the right track with a zin, but the one she recommended, a 2005 Turley Zinfandel from just outside San Luis Obispo, was just perfect with his dish -- jammy but not overwhelmingly so, spicy cherry and blackberry and a nice, slightly tannic and spicy finish.

Then ... "I know, Gromit! We'll go someplace where there's cheeeeeeeese!"

The Cheese Cart

I do so love this part. The gentleman with the cheese cart came by. We thought we'd better stop at three, given what we were expecting to have for dessert.

What came off The Cheese Cart

It just sort of fell into place that we had a trio of goat cheeses: Sofia, an ash-rubbed and -marbled goat cheese from a small farm in southern Indiana; La Clochette ("Little Bell"), a bell-shaped creamy goat cheese from France; and a harder, aged goat cheese from Italy he called Venaccia, for which I can find no reference online. (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Accompanying them, from left to right, were spiced candied walnuts, a pear compote with black pepper, and dried Calimyrna figs. With this Diane recommended a Madeira from the Rare Wine Company in New York, Malmsey Special Reserve Madeira. Juuuust right.

Now, on to dessert.

Providence is renowned for their dessert tasting menu. You can order individual, a la carte desserts, or dessert tastings of three, five or eight courses (!) with or without wines. I cannot tell you how tempting the eight course one was. (Go to the website and see for yourself.) We thought even the five might be a bit much at this point, so the three seemed the least insane option. (Can I just hear it for insanity, though, every now and again?)

Dessert 1: White 
Chocolate Lollipop

First came a White Chocolate Lollipop, upright in a tall shotglass, held up by what I first thought was a thick Italian meringue. "How am I going to get that out of there without a long, skinny spoon?" I wondered. "Tongue dexterity test coming right up!" As it turned out, we were instructed to ignore what was in the glass; it was just superfine sugar, and only there to hold up the lollipop, not unlike the rock salt under a half-shell oyster. This was no Tootsie Pop, though, although it had a surprise in the middle. One bite, and it explodes in your mouth with a purée of Mirabelle plum, lemongrass and ginger. And again, you laugh.

Dessert 2: 
Litchi-Shiso Sorbet

Next was a new combination of flavors and textures for me, Litchi-Shiso Sorbet with Passion Fruit Gelée, atop a bed of basil seeds, topped with microgreens and surrounded by Soy Coconut Soup. Litchi (or lychee) is a wonderful flavor, sweet with a touch of tartness, a little floral, with a sort of pear-grape flavor as well; get them fresh if you can (Trader Joe's has them now). Shiso leaf is used a lot in Japanese cooking, and has a basily-minty-herbal flavor. It was a bright, fresh, exotic-tasting sorbet. Underneath was a disc of passion fruit gelée, but it wasn't like a gelatin; it was more like passion fruit purée that had been firmed up a bit with the addition of as little gelatin as was needed to make it firm. The fresh passion fruit flavor was intense. Underneath the basil seeds were tiny black specks, each enveloped in a little bubble of gelatinous material, and seemed to be there primarily for texture. I presumed that the "soup" was based on soy milk (surprising to me, since I normally despise soy milk) with coconut cream added. With this we drank another Jurançon (it was Intro to Jurançon 101 at Providence tonight!), a 2004 Charles Hours Uroulat that was honeyed and flowery and tasted of apricots, sweet but with just enough of a hint of tartness to keep up with the litchi. All these elements made for a truly unique dessert, unlike anything I'd ever had before.

But, as they say, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Dessert 3: Chocolate 

I am a member of the International Academy of It-Ain't-Dessert-If-There-Ain't-No-Chocolate, although I will sometimes grant a pass to desserts that are special enough. This dessert tasting ended with chocolate, to wit -- Chocolate Ganache, served with Fig Compote and ... Salt and Pepper Ice Cream.

(Salt and ... in ice cream? What the f---?!!)

This was insane. Insane crazy talk. And one of the best things I've ever tasted.

