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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 @ 8:02pm PDT, 9/30/2008

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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to donate to this site:

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

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

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

Buy stuff!

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

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

September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008

2007:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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 (in memoriam)
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.)

Blogging Tales of the Cocktail

*     *     *

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

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

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

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Liquor Cabinet
   (Frighteningly large, and would
   never fit in a cabinet)

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!)

Bittermens Bitters
   (Fantastic new small-batch
   bitters company with forth-
   coming products including
   Xocolatl Mole Bitters,
   grapefruit, "tiki" spice,
   and sweet chocolate bitters, wow!)

*     *     *

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner, July 17, 2008
   (Eleven dishes of wonder by Chef
   Chris DeBarr, with fabulous
   tropical cocktails by Jeff "Beachbum"
   Berry and Wayne Curtis. Full review
   of the 11-dish, 4-course meal, with
   photos and recipes for all 5 drinks.)

*     *     *

   (Camper English)

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)

   (Seamus Harris, N.Z. & China)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)
   (Group drinks blog by Vidiot,
   Mr. Bali Hai, Kosmonaut,
   Chico and me).

The Cocktail Circuit
   (Joseph Mailander)

Cocktail Nerd
   (Gabriel Szaszko)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

Dr. Bamboo
   (Craig Mrusek, bring art and
   alcohol together for a
   better tomorrow!)

Drink A Week
   (Alex and Ed)
   (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)

Esquire's Drinks Database
   (Dave Wondrich and
   his forbears)

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, London)

Rowley's Whiskey Forge
   (Matt Rowley)
   (Matt Robold, The Rum Dood)

Save the Drinkers
   (Kevin Kelpe, Boise, Idaho!)


Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

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

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 site and weblog)
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Practically Edible
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:

Lisey's Story, by Stephen King.

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.

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

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:
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (****-1/2)
Atonement (****)
No Country for Old Men (****)
Juno (***-1/2)

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (***)
Eastern Promises (***-1/2)
Omagh (***-1/2)
Transformers (**-1/2)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (**-1/2)
Across the Universe (***-1/2)
Sicko (****)
Michael Clayton (****)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (****-1/2)

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
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Jesus' General
Making Light
Neil Gaiman's Journal
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Your Right Hand Thief

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary & rick
mary katherine
michael p.

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 iMac 24" and a G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.5 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

  Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cocktail of the day.   Yes, this is a repeat from July, but I've finally been able to do this cocktail properly, as it was first made and documented by Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930.

We've been enjoying this with Plymouth gin for a good while, but it was first made with Old Tom gin. Now that we've finally got Hayman's Old Tom Gin on the market, we can make this drink for real. The version we make has an extra little twist that I learned from Michael, our favorite bartender in Las Vegas, at the Petrossian Bar at the Bellagio. I believe he learned this from Tony Abou-Ganim when he was beverage director there several years ago and created their quality cocktail program.

This drink is a beautiful example of the flavor of Old Tom, with its broad base of botanicals, light on the juniper and slight sweetness balancing so well with the acid of the citrus, the nutty, fruity maraschino and the bite of the bitters (we used Angostura orange tonight). This is a drink that'll convert vodka drinkers, I guarantee you. Old Tom is definitely the gateway gin, and a grand spirit on its own.

Sorry there's no picture, but it didn't last that long. I really should add one later, because the little tip we learned from Michael makes it really pretty.

The Casino Cocktail

2 ounces Hayman's Old Tom Gin.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes orange bitters.
Brandied cherries.

Combine the first four ingredients in a shaker with cracked ice, and shake vigorously for at least 10-12 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry at the bottom, and slowly, carefully trickle a barspoon of the cherry brandy from the jar down the inside of the glass, to form a little pool of it around the cherry at the bottom.

Just gorgeous.

[UPDATE: Erik reminds us that the actual Savoy Casino recipe was less heavy on the maraschino and lemon juice. Time for a taste test.]

Casino Cocktail
(Original Savoy version)

2 ounces Old Tom gin.
2 dashes (2/3 tsp) maraschino liqueur.
2 dashes fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Stir will, and add cherry for garnish.

The tough part is gonna be finding that 1/3 teaspoon measuring spoon ... fortunately I keep some maraschino in a dasher bottle. This is a good idea if you're going to make 19th or early 20th Century cocktails, and while you're at it keep some absinthe and curaçao in a dasher bottle too. Recycled Angostura or Peychaud's bottles work perfectly, or you can go on eBay to find vintage dasher bottles if you're a geek like me.

Bacony goodness.   I'm apparently getting a reputation, and so is Wes -- friends of ours email us bacon-related links. That's our own fault, I suppose, for obsessing about bacon and talking about it a lot. But how can you not? It's BACON! And do you see me complaining about it? NO!

A stroke of genius when making store-bought refrgerator-case cinnamon rolls? Perhaps. I'll try it, certainly. I wonder if one should par-cook the bacon first, though ... it might be a little rubbery inside the roll otherwise.

Then things get silly ... like, Baconhenge. (Silly, perhaps, but beats the crap out of Brickhenge, Woodhenge and Strawhenge ... the greatest henge of them all!)

This one's a bit of a heretic, although I get her point about the silliness of some of the baconmania. The bra, the placemats, the henge, and ... the tiara. Regarding the bacon tiara, I must take exception to any recipe or set of instructions that begins thusly:

Please read this safety information before starting the project.

You are going to be working with an enzyme that bonds protein. You are made of protein. Unless you want to glue your lungs together or glue your eyelids to your eyeballs, you absolutely must follow these safety rules. We cannot be held accountable for any mishaps you might have while working with transglutaminase.

1. Wear protective gear: goggles, gloves, and face masks. Also wear long sleeves, long trousers, and closed-toe shoes.

2. Work in a well ventilated area.

3. Do not work around pets, children, or adults who are not also wearing safety gear.

4. If any area of your body comes into contact with the transglutaminase, flush it thoroughly with water and consult a health care professional.

You get the picture. I'd rather just insert strips of bacon inside cinnamon rolls, y'know?

I do have to struggle a bit with one admonition from the almost-heretic above -- that's about the disdain for Bacon Salt. This is exactly the kind of fake-food product I usually decry. It contains no actual bacon. In fact, it's a vegan product! But ... it tastes a fair bit like bacon. It's really good on green beans, just steamed, tossed with some olive oil and sprinkled with Bacon Salt, especially the peppered variety. Dammit .... I suppose it's a guilty pleasure.

Any of y'all tried Bacon Salt? What do you think?

Photo of the day.   Making a statement? Confused?

Making a statement?

If he's making a statement, I'm not entirely sure what it is. (I think he was just trying to make people say "What the f--?!" and/or laugh.)

Seen in the parking lot at the market a few weeks ago.

History-making spaceflight story of the day.   I don't know if any of y'all noticed -- I sure didn't, which diminishes my cred as a childhood space geek -- but last Saturday was the first privately-developed commercial space flight in history to achieve orbit. "The Falcon 1 rocket launched by Space Exploration Technologies, a California company founded by Elon Musk, founder of PayPal and chairman of Tesla Motors, became the first privately developed, privately financed rocket to reach orbit at 4:26 p.m. Pacific time...By slashing the cost to reach orbit, and by giving satellite researchers and small aerospace companies a way to avoid the bureaucracy of NASA, the military or foreign launchers to reach space, Hawthorne-based SpaceX could enable a flash of space innovation the way the Apple II did in computing, said Bob Twiggs, an emeritus professor of astronautics at Stanford University."

The video is beautiful, and exciting.

To infinity, and beyond!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, September 29, 2008

Sad news.   Michael P. Smith, the great New Orleans photographer who shone at documenting musicians at Jazzfest, street paradse and funerals, and the fascinating "spirit world" of New Orleans' African-American storefront churches, died on Friday at his New Orleans home of degenerative nervous system disease.

Fess, by Michael P. Smith

This is one of his more iconic images, of Professor Longhair at the 1977 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

I, along with so many other New Orleanians and people around the world, loved Mr. Smith's images, which were always available to the public at very reasonable prices at his booth at Jazzfest. I do hope his work will still be made available -- he helped bring the heart and soul of New Orleans music and culture into people's homes that way, as well as on myriad album covers as well.

Mr. Smith, thank you so much for all your wonderful work.

Cocktail of the day.   I was craving that gin punch.

At the kickoff of Plymouth Gin's Historic Los Angeles Cocktail Tour last month (which I still haven't written about, because I'm a lazy bastard and God Emperor of Procrastination), Dave Wondrich handed us each a flask filled with what he described simply as "gin punch." It was great.

A couple of weekends ago Wes and I were asked if we wanted to bring cocktails to a pool party and barbecue we had been invited to. The answer to that is always "Yes!" but often we tend to feel more like enjoying the party than mixing drinks the whole time, particularly when a pool is involved. This is one of those times that calls for punch, and my mind snapped back to Dave's gin punch and how much I enjoyed it.

I went right for my copy of his marvelous book Imbibe! (the work copy, that is; we have two copies of it -- one pristine and autographed, and the other one that we're beating the crap out of in our kitchen and bar, and which already has a cracked spine and loose pages). There on page 77 was a punch recipe that seemed awfully similar to the one we had that day, and was undoubtedly It.

Given who the sponsor was, the gin we had that day was Plymouth, although the original recipe from the early- to mid-1800s was based on "Holland gin," or genever. If you want to be authentic, make it with an oude genever, or try Maytag's excellent Genevieve Genever-style Gin. Dave says even a London dry will work, and that's what we used, because we had about 2 liters of Beefeater on hand and didn't want to use up all our Boomsma or Genevieve.

For the raspberry syrup you can use Monin or even Torani in a pinch. The best raspberry syrup we've ever come across is from Harry and David, those folks that sell the amazing (and amazingly expensive) flats of fruit as gifts, and lots of other expensive bottled and bagged stuff too. Their raspberry syrup is amazing, richly flavored of fresh berries, not too sweet, and stays well-blended in the drink. Problem is, I just checked their online catalog and it doesn't seem to be listed anymore. (D'oh.) Dr. Cocktail is fond of Smucker's Raspberry Syrup, and it's really good too. We found that it's heavy and has a tendency to sink to the bottom of a drink rather than stay blended. This is not necessarily a bad thing -- it just means you shouldn't dawdle over your drink!

We ended up kicking it up a bit by substituting the venerable Chambord black raspberry liqueur (which is made with blackberries as well). I had a lot of it on hand, after judging a local Chambord-sponsored cocktail competition a couple of weeks ago (and no, I haven't written about that yet either, sigh).

I multiplied the recipe below by twelve to serve everyone, and had enough left over for us to have a nice li'l bowl of punch in the fridge for a few days. I think I might have to keep that practice up. Anyway, here's the version of the punch I made, in a single-serving size:

Gin Punch
(Chuck's version, based on the 19th Century recipe in Imbibe!)

3 ounces Beefeater gin.
1-1/2 ounces water.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce Chambord.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur.

Serve over ice in tall glasses, garnished with a slice of orange and berries in season. Provide straws for sipping.

This was good. They put a lot of this stuff away at the barbecue, and were very complimentary. Don't let its pinkness put you off, though. It'll knock you on your keister if you're not careful. (A couple of people at the party cut it with lemonade, about 80% punch to 20% lemonade. Try some of the fizzy French-style, which would probably be very good in this.)

We're going to need that drink.   Why? Because House Republicans destroyed $1.1 trillion in wealth today by refusing to pass the bailout bill, with the resultant plummet of 777.68 points on the Dow-Jones average, the biggest in history. That'smoney that came out of your pocket and mine. In fact, I lost 19% of the value of my 401(k) today, money I was planning to retire on one day, money that was probably enough to live on for more than a year.

And they blamed the Democrats for hurting their feelings by making some "mean" speeches? That's why they voted against country and against your savings and mine?

My comment in the comments.

Musique 'cadienne de la jour.   Here's a great live clip (well, not so much for the cinematography, but the music more than makes up for it) of the Cajun band Balfa Toujours performing the song "La Valse de Platin." Courtney Granger on lead vocals sounds as if he's channeling his late great-uncle Dewey Balfa, too.

Allons valser!

Quote of the day.   From Mary, in email yesterday:

"If [Sarah Palin] found herself as President she would be as in over her head as one of those sea creatures that live so deep in the ocean they are blind."


Meanwhile, CBS has more footage of the Palin/Couric interview, as we all knew they did. They'll be airing it this week. Word on the street is that it's the worst yet. It's actually difficult to imagine it being any worse.

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  Friday, September 26, 2008

Ohhh boy ... that's just great.   My bank failed last night. Largest bank failure in American history. Seized by the feds and the remnants bought out by JPMorgan Chase. (Ugh.) Let's hope the FDIC is still solvent.

So long, and thanks for all the deregulation.

Cocktail of the day.   I could have used a big drink right around the time I found out my bank had failed, but I only saw the news right before I went to bed. (Come to think of it, a big shot of Cognac would not have been untoward, but I just went to bed instead.) Fortunately we had had a lovely drink last night, and a New Orleans original by Arnaud's French 75 bartender Chris Hannah, who served this to Paul during Tales and gave him the recipe.

This kind of imagination, creativity and willingness to make needed ingredients from scratch is what makes Chris one of the very best bartenders in the city. This is also my kind of drink -- bitter and herbal! But that's not the main flavor profile, only part of a more complex whole, with the tiki-spiced sweetness of the falernum and the lovely warm vanilla-sugar-toast of the rum as the base spirit. The name also can't be beat -- it comes from the New Orleans neighborhood in the Ninth Ward where my mom and uncles grew up, where my grandparents had their neighborhood corner grocery, and where I spent a lot of time as a kid.

The Bywater Cocktail
(Created by Chris Hannah, Arnaud's French 75 Bar, New Orleans)

1-3/4 ounces Cruzan Estate Diamond Rum, 5 years old (or Cruzan Single Barrel).
3/4 ounce Amer Boudreau
1/2 ounce yellow green Chartreuse.
1/2 ounce falernum.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Those are Chris' recommendations for the rum, but any aged, smooth rum would probably work. I would imagine that the new formulation of Torani Amer (which I'm going to try to find this weekend) would work well too.

Although we did enjoy it the version I made was not quite there -- I have a good supply of homemade Amer Boudreau, New Orleans 3 year old dark rum sat in for the Cruzan (all I had Cruzanwise was our house pouring rum, the Cruzan 2 year) but I have yet to make a batch of my own falernum. (Sorry Paul, I'm the God Emperor of Procrastination!) I flipped a coin between John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum and Fee Brothers Falernum syrup, and it came up tails. While the Fee's works well in tropical drinks it was too sweet for this drink, and threw the balance off. (We drank it anyway; even though it was unbalanced I do try not to let good booze go to waste, and it was almost there.) Paul's absolutely right that the drink needs the acid of the lime juice from the homemade falernum for balance.

Lesson learned, though. I have fresh cloves (plus a ton of other stuff) on the way from Penzey's, and I'll have a batch of falernum within a few days of their arrival.

[UPDATE: Paul said in the comments that Chris had actually told him it was green Chartreuse he used ... so hmm, I haven't quite had a proper Bywater yet!]

Woo, delivery!   I just got two bottles of Hayman's Old Tom Gin delivered today! While I won't be able to do a fabulous Old Tom Gin taste test like Jay did, I will be making some drinks this weekend that originally called for Old Tom back in their day, but which we've all gotten used to tasting with London dry. This'll be fun!

Mmmmmm, fat.   There's a new book I need to get, like, yesterday.

A book on why animal fats are not only delicious but fundamental to our health? I'm all over it! I love how all this stuff is good for you now -- animal fats, alcohol, chocolate ... hell, that's three of my four major food groups right there.

Read the interview -- this author gets it. I think she would be as big a fan of the following quote (one we repeat all the time as one of our many regular catchphrases and quotes) as Wesly and I are:

"If you knew anything at all about food, you'd know that fats and oils are the vehicles by which flavor travels. Fat is what makes food taste good. That's why a wise and loving God created fat in the first place."

-- Reese, "Malcolm in the Middle", December 5, 2004

Y'know, everything thought he was stupid, but sometimes Reese was the genius, not Malcolm.

"Bacon-like meat analog"?!   It's enough to wonder why someone actually patented this, but it also raises the question, "Why in the name of all that's sane would anybody want this?"

Bacon-like meat analog
(United States Patent 4141999)

An improved bacon-like meat analog is provided having a novel simulated fatty portion which is intended when fried to ripple or crinkle and have a juicy, fatty mouthfeel similar to the fatty portions of bacon. The analog has alternate layers simulating the lean and fat portions of bacon. The improvement comprises including layers simulating the fat portions produced by cooking a composition mixture consisting essentially of 3 to 7 percent albumen, 25 to 40 percent water, 0 to 6 percent vegetable protein, 52 to 65 percent vegetable oil, 0.05 to 0.60 percent vegetable gums and 4 to 10 percent flavors and seasonings.

This isn't even suitable for vegetarians or vegans because the 3 to 7% albumen will undoubtably come from eggs. Read the whole thing. It's food science achieving its highest level of horror. The last sentence is the coup de grace. Brrr.

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  Thursday, September 25, 2008

Potions of the Caribbean.   Continuing with the World's Slowest and Most Procrastinatory Tales of the Cocktail recap ... Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, Wayne Curtis, author of And A Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, Martin Cate of Alameda's fabulous Forbidden Island tiki bar, and Stephen Remsburg, rum expert and owner of what is probably the world's most vast private collection of rums, took us on a tour of the Caribbean, and a tasty one it was.

As fun and informative as so many of the seminars at Tales were, I think this one has to win the award for Most Entertaining Seminar, certainly winning the Best and Funniest PowerPoint Presentation Ever. Jeff got our attention with the trumpeting of the conch, began his presentation and finally called for his "laser pointer" ...

Jeff "Beachbum" 
Berry and his "laser pointer"

"It looks like a harpoon!" you say. Yes. Yes, it does.

Jeff went on to describe Caribbean punches, the general category of which dates back to at least the 1600s, and provided for us the basic rule-of-thumb people used when concocting them: "One of sour, Two of sweet, Three of strong, Four of weak." A little spice thrown in for good measure, and that's a pretty good general recipe for punch. You can see some of the examples on Jeff's slide -- arrack or rum were often the strong, the latter especially in the Caribbean. Lemon or any available citrus for the sour, sugar for the sweet (natch). Water generally stood in for the weak, as did tea, which also provided a spice component. A grating of nutmeg was a typical (and quite lovely) touch atop a punch back in the day.

We got things going with a little bit of punch for ourselves, too.

Meeting House Punch

112-1/2 ounces Rhum Clément VSOP (or any good dark rum).
75 ounces Cruzan Estate Light Rum.
400 ounces Red Stripe beer.
25 ounces fresh lemon juice.
25 ounces Muscovado sugar syrup.

Mix in a (very) large punch bowl. Add ice (preferably a huge block) and lemon wedges.

You might want to cut the recipe down a bit.

I had never had beer in a punch before. It was unusual but quite delicious, and not surprisingly it went really well with the citrus elements. I never was a fan of the lime wedge in the sodapop-light beer thing, but it all went together here.

Unfortunately my notes are sparse, hurried and scribbled, but there are some cryptic indications of some of the stories Jeff told, one of my favorites of which being about "sucking the monkey" -- supposedly monkey carcasses being brought back to port for the taxidermist were stored in alcohol, and thirsty sailors would tap the barrels to drink it with straws, not particularly caring what was pickling inside. (Seems apocryphal; Brewer's Dictionary of Fable and Phrase has another explanation featuring no actual monkey carcasses, as does another compendium of seafaring terms. I have heard, however, that bodies of officers killed in battle were preserved similarly in alcohol, and tapped by sailors dyin' o' da t'irst; hence, "sucking the Admiral." Yeesh.)

Then I won a prize! Jeff called out a question, looking for a famous tiki drink containing sherry, and I got my answer out first -- "The Fog Cutter!" Jeff then tossed me my Major Award -- a vintage paperback copy of Thor Heyerdahl's Aku-Aku. It was my favorite prize since I won the blackout at my high school's Band Bingo in 8th grade. (Fifty bucks!)

We got a lot of fascinating history from Jeff about the development of Caribbean and tropical-style cocktails and bars in the States -- Don the Beachcomber, primarily, in Los Angeles in the early 1930s -- and then in Key West and Cuba. Hemingway entered into the story, both in his longtime exploits in Cuba as well as a ripoff bar a friend of his copied and opened in Key West. Then came one of Papa's favorites as our next cocktail:

La Florida
(Adapted, as served at the Potions of the Caribbean seminar)

1 ounce Rhum Clément VSOP.
1/8 ounce Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb.
1 ounce fresh lme juice.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce white crème de cacao.
1/8 ounce grenadine.

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jeff Berry and Wayne Curtis

Wayne Curtis rose to speak, taking us further on to Cuba and the many hotel and free-standing bars in and out of Havana. Some are obviously no longer there (Trader Vic having picked an unfortunate location for his Havana outlet, the Havana Hilton, which a fellow named Fidel ended up using as his HQ for La Revolución ... oops). Wayne told the tale of going to the bar in what's left of that hotel, ordering a Mai Tai and being served something red and nasty and hideously sweet. "This is not a good argument for socialism." Hee.

Our next cocktail! Jeff told us about the venerable Rum Pot, and offered us this adapted version:

Rum Pot

6 ounces El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum.
3 drops vanilla extract.
3/4 ounces passion fruit purée.
3 ounces orange juice.
3 ounces fresh lemon juice.

Shake well with ice and pour unstrained into glass. Serves 3.

For some reason I had the above recipe written down, but this one came on the recipe card:

Rum Pot

1-1/2 ounces El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum.
1/4 ounce Fee Bros. French Vanilla Syrup.
1/2 ounce Funkin Passion Fruit Purée.
3/4 ounce orange juice.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Shake, strain, etc.

Heck, try 'em both!

This drink, as well as the Java Punch I made for MxMo the other day, really makes me fond of vanilla in cocktails, especially in extract form so I get the flavor without the sweetness of syrup. I'll be playing more with this as time goes on.

Martin did a hugely entertaining slide presentation about the old island technique of making a concoction with rum and fresh pimento (allspice) berries and burying it in his backyard for six months. Marleigh noted this in her "things I learned at Tales" post -- "6. Find Martin Cate;s house and dig in the backyard, because he buries jugs of punch back there!" Unfortunately I didn't get any kind of recipe for what he made, so if anyone's got it I'd love to see it.

Woo, and time for another cocktail! Not only that, a cocktail served to us by the lovely Jeanne Vidrine, Tiki Queen of New Orleans.

Cocktails from the Tiki Queen

Steve Remsburg began his portion of the talk, and spoke fondly of one Jasper LeFranc, who had been head bartender at the Bay Roc Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica for over 30 years. This one pretty much epitomizes the best flavors that the Caribbean has to offer, is simple to make and will wow your guests:

Jasper's Jamaican Cocktail

Jasper's Jamaican Cocktail

1-1/4 ounces Cruzan Estate Dark Rum.
1/2 ounce St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram (or any other allspice liqueur including homemade).
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 teaspoon rich simple syrup.

Shake with ice until very cold and strain into a cocktail glass. Grate some nutmeg over the top.

Everything marries so beautifully here -- the dark rum, the myriad spice flavors of the allspice, the tang of the lime plus that unique limey flavor ... just gorgeous. If you can't yet find St. Elizabeth's where you live, you can use my pimento dram recipe.

Steve proceeded to give us some priceless recipes, including this one which quite possibly was worth the price of admission -- Jasper's own special rum mix, which he personally gave to Steve years ago and which he used as a base for several of his drinks.

Jasper's Special Rum Mix

Take the freshly squeezed juice of 12-15 limes, depending on size. Pour this into a measuring cup and note the quantity.

To the fresh lime juice -- you may have to transfer to a larger mixing vessel -- add 1-1/2 to 2 equal measures of granulated sugar. Note the relative sweetness of the mix is entirely up to the user. In Jamaica, rum drinks are somewhat sweeter than what would be popular here. Jasper used two parts sugar.

