Archive for the ‘Drink’ category

Thanksgiving Day PSA: What to do when enforced gaiety don’t cut it no more, serious alchohol dept.

November 25, 2010

Cross posted at Balloon Juice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that sometime today, many among us in possession of a full bellies will be in need of powerful psychic analgesics to counter the effects of overdoses of loved, liked, and despised ones.*


I’ve been lucky on this score.  My late, and genuinely much loved Uncle Dan and his wife, the indomitable Aunt Helen, introduced me to a key Thanksgiving tradition designed to meet this need many years ago —  back around my freshman year in college (aka, just before we gave up our clay tablets and styli for some less stable word processors).


That would be the revelation that it was 5 p.m. somewhere no matter how resolutely the clock told us it was 11 a.m. wherever we happened to be.


The drink of choice there was one form or another of daiquiri, and I recall (sort of, in a not-to-testify-under-oath kind of haze)  Thanksgiving  started before noon with the boiled shrimp and the drinks  (strawberry, peach, and lime being the favorites — and what can I say…we were young then) and the day just kind of oozed from there until we reached total turkey and red wine suspended animation.


So, in honor of that great man and in support of a practice that has served many of us, (I’d guess), here are some of the drugs of choice being considered around this household right now.


1.  (As noted in a prior thread) pomegranate cosmopolitans.


I was just introduced to this drink at a dinner party at the home of a noted brain-and-cog researcher.  I woke up more cog than brain after two iterations of 4 parts lemon vodka, 4 parts good (aka, not Trader Joe’s) pomegranate juice, 2 parts Cointreau, and 1 part lime juice.


2.  This one entered my life — rather as Grabthar’s hammer handles its business — just this last Tuesday, when MIT’s science writing grad students held a first-ever cocktail party for their faculty (begging for comment here, which I will not supply), featuring the alcholic stylings of the award winning Louisville bartender Jeromy Edwards.  Let me simply say that his cider Manhattan is way too complicated to attempt after one’s first drink, but is worth the effort if you have a designated boozemaster on hand.  Here’s the recipe (which won a bourbon company’s national Manhattan competition:


2 oz. good bourbon
¾ oz. cider reduction (I’d guess on tasting that the cider was simmered down to about half its original volume.)
½ oz. Antica Vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Grand Marnier flambéed cherry (preferably Rainier).


Here Jeromy took about an ounce of Grand Marnier and essentially cooked the cherry in it for about thirty seconds or so, in the martini glass.


Take the first four ingredients, pour them over ice in a cocktail shaker, swirl the shaker until the mix is cooled, and then pour the lot over the Grand Marnier and the cherry.  Repeat with extreme caution.


3.  Finally, y’all know I think a lot about World War I, with all the sorrow engendered in those years, and so much of the woe to come seeded there as well.  One minor unintended positive outcome of all that, though, was what I think of as the golden age of cocktail invention of the ‘teens and ‘twentie.

Some years ago, at the 11 Madison Park restaurant in New York, I encountered a drink from that era that is still just about my favorite mallet to the skull.  As a bonus, it connects directly with its historical context.


That would be the French 75 — which honors one of the most innovative and widely used artillery pieces employed by the French army and the American Expeditionary Force as well throughout the 14-18 affair.  Its liquid form debuted  in 1915 at the legendary Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where it was billed as the way to experience what it was like to be on the receiving end of a cannonade from the real thing.


It is deceptively simple, though the proportions vary slightly among the authorities.  Basically, take two ounces of good gin, 1/2 to one ounce of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, and chill.  Pour the mixture into a flute or a narrow highball glass, top up with champagne.


Drink. Reel.  Repeat.  (One of the most prized characteristics of the artillery piece was its rapid rate of fire.  Emulate at your own risk.)


OK — I’m done.  I’d consider it a kindness if y’all would treat this as a special invitation for the F**k You Up drinks that have served you well over the years.


*Please take as read the necessary apology for yet another ruination of that greatest of all first lines.