The long rectangle of chocolate ganache -- deep, dense, fruity, intense -- when taken with the fig compote reminded me of my favorite Italian fig-and-chocolate-chip cookies from the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and Deli, only better. And that ice cream ... it tastes exactly like you think it does -- like salt and pepper -- except you must immediately dismiss your initial knee-jerk reaction of "Ewwww!" and replace it with "Oh my GOD!" I've been a fan of salt in desserts for quite a while now -- fleur de sel caramels, a few granules sprinkled on a chocolate truffle, just to name a few. This was a creamy, rich ice cream that tasted like I could put it on a steak if I wanted to, but went so beautifully with that chocolate ganache that I can hardly do justice to it with my words. This was mad genius at work. I'm not sure I'd want a double cone of this ice cream, mind you, but the quenelle of it with the chocolate and fig was a magical combination. With this we drank a Jaffurs 2005 Late Harvest Syrah form Santa Barbara, and all was right with the world.

Just to offer the final death blow, after this came a little plate of macaroons and petit fours, all superb.

It'd be difficult to think of a birthday meal more memorable than this one (Trattoria Tre Venezie, another Michelin star recipient, would be pretty damn close). Every aspect of it was perfect -- service, hospitality, atmosphere, music, food, drink, dessert. We were there for four hours, and it all seemed to go by so fast. Then there's that damned odd Sazerac ... I'm very much looking forward to meeting Vincenzo, learning from him while quaffing at his bar, sampling the rest of his cocktails, and talking Sazeracs with him. And, once we can afford it again (ahem), we'll be back at Providence as often as humanly possible.

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  Monday, November 12, 2007

Mixology Monday: Gin.   Having badly dropped the ball on MxMo last month (and it was pairings; it would have been right up my alley), I was determined not to miss it again. Hosted this month by Jay at Oh Gosh!, a gin-based MxMo was going to be right up my alley too. Oddly enough, though, eight or so years ago we wouldn't have come near this.

Mixology Monday: Gin

That was back in the dark days when Wesly and I feared gin. Vermouth too, for that matter (the dry variety, the other ingredient in the cocktail we feared the most -- the Martini). We'd flip through old cocktail books, looking for new/old things to try, and over and over it'd be, "Whoop, gotta skip that one ... gin. What about this one? No, it's got vermouth." Finally we thought, this is ridiculous. There's got to be something to these spirits or they wouldn't be so wildly popular. What's your problem, pal?!

The process was methodical but didn't take all that long. We began with "softer" gins, ones in which the juniper (the primary botanical and the one that seems to bother self-proclaimed "gin haters" the most) is more subdued -- Tanqueray No. 10, or Bombay Sapphire, to name two. We started with cocktails heavy on the citrus, both juces and liqueurs like Cointreau or Curaçao, then moved up to cocktails like the Pegu Club and the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Someone sent me a recipe for a drink we ended up liking very much at the time, called the Preview (2:1 gin and Cointreau, in a glass rinsed with pastis). Eventually I had my Martini epiphany at the hands of Dale DeGroff, who in 2002 stirred a Martini in a mixing glass before my very eyes, and I had never tasted anything like it.

Nowadays we go through a lot of gin, and have many varieties in the house. Our old friends Tanqueray No. 10, Bombay Sapphire and Citadelle are still there, but tend to be saved for guests who are still on their gin journey. The three four we use the most are Plymouth, Tanqueray, and Beefeater and regular Bombay. We also have several "specialty" gins, with non-standard yet wonderful and interesting flavor profiles, such as Hendrick's from Scotland (containing cucumber and rose petal), Aviation (Ryan Magarian's wonderful gin from Oregon, containing among other things coriander, lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla and orange peel) and Gin No. 209 from San Francisco (with botanicals including bergamot, star anise and orris root). There's plenty to play with. Some gins work better than others in certain drinks, and finding out which is which is all part of the fun.

So, what gin cocktail to feature today? Well ... I kinda have to apologize for flogging this original of mine again, but the reasons I chose it were threefold: 1) I wanted something unlikely to be duplicated by anyone else's post, B) I wanted to muse on how this might be changing soon, even though it's kind of my signature cocktail, and 3) um, well, we spent a lot of time this weekend eating and drinking and being lazy and birthday celebrating, and I knew I could knock this post out pretty quickly.