Add 1-1/4 ounces of Angostura Bitters to the mixture. Then add 1/2 of a freshly grated nutmeg to the mixture.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then pour mixture into empty bottles and store in the refrigerator. Give the bottle a strong shake before each use.

Jasper used this mix in these drinks, among others:

Planter's Punch

In a 10 ounce highball glass, pour:

1 ounce Jasper's mix.
1-1/2 to 2 ounces dark Jamaican rum (Jasper used Appleton Dark, which is no longer sold in the U.S. -- substitute Myers).

Fill the glass with ice and stir vigorously. The ice will settle, so add more cracked ice to fill the glass.

Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, a sliced orange and a cherry or sliced lime -- garnish any way you want.

#     #     #

Rum Punch

Prepare exctly as you would the Planter's Punch, but use Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum and garnish as you like. (W&N Overproof is the most popular rum in Jamaica, by the way.)

#     #     #

Witch Doctor

In a mixing can or blender jar add:

1 ounce Jasper's mix.
1/2 ounce triple sec (Cointreau).
1/2 ounce cherry brandy (Cherry Heering).
1-1/2 ounce golden Jamaica rum (Appleton Special).

Mix with crushed ice for a couple of seconds and pour drink into glass. Add ice to fill glass and garnish with an orange slice and cherry.

This was served at the Bay Roc as a cocktail over ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Steve says he prefers it as a punch in a 10 ounce highball glass, but the choice is yours.

#     #     #

Mule Shoe

Prepare exactly as you would the Witch Doctor, but substitute Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum.

Steve adds, "Hope you enjoy t hem and that this experiment leads ot a greater appreciation that the rum really does make all the difference in the flavor of the drink. Pay attention to the rum you use, and take note of the differences they make in your drinks."

And we'll leave it at that, as my hands hurt from typing ... I need an ergonomic keyboard!

Absolut Top Bartender.   You knew it was coming ... in fact, it was inevitable. Move over Top Chef ... here comes Top Bartender.

It's a national bartenders' competition, with the winner receiving $100,000. As I understand it, the local competitions in the various cities will whittle the pack down to 2 from each, and then for the finals we'll see a Top Chef-like reality show with all the bartenders in a house, competing for the top prize. My friend Marcos Tello is coordinating the contest locally, and here's what he has to say:

We are calling on all bartenders to Compete in a National Bartending Competition with $100,000 on the line to the winner. The first phase of "Absolut Top Bartender Los Angeles" is ,andatory attendance at our Kick-Off Party at The Edison (108 2nd St.) in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 29th from 9 pm to Midnight. Please RSVP to this Event as soon as possible (by no later then 9/20). Yes, there will be an open bar with ABSOLUT drinks on hand. Please also note, you must RSVP and Sign-Up for this Contest prior to attending the Kick-Off Party. At the Kick-Off Party we will also inform you of 3 local events that are taking place September through mid-October where we will narrow the field of bartenders down to 50, then down to 10, then down to the final 1 or 2 that will represent Los Angeles vs. Miami, NYC, SF, Vegas and Chicago with the $100,000 prize on the line for the winner.

UPDATE: I've been out in the field trying to get people to sign up for my Absolut Top Bartender event on the 29th and the going is tough. So I am reaching out to all of you. If you could pass this along to all the bartenders, bar managers, bar owners, etc. that you know. I would be very appreciative. The best part about all of this is that Absolut finally took the gloves off and now you don't have to be a part of Facebook to register. So if you would like to attend this event, and I hope to see you all there, please RSVP with me by e-mail -- absltmrcs (at) aol (dot) com. Just send your name, place of employment, and contact information. I will do the rest!

I think the idea of a national bartending competition is great, but we'll have to wait and see how it pans out. If Marcos is coordinating the competition locally I know the standards will only be the highest, and seeing Simon Ford's participation in the video means an emphasis on quality as well -- I have tremendous respect for Simon. I just hope that by the time the finalists get to the house the TV producers don't turn it into some kind of "flair bartending" travesty, thereby attempting good television instead of good mixology. I hope it'll focus on great drinks, and what it means to be a truly great bartender (which does not include flipping bottles behind your back and spilling half your product on the floor). Given that the sponsor is a vodka company, I suppose it's possible that all or most of the cocktails will have to contain the sponsor's product ... that also remains to be seen. I hope they follow more of a Top Chef model, in which the sponsor's products don't dominate everything -- that it's about mixology and being a great bartender and not just product promotion. Sure, there are lots of great cocktail competitions in which the sponsor's product must be used, but let's hope this show ends up having a wider field. In any case, I wish all my competing bartender friends the best of luck. I wanna see Los Angeles kick ass in this thing, and I'd love to see one of my friends take home a hundred grand!

Jaw-dropping.   Katie Couric, in her bloodcurdling interview with Sarah Palin yesterday, asked what her foriegn policy credentials were, given that she's running for an office in which she could become president, and how her state's proximity to Russia constitutes foreign policy experience. It is not to be believed.

Watch CBS Videos Online

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land-- boundary that we have with-- Canada. It-- it's funny that a comment like that was-- kind of made to-- cari-- I don't know, you know? Reporters--


PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.

Sweet Jesus.

That this thoroughly clueless, mindbogglingly idiotic person could potentially have the codes to launch nuclear weapons (and could have it soon) should be enough to frighten any undecided voter into deciding against voting for McCain ... who judged this person to be the best possible candidate for vice president (he claims). That speaks volumes about his judgment and character.

Advice from a former president.   Thanks to Aaron Sorkin, you may now read about Barack Obama's visit with former two-term Democratic president Jed Bartlet, in which Sen. Obama asks President Bartlet for his advice. (Oh, how I'd love to actually see this.)

BARTLET Yes, and you're losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn't even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET I've been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don't know what she wants from me.

OBAMA How did you do it?

BARTLET Well, I say I'm sorry a lot.

OBAMA I don't mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET There again, I didnt have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched The West Wing.

OBAMA That would make it easier.


OBAMA The problem is we can't appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family's less safe than it was eight years ago, we've lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I'm a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that's what they are. Sarah Palin didn't say "thanks but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said "Thanks." You were raised by a single mother on food stamps -- where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. "Elite" is a good word, it means well above average. I'd ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you're at it, I want the word "patriot" back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn't know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can't do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie -- the truth isn't their friend right now.

Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they've earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It's not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? Its not bad enough she's forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It's not enough that a woman shouldn't have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapists baby too? I don't know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she's got the qualifications of one.

And you're worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, its not as if I didn't know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

Oh, and speaking of Sarah Palin ... in the midst of the most bizarrely surreal farce of a day of politics I have seen in my entire adult life, it's become patently obvious why McCain and his operatives desperately keep Palin away from the press, and why McCain is trying to "postpone" (read cancel) the vice presidential debate -- Sarah Palin is an unmitigated disaster when being asked real questions by real reporters.

Katie Couric: (after Palin has dodged her question twice) I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to ya!

Aravosis described it perfectly when he said, "Palin is in so far over her head, it isn't even funny."

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  Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Folks, you cannot make this stuff up."   Obama was kicking ass yesterday. :-)

I'm in 100% agreement with Joe at AmericaBlog when he said, "I love the way Obama is using McCain's old words to eviscerate McCain."

"Without privatization, I don't see how you can possibly, over time, make sure that young Americans are able to receive Social Security benefits," said McCain in 2004. Good thing he and Bush weren't able to put people's Social Security funds into the stock market after this week, isn't it?

Congratulations, Chris and Kevin!   Our friends, who've been together for about seven and a half years, got married yesterday. The ceremony was so them, including an accordionist and a show tunes sing-along, and a deeply moving Buddhist tea ceremony. Family and friends came from all over the country. Wes adds, "Wonderful turnout, people of all ages, grandparents down to toddlers, and I thought, 'Why does this scare people?'" It was a celebration of love and commitment, and it was a lot of fun too. (I love weddings!) Let's hope that countless other couples won't have their legal right to marriage taken away from them in November.

Every Californian should have the choice to marry the person they love. It's a personal and fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of California. On Election Day, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 8, a discriminatory and divisive measure that aims to take away this freedom from same-gender couples. It's not right for California, and it's not right for you.

Californians, vote NO on Prop. 8. Follow the link to find out what you can do to help.

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  Saturday, September 20, 2008

Breakfast at Brennan's.   Would you believe I'm still recapping Tales of the Cocktail, two months later? I think I'm in serious contention with Jamie Boudreau for winning the Self-Proclaimed Lazy Bastard Contest ... in fact, I think I've already beaten the pants off him. (Hmm, nice legs, Jamie.) But I digress.

One of our Tales days included an impromptu jaunt for brunch over to the venerable Brennan's on Royal Street in the French Quarter, one of the grand old Creole restaurants of New Orleans (but one of the younger ones, dating back a mere 62 years to 1946). They're quite justifiably famous for their gargantuan, multi-course breakfast and brunch, and "Breakfast at Brennan's" has entered the local lexicon as being the epitome of luxury for the first meal of the day.

The gang included us, our friends Marleigh and Dan who live near us in L.A., and a fair chunk of the Seattle crew of bartenders and drinkers who came down. I love it when a plan comes together. Unfortunately, as we were walking to the restaurant, I began to get a bit worried. I hadn't been to Brennan's since I was in high school, unfortunately, but my memory of their menu, particularly the breakfast menu, wasn't revealing a single thing Marleigh and Dan could eat. The potential problem? They're both vegans. (I can hear you now ... "Vegans? In New Orleans?! Won't they starve?" Well, no, oddly enough. They researched their dining choices carefully, and are also the most laid back and non-judgmental vegans you'd ever meet, so if there's a bit of advance prep there's no problem. Spontanaeity can make things a bit difficult for them, though.)

Sure enough, when we got there and perused the large menu, there wasn't once single thing they could eat. Not. One. Thing. I felt awful, but they assured me that I shouldn't. They did get to eat some of the best French bread in the world, and swill local cocktails, so the meal wasn't all lost. (To help make up for it we took them to an African restaurant later on that featured lots of no-meat cuisine later on, which they enjoyed immensely.) The rest of us, however, not only drank like fish as well but ate like Creole pigs, devouring a very delectable three-course Creole breakfast.

Rounds of cocktails went around, all local favorites of course ... Sazeracs, Brandy Milk Punches, Absinthe Suissesses (that's a lot of "s"s) and Ramos Gin Fizzes. Most of us were very happy with them, but ... man, there was way, way too much orange flower water in my Ramos, which is the killer flaw when making that drink. Orange flower water can really overpower if you use too much, and it tasted like this guy used a tablespoon of the stuff. Three or four drops is all it needs. My subsequent Milk Punch and Sazerac helped erase my irritation, though.

The typical table d'hôte breakfast at Brennan's consists of three dishes -- an appetizer like turtle soup, one of the classic egg dishes or a heartier meat dish and a dessert, typically their famous Bananas Foster. I ordered a menu special that got me an egg dish instead of the appetizer, plus a meat dish and a dessert, for only a bit more than the standard breakfast (which, I have to say, is frightfully expensive these days).

Breakfast at Brennan's: Eggs 

Eggs Sardou is one of the grand Creole egg dishes -- poached eggs atop artichoke bottoms on a bed of creamed spinach, topped with Hollandaise sauce and, in this case, served with a grilled half a Creole tomato topped with Parmesan cheese, a little bread crumbs and Creole seasoning. Oh my. Rich as all get out and really, really good.

Wesly, of course, one-upped me yet again:

Eggs Nouvelle-Orleans

I don't know why I didn't order this dish myself. Eggs Nouvelle-Orléeans is poached eggs on a bed of gigantic jumbo lump crabmeat with a brandy cream sauce. He always manages to get the massive crabmeat dishes instead of me, which is of course entirely my own fault. I did get a bite, though ... it was insanely good.

Let's have a closer look at that, shall we?

Eggs Nouvelle-Orleans

Good lord.

I was somewhat placated by my next dish, perhaps my favorite Creole breakfast dish of all time:

Grillades and Grits

Grillades and Grits are th inly pounded veal escallopes, quickly seared in a saucepan, and smothered in a rich red Creole gravy, served alongside buttery, stone-ground grits. Very Creole, very Southern, very very good.

