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Articles on this Page
- 03/27/15--10:24: _The Candy Cane
- 03/31/15--13:45: _Jeopardy and the Na...
- 04/08/15--12:56: _John Wimberley - Ti...
- 04/15/15--08:41: _The Invisible Shutt...
- 04/21/15--13:04: _Transit Tropique
- 05/05/15--06:52: _The Paris Air Show ...
- 05/08/15--10:55: _Max Richter's Mercy
- 06/01/15--13:15: _V-8
- 06/01/15--15:01: _Implausible Deniabi...
- 06/05/15--09:37: _My First Walking Stick
- 06/08/15--11:47: _The Fjord
- 06/25/15--13:11: _James Salter dead a...
- 07/06/15--09:25: _Three New Mixes fro...
- 07/13/15--09:43: _Certain Rare Cancer...
- 07/30/15--09:37: _Further Diversions ...
- 08/04/15--12:28: _Death of the Milkman
- 08/11/15--10:55: _Coolers
- 09/09/15--11:11: _Giants 2015 A Year ...
- 09/10/15--08:47: _The Augmented Sazer...
- 09/10/15--09:55: _The 9-Up, or Beam m...
- 03/27/15--10:24: The Candy Cane
- 03/31/15--13:45: Jeopardy and the Nanny Society
- 04/08/15--12:56: John Wimberley - Time Traveler with a Lens
- 04/15/15--08:41: The Invisible Shutter - Dater's Hands on Glass
- 04/21/15--13:04: Transit Tropique
- 05/05/15--06:52: The Paris Air Show of 1922
- 05/08/15--10:55: Max Richter's Mercy
- 06/01/15--13:15: V-8
- 06/05/15--09:37: My First Walking Stick
- 06/08/15--11:47: The Fjord
- 06/25/15--13:11: James Salter dead at 90
- 07/06/15--09:25: Three New Mixes from the Stainless Steel Counter
- 07/13/15--09:43: Certain Rare Cancers Have Been Reported
- 07/30/15--09:37: Further Diversions from the Stainless Steel Counter
- 08/04/15--12:28: Death of the Milkman
- 08/11/15--10:55: Coolers
- 09/09/15--11:11: Giants 2015 A Year in Transition
- 09/10/15--08:47: The Augmented Sazerac
- 09/10/15--09:55: The 9-Up, or Beam me Up, Scotty!
Not much to say about this one, only that it's a fatally seductive preparation, guaranteed to lift your spirits and assuage your ills. With addition of the praline flavor, there are hints of the Deep South, perhaps New Orleans, though I doubt this drink has ever been mixed there. Like all the other concoctions featured on this blog, it's my own invention--I never consult the literature of mixology in devising my combinations.
The idea that the way we feel about a work of art, is as important as what the work may be said to mean, is a post-Modern critical notion--the idea that the reader, or viewer of a work can determine both the meaning and significance of the work, or that they are (each is), in effect (a) participant(s) in a process whose reality is never just one-sided, but a shared phenomenon, is anti-Platonic. Works of art, as this sense imagines it, do not exist in a pure state of eternal durability, but actually change based on the way we see them or think of them. Ultimately, they may be forgotten and neglected, disposed of. Works of art may "live" only so long as they are perceived, and appreciated. Once they no longer are, they cease to exist--they're no longer in the pure realm of spiritual eternity.
I've never thought of photography as a spiritual art, but occasionally it does occur to me that photographs may aspire to a condition of solemnity or reverence which we associate with religious feeling. The problem with religious notions of artistic meaning and value is that they inevitably devolve into formulaic interpretations related to the iconography of any specific faith. All faiths may be said to share a focus upon the divine, the eternal, the immutable; but beyond that, it isn't easy to make useful generalities about the religious applications of meaning to art.
Much of the art of past centuries has been deliberately conceived within religious contexts. In our time, so-called "profane" or secular art has been in the ascendancy, case generally since the beginning the Enlightenment (the Renaissance) in Europe. Critical theory over the last two centuries has preoccupied itself with building justifications and interpretations which are essentially non-religious in character. Beginning in the 20th Century, in the West, artists and scholars have begun to explore and examine the relationship between certain Eastern religious systems of thought and worship, and their artistic expressions. In the West, many artists now claim Buddhism or Zen Buddhism as inspiration. It's become a kind of commonplace for artists to claim an Eastern religious sense in their work and lives.