While this is a gin cocktail -- it is the base spirit, in the highest quantity -- this drink isn't about the gin. The gin is truly a base, something to build on, with the botanicals in the gin swirling around, enveloping everything else and helping to wrap it all together. While the gin is the base, the heart of this cocktail is the bitter orange flavor of the amer, and the other flavors that accent it.

As I blathered about once before, the drink came about when I was toying around with using Amer Picon with Maraschino, after the Mother-In-Law Cocktail affair. Thing was, we didn't have any real Amer Picon; we decided on Torani Amer as a substitute, which worked well in the resurrected drink, and I was curious to see if I could base a new cocktail around its flavor profile. While a number of vintage Picon cocktails work well with the Torani substitute (although with some, as the Picon Punch, not so much), there are marked differences when comparing vintage original Picon with the Torani, primarily a vegetal, celery-like character in the latter. While I do love this cocktail and think it works really well with the Torani, I couldn't help but wonder what it'd be like with real Amer Picon from the old days or, not really having that anymore, a closer substitute.

Vessel's bar manager Jamie Boudreau in Seattle, after some experimentation, has come up with a closer Amer Picon substitute. I'm about to brew a batch of it, and kinda can't wait to see how it's going to work in this drink. I think it's going to work really, really well, but we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, here's my original recipe. Again. Sorry, but hey, if you haven't tried it before, please do, and I hope you enjoy it. Most importantly for this post ... if you've got some of Jamie's Amer Picon substitute already made, please try this with that instead of the Torani and let me know what you think! (Photo shamelessly and highly illegally purloined from the San Francisco Chronicle.)

The Hoskins Cocktail

The Hoskins Cocktail

2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce Torani Amer (or substitute "Amer Boudreau,"
Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon Substitute No. 3).
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1/4 ounce Cointreau.
1 dash orange bitters.
Orange peel.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and flame the orange peel over the drink.

Here's Jamie's latest (and, I think, final) recipe for his Amer Picon substitute, based on an another bitter orange aperitivo from Italy. Its proof is somewhat lower than Picon's was, but this is pumped up both in flavor and strength by the addition of the tincture:

"Amer Boudreau"
(Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon Replica No. 3, adapted for lesser quantity)

One 750ml bottle Amaro Ramazzotti.
2-1/2 cups (20 ounces) orange tincture.
3 ounces Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters.
250ml (about 8-1/2 ounces) Evian water.

Combine all ingredients in an appropriately sized container and stir well. Allow ingredients to marry for at least one week. Filter and bottle. Keep refrigerated.

For the orange tincture, use dried Seville (bitter) orange peel, regular orange peel if you can't find Seville. (Check herb stores, Asian or Middle Eastern markets for Seville/bitter orange peel.) Add to a container sized so that the peel fills it about halfway. Fill the rest of the way with 100 proof vodka (Stoli 100 or Smirnoff Blue Label). Allow to infuse for two months. Strain and filter. To shorten infusion time, shake infusion three times an day and let it steep for one month.

Happy Mixology Monday!

Tippling on Ireland's whiskey trail.   This weekend's Los Angeles Times Travel Section featured a piece on touring Irish whiskey distilleries, which I've actually never gotten a chance to do. The Jameson distillery in Dublin and the Locke distillery in Kilbeggan are pretty much just museums now (although I've read that Jameson is still vatted in Dublin), with most of the whiskey in Ireland being distilled at Midleton in Cork. Bushmills is still made in Co. Antrim in the North, and the Cooley distillery in Co. Louth makes Locke's now, as well as Kilbeggan, The Tyrconnell, Connemara, Greenore and Michael Collins.

I think a proper distillery visit might have to be on the agenda next trip to Ireland.

Employees' infusions.   I stumbled across a few recipes on the Chowhound site for a specialty cocktail created by the guys at Employees Only in New York, one of the top cocktail spots in the city. The recipes centered around a cocktail consisting of gin, dry vermouth and Cointreau -- sounds simple, and very similar to a couple dozen cocktails in the database, but the similarity ends there when the gin is infused with lavender and the vermouth with herbes de Provence.

