Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Squid Mixes: Cinderella

As noted in my State of the Blog 2018 post, mixing mocktails is one of my major goals in the drinks hobby.  During our Europe last summer, our daughter found many delicious beverages, especially in Paris.  It seemed only logical to learn to make them myself.  Christmas brought with it not one, not two but three recipe books to explore.

My Cinderella recipe came from Mocktails: The Complete Bartender's Guide by Kester Thompson: orange juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, grenadine and soda water or ginger ale with orange and pineapple garnish.  It's our house so obviously, we picked ginger ale.  All three of the books emphasize the importance of fresh juice.  In truth, so do most books for alcoholic cocktails.  Of course, therein lies most of work.

The resulting beverage was, frankly, fantastic.  There's enough sour from the lemon to keep the sweet from overpowering.  Is it worth the work, though?  We have a wonderful lemon squeezer so that's easy.  There's a lot of knife work with the pineapple but then the blender does the hard part.  The labor is in the oranges.  They're too big for the squeezer so I've got to do those by hand.  I needed six in total.  In answer to the question, it is a lot of work for one drink but not bad for three.  A pitcher for a party would be manageable.  Maybe I just need to sort out the orange issue.

A note for the curious: one pineapple yielded about 14 ounces of juice.

I will concede the fresh juice in itself is worth the effort.  Could one make the drink with store bought juices from concentrate?  In a pinch, sure.  But it's the difference between a drink that is good and one that is potentially amazing.  Amazing is worth the work.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Window Above: Louise

Song: "Louise"
Writer: Joseph Terrell
Original Release: October 26, 2013
Band: Mipso
Album: Dark Holler Pop

Mipso hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they got to know each other as college students.  I fell in love with "Louise" on one of my rabbit hole explorations on Spotify.  It's a masterful piece of song writing: surprising chord changes, a sneaky little bridge and a life metaphor just as deliciously clunky as the old farm car upon which it's built.  Marvelous.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Squid Mixes: Whiskey Fix

In Imbibe!, David Wondrich describes a fix as a "short punch," simply a smaller version of the full glass.  I drew from two separate books for my mixture, the generalities from Imbibe! and a few specifics from The New York Bartender's Guide (NYBG).  Wondrich's recipe, originally from Jerry Thomas (1862), indicates sugar, lemon, water and spirits with in-season fruit to garnish.  The "spirits" can be brandy, gin, Santa Cruz rum or whiskey.  Wondrich recommends "plain old domestic whiskey," still not particularly helpful in a country of considerable variety in this product.  NYBG specifies blended whiskey.  The only bottle in our cabinet was Crown Royal - not exactly domestic, though Canada is considerably closer to me than Kentucky or Tennessee.  Okay, admittedly CR is distilled in Manitoba - not close at all.  Still, it's in the cabinet.  It will do.

NYBG is also more specific with the garnish.  Orange twist.  Thank you.

Nice drink.

Monday, January 7, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Alan Furst

Title: The Polish Officer
Author: Alan Furst

Furst's Night Soldiers series continues with this third installment.   My reflections on the first two books are here and here.  Our hero this time is Alexander de Milja, a captain in the Polish army.  We meet him in September 1939, just as Warsaw is falling to the Germans.  He is recruited for intelligence work by the ZWZ, the Polish underground resistance.  His story takes him first on a gold-smuggling train to the Romanian border then back to Warsaw before following the government-in-exile to Paris.  Most of the rest of the book has de Milja in France, based in the capital with jaunts to Brittany.  He returns to eastern Europe for the final act, a stint with partisan guerillas in the forests of Ukraine.

Each of Furst's protagonist so far has played a different role in The Game.  Kristho, in the first book, was an operative working in the shadows, a man of action valued for his brawn and cold decisiveness.  Szara, in the second, was an apparent outsider, a journalist managing the passage of information through a clandestine network.  De Milja, as the title suggests, is a professional soldier offered a choice: go to the front or work the back alleys.  The latter offered the best chance to survive so he took it.  He is smarter than Kristho, more cocksure than Szara and too handsome to fade into the crowd like le Carre's George Smiley.  His work represents more of the craft the romantic associates with the spy narrative.

