Posted tagged ‘cocktails’

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.*

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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*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

What Does the Public Really Need To Know?: Science/Math edition.

July 14, 2008

So, last week I have the good fortune (a) to junket in LA (thanks, History Channel — look for their latest Einstein documentary sometime between October and the new year) and, thus geographically advantaged, the chance to raise a glass or two with Sean Carroll and Jennifer (new digs) Ouellette (familiar haunt) — two of the brightest lights among those who blog the physical sciences.

Among much other discussion (how to do good science on television, whether there is any useful algorithm available to help navigate LA traffic) we drifted into that hardy perennial: what, really, does the general public need to know about science. Not for the greater good of science, not to secure more complaisant support for big accelerators or stem cell research, but for them/ourselves?

There are lots of facts that I think would give people pleasure — I love knowing that Albert Einstein patented a hearing aid (with Rudolf Goldschmidt); that chimpanzees fashion tools in the wild; that the first reaction written down in something like the modern form of a chemical formula was that describing the fermentation of alcohol. There are ideas that are enormously powerful — and some of them are clearly of value as part of anyone’s mental apparatus in confronting daily life. (Natural selection, offers insights well beyond the history of life, for example, (though great care must be taken, as we know, to our sorrow) and as general a heuristic as Ockham’s Razor would help people deal with silly season stories like this one.)*

But while these and much more are part of what I think any education should provide, the question I asked over something-or-other in martini glasses last week,** and re-ask here, is what the minimal body of knowledge is that every adult should possess.

Regular readers of this blog will guess the answer I gave: the bare minimum is arithmetic, or more broadly, a grasp of quantitative reasoning and a set of simple rules to apply such reasoning in everyday life.

For example — these posts sought to illustrate of the value of remembering to do something as basic as converting a cardinal number into a percentage, to make it possible to compare different data points.

Another example: the habit in this country of focusing on miles-per-gallon as a measure of fuel efficiency leads systematically to bad decision making. If we instead looked at gallons-per-mile (or hundred miles), it would make it clear that replacing a 16 mile per gallon SUV with a 20 mpg station wagon is a much better choice than replacing a 34 mpg compact with a 50 mpg hybrid, assuming equal miles driven for each vehicle. No one reading this needs much help figuring out why — but for the details, listen to the NPR story from which this particular example came. (See — I had to say something nice about NPR after slagging them for their Shakespeare follies.)

In sum: I’ve been at the popular science game for a quarter of a century now. I’ve written about climate change and physics and cancer research and precision guided weapons and big telescopes and the origins of the pentatonic scale and I can’t remember it all now. I hope everything found some audience who got something out of it. But more and more now I look for stories that in their telling express some of the basic habits of scientific thinking — whatever the body of facts with which I may be dealing.

There is much more to such habits than a quantitative turn of mind — notions of observation, of framing answerable questions and lots besides . But more and more the starting point seems to me to be conveying how much mastery of the world one can get from astonishingly simple acts of counting and comparing.

What do y’all think?

Update: See Chad Orzel’s recent post on John Allen Paulos’ Innumeracy for another swipe at the same problem. (h/t Bora)

*For an antidote to the “Who wrote Shakespeare” tomfoolery, you can begin here with James Shapiro’s latest — one of the best of a spate of Shakespeare-as-window-on-the-birth-of-the-modern books that have appeared recenlyy.

**Fortunately, the waiter in the very chic bar in which the three of us chatted had never heard of what I tried to order, a French 75, which is the only reason I remained unfogged enough to have any kind of a conversation that night. Just the mention of it makes me feel a little shaky. Enjoy, but at your own risk.

Image: Codex Vigilanus, 976 C.E., in which Arabic numerals first appeared in a Western European manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons.