Thursday, December 31, 2009

(dr)Ink Gorilla: 5 Things I Drank.

Continuing from the previous post, (and with all the similar caveats), here are 5 memorable drinks I enjoyed in 2009.

Blood and Sand Cocktail (Absinthe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco)

Likely named for the Rudolph Valentino movie about bullfighters, this drink is one of my favorites, though with Scotch as its base spirit, it's an unusual one. Scotch, Orange Juice, Cherry Heering, Sweet Vermouth.

This was my birthday cocktail this year, and we had a fabulous meal at Absinthe following our drinks.

For those adventurous souls who'd like to try it out, here's the recipe.

Fernet Cocktail (for Mixology Mondays)

This is a cocktail of my own devising, my entry into Mixology Mondays "Amaro" theme a few months back. I don't include it here so much for the taste and enjoyment of the cocktail (my feelings are still mixed on using Fernet Branca as an ingredient) but for the process of developing it. I had a blast choosing ingredients, juggling proportions, and in general playing alchemist to find the perfect concoction.

Octomore Whisky from Bruichladdich

Thanks to being a member of a very active whisky-tasting club, I have had the privilege of trying a range of spirits this year, with an emphasis on single-malt scotch. Octomore is billed as one of the peatiest, smokiest beasts around, and it does not fail to deliver. I'm a big fan of the Islay malts, with their strong peat and smoke components, so it was love at first sip with this one.

Sazerac Rye 18-year old

Named as the world's top whisky by renowned whisky authority Jim Murray (beating out Ardbeg Supernova for the top spot, no less!) this is super smooth stuff, with the pleasant notes of peppery sharpness you expect from rye. Rye seems to be making a comeback -- for many years it's been eclipsed by its cousin bourbon.

Sazerac Cocktail (Rob Roy, Seattle)

I wish that Anu and Zane Apte's Rob Roy in Seattle was in my neighborhood. In Seattle over the weekend for a class, I slipped into Rob Roy late on a Sunday night and was immediately made right at home by Anu's warm welcome. She mixed me a Sazerac, a classic New Orleans cocktail that's hard to find, and even harder to find done right. Anu's Sazerac was mellow, spicy, and redolent of New Orleans' old-world charm. Believe me, I was sorely tempted to stay at Rob Roy until closing and then just head right for the airport for my 5 a.m. flight.

A Few more for the Road: 
Ardbeg Supernova (Scotch), Zubrowka-Champagne Cocktail (from our Uzbeki Feast, thanks Chuck!), Vesper Martinis (for our Casino Royale-themed holiday party).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

5 Things I Ate in 2009

2009 is coming to a close, so it's naturally time for a little reflection. I thought I'd start by noting some of the most memorable things I ate. No, nothing too exotic like bugs and corn fungus (that was sooo 2008), but still some tasty morsels nonetheless. Another caveat: There were of course many wonderful things to eat in 2009, and this list only scratches the surface.

So, in no particular order....

Foie Gras Loco Moco (Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles, CA)
The classic Hawaiian favorite spiffed up with a quail egg, kobe beef hamburger, and a generous slice of foie gras (oh yeah, and Spam!) Sounds weird, but so very tasty. Everyone looked at me funny when I ordered, but those looks turned jealous when it arrived! Herself blogged a much more detailed account of our meal if you're interested in reading more about it, here. (She's the primary food blogger in the household, after all!)

Pork Belly (Palate Restaurant, Glendale, CA)
I wish I could remember the exact name of the roast pork belly dish we ate at Palate, but my memory of it remains clear: crispy on the outside yet buttery and tender inside. We were there for a special cheese-themed menu, but when one of our dining companions spied the next table enjoying this, he just had to order it. And to think, we were about to start in on the dessert course as it arrived! No worries, I prefer salt to sweet anyway.

Salcisson Alsacienne "Hot dog" (Hot Doug's in Chicago)
Mmmm. Bacon sausage with triple creme brie, creme fraiche, and grilled onions. Oh, and duck fat fries.
It was an artery-hardening experience for the ages, and so very tasty. Hot Doug's was too crowded to eat it there, so we had to carry the dogs back to our friend's apartment before we devoured them. Those fries were still crispy, though!

