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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 @ 4:40pm PST, 12/31/2008

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If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse.
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Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to donate to this site:

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

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

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

Buy stuff!

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

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

December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
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)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

In the Land of Cocktails
   (Ti Adelaide Martin & Lally Brennan,
   "The Cocktail Chicks," of Café Adelaide
   & Commander's Palace, New Orleans)

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)

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

Le Mixeur
   (The Munat Bros. host
   cocktail gatherings in
   Seattle, and write about them
   here. I'm jealous that I can't go.)

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.)

The Munat Bros.
   (Seattle-based brothers and
   ardent proponents of fine drinking.)

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)

Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments
   (Craig Hermann)

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 Abominable Charles Christopher
by Karl Kerschl

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

  Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday wrap-up: Food and cocktails from New Orleans.   Yes, I've been a lazy bastard. I must confess to not really wanting to do a lot of blogging during my week back home in New Orleans, and that does have something to do with the fact that all this hand-coding of this site gets to be a huge pain in the ass. One of my New Year's Resolutions is going to be to convert this blog to WordPress as soon as possible. Given my complete and utter lack of facility with such things, I'm going to need some help. I think I have a likely candidate, but otherwise I'll probably be putting out a call next week. (I'm also going to want an iPhone-optimized version of the main home page, and I have absolutely no clue as to how to do that.)

But in the meantime ... there was lots of eating and drinking over the last week to talk about!

I spent most of Christmas Eve day shopping, as given current Draconian baggage restrictions it wasn't practical to schlep presents over on the plane. (Plus I was planning to do 90% of my Christmas shopping at Martin Wine Cellar anyway.) The best part of the day, though, was seeing my old frends David and Jennifer for the first time in (as we realized incredulously) nine years. I finally got to meet their gorgeous girls, and as they were all headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park that afternoon, a lunch option near Bayou St. John was called for. None of us had been to Liuzza's by the Track in ages, so off we went.

Chicken, sausage & shrimp 
gumbo at Liuzza's by the Track

Chicken and sausage gumbo to start. Oh, yum. That's a "cup," by the way.

"Breath Taking Beef" 

Next was their "Breath Taking Beef", featuring what Gourmet magazine once called "nostril searing horseradish." (It was good, but my nostrils emerged unscathed.)

Christmas dinner

I thought I'd be remiss in talking about food this trip without including Christmas dinner at Uncle Joe and Aunt Cassie's. Let's see, starting at 12 noon, it's rice 'n gravy, macaroni 'n cheese, cornbread and giblet dressing, oyster dressing, sweet potatoes, leg of lamb, turkey, corn pudding, creamed spinach and a cheese-laden variant of greenbean casserole in the middle. That's not counting French bread, cranberries and various desserts, plus wine and cocktails (Rusty Nails were what I was making) ... urp.

Granny's brownies

My favorite dessert of all gets its own due -- my grandmother's chocolate brownies, which I've loved since I was a kid (and they're very popular in the family too). Granny doesn't make them herself anymore (she's 91), but Mom does 'em just as well.

Now, time for some more goin' out ...

Boxing Day began with lunch with my folks at Johnny & Joyce in Mandeville, a completely unassuming, atmosphere-free li'l joint that concentrates on one thing -- great, inexpensive food, mostly fried seafood. Johnny and Joyce, as I recall, had a place in Chalmette for years which washed away in Katrina, and reopened a few years ago on the Northshore. The shrimp and oysters were plump, plentiful and perfectly fried, and I had a gorgeous cup of shrimp gumbo to start. Then, as Parkway Bakery was closed for the holidays and I didn't think I'd be making it to Gene's, I got a hot sausage po-boy with cheese, part of what I'd want my last meal to be (along with red beans and rice and French fries, to name two more components). Not the best I'd ever had, but perfectly good. (The best hot sausage po-boy I'd ever had on the Northshore was at Bunny Matthews' now lamentably closed Vic 'n Nat'ly's in Covington.)

The evening's rounds began with a visit to the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide to see our bartender friends Lu and Michael, and to sample the latest delights from their cocktail menu, one of the best in town. Louise began with an original by Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar. He's one of the best in town, and he's been cranking out some amazing creations lately. The Swizzle redid their menu and now has a back page featuring drinks by friends of theirs, which is very cool. This is one of 'em -- get it here or go see Chris himself at Arnaud's.

The Accoutrement
(by Chris Hannah, Arnaud's French 75 Bar, New Orleans)

2 ounces Calvados.
3/4 ounce Strega.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters.

Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with brandied cherries in the glass or on a pick.

I went for a classic, one of my old favorites and a regular feature on the Swizzle's menu. I just love being able to order this in a bar and not get a quizzical look from the bartender. "Gin, lemon and chocolate," Michael said as he put it in front of me. "Who'd'a thought?"

The Twentieth Century Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc.
3/4 ounce white crème de cacao.

Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Next up was a visit to a new place -- not only new to me, but brand new to the city too, having opened at the beginning of October. Rambla is a Basque-influenced Spanish tapas restaurant at the International House hotel in the 200 block of Camp Street. It's owned by the same folks who own Cuvée on St. Charles and Dakota on the Northshore, so it's already off to a good start. Mary had been in Rambla a few weeks ago, checking them out for inclusion in Frommer's I imagine, and put me in touch with their bartender Max Pazuniak, who's a really nice guy, a graduate of B.A.R. and really cares about quality cocktails. Max and his cohorts are doing a great job with the cocktail menu there, with several really tasty-looking offerings: Spanish 75, a variation on the local penchant for making French 75s with brandy instead of gin, with Max's version done with LePanto brandy de Jerez, fresh lemon juice and Cava. The Sardinia combines Tanqueray gin, fresh lemon, housemade rosemary syrup and a splash of Campari, and a Pecan Hot Toddy warms dark rum and sweetens it with a housemade spiced pecan syrup. Max offered to make this one for me, a holiday-themed variation on an Old Fashioned and one of his own creations. I'm approximating the proportions from having watched him make it, but if you want it done exactly right, go see him at Rambla and tell him hi for me.

Goodnight St. Nick
(adapted from Max Pazuniak, Rambla, New Orleans)

2 ounces Sazerac rye whiskey, 6 years.
1/2 ounce allspice dram.
1/4 ounce grade B maple syrup.
2-3 dashes Fee's Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters.
4 or 5 fresh cranberries.
Orange slice.

