Sugar’s got what it takes!

Enjoy this full-page advertisement that appeared in the March 4, 1966 issue of TIME magazine, and imagine that appearing today, lo these 43 years later when “sugar” has become a dirty word.

1966 sugar ad in TIME magazine

Click to enlarge

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Happy Repeal Day!

For those of you who might not be aware (a diminishing number annually, I fervently hope), there is an other winter holiday to celebrate, “the most joyous of all winter holidays,” as my friend Tatsu said yesterday.

Happy days are here again!

Repeal Day is December 5, and celebrates the anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, the “Noble Experiment” that was anything but. Prohibition brought about myriad ill effects to the country and the world, including the loss of every job in the brewery, winery, distillery and hospitality industry that relied on making and serving alcoholic beverages, the criminalization of millions of Americans who simply enjoyed having a drink, and the wide expansion of a criminal underclass to provide liquor to the masses (without caring too much about whether or not that liquor would poison you).

Getting rid of and recovering from all those ills (and to this day we’re still recovering from the ill-effects of Prohibtion) and having the freedom to have and enjoy a drink is well worth celebrating, don’t you think? We have our friend Jeffrey Morgenthaler to thank for coming up with the idea to make this a widely-celebrated national holiday, and it’s getting more and more well-known every year.

A bit of history, shall we?

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Eating in London

Yes, we took a trip to Europe last month! Yes, we’re procrastinating when it comes to writing about it. I’m going to start today; you can needle Wesly for his contributions as appropriate.

I do love nonstop flights, especially when they’re affordable. When they get us directly from L.A. to Heathrow with a relative minimum of discomfort for steerage coach class, all the better. Our dear friends John and Fiona Hoskins picked us up at the airport after a quick trip through immigration and Customs, and off we went to Hampton Court!

That’s Hampton Court Palace, in fact, where King Henry VIII used to live with his various wives back in the 16th Century, and where we were staying at the Georgian House, a guesthouse converted from kitchen staff housing right on the palace grounds.

Georgian House's private garden

That’s the private garden outside the house. Not bad.

When we arrived we were greeted by a tantalising aroma, which was Fiona’s 24-hour slow roasted pork:

24-hour slow-roasted pork

… served along with cracklings (the crispy skin) and a side of pasta with tomatoes and roasted red peppers … oh my. We spent the entire first evening in London at the Georgian House, catching up with John and Fiona, drinking Plymouth gin & tonics, presenting them with bottles of Torani Amer so that they can continue to make their namesake Hoskins Cocktail at home, stuffing ourselves with pork and generally having a grand time, jet lag be damned.

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Cocktail (and concert) of the Day: The Swell Season

I’ve been a fan of The Frames for a long time (since seeing them in Ireland before their first album came out), and naturally followed that into Glen Hansard’s solo performances and his collaboration with Czech pianist and singer Markéta Irglová as The Swell Season. You may remember they won that Best Original Song Oscar last year, right? First time a song has actually deserved it in years.

My friend Steve was reviewing the show for Variety and kindly offered to bring me as his plus-one (read his review here). After several uncertain moments regarding misplaced will-call tickets that made me worry we’d miss the show entirely, we finally got in the door thanks to a very nice and helpful manager at the theatre, only having missed about half of Josh Ritter‘s wonderful opening set. That was a nice surprise; I didn’t know he’d be playing support until we got there. If you haven’t heard of him I highly recommend you check him out — he’s an Idaho-born singer and songwriter in the folk and folk-rock vein, lesser-known here but huge in Ireland, mostly thanks to Glen having spotted him early on and championed his work.

The Swell Season (with The Frames) at The Wiltern

When The Swell Season finally took the stage it’s as if we got three shows in one — Glen and Markéta began solo, as their previous performances had been, and then were joined by The Frames as a backup band. For one large part of the set we were treated to Glen performing solo (including a great rendition of Van the Man’s “Astral Weeks,” which I’ve heard him do before and could hear him do again a hundred times) — we could have all been on Grafton Street.