(Employees Only, NYC)

2-1/2 ounces lavender-infused Plymouth gin.
2-1/2 ounces Vermouth de Provence.
1 ounce Cointreau.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

YIELD: 2 drinks.

These guys play with infusions a lot and savory flavors in cocktails. It fascinates me, and I'll definitely be visiting when I finally get my butt to New York.

Stupendously awesome music video of the day.   Michael sent this last week, and it made my jaw drop.

He and I had met the Haden triplets back in our KCRW days -- Rachel, Petra and Tanya, who are the daughters of jazz musician Charlie Haden. I didn't really know Tanya, but we fondly remember Rachel and Petra, especially from their being in that dog., a band we really liked. I'd kept an eye on their various musical projects over the years, but kinda lost track (my mind wanders), and then SNAP! -- years fly by and it's today.

I had vaguely remembered hearing that Petra did an album entitled "Petra Haden sings: The Who Sell Out," in which she sings that entire Who album of that name, a cappella, and sang all the parts herself. I remember thinking at the time, "Wow, that's really cool ... I've gotta get that," and then SNAP! -- years fly by and it's today.

Fortunately Michael reminded me of it in email, and sent this video.


She looks like she's having tons of fun, too.

Here's what Pete Townsend had to say about the album:

I was a little embarrassed to realize I was enjoying my own music so much, for in a way it was like hearing it for the first time. What Petra does with her voice, which is not so easy to do, is challenge the entire rock framework ... When she does depart from the original music she does it purely to bring a little piece of herself -- and when she appears she is so very welcome. I felt like I'd received something better than a Grammy.


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  Friday, November 9, 2007

Cocktail of the day.   Wes dug this one up last night, browsing through Robert's cocktail list. By The Professor's reckoning you might be able to call this an "Improved" Martini, although ... really, there's no improving on a Martini. This is a damned tasty drink, though.

The Caprice Coctkail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine with cracked ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Straw colored, smooth and with a touch of spice. Mmmmmmm.

I suspect that many of the upcoming Cocktail of the Day posts will come from Dave Wondrich's new book Imbibe! -- it's so inspirational, getting back to our roots, and besides, they look delicious.

Pear cocktail contest winners.   Imbibe magazine have announced winners of their pear cocktail contest. None of them was me. Oh well ... my drink was a good idea, but it wasn't quite fully evolved. Apparently I was on the right track, though, because like mine the winning cocktail was a flip. The "Pear-Cardamom Flip" is a fair bit more complex in its preparation, though -- 10 ingredients (!), including a made-to-order pear-cardamom syrup. Sounds quite tasty, actually, but it's not technically a flip as it only has egg white in it, and not a whole egg. I think I'll keep working on mine. I think I know what it needs.

I'm rather a bit more interested in the second-place winner, which combines a pear-infused tequila with yellow Chartreuse and bonded apple brandy. I'll also try the third, a Scots-Irish blend of Jameson's, Drambuie, Belle de Brillet and pear purée. Autumn's in full swing and it's time for pears and spices.

Congratulations to contest winners Daniel Braun, Brian Miller and Paul Zablocki!

More lost ingredients.   Camper English has written an article about the profusion of once-lost cocktail ingredients that are reappearing with dizzying and exhilirating speed. Among the covered tipples are absinthe (now legal again), crème de violette, Batavia Arrack, Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon replica (which I'll get going if the godsdamned spice company will just deliver my dried bitter orange peel, for frak's sake) and a Jamaican-style concotion called pimento dram, my recipe for which is cited and which apparently is being made and served by Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco. Woo! ("Now you can say you're big in San Francisco," Camper quipped to me in email. Hey, as long as "big" doesn't describe my belly or my head.)

You can lead a house to water ...   but you can't take it out, apparently. (Apologies to the horse and his cliché.)