Images:  Currier and Ives, “Come! Take A Drink,” 1868

and, (again, predictably)

Éduoard Manet, “A Bar in the Folies-Bergère,” 1881-2

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 6.0: Some Notes on Writing the Damn Thing…

June 2, 2009

[Previous posts in this series here, here, here, here, and here.]

I’m struggling amidst a press of family events this weekend (happy ones — one nephew getting Bar Mitzvah-ed in Berkeley CA on the same day that one niece gets married in the Boston area; my wife and I divide and conquer).   But for all that intrusion of real life, I still have to get my head around a piece I’m trying to write for John Scalzi’s enormously valuable “Big Idea” series over at Whatever.

The Big Idea idea — in Scalzi’s own description — asks authors of new books to open up the hood on how their books came to be.  He writes, ” “It’s authors discussing what makes their books tick — and what that meant for the writing process.” The essays that result are fascinating.  They are often by authors of fiction, with a reasonably pronounced genre tilt, but they are all about the way different writers working in any narrative form approach the creative and production sides of the job of writing books. I recommend them to anyone trying to think like a writer; the series is written by writers thinking.*

The focus in such pieces, and certainly in the one that I’m working to put together, is on the evolution of content and ideas within one’s work, with, in some cases, a strong eye on what the demands of the particular form or genre expectation to shape an idea from conception to finished book.  In my case I’ll be talking about the way a small thing, a tiny incident in Isaac Newton’s life I tripped over while pursuing an entirely different project,  stuck with me for years until I found a way to match my curiousity about that moment with a much wider historical concern.

That is:   Scalzi’s growing collection of essays is a resource for thinking about one’s material, and how to turn ideas into books.  This series is about what happens once you have an book project.  It’s more of a mechanical or production approach to the same experience.  Not how to write a book, but what you need to do to survive the publishing process with your book in the best position it can be to reach its audience.

(I hope I don’t need to say that I’m not suggesting that this is any kind of comprehensive guide.  It’s called a diary for a reason.  This is my experience, presented in a form that may or may not be of value to anyone else.  Like life, YMMV.)

All this by way of a long winded apology for the one post about writing as opposed to publishing process in this series.

I don’t want to say too much here, in part because every writer has his/her own paths in and through the daily routine of writing.  That word, “routine,” I use deliberately.  Writing on any sustained basis for audiences other than oneself is a job.  It can be many other things as well, but whatever other aspects slip in — craft, gift (in Lewis Hyde’s sense), diversion, torture — it is a job, work, something you get paid for (or try to) and it has the routines of work as well as all its pleasures.

I can/could talk about my routines, my tricks, in fact, for getting down to and sticking with the work every day…talking about outlining, about the uses of reading to act as the primer for writing, how I pick music to shape my writing day…but that’s not my point here; anyway there is lots of good stuff out there by great writers that range from manuals to meditations on life through pondering writing already; I’m not sure anyone needs more from me.**/***

The one bit of history specific to the Newton and the Counterfeiter project came when I hit a wall.  I had written about a quarter of the manuscript by the autumn of 2006 – I’d even submitted a chunk of it to the departmental committee pondering my tenure case, which is as those of you in the academy will know, something of a fraught moment.

But as I tried to make the turn out of what was in essence back-story, my account of Newton’s life up to the point of his arrival at the Mint and the start of his confrontation with the counterfeiter of my title, William Chaloner, I found that I could not make any progress.


A Linnaeus sighting in London

April 14, 2009

I’m in London for a few days shooting a short promotional video for this book. (Or, if you are in the UK, this one.) My ritual for this kind of travel is pretty constant:  I take the day flight over from Boston and devote the first day in my (literally) mother country to jet-lag recovery.  This time that meant an afternoon visit to the British Museum.

It seemed a good idea, until I walked into the main courtyard and realized that if I wanted some peaceful contemplation to rejoin body and brain, the British Museum on the Saturday of Easter weekend was not exactly a sensible choice.  Think the concession concourse of Fenway Park at the 7th inning stretch of a Yankee game.