Dessert time! This restaurant is where Bananas Foster was invented many years ago, and you kinda have to get it. Even though I've had it a zillion times at many different restaurants, and made it myself at home countless times, I hadn't had it at Brennan's since I was a kid, so it had to be done. Most of the out-of-towners were keen to try it as well, and as always Brennan's prepares it tableside with typical flair.

Bananas Foster aflame

Bananas cooked in butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and banana liqueur, flamed with dark rum and served over vanilla ice cream ... it's so simple. That kind of simplicity is what can make a really great dish, though ... all perfectly matched flavors and textures, and a lot of fun to watch too. Let's have a look at the serving, shall we?

Bananas Foster

Our friend Rocky from Seattle, bucking tradition, got another of Brennan's great desserts, Crêpes Fitzgerald, another invention of the restaurant -- crêples filled with sour cream and cream cheese, topped with strawberries and flamed with maraschino liqueur. Yum.

Crepes Fitzgerald

Here we are after dessert, with full tummies and well-lubricated, with myself hiding behind the camera and Wes with our friends Wendy and Dayne from Seattle.

Wes with Wendy and Dayne

Gee, how many drinks do you think we've had?

I still highly recommend the breakfast at Brennan's experience if you haven't had it, but I do have to offer one major caveat -- it's really, really expensive. Prepare to spend around $60-75 just for food. You might also want to ask them to go easy on the orange flower water if you order a Ramos Gin Fizz, too. That aside, it doesn't get much more New Orleans than breakfast at Brennan's.

Brennan's of Houston is gone.   Amidst the already horrifying destruction of Hurricane Iike, especially in Galveston, and especially on the Bolivar Peninsula, which was wiped out flat and where there's fear of major loss of life (and an especially suspicious press blackout taking place), one more really sad and shocking loss took place. Brennan's of Houston, run by Alex Brennan-Martin, our friend Ti Martin's brother, was destroyed in a major fire. Making it even worse, a man and his young daughter, staffers who were riding out the hurricane at the restaurant, were severely injured in the blaze. The Brennan family have set up a fund to aid in their friends' long recovery.

They are undaunted, though. Alex said, "We absolutely plan to rebuild and look forward to serving our guests again for another 41 years and longer!" I'm glad to hear it -- I dine there when I visit my sister's family in Houston, and I look forward to dining there again. Please also keep James Koonce and his 4-year-old daughter Katherine in your thoughts as they recover.

The Soul Queen of New Orleans.   I found this nifty little video documentary on Irma Thomas and the making of her wonderful new album, Simply Grand, featuring just her voice and a different piano player on almost every track -- Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis, Tom McDermott, David Torkanowski, Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, Marcia Ball, Randy Newman and more.

Get the record -- it's simply superb.

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  Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meet Mr. Gin!   I found this nifty menu on eBay recently -- got it for cheap, too. It dates from the early 1940s as best as I can tell, from a place called Martin's Bar and Grill in the Hotel New Carlton in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I don't think it's still there; Googling didn't turn up much. If it's now the Ritz-Carlton there's no Martin's there that I can tell. (Canadians, help me out!)

Meet Mr. Gin!

What was striking to me is that it's an entire menu of nothing but gin cocktails! (Click to enlarge.)

What can be done with a bottle of gin?

I'm only familiar with a few of the brands on the "Straight" menu, but I'm sure I would have been happy there. (I'm assuming that first menu section was for your choice of brand; I can't imagine too many people just drinking plain straight gin.) Then ... 38 gin cocktails, 27 long drinks and five somewhat bizarre hot drinks, and you've got a total of 70 different concoctions to choose from. They presumably had either Crème Yvette or Crème de Violette, as they served Blue Moons; I wonder if their Aviations included violette as well. I'd sure love to hop into the Wayback Machine and meet Mr. Gin myself.

All about Mr. Gin

On the back is a little history of gin, and some singing of its praises. This makes me think that this kind of menu is exactly what we need to see in cocktailian bars and restaurants now -- a specialty gin menu to help wean customers away from vodka. I'm really hoping that Old Tom gin gets around more once it's introduced, because that will definitely be a conversion gin, a "gateway gin" on the way to Plymouth and London dry brands. I think a lot of folks don't really know what to do with gin, other than avoiding it in a Martini or getting it in a G&T, and a menu like this could really help them. They'd learn, as I did on my own, that gin isn't scary, that gin is an amazing ingredient that blends so well with other ingredients you don't really taste anything that you thought you were afraid of. You just taste goodness.

Let's hope someone picks up on this idea. It doesn't even have to be nearly this long -- a dozen or even half a dozen would be a great start.

Everybody, meet Mr. Gin! (He looks like a great guy.)

We love to fry, and it shows.   Let's look, shall we, at the compendium of fried food items currently being offered at the Los Angeles County Fair. (That's battered and deep-fried, for the most part.)

Artichoke hearts, White Castle burgers, blue cheese sticks, Spam, cheesecake, Pop Tarts ... battered-and-deep-fried madness the likes of which we have not even seen in Scotland. "Not bad at all," proclaims Dave about the battered and deep-fried White Castle burgers. (I must confess a curiosity.)

I think the Fat Pack might need to make a trip. And then, of course ... there's the chocolate covered bacon ...

Old R.E.M.   My friend Barry found this amazing set of videos of an R.E.M. show from Passaic, New Jersey in June of 1984. The whole thing. Looks pretty darn good, too. Let's check out an old favorite to whet your appetites ...

I remember when Stipe's hair was that long. Yep, I'm old.

Oh, let's check out a performance of the same song from last year (quality not nearly as good, though):

I am kicking myself for not seeing their last tour. Sigh.

What campaign commercials should look like.   In the midst of the most appalling and dishonest batch of political advertisements I've ever seen coming from the McCain campaign, Barack Obama does something that nobody else seems to have thought of: he sat down and talked to us about real issues, with no music, no out-of-context quotes, no lies, no smears. He's campaigning like an adult, and telling us things we need to hear instead of ridiculous distractions.

Starting yesterday this commercial is running nationwide, especially in battleground states. It's two minutes long, which is a very expensive airtime buy. It's remarkable for that alone, but even more amazing in that it has substantive content.

If you haven't seen it yet, watch:

This is an opportunity to finally breathe oxygen in the middle of all the toxic cases McCain has been putting out.

Scroll back up to the top and click on the thermometer to contribute to Obama/Biden '08.

Go to hell, Zell.   Wow ... a group of former Los Angeles Times reporters filed a class-action lawsuit against owner Sam Zell, calling his takeover of Tribune Co. "a scam" and "a classic grift." Our paper has rapidly gone down the tubes; does this mean we might get our paper back one day, or preferably a good one in its place? Let's hope so.

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  Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mixology Monday 31: Roundup!   Dinah and Joe at have the compendium of 19th Century cocktailian cheer, which so far includes no less than thirty-eight cocktails. Better get started -- you've got a lot of drinking to do before MxMo XXXII!

Gumbobama!   Yeah, it's a silly title, but it's just for the URL (with a nod to the folks back home at Dirty Coast, who make brilliant New Orleans-related t-shirt designs including Geauxbama!, from which I kinda stole the idea.

Oh, what am I talking about?

Our very own Gumbo Pages / Looka! Barack Obama Fundraiser Page!

I've set a goal of raising $2500 just from our readers between now and Election Day. It's the most important election of our lives, y'all. Let's pull together and get it done. Contribute what you can -- anything from $1 to $2,300!

Send it around, too. Here's an easy URL to remember that'll redirect you right to the page:

Yes we can, yes we can, yes we can.

I know! We'll start a commission!   That's how John McCain wants to fix the economy, apparently -- form a commission. Um, great. That'll solve everything.

Barack Obama responds:

The lies and dishonor continue.   John McCain is having a bad week. (If he's elected, we'll have a very, very bad four years and possibly much, much longer.) Good lord, where does one begin?

John McCain is lying about his so-called "health care plan." New York Times: "Senator John McCain's top domestic policy adviser, former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, recently said in a conference call with reporters that Mr. McCain's health care proposal would 'put 25 to 30 million individuals out of the ranks of the uninsured, into the ranks of the insured.' In an article released Tuesday, a panel of prominent health economists concludes that Mr. Holtz-Eakin's projection is off by, well, 25 to 30 million." Jacki at AmericaBlog: "If you get your health insurance through work, you can kiss that good-bye. See, McCain will tax your benefits as if they were salary. So you will see more money come out of your paycheck with no additional salary to compensate for that loss. Then, employers will be inclined to drop coverage because they won't see the point in offering it when you can get it elsewhere and there is no longer a tax break attached to it. You will lose the benefit of employer-negotiated and monitored group plans. G-d forbid you have a medical history - any medical history - good luck getting affordable coverage (if you can get decent coverage at all) in the individual market. McCain wants to give you a tax credit that won't cover the average plan and won't keep up with the rising costs of care. Oh, and that buying across state lines thing - bad for you, great for the insurance industry. They get to set up shop in states with the least regulation." This is horrifying.

McCain spokesperson Carly Fiorina gaffes on MSNBC: Saran Palin and John McCain couldn't run a major corporation.

UPDATE: McCain reportedly "furious" at Fiorina's gaffe. Fiorina was booked for several TV interviews in the next few days, including one at CNN. Those interviews have been cancelled. Campaign source: "Carly will now disappear."

FOX "News" calls out the McCain campaign on their lies. Wow, if you're losing them ...

Today's whopper, via McCain's top economic advisor: McCain created Blackberries and WiFi, using the same kind of bullshit that they used to say Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet ...except this time it's not an attack on someone else, but praise for a non-existent accomplishment. For the record, McCain can't even use a Blackberry and doesn't even know how to use a computer or send email (AP).

McCain attacked "fat cats" for being responsible for this weekend's scary collapses on Wall Street -- turns out these same fat cats were instrumental in funding his campaign.

Conservative columnists have started turning on McCain and Palin. My favorite new article is from Richard Cohen, former McCain supporter:

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though.

I am one of the journalists accused over the years of being in the tank for McCain. Guilty. Those doing the accusing usually attributed my feelings to McCain being accessible. This is the journalist-as-puppy school of thought: Give us a treat, and we will leap into a politician's lap.

Not so. What impressed me most about McCain was the effect he had on his audiences, particularly young people. When he talked about service to a cause greater than oneself, he struck a chord. He expressed his message in words, but he packaged it in the McCain story -- that man, beaten to a pulp, who chose honor over freedom. This had nothing to do with access. It had to do with integrity.

McCain has soiled all that. His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir -- the person in whose hands he would leave the country -- is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.

Oh, and speaking of Palin ... the Republicans are now suing to stop the Troopergate investigation in Alaska, the one Palin said she'd cooperate with fully until a few days later when she said she wouldn't. Wonder what they have to hide?

"This person's election would be a disaster for the country and the world."   Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist Church minister who pastors a small congregation in Palmer, Alaska, Wasilla's "twin town." He knows Sarah Palin well, and has a lot to say about the prospect of her becoming vice president or, God forbid, president of the United States.

"She scares me," said Bess. "She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

"At this point, people in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology." [...]

Bess is unnerved by the prospect of Palin -- a woman whose mind is given to dogmatic certitude -- standing one step away from the Oval Office. "It's truly frightening that someone like Sarah has risen to the national level," Bess said. "Like all religious fundamentalists -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- she is a dualist. They view life as an ongoing struggle to the finish between good and evil. Their mind-set is that you do not do business with evil -- you destroy it. Talking with the enemy is not part of their plan. That puts someone like Obama on the side of evil.

"Forget all this chatter about whether or not she knows what the Bush doctrine is. That's trivial. The real disturbing thing about Sarah is her mind-set. It's her underlying belief system that will influence how she responds in an international crisis, if she's ever in that position, and has the full might of the U.S. military in her hands. She gave some indication of that thinking in her ABC interview, when she suggested how willing she would be to go to war with Russia.

"Alaskans liked that certitude when she was dealing with corrupt politicians and the oil industry -- and there is something admirable about it. But when you're dealing with a complex and dangerous world as commander in chief, that's a different story."

Bess said that he and fellow valley residents have long been charmed by the Sarah Palin who is now dazzling the American public. Despite their strong political differences, "she always has a warm greeting for me when we bump into each other. She's the most charming person you'll ever know."