In a mixing glass muddle the cranberries and orange slice. Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until very cold, then double-strain into an Old Fashioned glass with ice.

I don't think St. Nick would mind being left one of these. (We always just left milk, cookies and whiskey.)

Next up was a trip to Lüke, one of my very favorite places in the city. Not just mine -- when my friend Rocky in Seattle saw my update that I was eating there, he sent back, "I hate you with a deep and burning passion. From Hell's Heart I stab at thee!" (Envious, a little? Heh. Aah, he knows that I'd have teleported him there in a second if I had the technology.) As is my wont, when I go to Lüke I frequently drink an Ojen Frappé:

Ojen Frappe

Ojen Frappé

2 ounces Ojen (substitute dulce anis del mono or Marie Brizard anisette)).
3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters.
Splash seltzer.

Pack an Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice. Add ojen, bitters and seltzer, and stir until the glass is frosty.

Ojen (OH-hen) is an anisette formerly made in the village of Ojén in Spain, with the last remaining version of it being made by Manuel Fernandez in Jerez. Turns out that the people in Spain, and even the people in Ojen, got out of the habit of drinking it and there was really only one place in the world where it was still being consumed at all -- New Orleans, where it's been popular for Unfortunately we weren't enough to keep an entire distillery going, and they decided to close. Aghast at the prospect of losing one of our traditional beverages, New Orleans bought all remaining stock, and I read in an article by one Ned Hémard that the owners of Martin Wine Cellar actually commissioned a huge final run of the stuff before the distillery shuttered.

Lüke apparently bought a big chunk of the remaining stock so that they could offer the cocktail on their regular menu, and it's one of the last bars in the world where you can get one. (Commander's and, I think, a few other places still offer it regularly.) The liqueur itself is still pretty easy to find -- Martin and Dorignac's regularly stock it, and Michael tells me that Vieux Carré Wine & Spirits always has it too.

That, plus this, is what set Rocky off:

Choucroute Garni, at Luke 

Choucroute garni, or "dressed sauerkraut," is a classic Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and onions cooked in pork stock, white wine (usually Riesling or Gewürzraminer) and spices (usually juniper berries, cloves, black pepper and more), along with pork products of various kinds. At Lüke the choucroute comes with housemade spicy pork sausage, Berkshire pork belly and pig knuckles.

It was absolutely heavenly.

To round out our evening we headed to the Renaissance Père Marquette Hotel to visit the dean of New Orleans bartenders, Chris McMillian. He now holds court at The Bar Uncommon, a bit of a pun on the hotel's location on Common Street near Baronne Street. (I love me a good pun.) Chris is a gracious and extremely knowledgeable host, and at his bar you're always certain to be served something wonderful.

Now that Plymouth has finally begun releasing their magnificent sloe gin in the U.S. (albeit in maddeningly small quantities), we're finally able to begin exploring what a wonderful liqueur it is, and how it's really the only sloe gin you should be using, at least until Stephan Berg is able to get his new Bitter Truth Sloeberry Blue Gin into the States without us having to pay €51 a bottle with shipping from Germany. Until then, stick with the Plymouth and avoid any American-made product, which is more likely to taste like Robitussin than sloe gin.

Here's a wonderful Negroni variation he made us, with sloe gin sitting in for the sweet vermouth:


1 ounce gin.
1 ounce Plymouth sloe gin.
1 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce orange grapefruit juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

(I'd swear in court that I heard Chris say it was orange juice, but Michael says Chris said grapefruit and has made it that way for him three times. I must be losing my mind.)

Next up was a lovely Old Fashioned variation of Chris' that he's currently calling "New Orleans is Drowning," adding that "I gotta come up with a better name for this." The bitters represent our Caribbean heritage, the Cognac is for the French, the rye for the Americans and the Campari rinse is for the Italians. (The Spanish, Afrcans, Irish and Germans get short shrift in this drink, but frankly adding three more ingredients would tend to get things a little crowded. Maybe we can come up with a No. 2 version to honor those other parts of New Orleans' mix.) In the meantime ...

"New Orleans Is Drowning"

"New Orleans is Drowning"
(A perhaps soon-to-be-renamed Old Fashioned variation by Chris McMillian)

1 ounce Cognac.
1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 sugar cube.
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters.
Splash of water.

Add the sugar and bitters to a mixing glass, then the water. Crush the sugar cube with a muddler and muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Add the Cognac and rye and stir with ice until well chilled. Rinse an Old Fashioned glass with Campari, then strain the Cognac-rye mixture into it and garnish with an orange peel.

I'm hoping I remembered the details correctly on this one. I was getting a little fuzzy in the memory department by this point.

The final drink of the evening was something Chris called a Jane Deaux, and I'm afraid I don't remember much about it other than it was gin muddled with fresh ginger and some lemon juice, and something else, and it was really good. I did manage a picture, though.


Family, good friends, good food, good cocktails ... and a good visit home. Doesn't get much better than that. I'm back in L.A. now, having made the year's final visit to Seven Grand for yet more cocktail cheer, where Dave took mighty good care of us. I managed to pick up a dose of sniffles and coughing while I was back home, so Dr. Dave first served up something that cures what ails ya:

Hotty Toddy

2 ounces Cognac.
3/4 ounce honey syrup (combine honey and hot water 1:1 to make).
Hot water.
Nutmeg and star anise.

Grate a bit of nutmeg and star anise into a small stemmed glass (an Irish coffee glass would work well). Add the Cognac, honey syrup and hot water and stir to combine. Garnish with a nice oily lemon peel.

Next up was a tall drink Dave whipped up, also medicinal, with fresh grated ginger and rye. He asked me which rye I wanted and I wanted one with a punch (well, it's medicinal after all), so we went with the new release of Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, which I love. It's powerful, coming in at 127.5 proof, and it screams "RYE!" at you, big and spicy and fruity. I felt it could stand up to all the other ingredients and still be assertive, and that it was. (Given the way I'm still coughing as I write this, I should go upstairs and make another one right now.)

Rye Brouhaha at Seven Grand
(Yeah, crappy iPhone pic, but what're ya gonna do?)