So I wandered a bit, looking for some odd corner that wouldn’t drown me in families trying to wrangle flocks of small children (i.e. don’t even think about the Elgin Marbles, etc.), when I took a turn to the right off the main hall that I had not noticed in earlier visits.  All of a sudden I was in one of the “dull” bits — Room 1, “The Enlightenment,” untroubled by the massive renovations that have overtaken other bits of the museum since I first was taken there as a child.  The largest part of Room 1’s exhibit is a very old-fashioned kind of display:  a series of cabinets containing representatives of the first collections with which the museum was founded in 1753.

Many of the objects there come from the collection of Dr. Hans Sloane, an avid acquirer of curiousities (and other collectors’ findings) who willed his trove of 70,000 items (47,000 of them books and manuscripts) to the nation.  In conception, the new home of this extremely wide-ranging gathering of stuff was seen as a universal museum, aiming to collect everything, a repository of the sum of human knowledge and experience.

The exhibition of the founding collection is thus a physical narrative of the Enlightenment in action in Britain; it presents a way of seeing how that  society sought to subject to subject its material existence to reason.

All this by way of saying that the exhibition is delightful,  antiquarian.  Modern museums do not emphasize the display of the odd and wonderful in neat arrays beneath glass. There is nothing interactive here, no games nor screens to play with.

And at the same time it is enormously, subtly modern.  It takes the viewer in sequence through (among some other interests) the natural history and scientific interest of the gentleman-intellectuals of eighteenth century England, the new discipline of systematic classification, archaeology, trade and exploration (and hence a bit of what was not yet called anthropology, as the classifiers attempted to make sense of the cultural objects explorers would bring home).  Ideas, things and the flow of history, all in an array of a couple of dozen glass covered tables.

And what of Linnaeus?  He makes his appearance very early in the sequence.  The first cabinets hold natural history specimens — plants, minerals, fossils and the like.  Hans Sloane had a particular interest in the plants, unsurprising given his medical interest in the pharmacopaeia, and the display includes a number of what he considered useful samples.  He found one of them through love (or at least from this distance we may gloss marriage as love):  He married Elisabeth Langley, who had recently been widowed out of a marriage within a Jamaican colonial family.

On his visit to Jamaica, Sloane encountered cacao beans for the first time, in the form drunk by the locals:  boiled in water.  It was bitter and he was said to have found it nauseating.

But in time he figured out that cacao beans steeped in milk with sugar might actually produce something a bit nicer. An inventive man, he went the next step and started selling Sloane’s drinking chocolate.  (Sloane made enough of a fortune, mostly through real-estate investment, to leave his mark on London to this day — think Sloane Square and Hans Crescent, among other street names.)  His drink became popular, to the point that the Cadbury brothers began to sell it in the nineteenth century as one of the leading lines for what became one of the world’s great sweets companies.

So I ask again, what of Linnaeus?  He liked Dr. Sloane’s drink.  So much  that he did what Carl Linnaeus would:  he named it, in precisely the form that he organized the living world into its component parts. What was cocoa to the great naturalist?  This:

Genus Theobromata; species cacao.

Theobromata cacao — the drink of the gods: cocoa.

This is why I love the power of a smartly conceived museum.  Here you have the imposing edifice of Enlightenment systematization …. made friendly with a touch of humor.

Image:  Giovanni Bellini and disciples. The Feast of the Gods, 1515

They Report, We Deride: Fox News Medical Journalism (sic) edition

March 4, 2009

Via Balloon Juice, this  from Colbert.

Warning:  coke through the nose funny.

Self Promotion: Really, really good wine dept.

February 20, 2009

My friend Abel Pharmboy, host and voice of Terra Sigillata, has just done me the honor of posting an old piece of mine about drinking a legendary wine — Chateau d’Yquem — for the first time.  I wrote I don’t know how many years ago for an airline magazine now long since evansesced.  It’s fun, and if you like reading about conspicuous (and delicious) consumption, go for it.

And while you’re there — if you haven’t checked out the serious stuff that Abel deals with when not thinking about cost-efficient ways to pay homage to Bacchus, dive into the real meat of his blog.

That is all.

Image:  Jan Vermeer van Delft, “Girl with a Wine Glass” 1610.