Keira Knightly Dog & Salcisson Alsacienne

The dog in the foreground is the "Keira Knightley"-- a spicy polish-style dog. It was good, but didn't measure up to the gooey goodness of the Salcisson Alsacienne.

Bacon Fudge (Herself, our kitchen)

Herself loves developing recipes, and this was one of my favorites this year: a chocolate fudge with walnuts & bacon, plus a little sea salt sprinkled on top. It's seriously good stuff if you can handle the sweet/savory combo. It's not for everyone, but that just means more for me! It's very rich though, so usually one piece is more than enough.

Uzbeki Meal (Charlie Perry cooks in our kitchen)

Charlie Perry, food historian, writer, and regular contributor to the LA Times food section offered to come and cook an Uzbeki meal at our house as part of Herself's "52 Cuisines" series. There was Qowurma Palow (a beef pilaf), Ui Noni (flat bread), Oshqowoq manti (pumpkin dumplings), and the remarkable Anor Wa Piyaz Salatosi, a salad of onion and pomegranate. All of the food was excellent, but the onion salad really stands out not only for its striking appearance but also my surprise at just how tasty raw onions could be!

Sense a pattern? 4 out of 5 of these dishes contain pig (I'm counting the Spam in the Loco Moco regardless of how much pig it may or may not contain).  I'm a sucker for the oink. I've had incredible beef, wonderful duck (a whole blog in and of itself), but pork is my go-to buddy when I'm in a carnivorous mode.

So i guess 2009 was the Year of the Pig.

(as will 2010 be, no doubt!)

Honorable Mentions (ie, I remembered them too late for this list)
nduja: a spreadable Calabrian Salami, Epoisses from Epicure Imports, and Jasper Hill Farms Winnemere cheese. 

I'd better stop before this list becomes 5-0 things i ate... 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Trampling Out the Vintage (Read: Grapes of Wrath)

I finished reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath a few weeks ago. I'd intended to write about it a lot sooner, but long hours at work and the usual Holiday Madness torpedoed my good intentions until now.

Plus, the darn thing is just so weighty, I needed some time to think about it.

Spoiler alert: I'm going to talk a little about some plot points in the novel, so if you haven't read it, don't read further unless you mind a little revelation. 

I probably won't add any amazing new insights on The Grapes of Wrath here -- it is one of the most acclaimed and book-reported novels of all time, after all. But there a few things I'd like to talk about in terms of how it impacted me.

First, I think I was surprised by how political the novel was. I know that Steinbeck was a fairly vocal author on the Big Issues of his day, but knowing that and reading that were two different things. The interstitial chapters and their folksy monologues were just about the most damning essays I've ever read on the essential truths of the American way of life. Yet they also seemed --to me at least-- celebrations of the very thing they condemned: the small but deep ways in which Americans show their compassion to their fellow human being or look out for their loved ones. What a tangled web we weave!

Of course, much of the celebration (and criticism) of the book concerns the gloomy picture Steinbeck painted of Depression-era America. Some critics accused him of playing up the bad stuff, and Steinbeck says he underplayed it, not wanting to reveal how truly horrible the Hoovervilles and working conditions in California were at the time. I can say there were definitely parts of the book I didn't want to read because it was just so bleak. I felt like I was in an audience for a horror movie: 

"Turn back, Tom, don't get in the car!"
"Aw Tom, don't talk to that deputy, you know he just wants to rile you up so he can arrest you!"

Ma Joad was the character I most identified with --  hands balled up in my lap, I sat in the cab of the Joad's Hudson Super-Six, just hoping we'd make it across the desert with the family intact. But deep down, I knew it wasn't to be, no matter how many times I told everyone it was going to be okay.

Speaking of the desert -- as usual, Steinbeck nails sense-of-place. I felt the dust under my tattered shoes, in my eyes, choking my lungs. I smelled the gasoline on the highway and the rotting metal of the scrapyard. Held my nose against the stench of the latrines in the camps and the rotting fruit in the orchards. The people they meet along the way are described in the vivid detail I expect from Steinbeck. I truly lived the journey west with the Joads. 

Finally, the image at the end of the book is one of the most talked about images at the end of ANY book -- and I was not expecting it. I'd managed to avoid any spoilers until about a week before when a friend said to me: "all I remember is there were breasts at the end."

Excuse me?!
Of course, it wasn't quite what I'd envisioned...