Rye Brouhaha

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 ounce pineapple juice.
1-2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger, to taste.
1 egg white.

Grate some fresh ginger into a shaker and add the whiskey, juices, syrup and egg white. Shake like mad until cold and frothy. Strain into a tall glass with ice, then top off with a bit of seltzer. Garnish with a slice of fresh ginger.

Next I wanted an Old Fashioned but with a whiskey I had never had before. Dave immediately recommended the 2008 release of William Larue Weller Bourbon, the fifth member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection which had somehow eluded me all this time. It's undoubtedly my obsession with the Sazerac 18 year rye and the Handy Rye, plus the "haz-mat" George T. Stagg and the lovely Eagle Rare 17 that had kept me distracted. I'm sorry I waited, although I had read later that previous years' releases of WLW were somewhat weak. Not this one.

This is a gorgeous whiskey, not as punchy as a rye (it's wheated, as I recall) but it gets a lot from the wood -- vanilla, caramel and holiday spices like cinnamon. It's also beautifully smooth, with no alcohol burn despite its high proof (125.3). I'm gonna have to dig some of this up if I can (limited availability and all), as if I haven't already spent a fortune on whiskey the last couple of weeks ...

Old Fashioned with William 
Larue Weller Bourbon
(Another crappy iPhone pic)

And here I am, having a lazy day, getting ready for our New Year's Eve celebration tonight. We're headed to Gregg and Mike's for a Stone Brewery (makers of Arrogant Bastard) beer tasting, including some of their special release from years past. Yum! I'm also going to bring along a couple of traditional New Year's dishes -- Black-eyed Peas for luck, and smothered cabbage for money:

Smothered Cabbage

Yep, it's smothered in bacon fat.

Smothered Cabbage

1 package bacon, 12-16 ounces (I like Benton's, Nueske's or Niman Ranch, but Oscar Meyer will do fine)
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 head of cabbage
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 ounce cider vinegar
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces and place in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until crispy, then remove bacon and put aside. Reserve all the resultant bacon fat.

Cut the onion from pole to pole, cut off stem and root ends and slice the onion. Cook the onion in the bacon fat until it's translucent and tender. Add the apple and cook until tender.

Quarter, core and coarsely shred the cabbage. Add to the pot and toss with the onions and fat until coated. Add lemon juice, vinegar and allspice. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, then uncover, add bacon, toss again to mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook a minute or two more until the cabbage is barely tender. Eat, moan with pleasure and make some money this year.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

That's your New Year's Day menu, although we're getting a head start on ours tonight.

Have a happy and safe New Year's, and may 2009 please be better than 2008.

Peace and love, y'all.

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  Wednesday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël!   Felíz Navidad, Nollaig Shona Dhaoibh ... Merry Christmas!

Peace, y'all



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  Friday, December 19, 2008

Program complete. You may enter when ready.   I was very sad to hear of the passing of Majel Barrett Roddenberry yesterday, "The First Lady of Star Trek."

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, 

She portrayed Number One, the second-in-command of the USS Enterprise in "Star Trek"'s first pilot (until NBC put the kibosh on the idea that any woman could ever be the XO of a starship in the 23rd century ... sheesh), Nurse Christine Chapel in the first "ST" series, the voice of Lt. M'Ress in the animated series, the irrepressible Lwaxana Troi in ST:TNG, and the voice of the ship's computer in most of the series and movies. I was thrilled to hear that she provided the voice of the Enterprise's computer in the forthcoming J. J. Abrams "Star Trek" movie, and wrapped her performance only two weeks ago.

I never met her, but I loved her, and had since I was a kid.

Naked Lwaxana

Wes and I were talking about her last night, and we agreed that her portrayal of Lwaxana Troi, telepathic Betazoid mother of "The Next Generation" Enterprise's counselor Deanna Troi. Lwaxana had Picard shvitzing every time she boarded ship, because he never knew what she might do or say, only that it would be scandalous, and at some point she would be naked. She knew how to have fun, and I'll bet you that when she visits Earth her favorite Earth city is New Orleans.

One way to honor her memory would be to visit the obsessive but impressive fan site website, a glowing tribute to the Enterprise's computer and control graphic and computer interfaces, and download tons of audio samples of her computer voice that can be used for Windows events, UI sound cues, ringtones or anything you can think of. (In fact, the Union Pacific Railroad hired her years ago to record audio system status and warning messages on their western routes.) I have a wonderfully geeky new ringtone that features herself as the computer, saying "Incoming subspace message." :-)

Safe journey Majel, Christine and Lwaxana ... I hope you're back together with The Great Bird of the Galaxy.

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  Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gonna buy five copies for my mother ...   Well, I'm not actually on the cover (thank Gawd), but I wrote an article on cocktails for New Year's Eve that appears on pages 52-54 of the current (Winter '08/'09) issue of Edible Los Angeles magazine, just out on newsstands. (Yay, a paid writing gig!)

It shouldn't be terribly new to cocktail geeks and/or longtime readers of this site, but I review the classic Champagne Cocktail, because I'm astonished as to how few people seem to have heard of this drink anymore. It's a part of our drinking heritage going back over 150 years, and most people have no idea. It's an indication of how badly our cocktail culture has gotten away from us, and how the public needs to be educated about drinks the same way they became educated about food from the '80s until now.

We also do a punch, the superb 1893 Columbian Punch that I learned about from Dr. Cocktail, my original Réveillon Cocktail and to cap off the evening, the beautiful Widow's Kiss. Oddly enough, they included the picture of the Seelbach Cocktail we did even though I had to cut the paragraphs and recipe for that drink due to lack of space. (Grr, print publications and their stoopid word limits! To which my editor would reply, "You internet people who think you can just write and write and write ... learn to edit!")

I initially included it because I wanted to offer a more sophisticated Champagne-based cocktail, and although I suspect you may well be familiar with the recipe, here it is, with the excised copy, just in case you aren't:

For a more highly seasoned variation on the Champagne Cocktail, let's hop in the Wayback Machine and jump back to the luxurious Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It's 1917, and sipping this beautiful hotel's signature cocktail, which soon would be lost for decades thanks to the failed experiment of Prohibition, only to be unearthed in the mid-1990s when a bar manager at the Seelbach found the secret recipe. The elegance of the hotel is reflected in this lovely cocktail, with the kick of the Bourbon and the spicy bite of the bitters tempered and balanced with the sweet orange of the liqueur and the dry fruitiness of the wine. If you make this one for a turn-of-the-year celebration, don't be surprised if you end up making it year-round.