Previously, I've commented on the work of Minor White, and Paul Caponigro, both artists who explicitly refer to the mystic spiritual element in their work. These two influential photographers explain their work in terms of extra-formal themes, and how a rational, deliberate intention is only one component of a process that has mystical, involuntary, even passive elements, of subjects and occasions "choosing" the photographer, of being "moved" by unseen forces or spirits to act. The part that craft and knowledge and intention play in such a process is obvious. It's the extra-rational dimension which is claimed as crucial.
I first encountered the work of John Wimberley in galleries during the late 1980's. He hadn't published any books at that time, and his reputation was rather "underground." What was clear was that Wimberley had a powerful vision, a studied view of large-scale landscape, though in most respects his subject matter was no different than many of the well-known West Coast landscape photographers. It was how he saw this subject matter that made his work different. It was "big" in the same way that Adams's or Baer's is, but it was more narrowly focused on certain telling details--the position of an odd cloud shape in the distance, the unresolved tension between ambient element in the composition, the eccentric angle or diverting angle emphasizing an abstract form. It was clearly an attempt to revive the aspect of intention in photography, not merely as a kind of passive awe at nature's grandeur, but as an act of deliberate recognition. The images weren't attempts to foreground an ecological ideal, or an elegiac ode to lost opportunities, or an evocation of an earlier nostalgic past.
On the other hand, they weren't coded abstractions meant to signify "koans" or touchstones of spiritual potency, the way Minor Whites often seem to be--or so I've believe.
What we do see, primarily in Wimberley's work, is the evidence of geology, and weather, and occasionally, the meek evidence of man's impact on the landscape.
Three earlier works seem to be emblematic of Wimberley's approach.
Though these images have probably now become rather generic in their approach, at the time they seemed quite novel and innovative. Technically impressive in their clarity and formal construction. Contrasting textures and shapes which imply meaning without insisting upon themselves--moments stolen from accident and opportunity.
In Leda's Landscape, does the large oval rock on the left symbolize one of Leda's eggs, from the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan? Is the dark crevice in the distance the beak of a bird? And what is the meaning of the cloud shape placed suggestively upon that point?
With the drought era upon us in the Southwest, our thoughts turn to refreshment. Much of the thinking about cocktails revolves around tropical fruits in warm climates, as an antidote to overheated bodies and intense thirst. Alcohol, of course, tends to dehydrate rather than slake the thirst that inspires its consumption. Nevertheless, there's nothing quite like a well-made cocktail, frosty with chill, served on a hot afternoon, after work or play.
Coconuts and bananas and limes all are coded as tropical, and rum is the equatorial goods of choice, anywhere around the globe, except perhaps in Mexico, where tequila is king. And of course you could make this combination using tequila as well, perhaps with the addition of barrel-aged tequila in place of the 150 rum.
Rum punches usually begin with a fruit drink, squeezed fresh or from "concentrate" (i.e., reconstituted from the residue of mashed whole unsorted fruit). You can begin with melon or citrus or root beer or any soft drink you can think of, to which you add liberal amounts of some brand or type of rum, and then keep pouring in lesser amounts of other flavor elements. Pineapple is another important component of tropical drinks. And of course you can drop in skins or wedges or gratings of citrus, or any fragment of fresh fruit you choose. Punches are often made in large bowls, so they can be ladled out at parties or gatherings, and additional ingredients can be added as desired during the festivities.
One of my big gripes with many taverns is that they tend to feature cocktails that are basically fruit drinks with just a teaspoon of goods added. This is primarily to save on ingredients, while soft-pedaling the strength of the concoctions to customers who either wouldn't know what a real cocktail tasted like, or simply don't want strong drinks, like offering champagne to people whose experience of wines is limited to church. Whenever I see a "house" drink that starts off with orange drink or lemon juice, I politely ask to build my own drink from what's on hand. Often this will elicit protests, or stammering confusion, since they won't know how to charge you for the richer mix you've ordered, and in any case they're trained to discourage requests which involve making actual cocktails (instead of cool-aid).
Imagine yourself out on the veranda in a pleasant, slightly creaky Southern mansion, say, in Savannah, late in the afternoon of a warm Summer day, and this drink really comes into its own.
There's a lovely movie song to accompany this scene, which comes via Hollywood--In Adam's Rib (1949), in which David Wayne sings his little unfinished ballad, Farewell Amanda, where the word veranda finds its perfect place in history as the rhyme-word to Amanda.