A portion of the Fat Pack headed to Louisiana last week for the Basile Swine Festival (making me wonder if anyone in the current hog squealing contest could knock me off my champion's throne), the Savoy family boucherie and various and sundry other culinary and musical delights. Nettie and Dave are still in New Orleans, and Nettie sent this anecdote this morning:

So, I decided to take an earlyish walk this fine a.m. and headed down St. Peter towards the Bayou [St. John]. I crossed Moss, intending to walk along the Bayou, looked out on the water and a few hundred yards ahead were about 6 guys pulling what looked like a submerged house down the Bayou. So of course, I stopped and watched along with a small crowd -- most had been just walking or jogging by.

Finally, a woman told me that this rooftop is/was part of a set for "K-ville." Apparently they were filming some shots yesterday on the Bayou at the bridge near Cabrini High. The set was a house submerged to its roof in water, which they built on site. Well, as it turns out they got it in the water but couldn't get the rooftop (which by the way was very authentic looking) out of the water. So they had to drag it with ropes down the Bayou closer to the Dumaine St. Bridge, which has a grassy bank, not a concrete bank like up further. It took a while to get it there, where they proceeded to tie ropes onto the roof and tried to use a truck to haul it out. One problem -- the truck kept pulling the house apart as it dragged it up the embankment. When I left they had it more than three-quarters of the way out but were dismantling it as the truck was pulling it apart. Another fun morning in New Orleans.

Then I went to buy the Times-Picayune and on the cover is the submerged house. Turns out "K-ville" is a victiim of the writers' strike -- the day before they were filming some pickup shots but had to shut the production down because of the strike. They had three more episodes to shoot here, but had to let everyone go. No one knows if the show will even continue. The only loss I can see is the jobs for local folks; the show stunk. See the Picayune story today if interested.

So that's my morning so far, and it was only 'til 8:30!

I'm sorry for the loss of jobs in the city, but I sure won't miss that show. I guess I should have lightened up -- I've heard that lots of locals had "K-Ville" parties ("Gumbo party!" *eyereoll*) and would give it a bit of the MST3K treatment, which would have been fun.

Incidentally, if you're a TV addict and you're freaking out over the potential (temporary) loss of your favorite shows ("K-Ville" presumably not among them), the Los Angeles Times has published a chart listing the production status of most regular shows. Many already had backlogs of scripts and episodes in the can, but many others (sitcoms particularly) have already shut down.

Brief NOLA food porn.   So, after reading Nettie's email about the house, silly me ... I asked what they were eating. Nettie, always armed with her CrackBerry, quickly shot back:

OK, you asked for it. Dave and I were on our way to the Camellia Grill when we saw a rather long line, so I went back down Carrollton and turned on S. Claiborne to Crabby Jack's on Jefferson Highway. We are now thoroughly enjoying a slow-roast duck po-boy, with homemade potato chips (that's mine). Dave is eating a seafood-stuffed, deep-fried mirliton covered with fried shrimp and a seafood dressing, dirty rice and a truly fabulous chicken and andouille gumbo (we shared the gumbo). YUM, YUM, YUM.

She's right. I asked for it. Sigh.

I'll be no slouch in the eating and drinking department this weekend, though. It's Birthday Weekend, where I'll be celebrating ... the birthdays of Kurt Vonnegut, Leonardo DiCaprio, Fëdor Dostoevsky, Jonathan Winters and many others (oh, and mine too; 29 again).

Tonight it's Seven Grand for drinks followed by pan-Latin tapas at Ciudad. Tomorrow, if I'm really adventurous, we'll try to hit Osteria Mozza early and grab a couple of seats at the bar, followed by a long overdue visit to an old friend for more drinks. Sunday night's The Big Day, and Wes is taking me ... somewhere for dinner. It's the typical annual Mystery Restaurant for our birthdays; we never know where we'll end up until we pull up in front. Last year it was Sona, year before it was Lucques, year before that it was Patina, year before that it was Trattoria Tre Venezie (where I fell in love with Luigi Coppo "Mondaccione" Grappa di Freisa di Valdivilla, my favorite grappa). So, wherever it is, it'll probably be good!

I'll be fat and drunk for the next three days. Seeya Monday!