1 ounce Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur.
7 dashes Angostura Bitters.
7 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
5 ounces Champagne.
Curly orange twist for garnish.

Add the ingredients, in the order given, to a Champagne flute.
Garnish with the orange twist, and enjoy.

Speaking of the Widow's Kiss, Eric Felten did an interesting article on it a few weeks back, in which he also described it as "way too sweet for modern tastes." I disagree, although I can't take anything much sweeter than this. He offers a different proportion which I have yet to try but will this week; I think I'd enjoy this very much as well.

The Widow's Kiss 2008
(modern adaptation by Eric Felten)

2 ounces Calvados.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir and strain, cherry garnish.

I hope you enjoy Edible Los Angeles -- it's a terrific magazine, one of many locally-focused Edible publications that are launching all around the country. My good friend Carol edited this issue, and will be editing the next one too. Let's hope she gets the gig full-time. (Well, if she wants to.) Oh, and if you like the article, you can always write a letter to the publisher asking if that cocktail guy could be a regular columnist!

The sorry state of grand hotel bars.   Speakign of Eric Felten, he's got another winner this week, and for the most part a sad story it is. During months of staying in various grand old (and new) hotels around the country, he finds it sorely lacking. (Emphasis mine.)

"It's funny what a wonderful gentility you get in the bar of a big hotel," Ernest Hemingway has Jake Barnes say to Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. They are sipping nice icy Martinis at the bar of the Palace Hotel in Madrid and marveling at the elegant professionalism of bartenders. "Barmen and jockeys are the only people who are polite any more," Brett says, and Jake agrees: "No matter how vulgar a hotel is, the bar is always nice."

If only that were still true. Once upon a time, hotel bars set the standard for sophisticated drinking, with barmen who were the best in the business... Over the past year and a half, as I traveled around the country, I stopped in at dozens of grand old hotels, incognito, to see if their bars lived up to the tradition. I found a few gems in a sea of expensive mediocrity (punctuated with the occasional fiasco).

To test the quality of the bars I visited, I settled on two drinks to ask for at each. The first was a Sidecar, a standard in the classic cocktail canon. Made of brandy, Cointreau and lemon (or lime) juice, it is a drink known to any bartender worthy of the title. Yet very few mixers make it well, getting the right balance of citrus tang and liqueur sweetness while keeping the brandy front and center. And any time a bar uses the pre-sweetened lemon-lime shortcut called "sour mix," the drink is ruined. The other drink I asked for was an Americano Highball -- Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water on the rocks. The Americano is one of those semiobscure classics that all serious bartenders know, and that amateurs have never heard of.

I was shocked to read of all those bars where I now know I can't go to drink.

A night out for Wes' birthday a few years back got off to a shaky start when I began it by taking him to the beautiful bar at Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel. The drinks were lousy, and the space was just as empty as it was for Felten. That's really a crime. (It's my own fault for not checking it out first, and for foolishly assuming that a grand hotel bar would have grand drinks.)

A bartender who would use industrial pre-sweetened bottled commercial "sour mix" for your Sidecar or Daiquiri or anything else is like a chef who makes your omelette with egg substitute. The latter, I suspect you'd send back to the kitchen.

Felten and Mr. Tassopoulos lament that there aren't many good bartenders these days, but Felten goes on to make a bit of a dig at what he calls "celebrity mixologists, cocktail consultants, or people who want to own their own high-end bars. I agree that knowledgeable, old-school bartenders are a rare commodity these days, but maybe I'm spoiled -- I know a bunch of really good, workign bartenders. I also have friends who are also working bartenders but cocktail consultants as well. I've seen them get hired to go into a bar where you couldn't get a decent drink to save your life, but once they got through training the staff (and putting up with the staff's initial bitching and moaning), they ended up with tons of bartenders who really knew what they were doing, and could make you a good, solid, well-made drink without you having to think twice about it. Cocktail consultants are a force for good in the world.

We also have friends who are opening their own places, which is fantastic, except for the fact that none of them are opening them in our neighborhood. :-) I wish the cocktail consultants and neighborhood bar owners could start putting their heads together more. As much as I enjoy going downtown for a great drink, I'd love to be able to walk to my neighborhood joint and get a great cocktail too.

Finally, say what you will about "celebrity chefs," positive or negative, but you have to admit that the celebrity chefs that emerged in the 1980s and the ones who are making their mark today have done wonders in educating the public about good food. You see how the restaurant scene has changed in the last 25 years -- there's a lot of exciting food out there, and ingredients that no one would have heard of back then. Similarly, say what you will about "celebrity mixologists," but if they're educating the public about what a great drink is (and it's not just "something with sour mix and vodka"), what the classics are, and creating new and innovative drinks as exciting as the new and innovative dishes coming out of many restaurant kitchen, then they're a force for good as well.

But can we also just get people in every bar to learn how to make a Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned and Sidecar, puh-leeze? And if people aren't asking for them anymore, stick 'em on a menu card on the bar and push 'em! They're great drinks, and people will like them, and treat them like they're the newest thing, even though they're the oldest thing. (Everything old is new again, of course.)

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  Monday, December 15, 2008

Mixology Monday XXXIV: Spice.   Well! I actually managed to do some experimentation and alchemy this weekend, and a post as well. This month's Mixology Monday is being hosted by Craig Hermann at Tiki Drinks & Indigo Firmaments, and the theme is described thusly:

Spice should give you plenty of room to play - from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg -- what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn't an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I'd love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.

Perfect timing. I turned to the row of tinctures I've been working on.

For those readers who might not be cocktail geeks (or chemists), a tincture is defined as an alcoholic extract or solution of a non-volatile substance. In medicine it's generally an herb or other organic substance (even a drug) used for medicinal purposes. Audrey Saunders of The Pegu Club in New York has been on the forefront of using tinctures as liquid spice to flavor cocktails, and many other folks have been using them to create customized batches of bitters. I've been experimenting with both of late.