"But," Bess adds, "this person's election would be a disaster for the country and the world."

Frankly, she scares me more than he does. The actuarial tables say there's a significant chance he won't survive his first term if elected. The thought of this person actually becoming president ... shudder.

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  Monday, September 15, 2008

Mixology Monday XXXI: 19th Century Cocktails.   Yeesh, talk about barely making it in under the wire (once again). I wasn't supposed to be in town, actually, and was far too disorganized to do it in advance and have the post ready to go. Mainly that was because I was schvitzing about Hurricane Ike heading directly toward Houston, which is where I was supposed to be going to see my sister, brother-in-law, fabulous nephew Thomas and fabulous brand-new niece Molly, whom I haven't even met yet. We were supposed to go last Friday, but on Thursday they bugged out ... to New Orleans, of all places, not where you usually think of going to get away from a hurricane. All's well for them, though -- they had a tree go down in their front yard in Houston, but no damage to the house. (They were far luckier than all those poor folks in Galveston, good lord.)

And it's not like we haven't been drinking all weekend either -- delicious yet deadly punches by Marcos Tello and Eric Alperin on Thursday, courtesy of the House of Chambord (I'll see if I can pry the recipes out of them) and a big fat hangover on Sunday. It finally occured to me this morning that if I was going to get a post up today I needed to get my butt in gear. Fortunately I'd been doing some reading right along the lines of what we were going to be doing this month.

A wonderful company called Mud Puddle Books has been releasing several once-extremely difficult to find cocktail books from the 19th and early 20th Centuries, books which otherwise might have set you back hundreds of dollars. It's wonderful -- and essential -- that these books are back in print, because for cocktailians they are a big part of our history. We want to know where all this stuff came from, and while there has been extensive research, and we have Jerry Thomas' and others' books, there were several key volumes of cocktail history that were only available to collectors who either had deep pockets or were just lucky enough to get them before there was a demand.

I've got everything they've put out so far, and I've been devouring them with glee. Besides being informative, they're beautifully done -- in the original typefaces, and with original illustrations and period advertisements -- they're damned entertaining too. There are also new introductions by the likes of David Wondrich, Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, Robert Hess and Dale DeGroff. The one I've been reading this week is Charlie Paul's 1902 edition entitled Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks.

Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks, by Charlie Paul

Dale wrote the introduction to this one, and although it was published in 1902 it gives a pretty amazing look at the state of drinking at the end of the 19th Century. Such a terrific little book too; besides all the recipes (including some startling variations on drinks we now consider standards, like the Manhattan and Mint Julep) the illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. Dale says, "The illustrations of 19th Century bar tools were extraordinary; a few of which I've Imperial Shaker since seen reproduced in some modern texts. The illustration depicting the Imperial Shaker was enough to make me want to search the world for this wonderful drink-cranking device and build an entire bar around it." That would be it to the right; click to enlarge.

Now, what to pick? There are so many I wanted to try, including ones with a pinch of cayenne pepper (with and without egg), a pousse-café topped with an egg yolk and then a "pyramid" of whipped egg white, topped with dashes of bitters (which I'm definitely going to try). I would have done that wonderful Mint Julep variation. which includes brandy, rum, yello Chartreuse and which is dashed with Claret on top of the ice, which Charlie describes as "a drink fit for a king." Then there were a few like these, which I thought maybe I'd skip:

(Good Morning Tonic for Headache)

Draw 2 ounces of Orange Syrup into a 12-ounce glass and add 1/2 drachm of Aromatic Spirits of Ammonia; about half fill the glass with Soda Water, then add half teaspoonful of Bi-carbonate of Soda. Stir well and handle quickly. ( This Cocktail should be drunk at once.)

"Handle quickly"? What, before it blows up? No, I took a pass on this one.

I really wanted to make something with Old Tom gin. I had gotten a chance to taste some of the batch Eric brought into town with his distributor (currently available at Hi Time Wine and Spirits in Costa Mesa, far enough that it might as well be in Kazakhstan, with more due soon at my local haunts, Beverage Warehouse and The Wine House) last Tuesday at Seven Grand. Just as tasty as I remembered it, and John made us a lovely 19th Century-style Martinez with it. But I didn't have any on had, so nix that.

What I thought I'd do is a punch. Punch was the mixed drink of choice for a very long time, and was beginning to be displaced by all the cocktails, fixes, flips, fizzes, daisies, sangarees, slings and other mixed drinks that were invented by the scores in the 19th Century, but by this time punch was still holding on. There were some good-looking recipes in there, but I wasn't particularly inclined to make a whole bowlful of it. (Not that I couldn't get several friends over at a moment's notice to help us drain the flowing bowl, but I was lazy.) I came across one by-the-glass punch recipe that looked simple and tasty, and filled the bill on both counts.

This fits in with the basic formula for punch, as David Wondrich described to us in his terrific seminar on punch at Tales (which I'll recap one of these days). It's essentially wine or booze, citrus, soda or water, sugar and some kind of wild card (berries, tea, spices, etc.). It's easy to make, refreshing during these waning days of summer and was pretty damned tasty.

Java Punch

Java Punch

Fill tumbler with chipped ice; put in half a teaspoonful of powdered sugar, a teaspoonful of vanilla syrup; squeeze half a lemon in; add a liqueur-glassful of brandy and the same of rum; shake well and strain off, putting an orange slice on top.

Or, in slightly more modern measure:

1 ounce brandy.
1 ounce rum.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 teaspoon vanilla syrup.
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup.
Orange slice.

Combine liquors and syrups in a shaker with ice; shake until very cold and frothy. Strain over fresh ice into an Old Fashioned glass. Top with a grating of fresh nutmeg and garnish with an orange slice.

Charlie's original recipe didn't call for nutmeg, but as many 19th Century and earlier punches were finished that way, I added that to the top for a nice aroma and one more "wild card" dimension to the flavor. The recipe is easily adaptable to your own taste; if you like it tarter, up the lemon to 1 ounce, or if you like it sweeter maybe an extra half-teaspoon simple syrup. I think the vanilla flavor is in perfect balance with just the one teaspoon of vanilla syrup, though. The brandy I used was Hine VSOP Cognac, the rum a 12 year old Guatemalan called Zaya, which sadly is going away soon and will no longer be available. (I was feeling extravagant.)

Pass the punch!

P.S. -- Okay, so as I'm about to post my MxMo entry at, I see this little bit at the end of the post: "Bonus points to anyone who can bring us early William "Cocktail" Boothby recipes, especially pre-1900 versions of the Ruby Cocktail."

Well, I had just gotten in a reproduction of the 1934 version of Boothby's World Drinks and How To Mix Them. I really hadn't gone through it that much yet, but I found myself shifting into the mode that caused one of my chef-teachers in the UCLA Culinary Arts program to dub me "The Overachiever." (She may have been five feet tall in heels, but she kicked my ass every single class. She was amazing, actually. But I digress.)

I found The Ruby Cocktail with two additional variations, the second containing gin (which I thought would help dampen the sweetness of sloe gin, the primary ingredient) and the third containing egg. I'm out of eggs, so No. 2 it was.

The Ruby Cocktail No. 2

The Ruby Cocktail No. 2

1/2 ounce sloe gin.
1/2 ounce gin.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
2 dashes Bénédictine.

Shake with ice and strain into a small cocktail glass.

This makes a nice li'l 2-ounce drink.

I was a little less than impressed at first, but as I sipped it continued to grow on me. The gin and dry vermouth help dilute the sweetness of the sloe gin, and you get just a touch of herbs from the dashes of the liqueur. Not usually the balance I'm looking for in a drink, but not bad. I kinda want to try the egg white version now.

Okay, enough with the overachieving ...

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  Saturday, September 13, 2008

So long, Ruthie.   When I was growing up, I remember hearing about and eventually seeing people that were referred to as "Quarter characters" (sounding, of course, more like "quawtuh caracktuhs"). Probably my favorite was Ruthie the Duck Girl, or "the Duck Lady" as many of us called her, as she was a lot older than a girl. She was quite a sight, in a frily dress, often a wedding dress with veil, skating down the sidewalks of the French Quarter followed by her beloved pet ducks. One of my classmates in college worked at a French Quarter bar where Ruthie would hang out and occasionally sleep in the back room, and we got lots of great Ruthie stories from him (I wish I could remember some righ now). I had seen her in the Quarter but never met her or talked to her -- I was far too shy -- and that's too bad.

Ruthie's real name was Ruth Grace Moulon -- she was 74 years old, and she died last week, in the aftermath of her nursing home's evacuation to Baton Rouge.

Ruthie the Duck Girl Ruthie the Duck Lady

Perhaps my favorite quote about Ruthie, repeated in the T-P article above, from photographer David Richmond: "She's not out of touch with reality; she's just not interested."

She wasn't just a mysterious street person -- her life was well-documented, and in 1999 a documentary film was made about her. There was an excellent article in the Gambit a few years ago as well:

"She represents something that's uniquely New Orleans," says Rick Delaup, a filmmaker whose credits include the 1999 documentary Ruthie the Duck Girl. "She's really the last of the old French Quarter characters and these were characters that lived these really colorful lives. ...

"She spent her life drinking for free in the Quarter, bumming cigarettes off people. People took care of her, they fed her, they gave her money by taking pictures of her, and if she had lived in any other city they would probably have locked her away. But that kind of lifestyle is celebrated here, and I think it should be appreciated more, that's for sure."

"It's a lifestyle that's disappearing now that the French Quarter has changed so much, and I just want people to remember the way it used to be," Delaup says. "To me, Ruthie is New Orleans. She's definitely one of the local icons."

I had always thought she was older than 74, which just a year older than my dad. I guess her longtime lifestyle didn't exactly keep her young. But, as far as most people could tell, she was always happy in her Quarter chracter life. The Gambit article details the arguments as to whether she was really happy in the nursing home where she finally ended up.

One thing's for sure -- she was probably the last of her kind. As she once said, "There ain't a whole lot of us left."

Ray Nagin's latest idiocy.   Why this man isn't covered in feathers and run out of town on a rail is beyond me.

First off, he says in a press conference on Thursday that he encouraged Hurricane Ike evacuees from Texas to book hotel rooms in New Orleans by requesting the "Mayor Ray Nagin special rate."

The offer was designed, the mayor said, "to say to our friends in Houston and Texas that we want to take care of you, since you have taken care of us," according to a transcript of his remarks. Thousands of New Orleanians evacuated to Texas shelters and hotels because of Hurricane Katrina.

Trouble is, as [Texas evacuee Mary Jane] Bernard found out, the special rate doesn't exist.

In fact, it is against federal anti-trust laws for hotels to collectively agree upon rates. It also is impractical to set a flat rate citywide because hotels vary in size and services, said Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Association.

Perry said he and Nagin had discussed those issues before the news conference and that the mayor's comment was meant to direct guests to ask for a hotel's "best rate."

"What the mayor was trying to say ... was to ask for the very best rate at the hotel," Perry said. "We have very good late-summer rates right now."

Calling it the "Nagin special rate" was the mayor's attempt to lighten the mood, Perry said. [...]

The humor was lost on Bernard, who said she was told that the mayor was only kidding when she called City Hall on Friday to inquire about why the Best Western wasn't offering Nagin's special.

"The woman I spoke to said he was just saying that in jest and that I was taking it too seriously," Bernard said. "For them to say we're taking things too seriously is just unconscionable. It's not a joking matter when you're running for your life just like the people here did three years ago."

Previously, Nagin walked out on a screening of the new Katrina documentary "Trouble the Water" after five minutes, saying he considered it a "negative portrayal," but not before telling a reporter that the city's economy is really strong, that there are plenty of jobs, and that the guys who make po-boys at Gene's pull in $1,500 to $1,800 a week.

Well gee. I think I'll just quit my job and sell my house and finally move back to New Orleans, because who knew I could make between $78,000 and $93,600 frying hot sausage and making po-boys.

If Mandeville can start a recall campaign for their ridiculous and crooked mayor, why can't New Orleans start one of its own?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cocktails of the day.   Going out to a bar and closing it down on a school night. You're a bad boy, Taggart.