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  Thursday, November 8, 2007

Imbibe!   Jerry Thomas was the man.

He is a gentleman who is all ablaze with diamonds. There is a very large pin, formed of a cluster of diamonds, in the front of his magnificent shirt, he has diamond studs at his wrists, and gorgeous diamond rings on his fingers -- diamonds being "properties" essential to the calling of a bar-tender in the United States ...

(Fortunately, it's not so essential anymore.)

A larger-than-life figure, he's revered by bartenders as the Father of Us All (or at least by bartenders and mixologists who are aware of the history of their craft). Although he was the master of the bar, with voluminous knowledge of drinks of every kind, plus formulae for making syrups, cordials, bitters and the like, he didn't invent a whole heck of a lot, drink-wise. What he did was monumental at the time, and his achievement has resonated through time to influence mixologists to this day.

Oh, what was it he did? He was the first ... to write it all down and put it in a book.

"Professor" Jerry Thomas' legacy is to have told us all how it was to be done, with his How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant's Companion, first published in 1862. It was revised twice, and was followed by many other mixology and bartending guides over the years, but remains the rock upon which all the others were built.

Many of us have copies of the book. Many of us have read through it, if not read it cover to cover. It's a touchstone on the cocktail books shelf. But how many of us have made many of the drinks from it? Truthfully, I'll bet not as often as you'd think. The Professor wrote it for professionals of the time, and assumed much that we don't assume now as to common technique of the time, and apparently common but obscure measurements. ("A wineglass? Add a wineglass of spirits? How much is a wineglass?") It tended to be a bit obtuse, and that prevented a lot of people from exploring it thoroughly. Also, besides this book, what did we really know about The Professor? Not much, for the most part.

No more.


David Wondrich's marvelous new book, Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, not only demystifies The Professor's book, examing the background, techniques and exact measurements of the many different classes of drinks that a bartender was expected to know in the grand old days (punches, toddies, Collinses, fizzes, daisies, fixes, sours, coolers, cobblers, noggs, flips, slings, juleps, crustas as well as cocktails), but also provides a colorful biography of the man himself, the best yet available, thanks to Dave's meticulous research.

In fact, his research is often mind-boggling. Although he went back to all of the great cocktail books that quickly followed the Professor's, some known and some not-so-well-known, that wasn't enough -- he's gone back to newspaper archives from throughout the 1800s, pamphlets, even obscure theatre productions and occasionally a medieval text or two, tracing the roots of our tippling. Gentlement of the Sporting Fraternity gathering around the bowl of Punch (acclaimed in story, song and hangover), egg-enriched ale flips heated by the thrust of a red hot poker, moving along to the ready availability of ice, which changed everything. New barware came into use in the mid- to late-1800s, still being used today. Cobblers, then cocktails, then the introduction of "fancy" and "improved" cocktails, and the introduction of vermouth, which changed everything yet again. It's far from being dry history; it's a living record of what we do, and why we do it. All this is intertwined with stories of gentlemen, brutes and characters ranging from the Prince of Wales (who, given the fact that his mum reigned until she was in her 80s, truly had nothing to do but drink) to Bill "The Butcher," whom you may remember from "Gangs of New York" (the original author of which, Herbert Asbury, who also wrote a great seedy history of the French Quarter, wrote the introduction and biographical sketch of the last revision of Thomas' book).

He also debunks some myths and traces what is probably the truest origins of the cocktail, both the drink and the word. Sadly, it has nothing to do with New Orleans, apothecaries or egg cups. We loved telling the story of Antoine Amédée Peychaud, his bitters and the coquetier in which it was served, even though we knew it was a tall tale. Ah well, nothing like carefully and exhaustively researched facts to throw cold water on a good story!

It's all very entertaining, too. There's a whimsy to his writing recalling the wordsmithing of the Victorian era in which many of the drinks were originally concocted, with a contemporary punch and a highly opinionated sense of humor. You'll get to brush up on your Latin on occasion, too ... although there were one or two instances in which the sprinkling of Latin phrases defeated me, almost, but not quite, as if Latin texts had been held upside down over the manuscript and shaken, by which one "may peper and solt it as [he] plese." (Fac meum involutum in lardo ... take THAT, Wondrich!) The seasoning of Latin didn't really bug me too much, though ... we live in the fabulous 21st Century, where Google is your friend.