I want to build up a base supply of tinctures not only for experimentation but also to make bitters, rather than infusing herbs and spices directly into the base spirit (quicker results this way). I've got qutie a few so far, and I've still got a few batches brewing with more on the way. Unless noted, each tincture is made with 80 proof vodka, in four-ounce quantities. I fill the jar between 1/3 and 1/2 full with the herb or spice, and spices are generally toasted briefly in a skillet to bring out the volatile oils and flavors. I add four ounces of vodka (or whatever other spirit I may wish to use), and give it about 3 weeks of steeping with occasional (daily) agitating. My spices are almost all obtained from Penzey's, who offer high quality and low cost, plus a few others (like bittering agents) from herbalists like Tenzing Momo.

Here's what I've got so far: Cinnamon (in 126-proof Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum), Cardamom, Clove, Nutmeg, Lavender, Ginger, Star Anise, and Szechuan Peppercorn.

My bitters blending experiment is still a ways off, and I wanted to do something more than just seasoning a cocktail today. (That said, the cinnamon tincture, which is marvelously flavorful on its own and has a wonderful bitterness from the tannins in the bark, is great in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Autumn Leaves cocktail, and the lavender tincture lovely in a Martini, and more suggestions to come the more I play with them.) I wanted to showcase one of them, and I wanted to do something original.

The one I wanted to work wtih the most, and to the best of my knowledge one that has yet to be explored in cocktails (and please correct me if I'm wrong), is Szechuan peppercorn.

Szechuan peppercorns
Szechuan peppercorns (public domain image via Wikipedia)

It's an amazing spice. You're probably more familiar with it than you think, as it's one of the ingredients in Chinese Five-Spice Powder. (You may recall I've been having fun playing with Scott Beattie's five-spice syrup over the last few weeks.) It's not related to the black peppercorn with which we're all famliar (Piper nigrum) but from an entirely different genus (Zanthoxylum piperitum), and is called 花椒 or huājiāo in Mandarin ("flower pepper").

Now, for the flavor. If you've ever crunched up a few Szechuan peppercorns in your mouth, the first thing you get is a very aromatic quality, with a lemony, earthy, slightly smoky, spicy-hot but not overwhelmingly so, not burning yoru mouth at all, but with more of the aromatic quality you might think of in black pepper without the same kind of flavor or bite, but with its own bite -- so very much going on! And then ... you start to get the tingle.

The Chinese call it 麻辣, málà, or "numbing spicy." You get a very pronounced tingling on your lips and tongue, followed by a bit of numbness but one that does not remove the flavor sensation. It lingers for about five minutes. It's wild.

When you taste a drop of tincture of Szechaun peppercorn, you get all this and then some.

Now, what the frak do I do with it?

I began thinking of flavor affinities with the spice that I already knew about, and consulted my handy-dandy copy of The Flavor Bible for more ideas. I was kind of pining for some kind of Asian spirit for a base -- a really good, flavorful sake, or maybe soju? Then I started thinking outside the box and decided on Good Ol' Bourbon.

I knew I wanted ginger in there -- ginger is one of the five spices in some versions of Chinese five-spice -- and thought of accenting with star anise, another of those flavors, but decided spice-wise to stick with just the one. So, Bourbon, ginger, tincture ... and then thought lime juice for balance. I chose Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur as the ginger flavor moderator.

The first iteration contained those four ingredients. Okay. Not bad. Something wasn't right, though. Wes and I started thinking of other base spirits to try in lieu of sake or soju. Vodka was out. Rum? Hm, dunno, maybe. Gin? Hmm. Gin. It's got its own base of botanicals that play well with others. Why not?

Iterations with gin ... didn't work. There was something harsh, glassy about it that neither of us liked. Back to Bourbon, and back to The Flavor Bible.

I think a bit of the harshness, and a tropicality that I didn't really want, was coming from the lime juice. I wanted acid for balance, but maybe not so much acid. Orange was listed as one of the flavors with an affinity for Szechuan peppercorn, so I tried that.


The base spirit smoothed out such that you almost forgot it was Bourbon, but gave it a good, warm base for accepting and embracing the spice. The ginger was sharp yet mellow yet bright, the orange provided the perfect acid balance as well as a lovely flavor, and that spice, hoo-boy ... so exotic! Someone drinking this might well be hard-pressed to identify what it was, and I love it when that happens. And the tingle? Maybe. Just a little bit. Way in the background, not enough to be distracting, maybe even not enough such that you're really sure it's there. You're probably not sure.

Wes and I decided this one was a keeper, and I decided to name it for The God of Szechuan Cuisine -- at least to those of us who are "Iron Chef" fans. (That's the real "Iron Chef," I mean.)

Kenichi-san Cocktail

The Chen-san Cocktail

2 ounces Bourbon whiskey (I used Four Roses).
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur.
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice.
2-4 dashes tincture of Szechuan peppercorn, to taste (I used four dashes, or 40 drops).

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake like hell for 12-15 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin slice of fresh ginger and a curly orange twist.

This stuff's going to be fun to play with. I've got a batch of bitters in mind next.

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  Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice porn.   There's been a lot of talk about ice in cocktails these days.

Serious home cocktailians won't dream of using refrigerator ice, the half-moon shaped pieces that come out of your freezer's automatic icemaker. They very easily pick up off flavors, and usually aren't filtered except in more contemporary (and expensive) refrigerators. We usually buy clear bag ice for shaking as well as for rocks (and the one time we were out and I was forced to use refrigerator ice, one of y'all totally busted me for it ... *cough*GJ*cough*). Truly dedicated cocktailians will buy block ice and hand-chip it, or freeze water in a loaf pan. I have to confess I'm far too lazy to do that, but maybe one day ...

The problem with even the best bag ice is that it's not made to melt slowly. The stuff we get is crystal clear and good-tasting, but they're cylinders and not cubes, and have a hole down the middle. Other cubes are too small, and melt too quickly. What you want is ice that won't chip too easily during shaking. While you of course want and need a certain amount of dilution when you're shaking and stirring -- that's all part of the balance -- you don't want too much. Those who like their shaken Martinis extremely cold and "with a flotilla of little ice chips on top" had better drink that Martini quickly, while it's still laughing at you, because that little flotilla of ice chips will quicklyi melt and give you a watery Martini.