This is an occasional occupational hazard of having friends who are bartenders, of course. Late nights are no problem for those guys, but for me and another friend who had to get up early today, the getting-up part was a bit dicey. By the time I got on the road this morning I was pretty much over it. Could be famous last words, though -- let's hope I don't just conk out a little later on.

Last night was a long overdue visit to Seven Grand, occasioned by our friend Eric's visit to start getting Old Tom Gin into the L.A. market (yay!). More on that a bit later.

Order of the day was Bartender's Choice, which I love doing there -- it's one of the few places I'll let someone just make me anything and trust that it'll be wonderful. (It gladdens my heart that the number of such places is slowly but steadily growing.) Our friend John took marvelous care of us, and when I asked to be surprised he asked what I was in the mood far -- "Something on the tart and fizzy side, maybe something more on the bitter side?" Bitter always works for me, and John presented me with a wonderful Audrey Saunders variation on the Manhattan, with Cynar, the artichoke flavored bitter aperitivo, sitting in for the aromatic bitters.

This is Audrey's original recipe below; John varied it slightly by cutting the sweet vermouth back to 1/2 ounce but using the powerfully spicy and flavorful Carpano Antica Formula, and garnishing with a lemon peel instead of two cherries on a pick.

Little Italy Cocktail
(by Audrey Saunders, Pegu Club, New York)

2 ounces rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Cynar.
2 good-quality cocktail cherries.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherries, speared on a cocktail pick. (Variation: cut vermouth back to 1/2 ounce but use Carpano Antica or Vya, and garnish with lemon peel.)

The rye and the Cynar played very well together, with their alchemy creating chocolatey notes in this drink that I really loved. I'm very curious to try augmenting that with a dash of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters or even Sweet Chocolate Bitters; we'll see if that ends up as an enhancement or if it puts it over the top. Dammit, I can't wait for that stuff to finally be released!

Damien ordered a Negroni variation that was really tasty too -- substitute Partida Blanco tequila for the gin, add a barspoon of absinthe and serve on the rocks with an orange twist.

We tried a ton of other things too -- a Martinez Cocktail using the Old Tom gin, the way it was originally made (although with a slight variation in proportion -- 1:1 with the gin and vermouth). As we had several of Eric's products on hand (as well as the guy who makes them, visiting from Austria!) we tried a few of those in cocktails as well. Mr. Purkhart himself asked for something using his Crème de Violette, and was given a variation on the Ramos Gin Fizz, sort of a violette fizz: Swap out Old Tom gin for the London Dry, substitute 2 barspoons of the violette instead of the orange flower water, and add several drops of Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 to the frothy head and swirl around with a toothpick. Holy crap, that was good.

Then they were kind enough to make two of mine. Eric brought out the St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram and asked for a Réveillon, so we had a bit of Christmas in September. Then John asked about the Hoskins recipe -- he had had one at Zig Zag but hadn't made one himself -- so we got one and shared it with him and everyone else. So nice to be able to get one of those in a bar. Speaking of the good ol' Hoskins, I hear tell that Torani have reformulated their Amer, removing the vegetal characteristic that so many people found off-putting and making it taste much more like Amer Picon did. If so, I can't wait to taste that!

All that, plus a visit to Leo's Tacos at 2:30am. Great night.

John McCain is a dishonorable man, unfit for high office.   The last week and a half, and especially the last two days, have been far beyond what is acceptable or forgivable even in the context of a political race. Josh Marshall:

[W]hat is already apparent is that John McCain is running the sleaziest, most dishonest and race-baiting campaign of our lifetimes. So let's stop being shocked and awed by every new example of it. It is undignified. What can we do? We've got a dangerously reckless contender for the presidency and a vice presidential candidate who distinguished her self by abuse of office even on the comparatively small political stage of Alaska. They've both embraced a level of dishonesty that disqualifies them for high office. Democrats owe it to the country to make clear who these people are. No apologies or excuses. If Democrats can say at the end of this campaign that they made clear exactly how and why these two are unfit for high office they can be satisfied they served their country.

Conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan:

McCain made a decision that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country's safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country's national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain - no one else - has proved it.

The case against?

In a brilliant speech, Sen. Barack Obama replies to McCain's foolish diversions:

TIME Magazine: McCain "is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I've ever seen in presidential politics, so sleazy that I won't abet its spread by linking to it."

USA Today: McCain and Palin are lying.

Alaskans: McCain and Palin are lying.

Wall Street Journal: McCain and Palin are lying.

ABC: McCain's 'Truth Squad... Full Of Half-Truths'...

Newsweek: McCain lied about

McCain erupts in false outrage over "lipstick on a pig" comment; here he's using it himself earlier this year in reference to Hillary Clinton.

Washington Post: "Untrue Accusations, Rumors Have Started To Swirl ... They Become Regarded As Fact"...

MSNBC: Evidence Palin, McCain Not Telling Truth About Bridge To Nowhere...

AP: Fact Check... McCain Ad About Palin Is Misleading...

MSNBC: Palin charged rape victims for rape kits.

TPM: New McCain ad "full of distortions and falsehoods."

McCain ad relies on discredited WSJ report: "A new McCain ad, which depicts Obama oppo-researchers as ravenous wolves on the hunt for Sarah Palin, relies on a WSJ piece by John Fund about researchers headed to Alaska. The only problem? Fund's report, which he stands by, appears to be false."

CBS: Palin's bridge claim sinks.

Washington Post: Palin billed Alaska for travel expenses while sleeping in her home.

Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny talks about Sarah Palin.

CBS forces YouTube to take down "misleading" McCain ad.

FOX "News" criticizes McCain for hiding from the press.

Michelle Obama's chief of staff: Where was McCain when one of his supporters called Hillary Clinton a "bitch?" Oh yes, he was standing ten feet away, laughing.

Washington Times: Mike Huckabee tells McCain to cool it; Obama was not attacking Palin.

Enough. Enough, enough, enough, enough, enough!

Surprise Obama endorsement.   Sen. Barack Obama's bid for the presidency has been given the blessing of 81-year-old bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley ... a man not known for liberal views.

At a rally in Virginia, Dr. Ralph said:

"The reason I'm here is to do whatever I can to help Senator Obama be the next president of the United States," Stanley said, drawing boisterous applause. "I believe that Senator Obama would be the best man to get this country back in shape."

Here's hoping he can help convince some of his fellow Virginians (not to mention West Virginians) to join him.

An Alaska resident talks about Sarah Palin.   In an email last week to my friend Sean, a resident of Ketchikan, Alaska, I said, "So your governor is running for vice president!" Here is his reply, posted with permission:

She is an autocratic, batty, smarmy, weaselly, menacing, disingenuous, fundamentalist-theocratic, ecology-destroying, capriciously money-wasting wingnut who couldn't -- and wouldn't! -- balance a budget if diamonds were raining from the sky. There is no end to her unquestioning self-satisfaction and sense of entitlement; and, eventually, hopefully, there will be no end to her inadvertent self-destruction.

"Corrupt" is far too vague, and kind, a term for her.

Oh, and I forgot an adjective: bigoted! A few decades ago, they'd have been against miscegenation or integration, at LEAST. We can only imagine what idiocy they'll be against a few decades from now. But for now, "conversion".

Here's a one-article summary of just part of her awfulness.

The possible silver lining: the press-scrutiny from the NATIONAL press will probably reveal her awfulness at ten times the rate that just the local press could, and so this could possibly, hopefully, force her out of office here -- or at least lead her to discover whether you can govern a state from inside a prison cell or the loony bin.

There you have it, from a local. Truly, the only reason Sarah Palin was elected governor is that 1) she was running for governor, and 2) she was not Frank Murkowski. If a moose had been running he or she would have been elected over Murkowski.

Don't forget to read the assessment of Palin by Anne Kilkenny, a longtime resident of Palin's hometown of Wasilla.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cocktail of the day.   The first reference to this cocktail that I know of is from Harry McElhone's Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, reprinted by Mud Puddle Books as its later incarnation, Barflies and Cocktails (and more on that next week, if you don't know about these fantastic reprints just yet). The original called for equal parts of each of the main ingredients, but this version is, I think, a bit more well-balanced. The recipe is credited to one Harry Johnson of the city of New Orleans.

The Bijou Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Optionally garnish with a cocktail cherry.

Lovely. (No photo, sorry ... that's both my laziness and my lack of decent lighting for cocktail photos, which I'm actually working on. Within the next month I hope to have pics of every cocktail I write about here.)

Plucky Survivors, Days 8 and 9!   Lexinton to Louisville to Chattanooga, Mary and Rick forge on. Hot dogs and choo-choos and ghosts, oh my!

So remember how we told you our hotel was (allegedly) haunted? Well, at about 11:30 last night, Rick was surfing the web in his comfy room when there was a very clear and distinct knock at his door. He said "Just a minute," and got up and went to the door but there was no one there. The hall was equally empty.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Thinking Mary had knocked but didn't hear his "just a minute" he called Mary in the next room and said, "Did you knock on my door?" No -- she was snug tight in her bed watching Hannah Montana.

Ghost? Rick hearing things? You decide.

From there it was the beginning of our epic journey, where we drove over 100 miles in the completely opposite direction of the place we would end up, to another STATE mind you, for a hot dog.

Ooh, that hot dog. Read on. :-)

Our stopping point for the evening is Chattanooga where to our gleeful amusement we are staying at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Inn. Run by Holiday Inn, it is set in the former 1909 train station, the original terminal making for a grand lobby and many of the rooms set in original train cars. Were a little disappointed we dont have one of those accommodations but our rooms are big and modern and comfortable, with enough amenities to stock a small drug store.

The grounds around the train cars have fountains and plenty of landscaping. Theres a trolley that runs around the entire, very large, property, and onsite are multiple restaurants, shops, and other attractions including the Model Railroad Museum.

The HO gauge model in question is one of the largest in the world, three and a half decades in the making requiring more than 50,000 hours of work. It stretches seemingly to the horizon, with a big chunk of it dedicated to a pseudo replica of Chattanooga and the rest to general Appalachian Mountain territory. The details are amazing and sometimes laugh-out-loud. Is that a wee little Elvis driving a pink Cadillac? Why yes it is.

Don't miss Day 9, and Dinosaur World!

"They must think you're stupid."   Yes! If Barack keeps this up, Palin-McCain are toast.

Obama delivered some of his most withering criticisms yet of McCain, although he did so with chuckles and an air of mock disbelief. McCain has acknowledged voting with President Bush 90 percent of the time in Congress, Obama said.

"And suddenly he's the change agent? Ha. He says, 'I'm going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over.' Who is he going to tell? Is he going to tell his campaign chairman, who's one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager, who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington?"

"I mean, come on, they must think you're stupid," Obama said as the crowd laughed and cheered.

It boggles my mind that McCain keeps saying he's the agent of change. His party has been in power for eight years! By his own admission he's voted with George W. Bush 90% of the time, but he's the agent of change? I'm glad Obama's finally coming right out and saying it -- "They must think you're stupid." That's why everyone must not simply swallow everything the Republicans are saying, the lies and distortions and fear tactics that have gotten people to vote against their own self-interest during the last two, and especially the last, election. The idea that McCain is going to change anything is laughable.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, September 5, 2008

Cocktail of the day.   Because we need one after the two big speeches we had to endure this week, and because the rest of today's posts are going to be politicky. Those of you who bitch about such things are invited to tune to another website for today after you've had your drink.

My friend Erik Ellestad posted a brief tweet in his Twitter feed the other day that said this:

GeorgeTStagg'06 + JerryThomas'ManhattanRecipe = Holy Crap!

An exclamation point suddenly appeared over my head, encased in a thought balloon. Sometimes ya gotta love Twitter.

The Manhattan Cocktail was invented sometime in the 1860s, with conflicting stories as to its origin, as is the usual case with classic cocktails of its age. One reliable source, quoted by Dave Wondrich in his superb tome Imbibe!, was William F. Mulhall, who was a bartender at New York's Hoffman House from 1882 until 1915. He said that "[t]he Manhattan Cocktail was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors down below Houston Street on Broadway in the [eighteen-]sixties." There's also evidence to think it was created at New York's Manhattan Club as well, although the stories of it being created for a banquet thrown by Winston Churchill's mother, enduring as they are, were disproven by a little simple math with the dates. Professor Jerry Thomas included it in one of the later editions of his pioneering bar guide, and his version is quite a bit different from what we're used to today.