Rose of Sharon, barely recovered from her miscarriage, breastfeeds a starving man in the ultimate act of human compassion. It's not really clear whether the man lives or dies because of her act -- because the book ends immediately, branding that image indelibly into our minds forever.

Rose of Sharon spends most of the book a (somewhat understandably) selfish ass, so her sudden turn of compassion to me felt at first more like the author's hand than anything motivated by her growth as a human being. The scene would be perfect on a poster for the Socialist Party or in the editorial pages. (Perhaps it has been used in both places?)

Steinbeck and I probably share some of the same socio-political views, but the image felt a little forced to me -- a sudden collision between the interstitial essays and the main narrative -- or a superimposition of the final title card as the credits roll. It didn't help that I was on a marathon read at 3am, determined not to sleep until I read the final chapters and learned the final fate of the Joads.

Of course, we never do learn what happens next. They are transfigured into powerful symbols of progress and hope as John Steinbeck saw them. And as I wonder what further roads they traveled after Rose of Sharon's compassionate act, that final image has remained with me. That's what you hope for when you sit down to read a book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elder Geek from Beyond the Stars

As part of their kick-off to Cthulhu Month, has a great profile of Howard Phillip Lovecraft as an Ur-Geek by Stephen H. Segal, the editorial/creative director at Weird Tales.

HPL's been a big influence on me, but I'm glad I never roleplayed in any of his horror games. I bet he was a vicious GM.

Check out all the Cthulhu related, er, madness this month over at

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Joad Less Traveled (Reading: The Grapes of Wrath)

Here I am, untold years out of high school and finally getting around to reading The Grapes of Wrath. (Sorry for the pun in the title. I just couldn't resist.)

It's been high on my "to read" list for quite some time, but kept dropping to the perpetual back of the line like some Jean Claude Van Damme movie on my Netflix Queue everytime something new came along. And in case you think I'm a total jerk for comparing one of the Greatest Novels Ever Written to JCVD,  I should point out that my favorite book is East of Eden. (I don't know whether that absolves my sin or compounds it...)

I just started reading, so I don't have a lot of well-formed opinions on the novel yet -- other than as usual, Steinbeck does a wonderful job of evoking character through place. Few worlds are as vivid to me as Dust Bowl Oklahoma or Salinas, CA during the early 20th Century thanks to his masterful prose. I also appreciate the way Steinbeck warms up to a good story, and brings the reader in at the speed of a fierce summer afternoon and a down-home drawl. Which is to say -- he takes his time to unfold his tales. I think it's a style I have unconsciously emulated as I've explored my own worlds; though I'm aware it isn't a popular style these days. Slow beginnings are a tough inclination to fight. 

One of the other things that appeals to me about Grapes of Wrath is the promise of another great "Road Story." Some people love the hijinx of Capers. Others, the dark excitement of Thrillers. Or the War story. Me? I love being out on the Road.

It's a pretty basic conceit to take characters from their literal happy places and thrust them out into the wilderness, but it's one that resonates strongly with me. The mystery, danger, and opportunity that lurks upon the Dark Path Through the Wood promises untold excitement. The desolate road that snakes across the sun-baked desert strips the characters down to their core -- purifying them for the final test as surely as any sweat-lodge or baptism.

I moved around several times when I was growing up, and each move began with an equal measure of dread and excitement. Good-bye to old friends. What would the new place be like? Who would I meet? What would I see?

Summer vacations to the relatives always involved extended car trips as well. Plenty of time to gaze out the window and wonder "who lives in that house? what's the view like over that next mountain ridge? what's down that dark side-road we just drove past?"

It's a big topic, and one I'll explore more in other blogs, and probably even more so, in my fiction. In the meantime, though, here's a few Road Stories I've read and loved, and a few more I want to read. These are random samplings, and probably reveal some startling gaps in my literary education. Anyone have other suggestions?

Have Read:

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (the ultimate fantasy road trip, even though the quest genre doesn't quite grab me like it used to)

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure, by Michael Chabon (a perfect homage to the old road/buddy genre with wonderful illustrations by Gary Gianni)

Moby Dick, By Herman Melville (Another classic. though the roads are a little wetter!)

Bridge of Birds, by Barry Hughart (the first of the wonderful chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox)

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler (haunting. it hit me in the gut.)