Even bars are often at a loss as to what to do. Some quite reasonably hesitate at the huge expense of the magnificent Kold-Draft machine, and yet still want larger pieces of ice in volume without having to resort to the standard ice machines that make small cubes or that semi-crushed, soft, movie theatre soft drink ice.

Well, one enterprising company seeks to fill the need.

Névé Ice makes ice in large quantity for professional operations, and they do it in several different shapes.

There's a polyhedronal shape for shaking, that has fewer sharp breakable edges to prevent overdilution. There's a large cube, for iced spirits, short drinks, Old Fashioneds and the like -- a large single cube will keep the drink chilled and melt more slowly. There's also a long piece for tall drinks.

He's also got spheres, including specialty spheres with fruit or flowers frozen into them, and others available upon request. Gorgeous stuff.

If you don't think ice makes a difference in your drinks, think again. This is beautiful stuff, purified and frozen slowly to prevent off flavors and cloudiness, and the shapes are beyond what most bars can easily make on their own, much less the serious home cocktailian. And for the latter, at least locally in Los Angeles, Névé Ice will be available in smaller quantities for home use (starting in a week or so at Bar Keeper in Silverlake).

In the interest of full disclosure, the owner of the company is a friend of mine, but I think he's got a great product. I hope it catches on quickly, and we start seeing this lovely ice all over town.

And if that web site of his isn't pure ice porn, I don't know what is.

A better formula than E=mc²?   Scientists at Leeds University in the UK claim they have "perfected" the bacon butty.

For those of you unfamiliar with British terminology, a "butty" is just another word for "sandwich," and the bacon butty is as beloved as you might expect. Apparently these experts -- COMPLETELY in the interest of science, mind you! -- spent over 1,000 hours testing 700 variations of the bacon butty to see which one's the best.

A thousand hours ... that's twenty-five 40-hour work weeks, hearly half a year. I wonder who funded this study. I also wonder how I can get funding for a similar study.

The formula, by the way, is:

N = C + {fb (cm) . fb (tc)} + fb (Ts) + fc . ta

I am so getting that on a t-shirt.

Death by food.   A post on went up this week describing what they see as 15 dishes that might kill you. Some of it's the typical horrifying state fair kind of food, deep fried things on sticks, but I was pretty astonished that these guys included, of all things, Turducken ... which is my Christmas more years than not. I mean, sure, you eat a whole one and maybe it could kill you, but a slice of three different meats and three different stuffings, c'mon. Delicious but hardly Grim Reapery. Wimps.

Although some of it was pretty disgusting, some of it I would have scarfed in a second. Then came the reaction of Mike's cousin Mike, who's from Texas and was in on the email list on this one. "I was expecting scorpions and rattlesnake and puffer fish and, I dunno, like broken glass cookies or something," he said. "I eat this shit every day. :)"

And he'll live to a ripe old age.

Modern times.   A fascinating yet slightly horrifying look at the inner workings of a frozen pizza factory in Naas, Co. Kildare, Ireland.

These look like fairly typical pepperoni pizzas, but I've seen strange ones in Ireland. I have friends in Kildare, and on my first visit to them I was shopping at their local supermarket in Athy and saw some fresh-made pizzas in their takeaway foods section. One of them had a smattering of cheese, fresh corn and mandarin orange slices (which is, I suppose, no stranger than pineapple on a pizza). When I got back to their house I remarked how odd I thought that was, and Theresa said, with a slightly miffed air, "Hm ... corn is lovely on a pizza." Well, I'll have to try it! (I still haven't managed to do that in 20 years though, actually.)

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  Friday, December 5, 2008

HAPPY REPEAL DAY!!!   Today is the 75th anniversary of the return of our constitutional right to have a drink. (Well, except for those forsaken places known as "dry counties," which translates as "places I don't want to go.") There are those of us who'd like to see this as a national holiday, but until then, we'll just keep celebrating it every year.

Ah, those lovely words in the 21st Amendment ...

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

The 18th Amendment, of course, being the one that instituted prohibition of alcohol. And as much as we love the 21st Amendment, there's that pesky Section 2 that leaves the regulation of liquor up to the states, which is why to this day we still have trouble shipping wine and spirits to certain places, and state liquor stores in others, and where you can't get certain products because it's not in the state liquor store's inventory, etc. Maybe we'll get over some of that one day too.

Mitch Frank has a great article on the history of Prohibition and its effects on the wine industry in particular in the Wine Spectator, and while we think about the bad things about Prohibition, Camper reminds us of the upsides of Prohibition:

- It also popularized tequila in the United States. Mmm, tequila.

- It set the stage for the tiki movement. Rum fell out of popularity in America long before Prohibition. But during those long years, tourists flocked to rum-producing countries like Cuba to enjoy Daiquiris and other rum drinks. After Repeal, a lot of rum sat around in barrels with nobody drinking it. After WWII, Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic used this cheap supply of inexpensive aged rum to create some of the best cocktails the world has ever known.

- It pushed American cocktails and American bartenders abroad to find employment. Yes, this sucked for America, but was great for the rest of the world as bartenders relocated in Europe and South America vastly improved the quality of drinking throughout the world.

- It ended the great sausage party. Speakeasies were integrated with both men and women, allowing the female gender to join the party for the first time. Bars without women are depressing and scary in one way or another.

- It created cocktail hour and cocktail parties and the demand for barware and all the other terms and practices and amenities for drinking at home and entertaining at home with cocktails. As people had to keep drinking on the DL during Prohibition, they turned to entertaining behind closed doors. I, for one, love a good house party, and enjoy the occasional happy hour cocktail.

By the way, if you're not reading Camper's most excellent blog of all things boozy, Alcademics, you should me.

Now ... let's drink!

I got this drink via Jay, who adapted it from Jamie, who got it from an 1878 tome called American and Other Drinks. Use whatever aromatic bitters you have on hand -- Angostura, no doubt, but also try Fee's (especially the Whiskey Barrel-Aged one), or Hermes or the wonderful stuff from The Bitter Truth. I got a big box of stuff from them last week, and I've been enjoying all of it (expect a feature next week). They don't have distribution in the States yet, so shipping from Germany is a tad expensive, but I think it's all worth it. For the recipe below, I followed Jay's suggestion to use the most excellent (and very limited edition) Bitter Truth Repeal Bitters, in honor of the holiday.