The main difference is that the proportions are reversed -- this old version calls for twice as much vermouth as whiskey. There are a few reasons for this: Dave talks in his book about the Vermouth Cocktail being fine and dandy, at least you've got a drink in your hand, but it lacks a certain kick the many members of The Sporting Life demanded. However, a pure whiskey cocktail, consisting primarily of spirit, didn't allow the consumption of too many before you were likely to be whacking your chin on the end of the bar as you were on your way down to the floor. Ah, but the mixture of whiskey or other spirit with the wildly popular new vermouth that was coming in from Europe ... now there's a drink where you can knock back a few, know you're doing it and last a bit longer on your feet! On top of that, the interplay between the flavors of the spirit and the spiced wine created a whole new universe of flavor.

Also, back in the day, a lot of whiskey tended to be stronger than what we typically get today; Old Potrero's 18th Century Style Whiskey is a modern example of what many of those old whiskies were like. I've never tried making a Jerry Thomas Manhattan using an 86-proof whiskey, but I don't think it would be all that well balanced; I probably should try it, actually, just to see.

Old Potrero would be a good idea for this cocktail, as would the lovely Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye, which is fantastic stuff and comes in at 132 proof. But the stuff Erik suggested was really exciting -- the 2006 release of George T. Stagg Bourbon, aged for 16 years and bottled at barrel strength, came in at a whopping 144 proof. That's 72% alcohol for the math-impaired, and what the Buffalo Trace distillery calls one of their "Haz-Mat" releases. It's actually illegal to transport this stuff on a plane yourself; you can bring up to 5 bottles of booze in your checked luggage, but only if it's below 140 proof.

After seeing Erik's tweet, I made two as soon as I got home.

The key to this drink, besides Erik's excellent suggestion of a super-powerful and flavorful whiskey, is to use a really spicy, flavorful vermouth as well. Top choice would be the incredible Carpano Antica Formula, followed by Vya or Punt E Mes. If you have one of the other releases of Stagg that should work well too, as will the Thomas Handy rye or Old Potrero 18th Century.

Manhattan Cocktail
(Professor Jerry Thomas' 1887 version - modern variation by Erik Ellestad)

2 ounces sweet vermouth (Carpano or the like).
1 ounce George T. Stagg Bourbon '06.
3 dashes bitters (Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters, Angostura or Abbott's if you've got 'em).
2 dashes maraschino liqueur.

Stir with ice and strain into a claret glass, then garnish with a quarter lemon slice if you're doing Jerry's presentation. I used a standard cocktail glass and a Luxardo cherry.

Our reaction ... HOLY CRAP!

Thanks for the suggestion, Erik!

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner review, with photos and recipes for all five of Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and Wayne Curtis' fabulous tropical cocktails, has been permanently archived.

Obama knocks one back.   During her mean-spirited, substance-free speech on Wednesday, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in apparent defense of her lack of qualifications to assume the presidency, saw fit to mock community organizers, and suggested that this was Senator Barack Obama's only experience. Yesterday in York, Pennsylvania he gave a thoughtful and pointed reply:

Transcript [emphasis mine]:

Q: How is community organizing relevant experience for the presidency?

Barack Obama: This is very curious... They haven't talked about the fact that I was a civil rights lawyer, or taught constitutional law, my work in the state legislature, or United States Senate. They're talking about the three years of work I did right out of college, as if I'm making the leap from two or three years out of college into the presidency.

So, look ... I would argue that doing work in the community, to try to create jobs, to bring people together, rejuvenate communities that have fallen on hard times, set up job training programs in areas that had been hard hit when the steel plants closed. That's relevant only in understanding where I'm coming from, who I believe in, who I'm fighting for, and why I'm in this race.

The question I have for them is,
Why would that kind of work be ridiculous?
Who are they fighting for? What are they advocating for?

Do they think that the lives of those folks who are struggling each and every day, that working with to try and improve their lives is somehow not relevant to the presidency?

I think maybe that's the problem, that they're out of touch and don't get it because they haven't spent much time working on behalf of those folks.

No, they haven't. They just want to scare those folks.

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?   Just when I thought Hate-and-Fear Week couldn't get any worse, before John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention last night, they actually showed footage of the 9/11 attacks -- planes hitting the building and the collapse. What vile and shameful pandering to fear, and right out of the Rove playbook.

The Boston Globe immediately replied on their website with a post entitled "The death of a taboo." [Emphasis mine.]

One of the most enduring taboos in American politics, the airing of graphic images from the September 11 attacks in a partisan context, died today. It was nearly seven years old.

The informal prohibition, which had been occasionally threatened by political ads in recent years, was pronounced dead at approximately 7:40 CST, when a video aired before delegates at the Republican National Convention included slow-motion footage of a plane striking the World Trade Center, the towers' subsequent collapse, and smoke emerging from the Pentagon.

The September 11 precedent was one of the few surviving campaign-season taboos. It is survived by direct comparisons of one's opponents to Hitler.

But wait, which of the neocon pundits was it who referred to Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field as "Leni Riefenstahl-like?" Godwinized already.

Keith Olbermann was anchoring RNC coverage on MSNBC that night. I'd been a fan of Olbermann's, and I enjoyed many of his Special Commentaries, although I've been finding him to be getting somewhat full of himself lately. However, last night, after the RNC showed the video and MSNBC dutifully cut to it, Olbermann responded after it thusly:

I'm sorry, it's necessary to say this, and I wanted to separate myself from the others on the air about this. If at this late date any television network had of its own accord showed that much videotape and that much graphic videotape of 9/11, and I speak as somebody who lost a few friends there, it -- we -- would be rightly eviscerated at all quarters, perhaps by the Republican Party itself, for exploiting the memories of the dead and for perhaps for even trying to evoke that pain again.

If you reacted to that videotape the way I did, I apologize. It is a subject of great pain for many of us still, and was probably not appropriate to be shown. We'll continue in a moment.

Watch the video at the link, and listen to his voice.

We did finally endure the acceptance speech. Good lord, John McCain is a terrible speaker. Almost entirely substance-free, but I did learn one thing. Did you know John McCain had been a POW? I had no idea. That bit was compelling.

One of them actually said it.   There's that word that's been lurking in the shadows, unsaid but hinted at with coded language like "presumptuous" and the like, directed toward Michelle and Barack Obama. A lot of them are thinking it, to be sure, but none of them said it, until yesterday.

Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland used the racially-tinged term "uppity" to describe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Thursday.

Westmoreland was discussing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's speech with reporters outside the House chamber and was asked to compare her with Michelle Obama.

"Just from what little I've seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity," Westmoreland said.

Asked to clarify that he used the word "uppity," Westmoreland said, "Uppity, yeah."

There often seems to be a direct correlation with someone's racism with their also being a moron, and Westmoreland fills the moron bill quite admirably. For starters, his lack of command of the English language is woeful. "They're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity"?? What the hell is that? Plus, he's slinging around a word like "uppity" without even knowing how to use it. It's a word one uses to describe someone else, and he's attempting to deride them by saying that they supposedly think they're uppity themselves? The Clampetts had better diction than this.

You may recall Westmoreland from his infamous and hilarious appearance on "The Colbert Report" a couple of years ago. At the time Westmoreland had not introduced a single piece of legislation in the 18 months he had been in the House at the time, but was co-sponsoring a bill in the House to mandate the posting of the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate; he also believes they should be posted in courthouses. Then Colbert asked him this question:

Stephen Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Lynn Westmoreland: [Deer in headlights look.] What are all of them?

SC: Yes.

LW: You want me to name them all?

SC: Yes.

LW: Uhhh.

LW: Ummmm. Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal. Ummmmm.

LW: I can't name them all.

Here's the video. [Westmoreland segment starts at about 1:37 in.]

God, what a moron. (And Colbert, incidentally, is brilliant.)

Heartstopping.   A press release was mailed out last night:


Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have informed the McCain/Palin Campaign that Universal Music Publishing and Sony BMG have sent a cease-and-desist notice to not use one of Heart's classic songs, "Barracuda," as the congratulatory theme for Sarah Palin.

The Republican campaign did not ask for permission to use the song, nor would they have been granted that permission.

"We have asked the Republican campaign publicly not to use our music. We hope our wishes will be honored."

Gee, how many musicians is that now who've told McCain to stop using their music?

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Sporting Life at Mandina's.   There's a loose but ever-tightening group of top cocktailian bartenders and serious cocktail nerds who've been having regular monthly get-togethers in Los Angeles, and we aim to change the face of drinking in this city. Simply put, our goal is to raise the level of cocktails to that of cuisine, to expect from one's bartender what one expects from one's chef, and to make these changes one drink and one drinker at a time. It's been a very, very good thing.

Marcos Tello, one of our best local bartenders, of The Radio Room at The Edison and Comme Ça and formerly of Seven Grand and The Doheny, dubbed us "The Sporting Life," after the bar denizens of the 19th Century whose lives had very little to do with sport (except for watching the odd boxing match) and everything to do with drinking, befriending their bartenders and gathering around the communal bowl of punch. As it turned out, there were about 25 denizens of the modern L.A. "Sporting Life" on hand in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, including a few other friends, and we actually managed to herd everyone for dinner.

I had the idea for this when my friend Vincenzo Marianella, another amazingly talented local bartender, asked me to help him find some true, authentic Creole food while in New Orleans. "I don't want fine dining or a fancy place," he said. "I want where the local people go, the kind of place where the waitress gets her fingers in the water glass when she brings it." Well, I can probably do better than that, I said, and a place came immediately to mind: Mandina's on Canal.

It's perfect for us, I said. Neighborhood place, good drinks -- their house cocktail is the Old Fashioned -- fantastic food, very casual, noisy and brassy but in a good way, and not expensive. Plus it's that wonderful subset of local cuisine that we call "Creole-Italian;" as he's from Italy, Vincenzo was intrigued by that.

Several blocks of walking and five cabs to hold us all, and there we were at Canal and Cortez. [Link to full photoset]

The Sporting Life gang, with full tummies

One thing we did forget was to call ahead. Mandina's doesn't take reservations, but it probably would have been a good idea to forewarn them that they had a part of 25 on the way. Good ol' Mandina's, though ... they rolled with it, started setting up two huge tables, and gave us the bad news that we'd have to wait a while in the bar. Wait in the bar?! A bunch of bartenders and drinkers having to wait in the bar and drink Pimm's Cups, Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs? Ooh, poor us!

We had a great time in the bar, of course, and it wasn't long at all before they got us all seated.

The crowd The crowd

And out came plate after place of a Great Thing -- beautiful, crisp, light New Orleans French bread, sliced and toasted and drizzled with garlic butter:

Mmmm, garlic bread.

While Wes, Marleign and Dan sat at the far table, Vincenzo claimed me for menu advice at the other one -- happy to oblige. Seafood is the way to go here, I think, on your first time, and I steered him toward two dishes, which he ended up splitting with the guy next to him.

Trout Bayou

Trout Bayou was one of their specials that day -- grilled trout smothered with tangy shrimp étouffée (which itself means "smothered shrimp"), with roasted new potatoes. Hoo-boy, good.

Creole Eggplant

This is one of my favorite dishes at Mandina's, which I got myself. Creole Eggplant, a casserole-style variation on stuffed eggplant, with ham, shrimp, crabmeat and seasonings, served with a side plate of good ol' spaghetti 'n red gravy. Classic Creole-Italian, and fantastic. (I can almost never finish it, either.)

A splendid time was had by all, our waitress was friendly and extremely helpful, and one of the managers called ahead as we were paying our bill and ordered enough cabs for everyone to get back to the Quarter. And all this from a neighborhood joint. I love Mandina's.

Luckily for me, I had a return visit only two days later! More on that to come.