Have Yet to Read (some obvious ones here):

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (is that too obvious?)

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (even more obvious)

The Stand, by Stephen King (I have a feeling I'd love this one)

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, by Jesse Bullington.  (newly released and sounds like it's right up my alley)

Bonus! (one of my favorite Road Pics):

Duel, directed by Steven Spielberg (and written by Richard Matheson. I musta watched this movie a million times growing up)

Woefully incomplete lists on all counts, but the Road goes ever, ever on...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

End of Summer Update

Long time, no update blog.

It's been a busy summer, and I've been too preoccupied with stuff to blog much.

Facebook is one culprit. It's too easy to post micro-updates there -- and far more convenient for my lazy tastes! I also started a Twitter Feed, so I got a little overwhelmed will all the places I could say something -- and didn't know what to say. (I've also got a LiveJournal, but hey, I can haz moar overload?)

I also was also blogging a lot about my cocktail adventures, but I eased up on the drinkin', so I haven't had many recipes or stories to tell.

But for those of you who are following along at home, here's How I spent my Summer Vacation.

1) Chicago - We spent a week in the Windy City with our friends Bryan and Sara and had a wonderful time. I think I promised to blog about our time there, and never quite managed to. As a lazy shorthand, you can at least see some of the trip here.

2) Work. The animated feature I am working on is due out March 2010, and work has gotten a lot busier as we race towards our deadline. We're well on target though, and I'm really proud of the work we have done. I haven't had much time off, and Herself and I have been sticking close to home, enjoying food, drink, and friends without breaking the bank. Read more about our local adventures at Herself's blog, The Hungry Passport. (Really looking forward to aiding and abetting Herself's '52 Weeks' project!)

3) House Stuff. Owning a home is never dull, and we've been wrestling with a number of home improvement projects. Well, that is to say, we've been trying to figure out which ones to do! We've finally settled on redoing the bathroom -- and I'm sure some of that will leak it's way onto the blog in coming months. Other than that it's mostly been yard improvement and cleaning! Yuk!

4) Gaming. We got a Nintendo Wii, finally, and we've enjoyed the heck out of Wii Sports. But it's gotten a little stale. Anyone else have some recommendations on fun party games? I'm still doing a little RPGing, but it's mostly online now, as my core group has scattered somewhat to the four winds. Thankfully, there's this free Java-based app called MapTool, which has enabled us to keep playing despite the distance. Certainly beats carrying heavy books & minis around!

5) Movies. (and TV). We've cut way back on the hours spent in front of the TV. Too many other things we'd rather do. But Netflix and Hulu have been there for us -- in particular we've enjoyed Carnivale and True Blood. I don't mind saying that I have a definite preference for shows that aren't afraid to embrace fantastical talent. Carnivale is a particular gem whose time came too soon. HBO should have let this one play out. True Blood is also good, and its sense of humor keeps it fun -- but it still feels like a guilty pleasure -- a bag of Cheetos compared to the complex feast that was Carnivale.  Speaking of guilty pleasures, my friend Ix finally convinced us to take a look at Top Chef (Las Vegas) and we've been enjoying that, too!

6) The Beach. We've been a few times this summer but not nearly so much as we'd like. Ventura's been "discovered" and you have to go a little farther afield to avoid crowds and score a little space from the teeming masses of L.A. We did manage to get to Oxnard and take a boat cruise out to Anacapa Island a few weeks ago. We'd hoped to escape the heat and the smoke from the terrible Station Fire -- but the island was kind of a desolate piece of scrub-covered rock. Not smokey, but still hot. The best part was the boat ride -- and our dolphin escort!

7). Politics. I've been reading way too much about the Health Care "debate" and the only conclusion I've really come to is that I'm sick to death of what passes for political discourse in this country. Why all the yelling, people? Both sides seem unable to get their  &$#% together to reach any meaningful resolution to the issues. Americans want reform, it seems, but are rigid in their ideological positions, and unable to see the forest for the trees. /end rant. The Ink Gorilla does not really want to discuss politics on his blog - but just couldn't help himself this once.

8) Writing. Doing a lot of offline writing, and got myself on a schedule that allows me 1-2 hours a day. I'm loving it, and have been more productive than I ever was before. It seems I'm more of a morning person than I thought I was!