(adapted from Leo Engel, Criterion's American Bar, London, 1870s)

1-1/2 ounces VSOP Cognac.
2 barspoons Cointreau.
1-1/2 barspoons fresh lemon juice.
1 barspoon simple syrup.
1 barspoon aromatic bitters.

Stir with ice and strain into your most elegant cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

This is in Sidecar/New Orleans sour territory, but you get a great spice flavor from the bitters, which are also quite bracing on the tongue. This is a cocktail for grownups. It's also got more subtlety and complexity than a simple Sidecar (which I do love, don't get me wrong). I enjoy using smaller amounts of ingredients as accents in cocktails, which is why I've taken to 19th Century-style "improved cocktails" so much, and wny I now keep a few ingredients like maraschino and absinthe in dasher bottles for convenience. (I'm still trying to develop a taste for the original Casino cocktail recipe, thanks to Erik's encouragement, but at the moment I'm still drinking them with the heavyhanded amounts of 1.5 teaspoons of maraschino, I'm afraid. But I'm workin' on it!)


I'll keep drinking, 

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   I'm behind on linking! In case you're behind, Robert's been doing tiki/tropical cocktails lately. The most recent videos feature two classics and one original.

The Scorpion Bowl

This classic "Communal" libation is a classic served at many Tiki inspired lounges, but the original comes from Trader Vic himself. While the recipe changed some over the years, this version from the 1960's is often pointed to as the best.

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The Volcano

Exotic cocktails often need an exotic display, and few get more exotic than the Volcano. Served in it's namesake vessel, replete with mini volcano burning brightly in the center, this is sure to catch your attention. Fire extinguishers on the ready!

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The Voyager Cocktail

This represents my entry into the classic Tiki cocktail arena. Since those Polynesian inspired restaurants were intended as a mini-vacation, I felt the name "Voyager" worked really well... or perhaps it's because I'm a big Star Trek fan... either way, it's a great drink.

Man, I haven't had a Scorpion since Wes' 40th birthday party in Las Vegas, at the Peppermill Lounge. I really have no excuse, since we have such an excellent Scorpion bowl at home Drei Moai bowl). And I'm trying to remember my last Volcano ... Trader Vic's or Bahooka? I think we're due for a return visit to Bahooka, too.

The Voyager sounds lovely too ... hmm, maybe I'll make a BIG one tonight and we'll drink it out of our Drei Moai bowl. Robert has also inspired me to name cocktails after "Star Trek" characters and/or episodes, so there's a huge potential for years worth of geeky drink names. Subtlety is called for, though ...

Khorosho!   Okay, so ... back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Red Army had a chorus, with singers and musicians (brass, accordinons, bass balalaikas and the like). During the Sovs' latter days, a Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys got started. The supremely weird Finnish film director Aki Kaurismaki made a film about a fake band called Leningrad Cowboys Go America, but the band caught on after that. They did a combination of rock 'n roll covers, funny songs and their wacky hairstyles became a trademark.

So, here we have today's music "moment of Zen" -- The Leningrad Cowboys, backed by the Red Army Chorus, signign Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." Bask. (Thanks, Dave!)

Sadly the song is incomplete -- here's a full version, although the sound and camerawork aren't as good, but you get the extra added bonus of "Dancin' in the Street" afterward, sung by a gravelly-voiced Russian Elvis.

Everybody sing along ... "Sweeeeeeet home Ah-la-bah-mah ..."

Cajun humor.   No, not corny records by Dave Petitjean or that cultural stereotype on PBS. This is subtle genius, and it took me a few seconds to realize it's actually for real.

Joel Savoy's Valcour Records has released a new solo album by venerable Balfa family scion Christine Balfa ... Christine Balfa Plays the Triangle.

Christine Balfa Plays the Triangle ... really.

Nearly an hour of pure, unadulterated classic Cajun triangle. Seriously, its an idea so simple and so brilliant, we had to get Cajun royal lineage involved! This is sure to become a collector.s item, as only going to print a limited amount, and it features Christine Balfa's playing, the production of Chas Justus, and the engineering of Joel Savoy.

No one will ever do this again.

At only $6 (plus shipping) a piece, it's the perfect gag gift or stocking stuffer for all of your friends and family who are Cajun music fans.

Check out the sample.

Okay, it may be somewhat esoteric folk music humor, but that's funny.

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  Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cocktailing on Second Thanksgiving.   As always, there are a lot of really great stories, ideas and recipes in the new issue of Imbibe magazine, and one of the recipes really caught my eye -- it's a recipe for a Chinese five-spice syrup, by Scott Beattie of Cyrus in San Francisco.

The cocktail recipe that accompanied the syrup recipe didn't do much for me, but I got all kinds of ideas for the syrup. Chinese five-spice is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and as the article pointed out, it's perfect for the season.

Chinese Five-Spice Syrup
(by Scott Beattie, Cyrus, San Francisco)

5 whole star anise pods.
1 tablespoon fennel seeds.
1 three-inch cinnamon stick, broken up.
1 teaspoon whole cloves.
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns.
2-2/3 cups simple syrup.
2 teaspoons honey.

Using a spice or coffee grinder, pulse the spices a few times until you have a very coarse powder. Don't grind too finely, or you'll have trouble filtering the syrup. Toast the spices in a stainless steel saucepan over medium heat, shaking the pan constantly, just until they start to smoke (this will happen very quickly). Pull from the heat and continue to shake until the smoke lets up, then return the pan to to the heat unti it smokes again, then remove. Do this five times.

Add the simple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the honey, then simmer for five minutes. remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a very fine strainer and bottle. It'll keep in the fridge for a month, or to preserve longer add a splash of high=proof vodka as a preservative.

This stuff is really good. Next time I think I'll add some fresh ginger to it.

Besides the flavored vodka-based cocktail that I didn't want to make, there was another recipe calling for this syrup in the magazine, a non-alcoholic one involving kumquats and the nummy kumquat soda from the wonderfully grown-up Dry Soda Company. I wanted to make a non-alcoholic drink for Second Thanksgiving, as the hosts are non-drinkers, and it went over pretty well. But dammit, there are those of us who are drinkers! I love kumquats, and wanted to do something else with kumquats and five-spice syrup, given its perfect seasonality for the times (and because I love kumquats too).