The recipe by proportion, shaken hard with cracked ice and served up.
Be mellow, y'all.
Max Richter's a new kind of post-Modern composer.
Richter is a contemporary composer who essays a number of different styles, applied to various venues. His works range from straight concert pieces, to movie scores, stage, ballet, and even pop collaborations with small groups. I've listened to a number of his works on YouTube, and though I can't say I like them all, they display a facility which is impressive. Making a living as a composer has never been easy, so musicians like Richter are forced to live by their wits.
All that aside, here's beautiful piece of his, considered "minimal" as a result of its modest lyrical range and brevity, entitled Mercy. It could be something that Schumann might have composed, or Fauré, or even Delius, yet it's somehow too "clean" for them. I think of it simply as pure music. It could be the middle section of a sonata for violin and piano, or the lyric for the slow section of a symphony. I'm not sure why, but it suggests to me a kind of elegy, say, for the dead of the Holocaust. A piece as beautiful as this comes directly from the heart.
Violin: Hilary Hahn
Piano: Cory Smythe
This blog will be the third time I've devoted space to the work of Rae Armantrout, a poet whose work I've followed for over 45 years, with continuous interest and curiosity. I reviewed her Money Shot [Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2011] here, in 2011; and commented on the reaction to her Pulitzer Prize winning collection, Versed [Wesleyan University Press, 2009] here, in 2010. Her new collection, Itself [Wesleyan, 2015], has just been published, and I'm moved to a reappraisal of her work, both for what it may say about its evolution of style, and what it may indicate about the affects of literary authority within the larger contexts of taste and critical regard.
When I was at Iowa, I once complained to my poet-professor Marvin Bell that what I lacked--what I sought--or thought I needed, as a writer, was a voice. Voice in the sense of the presence of the author's mind, as communicated through the music, the characteristic sound of one's phrasing--not just phrasing, but somehow memorable phrasing, inimitable phrasing--a style. Marvin said the predictable thing, as I regard it now in retrospect, that voice would "come" of its own, simply in the act of attempting to make stories or poems--that this would happen "despite" oneself--that one's voice would always be unique, even in imitation. In Olson's phrase, "we do not change, we only stand more revealed." Frost had said somewhere that he sought in his prosody, the sound of sentences, the characteristic way in which we speak, as a strategy of reflexive intention.
Armantrout's approach to language in her poems has been typically linguistic--that is to say, as one who examines language as a phenomenological entity, a system of communication and representation. In Armantrout's work, there was an exploration of the relationship between popular, or technical, or jargon'd speech--just at the point it enters the zone of common usage and familiarity, just as it began to fade into the tapestry of background presumption. The voice of her poems--insofar as one may speak of it--was built out of fragments of speech which she heard or read in the environment of language, and she marshaled these evidentiary fragments into a dialectic of irony, interrogation and verdict. Pragmatics--the study of how contexts affect our apprehension of meaning (and identity) in language--provided a useful tool in understanding what Armantrout's program involves: By presenting phrase or word fragments in free-floating space, untethered or un-anchored to their putative context, and playing them off one against the other, she was able to set up enjambments, "accidents" (coincidences of speech), releasing surprising energies, out of the kernels or nodes of specimen language. That the reader, or indeed the writer, was implicated in the content of such fragments, as well as the jeopardy implied by their sculptured collage, went without saying. All this was familiar in her work, which by the end of the 1970's, had hardened into a style.
At its best, poetry can serve as a kind of short-hand for feelings or cognitions which are nearly impossible to describe in straight prose, or even in heavily inflected jargon (such as is common in the sciences). Armantrout's highly intuitive leaps and edgy spliced concisions are like riddles to a code that underlies all our apprehensions in language--a kind of interlinear stream of consciousness. Poetry can be entertainment--and it often is, at its best--or exploration, or demonstration. Following her serious engagement with cancer, and the expansion of her audience following the Pulitzer--Armantrout's work was bound to become either more desperate, or more extravagant--something I noted in my review of a previous book [Money Shot, 2011].
If her work has always, in a sense, been about provisional logic of coping with the strangeness of reality, or the failed logic of naive misapprehension, these new poems are about questioning ultimate presumptions, the thing itself. Carlos Williams often employed the impersonal pronoun "it" to describe a phenomenon or a feeling which the poem was designed to define, or outline. Sometimes it represented a force, sometimes the life force, sometimes an infernal power, but it never meant more than the context in which it appeared. Each poem's "it" might be addressed as, or stand for, a different thing.
