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