Fall is officially here, I guess, and there's a lot to look forward to. My folks will be visiting in a few weeks, and it's always great to visit and find fun things to do around SoCal while they are here. You can bet that it will include plenty of eatin' and drinkin'!

Aside from that, Herself and I will be celebrating 12 years together come October! Many w00ts, all 'round.

Take care of yerselves out there.

p.s. - trying a new look for the blog. 'Rounders' template just isn't doing it for me anymore! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Home Again!

Herself and I have returned from our long-awaited trip to Chicago. We had a wonderful time, and our friends Bryan and Sara were wonderful hosts! Thanks guys!

Head's still a bit thick from the soggy-end of this damnable cold, and several hours spent in the the timeless gloom that is modern air-travel. So no major reports tonight -- but I aim to post a few entries about our trip over the coming week. Needless to say, we ate and drank every chance we got, but we didn't have many budget-busting meals. Dinner at the Beard-nominated Publican was the culinary highlight of the trip, and we tossed back several good drinks in honor of the vacation gods.

More tomorrow & soon....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Continuing the Cocktail Kick: The Demeanor & The Scoff Law

Over the past weekend, Herself and I tried several cocktails we'd never had before.

First up: The Demeanor.

Gin is a favorite in our house, so we're always looking for new ways to enjoy it beyond the classic Martini. Herself was also looking for a recipe to use some of the creme de violette we have -- so far we have only made a variation on the Aviation with it. We're not big sweet Vermouth drinkers, either, but it's perfect in this cocktail:

The Demeanor (recipe from the Internet Cocktail Database)

1 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. creme de violette
1 dash orange bitters

stir in mixing glass with ice and strain
serve in a cocktail glass.

When first mixed, the drink resembles a generous pour of stump water, but don't let that fool you. Within moments, it clears up an turns a warm caramel color. It's a mighty good drink, mellow yet herb-y from the gin (we used Tanqueray 10). Definitely one we'll be adding to the repertoire!

Next: The Scoff Law

I was looking for a fun drink to make with whiskey and grenadine, and I found a recipe for the Scoff Law in Ted Haigh's Vintage Cocktails. I'm a big fan of a good whiskey sour, and this definitely falls into that flavor profile. Sweet whiskey, tart lemon, smoothing grenadine. And you gotta love the name!

The Scoff Law (recipe from Ted Haigh's Vintage Cocktails)

1 1/2 oz. rye
1 oz. dry vermouth
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. grenadine

shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
garnish with lemon peel.

I liked the drink, but I think I'll have to work on the proportions to get it just right for my palate. As mixed, it was a little too tart for me.

Overall, a very successful couple of experiments.
(And speaking of experiments, more Fernet-Branca drinks to come...)
demeanor - end

The Demeanor (left) and the Scoff Law. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Fernet

I'm playing with cocktails again, this time for an event my friend Chuck is 'hosting' online this month -- Mixology Monday!

The challenge is make a cocktail with an amaro (that's a 'bitter') liqueur as the star of the drink. Perennially difficult (but great for an over-full stomach) is Fernet-Branca. I'm determined to try and make something quaffable out of this stuff!

I started with a recipe provided by the good folks at the The Internet Cocktail Database (pretty much the first stop in any internet cocktail journey, I think) and found a whole bunch of recipes calling for Fernet-Branca. I decided to start with the basics.


The Fernet
(modified from the Cocktail Data Base's recipe found here)

1 1/4 oz Rye Whiskey (I used Old Overholt)
1 1/4 oz Fernet-Branca
1/2 Barspoon of simple brown syrup*
1 dash Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Bitters

Stir with Ice & strain into a cocktail glass.
garnish with a squeezed lemon peel on top

* a simple syrup made with brown sugar instead of the refined stuff. Quite tasty!
I used 1 cup water with 8 oz (dry) of brown sugar. Cooled and strained into a squeeze bottle. It'll keep for a while in the fridge, but put a spoonful of 100 proof vodka into it, and it will keep for a long time!

So how was the cocktail? I gotta admit, the first few sips didn't seem much different (or tastier) than a snort straight out of the Fernet-Branca bottle (Herself would like me to remind all of our potential guests that we never drink straight from any of our liquor bottles. Ever.). After a while, though, my palate warmed to the concoction and I began to appreciate the complexities of the stiff herbal bitterness of the Fernet-Branca and the mellow sweetness of the rye and sugar. The last few sips had a wonderful note of lemon from the peel (which had sunk straight to the bottom).