What is it that Armantrout's "it" --i.e., "Itself"--specifically stands for? Armantrout's it could be the indefinable, or elusive quality which is hidden in experience, or hidden inside perception, or hidden inside thought, or something in plain sight which we can't see, because . . . or, the key word is hidden. The sense that there is a truth, or a reality, that is crucial to our understanding of the world, which poetry might conceivably reveal, either by accident or intention.
In Armantrout's earlier work, she seemed content to let her explorations of popular jargon and casual conversational specimens of speech tangle themselves up into ironic little twisted balls of contradiction and unintended humor or canny wit. The poems in Itself seem, on the other hand, to be aimed at specific targets. If "it" is a placeholder for what she wants to name, or identify, it might stand for the self, floating in a sea of language, or it might be the kernel of matter which physicists want to isolate and describe as the irreducible measure of all substantial immanence. As the self employs language, it may become synonymous with the color of its identity. But the self is suspicious, it mistrusts the functionality of grammar, the familiar comfort of reliable signification(s). This anxiety is a primary driver in Armantrout's poetic program, its coin of exchange. The thing itself--its elusiveness--is like a particle in physics which can only be known indirectly, through the "ghosts" or "trails" it leaves. It may exist only for a nano-second, before disappearing into the void. Without air, we have no voice, and there is no echo.
How is the self to define itself except through the shared currency of consent? If I allow that your identity is confirmed through the rhythm and tone of your speech, the characteristic ordering of your language, might this be another illusion, inside of which the "real" self (the thingness of your being) is concealed?
Here's an experiment, perhaps just balancing on the edge of permission and courtesy. What follows is a series of excerpts from the book, taken partly at random, partly through delight and interest, which themselves form a sequence that seems to me as vital as the coincidental, incidental, random, unintended, chance, contingent, fortuitous and unexpected quality of the actual poems from which the extracts are drawn.
What's the take-away?
She acts out understanding
the way a mime
climbs an invisible wall.
On a traffic island, a man waves his arms
as if conducting music,
and takes bows.
Meaning is sensed relation.
Among twenty brown hills
the only moving thing
was the Coca-Cola truck.
the edge of
could have been
Around the block
dogs bark at absence.
"I feel it,"
and you came.
Can a thought truly be mine
if I am not currently thinking it?
floors and hallways
built of living
In our world,
around unheld, trim
Cinderella's evening gown
These things happen.
We are made up
of tiny rules.
The rules follow
Every one is perfect.
as if doubt
were a way
Boarding all zones at this time.
Looked at from
nothing has happened
Just put words
after the last.
Just get out
Fragments accumulate on the other side of the room. They're a motley crew, complete with provisional dunce-caps and prosthetic limbs where there should be hands, feet, ears, heads. This is comic, since no one dies, tragically or otherwise. Whenever abstraction attains a certain limit, coherence flags. It's an artificial wind like the old bearded salt in the clouds sending explorers across the ocean of time on a voyage of conquest and discovery. They don't know what they'll find. And neither do we.
Lately, I've begun to have some symptoms of early arthritis. Out of the blue, my right elbow has begun to ache and stiffen without any immediate trauma.
I've always been fairly complacent about how much stress I put on my body. I lift heavy objects and over-exert frequently. I've begun to think, after 67 years of active life, that I must be indestructible.
Over the years, I've damaged the cartilage in both my knees, but I have almost no symptoms from that, unless I try running long distances, which can lead to discomfort. As we get older, we tend to become somewhat more sedentary, which may mask oncoming weaknesses in our physiology.
I guess, someday, I may end up having to use a cane or other ambulatory appliance. I don't dwell on such things, so when and if that day comes, I'll just have to deal with it then.
In the meantime, I encountered my very first walking-stick.
Returning home from work in the later afternoon, I was closing our redwood gate, when I noticed a sliver of wood leaning from the edge of the vertical frame member. I looked at it intently, and realized to my utter surprise, that it was in fact an insect.
Partly aged redwood has a reddish-brown tinge, and the Walking Stick--which is what this insect is called--could easily go unnoticed unless you were really looking for one. If it had been on the fence, I would never have seen it.