Playing the gender card.   You must watch this clip from "The Daily Show," which is far, far more worth watching than any evening network newscast. Here Jon, along with the deep and even not-so-deep memories of "The Daily Show" staff, demonstrate the utter hypocrisy of the Republicans and FOX "News":

It's hilarious, but you honestly don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Those damn Democratic elitists!   The outfit that Cindy McCain wore to the Republican National Convention this week, including dress and jewelry, cost an estimated $300,000, more than the annual income of over 95% of the American people, most of whom also don't have a private jet either.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Whew.   Relief that New Orleans was for the most part spared by Gustav. Heartbreak to see how badly Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Plaquemines and the Houma-Thibodaux corridor got slammed. Many people in the southern part of the state will be without power for days or even weeks. Most people are being allowed to head home today ... except for New Orleans. Might not be a bad idea to wait a few days if you can -- can you imagine the traffic of everyone coming back? I hope my folks have a little extended vacation in Houston.

UPDATE: All checkpoints have now been lifted and the City of New Orleans is now open.

Ike is due in the Bahamas by Monday. Sigh. Let's hope he stays out of the Gulf. Josephine's behind him, as is Kyle. Sheesh.

"Down Home" goes down: KCSN dumps entire weeknight lineup.   "Down Home", my Louisiana-centric roots music radio show of 10 years was cancelled yesterday by KCSN, along with the entire weekday evening lineup -- every single DJ -- to be replaced as of 6:30pm last night by automation.

I hadn't written very much about it, but we had expected as much for the last four months, since the new dean cancelled the scheduled semiannual pledge drive in May. He then told people who wrote in that he didn't think the station should be allowed to raise money: "the current state budget environment has required us to prudently avoid entering into a pledge drive that implies programmatic promises that are not sustainable into the future."

Sadly, the dean seems concerned only with bottom line income of the station. KCSN had the smallest listenership of any L.A. public radio station due to its weak signal and limited broadcast range, but still made a relatively good amount of money per listener and was named "Best University-Supported Radio Station" by Los Angeles Magazine in 2006. Yet the dean apparently had no idea that the station's signal was only 370 watts with limited coverage, while complaining to our former Program Director that we weren't making the money of KCRW or KUSC.

Not long after that, the station's internet stream was shut down, and the P.D. was given early retirement. The handwriting has been on the wall for quite a while.

Alan Rich wrote about the situation here, here and here. All are must-reads if you're a KCSN listener and/or someone interested in the situation.

I do not believe that the university officals now overseeing the radio station understand it. At all.

So unfortunate, and so unnecessary.

Meanwhile, KCSN will retain its classical programming from 6:00am until 6:00pm on weekdays , and during the school term will continue to broadcast the student-produced "Evening Update" news program. However, evening and overnight programming will now be on automation with no live DJs, in an "Adult Acoustic Alternative," or AAA format, which will run from 6:30pm until 6:00am. "Students from the University's Music Industry Studies program will assist in identifying new artists to showcase," we were told.

Weekend programming will continue more or less as before, but I suspect some more programs will get the ax.

As for me ... well, except for a three-month hiatus in 1994 and a six-week hiatus in 1998, I've been on the radio every week, sometimes twice a week, for 20 years. (Eek.) I'm ready for some time off. After that, I may look into finding another gig at another radio station. I thought briefly about some kind of internet-based broadcast, but given the current Draconian legal structures involving excessive royalties for internet broadcasting, that prospect seems unlikely. (I am open to suggestions.)

Hmm, Thursday nights free. What will I do with myself?!

Plucky Survivors, Days 6 and 7!   Got a little backed up, as I was insanely busy yesterday and didn't get a chance to post anything. From the Biltmore House to pork butt on a bun, from Oak Ridge to fiddles and fudge, Mary and Rick blaze forward through the back roads of America on Day 6 and Day 7.

Speaking of special, that little shack off in the distance is also something else again. The largest private home in America, visiting Biltmore House is a bit like visiting Versailles in terms of splendor and production. You take self guided tour through a mere 60 of the house's roughly 255 rooms, and get a good idea of what it meant to be really really stinking incredibly filthy unbelievably rich 100 years ago. Maybe it's like that now too, but then again, the family does have to have the house open to the public in order to maintain it...

Plucky Survivors See America!

Most impressive is the restoration job. From tiny scraps of wallpaper stuck behind door hinges and drapery brackets, a team of experts was able to recreate the period look of a room. It's archeology for HGTV.

tle of this, a little of that, a whole lot of pork. In keeping with that latter goal, we stopped at a sign promising "Butts on the Creek," a water-side barbeque joint. They served us all but flawless pulled pork sandwiches on fluffy onion rolls, with our choice of three BBQ sauces, vinegar based, mustard based and molasses based. (It was hard to choose, but we both went with molasses.) Just gawk at the photo at the left; a lot of states claim to have the best barbeque, but right now, North Carolina has won our delegates. Then again, had we arrived in time at the South Carolina state barbeque championships-no, we haven't let that go-we might feel differently. Still, darn good sandwich.


The town of Corbin (which we remembered because its Marys grandmas maiden name) is the location for the still extent Sanders Caf where the Colonel first featured his cooking and came up with his secret fried chicken recipe. Glass display cases feature all kinds of Kentucky Fried ephemera including old menus, paycheck, legal documents, photos, and fun facts.

The Colonel knew his marketing even before he turned to franchises. Inside the caf is a model of one of the Sanders Motel rooms the lodging were demolished decades ago. But this is not a museum exhibit, it was there back in the 1940s as a way for prospective customers to see what the accommodations looked like without any hassle.

No, we didn't have any chicken it was too soon after lunch. Not that we didn't think about it mind you but weve already had several days with two lunches in a row and we didn't want appear as gluttons. Some of you are saying, "too late." Hush.

I'm not going to quote from the bit about their next stop, the 54-hole Biblically-themed miniature golf course. Don't miss the pics.

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  Monday, September 1, 2008

Plaquemines Parish levee overtopped, on verge of breach.   UPDATE 6:36pm CDT: There's a very serious situation down in Plaquemines, where a levee is being overtopped in Braithwaite and water is currently leaking through it. They're desperately trying to get people to leave the area. Although it wouldn't be a breach of the same impact of the multiple breaches in NOLA during Katrina, it's still very, very bad.

CNN apparently had Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser on for an interview but put him on hold (!) to cut to Laura Bush's speech. After that they came back and seemed to be surprised that Nungesser had hung up on them. ('Cause, see, he's got this hugely dangerous situation happening in his parish and needs to help them.) They get him back on the line, then immediately put him on hold again to cut to Cindy McCain's speech. *facepalm*

Again, if you care about what's going on in Louisiana, watch WWL-TV out of New Orleans, or the Weather Channel.

UPDATE 9:41pm CDT: Water level at the Braithwaite levee in Plaquemines has fallen slightly, the leaks have been shored up and it seems to be holding for now. Parish officials will monitor the levee all night. Direct your best wishes and tractor beams to that levee.

BLAM!   Gustav, the unwelcome guest, arrives.

Do NOT watch CNN or any of the 24-hour news networks, ESPECIALLY Fox. Their hysteria and misinformation in reporting is, at this moment, verging on criminal.

For reliable news, watch WWL-TV New Orleans and read the Times-Picayune's website at

Ray in NOLA is saying that CNN is actually showing water INSIDE the canal and describing it as flooding inside the city. YatPundit Ed says, "Anyone currently passing judgment from the French Quarter (CNN / Anderson Cooper) is not helping." Goddamn idiot talking heads only care about ratings and have no idea what's really going on. Apparently they're not watching local TV like Ray and Ed. Lee Zurik from WWL is on location in the Upper 9th, standing on the west side of the Industrial Canal where the water's lapping -- watch streaming video on WWL instead.

Westbank is wet but unflooded -- Harvey Canal's holding up fine so far. Not out of the woods yet though -- the back half of the storm is still coming. Fingers crossed.

10am CDT: It's being reported that there's a barge loose in the Industrial Canal. 10:45am update says they were scrap vessels with no engines, there for weeks or months, waiting to be scrapped. (Why the f*ck were these not towed out?) Reporters on the scene say they can't see them, though. Coast Guard crews working to secure; "vessels not causing serious damage to levees or infrastructure." Water is currently sloshing/lapping over the Industrial Canal floodwall on the Gentilly Woods (western) side, between I-610 and the lake, not the Lower Ninth Ward side, where it's higher since Katrina. Minus the waves lapping there's 3 feet to the top of the wall. Not an actual flood and the wall is holding; The Corps are saying that this was expected. The water is NOT flooding homes as of 10:22am CDT. "We are confident in the stability of that wall."

UPDATE, 12:17pm CDT: Vessels in the Industrial Canal have been secured. WDSU says the barges were not loose, just shifting at anchor. About 6 inches of water on the street in Gentilly Woods from water lapping over floodwall -- not too bad. Please continue to NOT watch CNN. Weather Channel coverage said to be good, though.

VIDEO: Water laps over Industrial Canal

Water laps over Industrial 
Canal floodwalls, Upper Ninth Ward

Hang in there, y'all.

Drinking the Kool-Aid.   Well, I went and bought me a 3G iPhone yesterday. (And writing about it will keep my mind off the hurricane for 5 minutes or so.)

I had waited for nearly two months due to my extreme reticence to waste 3 to 5 hours waiting in a line. Today though, Wes and I were in Pasadena shopping for a new phone for him and I decided to ring the Apple store. "Eh, maybe 30 minutes in line?" I decided to give it a shot, but as it turned out I simply had to enter the regular checkout line, ask for a phone, and wait a few minutes while they brought one from the back. The kid who activated it for me was nice but relatively clueless about the technical aspects of how one upgrades from an old iPhone to a new one, but he was adorable enough to almost get away with it. The whole process was pretty painless. Finally. (The Apple Store was packed, too.)

So far I've had none of the problems people have been complaining about, so we'll see.

And I have the privilege of paying $15/month more than I did last time.

But it's a really feckin' cool device.

Plucky Survivors, Day 5!   Asheville bound.

Our one major stop of the day was at a glorified truck stop with a quasi-Mexican theme called South of the Border, which proved to be equal parts amusing and horrifying. The rambling facility included fireworks stores, gift shops, a concrete statuary store, rides, a campground, miniature golf, and so much more.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Why it was there eluded us until we left and discovered that it was feet from the border of North Carolina, where of course fireworks are illegal. So we theorized that nearby locals would cut across state lines to load up on colorful explosives and that's how it all started, but we were wrong -- at least according to Wikipedia. Here's what they have to say about the place:

South of the Border was developed by Al Schafer (1914-2001), who founded a beer stand at the location in 1950 and steadily expanded it with Mexican trinkets and numerous kitsch items. He had a great deal of success because of his location, which was immediately across the border from a dry North Carolina county, and grew his small business into what was, by local standards, an economic empire. South of the Border grew to over a square mile, required its own infrastructure, and had its own fire and police departments. Schafer became reclusive, building a large compound of interconnected houses outside the Dillon city limits. At South of the Border, he kept secret apartments hidden in the backs of restaurants and shops.

We were agog at all of; the dinosaur in a sombrero (pictured), the gorilla in a t shirt (pictured), the fireworks store that sold mortar rounds (ditto), and the complete lack of Mexican food (see picture of large concrete weiner dog). But hey, at least the Mexican serapes were actually made in Mexico, so there's that. We just kept staring at it, unable to quite take it all in, unable to choose between the aforementioned amused and horrified. Look at the pictures and decide for yourself.

As we continue on our route, now is a good time to mention Rick's mad driving skills (as the kids say) because that turn he pulled when Mary shouted "HOMEMADE PEACH ICE CREAM!" was really an impressive display. He not only didn't tip the car, or cause a crash behind us, he got us safely into Pee Dee's Peaches, where the peach and strawberry homemade ice cream were worth the risk just taken.

Rick figures this is NASCAR territory so that's just the way you are supposed to drive.

I want peach pie and I want it now. Off to Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena ...

Non-Gustav-related quote of the day.   Sarah Palin = Dan Quayle? From a 2006 candidate questionnaire for the Alaska gubernatorial race:

Q: Are you offended by the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

Palin: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.


Let's get the ninth-grade civics student back for Sarah. The pledge dates to 1892 and wasn't adopted as anything official until 1942. The words "under God" were added in 1954 at the height of the Red Scare to combat the onslaught of godless Communism. Good enough for the Founding Fathers indeed.

August Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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