By the end, I was really enjoying this drink, but I don't think it's going to become a regular fave except as a kinder way to imbibe some F-B when the overindulged tummy troubles begin...

I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. (It is a pretty drink, though!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Filmograph

I've developed quite a passion for a good cocktail these days, thanks largely to our friends Chuck and Wes, who not only are regulars on the LA cocktail scene, but also print their own menus for drinks at their house.

I'm always on the lookout for a new ambrosial nectar to sip, and I've found my favorite of the moment: The Filmograph.

I spied this in Ted Haigh's Vintage Cocktails over Christmastime, when we were back in Memphis with the family. Dad, in particular, was intrigued by the combination of ingredients, and as I'd offered* to play bartender for the duration of our visit, I was obligated** to mix him one.

*(by offered, I mean insisted on...)
** (by obligated, I mean insisted on...)

Here's Haigh's recipe for the Filmograph, a cocktail that as he says, evokes the "silent film stars":

The Filmograph
2oz. Brandy
3/4oz. lemon syrup* (i.e. sirop de citron)
1/2oz. kola tonic

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

*Ted suggests using fresh lemon juice, as the syrup can be cloyingly sweet

There was one small problem. Memphis is a veritable wasteland as far as exotic ingredients go. And Kola Tonic is seemingly as exotic as they get. Rose's is the only outfit left that makes it (as far as I can tell), and pretty much the only people who regularly drink it are the South Africans, apparently. Faced with flavorless mixes and daunting Blue laws, I was nonetheless determined to make that cocktail.

Here's my Christmas recipe for the Filmograph. Since Haigh invoked the silent film era, I think I'll call it:

Burnt Nitrate
2oz. Brandy (preferably a bottle opened 15 years ago)
3/4oz. lemon juice, freshly squeezed with plenty of pulp
1/2oz. reduced cane sugar cola.

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Scoop out floaties. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Wait. Don't put anymore lemon in it. Trust me. Put the lemon down...

Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. Using pure lemon juice instead of the sirop de citron was a good start, but ultimately an assault on my tonsils (sorry, Ted. Sorry, Dad). The brandy was of questionable lineage and age, and my attempt to reduce the cola and make my own "tonic" just left the drink tasting like a flat co-cola with a whole lemon floating in it. Ugh. A disaster.

Well, on a recent trip to a grocery in "Little India" down in Artesia, I found a whole shelf of international syrups and cordials and much to my joy, they carried Rose's Kola Tonic. Finally!

I was tempted to buy every bottle they had, but that would have been overkill (you know, sometimes it's just the thrill of the hunt). I took two home, one for me, and one to give to my friends, just in case they had not acquired a bottle for themselves.

On its own, Kola Tonic does indeed taste a little like a flat cola, though with a nice herbal depth that the sody-pop giants definitely lack. I could see mixing this with a little soda water, lemon, and ice and having yourself a fine drink. But this is about the Filmograph cocktail, so on with the show.

The Filmograph (House Mix)
2oz. brandy (we used E&J)
1/4oz. lemon juice, fresh
1/2oz. simple syrup
1/2oz. kola tonic

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Somewhere between the gloopy sweetness of sirop de citron and pure lemon juice, Herself found that a little simple syrup added to a small quantity of fresh lemon juice worked perfectly (for our tastes, at least.) The resulting drink is light, crisp, and not too sweet. I've had one every night this last week -- it's a great transition drink from our winter Widow's Kisses to our summer Gin Gimlets. I guess that would make it a great drink for spring -- but we'll likely enjoy them all year long!

Herself served this one up in a short glass since we don't have any coupes and our martini glasses were all dirty. We didn't slosh nearly so much, but we did get a little sloshed after a couple of them...)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A TALE OF TWO SOUPS: Part One (Tortilla Soup)

When I'm feeling puny, soup is one of my go-to comfort foods, and as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much more comforting than tortilla soup. It is the perfect lip-smacking blend of salt and spice, broth and crunch as you're likely to find this side of consciousness. Okay, maybe I overstate its restorative properties, but this is my blog, so I'm entitled.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling a bit off, with not much of an appetite in the bargain. As soon as the ick started to wear off, my stomach impatiently reminded me it needed filling, and I began to cast about for something to satisfy its reawakened cravings. It just so happened that the commissary at work offered up their version of tortilla soup at lunch that week. It's good stuff, if a little salty, and I immediately decided I needed to try and make some myself.