Finding kumquats was the problem. Even though kumquat season is November through March, no one had them yet. (Grr.) Just as I was about to give up I made one more call, this time to Gelson's on Green Street in Pasadena, and "lo in the hole," they had 'em. I got about a pound of 'em and we were off.

I love kumquats in caipirinhas, so I thought I'd do that and use the five-spice syrup as most or all of the sweetener. I wanted some granulated sugar in it to help abrade the peel as I'm muddling as well. In doing some Googling to see what else I could do with kumquats, I foudn someone else's kumquat caipirinha recipe that had fresh ginger in it ... ooh, that sounded good. I was low on cachaça, so I grabbed a full bottle of Old New Orleans Crystal Rum and switched 'em to caipirissimas. Next time instead of muddling ginger I'll use a ginger grater/juicer and get about a half teaspoon or so of just juice to add.

Autumn Winter Caipirissima

3 ounces white rum.
1 barspoon granulated sugar.
3/4 ounce Chinese five-spice syrup.
5 kumquats, halved.
About 2 teaspoons chopped ginger.

Place the kumquats, ginger and sugar in the bottom of a large Old Fashioned glass and muddle until ... well-muddled. Add the syrup, rum and a handful of ice and stir for about half a minute.

This went over very well.

We've used the five-spice syrup in Old Fashioneds as well as in a few other cocktail variations, and I've got the ingredients brewing for my own experiment with five-spice. Stay tuned.

(P.S. -- The Dry Soda Company have now introduced two new flavors: Vanilla Bean and Juniper Berry ... wow!)

Cocktailians in the New York Times.   Two good articles in the Times today, both of which featuring pals of ours.

The first examines what they see as eight bartending philosophies among the practitioners of the cocktail renaissance (and a picture of Murray Stenson, yay!):

Ten years ago, cocktail seekers would have been hard-pressed to find a bar that used fresh juice in sour mix (never mind adding microplaned zest), and ordering an Aviation would have earned a cold look instead of a refreshing but potentially lethal mixture of gin, lemon juice and maraschino liqueur.

Today drinkers don.t need to search far to find bartenders who not only squeeze their own citrus, but make their own bitters, have an encyclopedic knowledge of drinks and stock spirits imported, on the sly, in a suitcase.

But as the number of ambitious bars has proliferated, so have their ways of doing things...

The eight are listed as; Pre-Repeal Revivalists, Neo-Classicists, Farm-to-Glass Movement, Liquid Locavores, Home Brewers, Minimalists, Molecular Mixologists and Faux Tropicalists. (I'd probably describe myself as a Neo-Classicist Home Brewer, if I were to apply their labels.) Plenty of people and places to check out here.

Then there's the one about those of us who describe ourselves as "cocktail geeks", which would probably apply to me as well.

"It all starts with an innocent experimentation with pomegranate juice, trying to make a passable grenadine," explained Paul Clarke, a Seattle-based cocktail blogger. "The next thing you know, your refrigerator is full of homemade pineapple and raspberry syrups, gomme syrup, made with gum arabic to give it an extra-luscious mouth-feel."

And that's just the syrups. Moving on to the liquor cabinet (or liquor closet, as the case may be), Mr. Clarke said it was not atypical for a serious geek to possess "around 100 kinds of rum, or brands of genever that can only be purchased in Amsterdam, or odd little liqueurs and vermouths and amari that have been picked up in offbeat stores."

Well actually, I still haven't made real gomme syrup yet, although I want to. We've got homemade falernum and pimento dram, with homemade orgeat and lime cordial on the way. I've got six recently decanted tinctures (cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, lavender and Szechuan peppercorn) and have three more brewing (star anise, ginger and allspice) plus my upcoming five--spice project, so yeah ... I'm a geek.

I don't get all religious about it, though ... basically, all I want is a good drink. While I love to play with flavors and ingredients, it ain't rocket science to make a good drink. Squeeze lemons and limes. Use good booze. Shake or stir long enough. Know what you're doing. Really, just stick with those and I'm easy to please.

Bitter, medicinal goodness.   Our pal Wayne Curtis (author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails ), has a new article in The Atlantic about bitter liqueurs, specifically Fernet Branca. He got to go to Milan and get shown around the factory by Niccolò Branca, lucky so-and-so.

It's popular among Italians, amaro aficionadoes and San Franciscans, and whether it can spread beyond the Bay Area in general popularity is debatable -- elsewhere Wayne referred to someone's description of Fernet being "rough-tasting" as a diplomatic description -- but it's worth seeking out. If for no other reason, for medicinal purposes. Admittedly it took me several years to acquire the taste to the point where I drink it for pleasure, but before then it was the "medicine cabinet in my bar." If I had an upset stomach, especially from overindulgence, an ounce and a half of Fernet Branca, either neat, over ice or in a cup of hot water with honey, and I'd feel better in less than five minutes. With judicious use it's a excellent in cocktails too (scroll down a bit). Great stuff!

Bacon galore!   Days too late for Second Thanksgiving (d'oh) comes an article in today's Los Angeles Times Food section (perhaps the only part of the paper left that's worth reading) about thinking outside the box with bacon, and a multitude of recipes.

The Apple Bacon Coffeecake sounds fab, but avoid their "Candied Bacon Martini" like the plague ... ugh. A base spirit of vodka, so it starts out as a cocktail with a huge hole in it, to which they add applejack ... which is 60% vodka these days, unfortunately. (Laird's Straight Apple Brandy is far superior to their applejack product.) Then amaretto and maple syrup ... tooo sweeet. The bacon is a mere garnish. Pshaw.

Search the blog for the recipe for bacon-infused Bourbon, and use that to make a Bacon Old Fashioned or a Bacon Manhattan ... now we're talkin'.

I'm all over their quest to collect 1,001 bacon recipe, though! We'll submit Pork 'n Pork 'n Pork 'n Beans, of course, and I'll submit Don Lee's recipe for fat-washed bacon Bourbon just in case no one else does.

November Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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