Thomas' book is examined, de-mythologized, deconstructed, fine-tuned and, in this wonderful collection of recipes, helps make Thomas' work a living thing, something you can easily mix from today and realize, in case you hadn't before, that all these 150-200 year old drinks are actually pretty damned tasty. Some may be a bit simple, and even crude, by today's standards, but as we see in the final chapter of the book, in which several contemporary mixologists offer their own concoctions inspired by Thomas (and in the work of fine mixologists who today are creating new flips, daisies and smashes), the Professor still has a lot to teach us.

This is a terrific book, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in cocktails, especially anyone who wants to make drinks for a living. That, I hope, means you.

Cocktail of the day.   One of the things Dave continued to emphasize in Imbibe! is that the gin you read about in all of Jerry Thomas' classic recipes is not the gin you're thinking of. At all.

Today, when you say "gin," people automatically assume you mean London dry gin, which is by far the most prevalent. Beefeater, Tanqueray, that sort of gin, and the similar Plymouth gin, and all its contemporary variations (from Hendricks to No. 209 to Aviation), despite their different flavor profiles, are all far more similar to each other than to the gin described in the Professor's (and Dave's) book. The gin they're talking about in many of these old recipes is Dutch gin (to use a mildly inaccurate term), the precursor to London dry gin, which in Dutch is galled genever or jenever, and in the Professor's day was called "Hollands gin."

It's very different stuff, and I had very little experience with it until fairly recently. Hollands gin comes in two varieties: jonge and oude, literally translated as "young" and "old," but unlike most other similar appellations this doesn't refer to the age of the spirit, it's more the style. Oude is the one you want, distilled from malted barley (moutwijn, or "malt wine"), with some rye and corn; it's "thick, malty and divine," as Dave describes it. It actually has more in common with whiskey than with London dry gin, and Dave even recommends an emergency substitute for oude genever if you need some but can't find any, a mixture of Irish whiskey, Plymouth gin and a little simple syrup ("not particularly adequate ... [t]his works tolerably well in Punches and the like, but less so in Cocktails.") Oude genever, in the old days, was considered a bit less than palatable on its own, and because of this herbs were added, including juniper berries (for which the Dutch term is jeneverbes, hence jenever or genever and then "gin"). Jonge is a clear spirit, dating from the World War I era, with a more neutral flavor; while it's good too, I prefer the oude myself.

You may have a bit of a hard time finding it, but the brand I managed to find fairly easily was Boomsma, which was available at all my local liquor haunts, as well as nationwide at BevMo. It's cheap too -- around $15 a bottle, and really tasty stuff. Unfortunately, the stuff from the Netherlands I really want isn't available here at all -- it's called korenwijn, meaning "corn wine," and it's even older than genever. It's a distilled malt spirit, and a precursor to the oude type of genever, but has a great character all its own. Philip Duff, who's with Bols in the Netherlands, gave me a swig of korenwijn at Tales of the Cocktail, and my immediate reaction was "I want!"

So, what shall we do with our genever?! There was one cocktail in the book I zeroed in on and wanted to try right away. As we know, the original definition of the Cocktail ("more vulgarly called a Bittered Sling") was a mixture of spirits, sugar, water (those two often in the form of gum syrup or simple syrup) and bitters (a "sling," in its original definition, having been merely spirits, sugar and water). Around the mid-1860s to early 1870s we began to see "fancy" cocktails, which might add a dash or two of Curaçao, and an "improved" cocktail, which might add a bit of absinthe, a teaspoonful of maraschino or some other liqueur. This is the one I wanted to try, and "lo in the hole" ... it was a fantastic drink.

The Improved Hollands Gin Cocktail
(adapted from Imbibe!, by David Wondrich)

2 ounces oude genever.
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur.
1 teaspoon rich simple syrup (I made mine with Demerara sugar).
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
1 dash (1/8 teaspoon) absinthe.
Lemon peel, twisted to express the oil.