Markéta did get to take a few turns on lead vocals (including one with a Czech singer whose name escapes me), and although her piano playing is a strong part of the band’s sound I do agree with Steve’s observation that it’s a bit of an uneven musical partnership. Glen’s definitely way out front, with Markéta sometimes feeling like a sideman. She’s a wonderfully talented musician but the force of her personality is no match for Glen’s — almost nobody’s is, really. He’s a powerhouse, and I agree with Damien Dempsey’s comment that Glen’s the most passionate singer he’s ever seen.

Glen had mentioned that thanks to someone giving him the complete DVD box set of “Freaks and Geeks” he had become a huge fan (yay!), and to top that off got a chance to meet Jason Segal at a gig. They remained in touch and became friends, and we got an extra-special L.A. treat when Jason came on stage, sat at the piano and performed his own composition — a deeply moving, heartfelt and introspective song about using his celebrity status to coax a willing female Swell Season fan from the audience into the sack. I’m pretty sure this video was shot by the person sitting right in front of me.



And yep, apparently that’s really his phone number.

The show ended on a pitch-perfect note, with Glen bringing up The Clancy Brothers and noting that Liam Clancy is the only one left alive. He did a Clancy Brothers song for us, a traditional number called “The Parting Glass” that I actually first learned from the singing of The Voice Squad. It’s a longtime favorite and one that never fails to get the tears welling up.

Last year when Glen and Mar won their Oscar I came up with a cocktail in their honor, one that included both Irish and Czech ingredients. Wes and I revisited it the other night, and it’s still a keeper, I think. Yet another Manhattan variation, but it works and it’s tasty.

The Swell Season Cocktail

THE SWELL SEASON COCKTAIL

2 ounces blended Irish whiskey.
1/2 ounce Becherovka.
1/2 ounce Punt E Mes.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
Lemon peel.

Combine with ice, stir for at least 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express the oil from the lemon peel and add as garnish.

For the Irish whiskey, I recommend Jameson’s or Tullamore Dew, especially the 12-year-old varieties. Otherwise, your favorite blended Irish will do nicely.

Finally, check out this terrific video clip Mary sent me — it’s from a Swell Season concert in Houston. Glen likes to have people sing along, and he’ll usually do a little run-through of the parts that require audience singing. He heard a voice in the crowd that he liked so much he invited her on stage to sing it with them.

Wow. I wanna go up on stage and sing with The Swell Season! I guess I’d better start practicing.

Spatchcock!

This is my new favorite word.

Oddly enough, I’d never come across it until today, considering that I’ve been cooking for so long. (I love this about life, though … I love learning new stuff every day.)

Spatchcocking is the process of removing the backbone from a turkey, chicken or other bird and flattening it out so that it cooks evenly and in far less time than roasting a whole bird. From Grace Yang in Serious Eats:

The breast meat turns out very tender, the drumsticks are juicy and flavorful, and the entire thing is done in half the time.

While the typical turkey-roasting (for a 10- to 12-pound bird) can last about three hours, this shaves off at least half of that. Last weekend, I tested this approach and the turkey came out beautifully. [...]

The first step to a perfect spatchcocked turkey is brining. Letting the bird sit in a salt-and-herb mixture overnight allows the wonderful flavors to distribute evenly. [...]

Everyone at our party loved the spatchcocked turkey. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the entire thing was done in half the time a traditional roasting method takes.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the key concept here is that it takes half the time. This is crucial when you’ve got a dozen things going at once on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The bird also lies flatter in the oven, leaving more room for you to stick side dishes in while the turkey’s cooking.

I’m going to try this this year. We’re guests at Wes’ sister’s house for Thanksgiving, but we’re hosting Christmas Day dinner at our place this year, The carol I’ll be singing in the kitchen will be “We Wish You A Juicy Spatchcock.”

The San Francisco Chronicle also offers instructions on spatchcocking a chicken.

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