Fortunately that week, I also discovered the wonderful mattbites, and while trolling his archives, found his recipe for tortilla soup. That sealed the deal. There was going to be tortilla soup in my weekend plans!

(Roasting Veggies is fun!)

I informed Herself that I would be cooking dinner Saturday night, and was going to finally treat her for once! (Okay, in case you're thinking that sounds a little sexist, Herself makes dinner often because she's an accomplished cook and a trained chef. While I've gladly served as her sous-chef on many occasions, I've been, well, a little intimidated to cook for her! I didn't want to let her down. Silly Gorilla.)

(Frying the tortillas. They were the white corn kind.)

Well, I can honestly say it turned out... well, okay. No fault of the recipe, it was all me. I forgot to strain the puree, which gave it the wrong mouth feel, I think. I decided to add chicken breast as well, but I didn't really have enough, so it tasted like eating an afterthought. You know...kind of bland and empty and never as satisfying as the real thing. I think I could have used a little less salt, too. It's so difficult to get a good taste while it's still simmering, and very easy to over-salt.

Now that being said -- I had a blast making it! Herself cleared out and left me to my own devices, and despite a few mishaps, I timed everything right. I juggled all the steps perfectly and plated it all at once. It's just soup. Big whoop, I know.

But a big step for me!

(Soups on! I also made some guacamole & opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio. You can see we'd already started on the guac!)

We ate on it for a few days, and added some more leftovers each day. A little rice, a little more chicken. Some extra cayenne. All that post-cooking alchemy gave me a few ideas, and a week or so later, I decided to try again.

Coming Soon -- Part Two: More Soup! (or: Enter the Mhutney)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheese FAIL!

I've become quite a cheese addict -- and have devoted a large part of the last year or so learning everything I can about my favorite food. Admittedly, I have a lot yet to learn.

Last night, we had dinner with some friends. They were kind enough to prepare a meal for us (Herself has been way too busy prepping for an Oscar party to cook this time). We offered to bring some wine, and I of course, sprang at the opportunity to bring along some cheese as well. We packed some walnuts and dried apricots, and I was looking forward to our cheese course post-dinner.

The cheese in question was a Camembert, of a pedigree I can't precisely recall, but purchased in a fit of cheese-buying the last time our favorite French food importers opened their doors to the public. We ate our way through a couple of buttons of unctuous Epoisses, eventually devoured a mellow wheel of Brillat-Savarin, and scarfed down at least two small discs of Langres. The 'routine'-seeming Camembert remained in our wine fridge, untouched and ripening.

But last night, as I reached for the knife to serve our hosts the first wedge, I noticed something was wrong. That wonderful white bloom common to soft-ripened cheeses was dulled with striations of red and gold. The surface of the cheese cracked as the knife pierced it. and the paste was dark and runny. Not immediate disaster but...

...the faint ammonia whiff of cheese-past-its-prime wafted up from the serving board. Oh no.

I am not afraid of stinky cheese. I am not afraid of cheese that has aged to the color of old parchment and is more goo than solid. I am not unused to the mild ammonia odors that a really fragrant cheese like Banon or an aged Blue can contain. But alas, we'd let this Camembert ripen far too long.

I was mortified, as we'd been telling our hosts how much we loved cheese, and had they had, in turn, regaled us with their wonderful cheese experiences on a recent trip to Argentina. But here I was about to serve them something I wasn't sure was fit to eat. I gamely cut everyone a wedge, and sprinkled some of the walnuts and apricots alongside. The paste was truly lovely to look at, and on my first bite, my fears that it had become inedible were eased. But the second bite, not so much.

Our hosts were very gracious and we moved on with our evening, the cheese barely a speed bump. While I was embarrassed that I hadn't checked the Camembert before serving it to friends, I was also fascinated by the natural processes that had claimed our cheese. First hand, I'd witnessed how a soft-ripened cheese ages, and now have a better idea of what to expect next time.

If the label says "best by mid-January", it does not mean "still okay by mid-February." The education continues...