I enjoyed de Milja's story the most when he was in Poland, though apparently all of the novels in the series must eventually run through Paris.  In fact, all visit the Brasserie Heininger, based on the real-life Bistro Bofinger.  The France chapters pose an interesting historical question: what is it to work for a government which, at least for the time being, doesn't exist?  In fact, we know 70+ years on that particular Polish government won't even return to power once the war's over.  Of course, de Milja couldn't know that.  He is a soldier loyal to his country.  That's all that matters.

Of the three books so far, I would say I enjoyed this one the most.  I am certainly up for continuing the series, though my wife was less impressed by the next book, The World at Night.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Window Above: Variations on an Original Theme

Piece: Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36
Composer: Edward Elgar
Premier: June 19, 1899, London

Elgar wrote his masterpiece, better-known to the masses as Enigma Variations, just as he was on the verge of giving up as a composer.  As noted in the title, he wrote the theme himself, then set the variations as dedications to his friends and loved ones, including both his wife and a friend's dog.  The star of the show is "Nimrod," dedicated to his friend Augustus J. Jaeger, a music editor.  Elgar valued Jaeger for his willingness to offer severe criticism when necessary.  Jäger is German for hunter and Nimrod was a mighty hunter in the Old Testament.

The piece is knock-your-socks-off stunning and we've had the great pleasure of hearing it live twice in the past year, once by the VSO and once by a youth orchestra.  At the youth orchestra concert, there was an older gentlemen sitting behind me who couldn't see the stage well and also clearly didn't have much experience at classical music concerts.  His daughter (I assume) was offering explanations and descriptions between pieces.  But he understood "Nimrod" just fine.  After it was over, I heard him whisper simply, "Wow!"

Side story: have you ever wondered how the name of a mighty hunter came to be an insult?  It's all Daffy Duck's fault (thanks, Mock!):

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Andrew Tobias

Title: The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need
Author: Andrew Tobias

As I have written before, I don't understand high finance at all.  It's not the numbers.  I adore math.  It's simply that I've never had any money to invest so I've never needed to learn much.  However, through the work of Michael Lewis, I have come to enjoy reading about the financial world.  After all, I'm not exactly likely to become a professional baseball player, dragon treasure burglar or galactic hitchhiker either.  I can still enjoy the books about such characters.  So, when my mother gave me this Andrew Tobias treatise in an effort to clear out her own bookshelves, I figured why not?

Fortunately, much like Lewis, Tobias is an engaging and humorous writer.  Even better, for someone like me, he has plenty of sensible advice for saving money in the first place.  The title is tongue-in-cheek.  Tobias offers no magic formula for getting rich and readily admits to his own spectacular failures.  Instead, he offers simple, practical advice - mostly, how not to get hosed.  He asserts there are way too many authoritative-seeming books on the market while most people just need to remember a few basic principles and follow their own common sense.  Or be Warren Buffett.  If you can manage to simply be Warren Buffett, you're all set.

There's advice for those of means, too.  I didn't understand most of it but I am assuming it's equally sage.  As a cover-to-cover read, it wasn't half bad.  I laughed out loud several times and made it through quickly.  I'll keep the book around for reference.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Émile Zola

Title: The Belly of Paris
Author: Émile Zola

The Belly of Paris was the third in a 20-volume series for Zola, the 19th-century French novelist.  Florent, a mistakenly exiled revolutionary, returns to Paris to begin a new life.  Zola has built for him a rich and textured world in Les Halles, the city's enormous central market.  Florent's brother and sister-in-law run a charcuterie and bring him into the fold, with mixed degrees of enthusiasm.  The neighborhood runs on gossip and intrigue and Florent is quickly in over his head - though he doesn't usually realize it.

The world building is excellent and the description of each food stand is richly detailed.  The story, however, lacks in nuance.  In the end, it all seems a twisted allegory for the plight of the revolutionary spirit during the oppressive Second Empire.  The tale ends much as it began with little change for most involved, though perhaps worse off in a few cases.  It is a morality play without temptation.  Florent bumbles along with little idea of the machinations of scheming women around him.  When his reckoning comes, it's not shocking.  It's inevitable.  No Huck-like moral crisis along the way.  He is principled and careless.  Oh well.

The tour of Paris is fun, though I doubt I'll visit Zola's work again.