Combine with cracked ice in a mixing glass, shake well, then strain into a fancy cocktail glass. The flavor is improved by moistening the edge of the cocktail glass with a piece of lemon.

Dave's version called for a half-teaspoon of maraschino, but I like it a little better this way; your mileage may, of course, vary, and if you prefer them a bit drier go for the lesser amount of maraschino. Even though the Professor called for this drink to be shaken, I'm a stirrer when it comes to drinks composed of all spirits, wines and/or liqueurs; you can't beat that silky smooth texture you get. As Dave says, "If you'd rather be right and stir, be right and stir. Then smile."

We smiled a lot while drinking this cocktail. I could hop in the Wayback Machine, quaff these at The Professor's bar and be very, very happy indeed.

New Orleans' Best Cocktails: The Singapore Sling.   After taking a few weeks off, master bartender Chris McMillian returns to the world of YouTube with another demonstration of another classic cocktail. This is a nice, refreshing drink great for hot days and tropical climes, although it's a bit removed from the original version as it was invented at the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Here's the current, most popular version of the drink. While it may not be the original version, as Chris quotes Dale DeGroff, "When a drink tastes this good, who cares if it's the original one or not?"

The Singapore Sling
(Contemporary version)

1-1/2 ounces Bombay gin.
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine.
1/4 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 ounces pineapple juice.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
2 dashes grenadine.
Club soda.

Combine with ice and shake well. Strain into a tall wine glass or Collins glass over ice, and top with club soda. Garnish with an orange-cherry flag.

Research by Dr. Cocktail, among others, suggests that the original version of the drink was much drier, made with a dry cherry brandy like kirschwasser rather than the sweet Cherry Heering. This alleged original is good too, and very much worth a try.

"Straits" Sling

2 dashes of Orange Bitters.
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters.
The juice of half a lemon.
1/8 gill (1/2 ounce) of Bénédictine.
1/8 gill (1/2 ounce) of Dry Cherry Brandy.
1/2 gill (2 ounces) of Gin.

Pour into a tumbler and fill up with cold soda water.

I know the weather's turning cold, but if you happen to have an unseasonably balmy day (we've had plenty up until just this week), sling away.

Mixing for lazy bastards.   Michael sent this in, saying that while he is certifiably lazy at times, "if I ever get to the place where I want this, I want you to shoot me."

Maybe if I lost the use of my arms ... a guy's still gotta mix drinks even then, ya know.

Don't lick the salt.   Don't even touch it, because it's hot.

I've read about this technique, and I find it fascinating. Russ Parsons' article "Salt-roasting: It's white magic" really makes me want to try it.

What was quite possibly the single best dish I've eaten this year came to my table as a bleak white mound that looked less like food than some kindergartner's art project igloo. That it was wheeled with such ceremony through the dining room of Providence restaurant on a table-side service cart only added to the sense of surrealism. What in the world could this be?

With chef Michael Cimarusti standing by expectantly, his manager-co-owner, Donato Poto, used two spoons to crack the crusty top of the mound and lift it away, revealing two perfectly cooked spot prawns and releasing the most remarkable aroma of supremely fresh shellfish. After a quick trip to the kitchen for shelling, those prawns reappeared, drizzled with a little very good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and sprinkled with sea salt.

I took one bite and had to close my eyes. Many dishes are good; some are excellent. A very few are truly profound, and this was one of them. It had the deepest, purest taste of shellfish I've ever experienced, like some distilled essence.

The fact that, as I've since learned, it's remarkably easy to make at home only adds to its magic.

Salt-roasting, essentially nothing more than baking something in a mound of salt, is a technique with ancient roots but a thoroughly modern result -- food that tastes clearly and intensely of itself.

You can try this at home.

It amazes me that you can bury something in two pounds of salt and not have it taste overly salty. One of those miracle of food science, I guess.

Happy birthday, Mike!   Enjoy your lunch at the Bistro at Maison de Ville, old man! Make sure to tell us all about it.

October Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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