Aquavit--or akvavit--is a traditional distilled spirit produced in Scandinavia, going back to the 15th Century, the principle flavoring agent being caraway (or dill), and averages 40% alcohol. The word comes from the Latin aqua vitae ("water of life"). In Scandinavia, it is often sipped at room temperature, or used in conjunction with beer. It may be clear or slightly yellow, depending on age. Aquavit is produced in Scandinavia, but also in the U.S.
I have tried using aquavit as a mixed drink spirit, either as the goods, or as a flavoring agent, with excellent results. Here is a mix that begins with aquavit, but comes out tasting more balanced and less peculiar than you might suppose.
3 parts aquavit
1 part Tanqueray Gin
1 Part fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 part creme de minthe
1/2 part creme de violette
Shaken vigorously and served up in a pre-chilled cocktail glass.
Now to toast one's ancestors!
The fiction and screen writer James Salter died a week ago, on Friday the 19th, while at a gym. A week earlier, he'd celebrated his 90th birthday.
Against all the odds, he lived a long, full life, filled with incident, action, movement, excitement, meditation, and considerable success.
A modest man, with large ambitions, sophisticated, svelte, soigné, equally seduced by elegance and devotion to solitary craftsmanship.
He was among the first novelists I really admired. Fowles. Steinbeck. Hemingway. Salinger. Forster. Salter. A compelling style, an investment in gesture, in the perfect metaphor, the transparent phrase. A sense of the vividness of a certain time, of the memorable, the sublime.
A man for whom, like Hemingway, life itself was more seductive that his art. And yet at the same time a patient artist, tinkering, revising, turning sentences and paragraphs over and over, seeing them from all angles, inside out, then coming back and seeing them fresh, again, before letting go of them.
The early "air force" novels don't mean much to me. His work begins with A Sport and a Pastime, continues with Light Years, Solo Faces, and ends with All That Is (which is a kind of foil for the muted autobiography Burning the Days).
It turns out that, for good or ill, most of what he wrote about came directly from his life experiences, appropriating real people into his stories, often thinly disguised.
The experience of reading his work is for me an astonishment, at the exquisite surface, the shrewd and wonderful description. The deepening sadness of his characters. Their obsessions. Their pleasures. Their regrets.
If I could have been the sort of writer I once dreamed of being, it would be something like Salter. A figure undisturbed by the distractions of fame, but with a devoted audience of admirers. Living an interesting life in interesting places. And writing a handful of nearly perfect books.
Salter thought the only thing that lasts is what we're able to record in language.
As the world gradually forgets who the man James Salter (née Horowitz) was (in life), the books will linger on into the decades, as distinct vessels of the alembic of who he might have been. Not as an alternative, but as a speculation.
Who were we? Look into our books to find us.
The days pile up and the recipes keep coming.
It's a restless round of changing combinations, a refusal to settle on a favorite. Exploration, discovery, surprises and confirmations. Questions, with a few answers. Failures, with the occasional success.
Here are three new happy discoveries. Parfait d'Amour, as produced by Marie Brizard(c) (a French distiller), has an orange basis, with some other allied flavors. It has a purple color, though what the color has to do with the flavor is anyone's guess. (Creme de Violette has the same color, but with a different flavor.) I find Parfait d'Amour to be a useful liqueur, when I'm looking for a different spin on citrus. The first recipe here is great on a hot day.
2 parts gin
1/2 part parfait d'amour
juice of 1/2 lime
tonic water to finish
Served on the rocks, perhaps with a lime peel.
Thinking again of hot weather, this one has a little Down South flavor, with the burnt syrup added, which gives it a slightly molasses quality that is quite suggestive of New Orleans combinations. Bourbon goes well with sweet nut flavors. The lemon just straightens it out a bit.
3 parts bourbon
1/2 part hazelnut liqueur
1 teaspoon burnt sugar syrup
1 part lemon juice
Swirled in ice and served up with an orange slice.
Readers will know that I like aquavit as a mixer. This one functions as a flavor agent, since the white vermouth is the goods. I don't know why the ginger works with the aquavit, but it does. The lime keeps things neat, and focused. It's on the dry side, but still refreshing.
1 1/2 part aged aquavit
2 parts dry vermouth
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part lime juice
Served up in chilled cocktail glass--with lime slice if you wish.
Summer in the Bay Area. It's been hot the last few days, with the saving grace of the marine fogs to cool our sleep at night. We have the best of worlds here, in terms of weather. Temperate, though a bit too dry of late. Here's hoping for a wetter Winter.
When I grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, you routinely saw and heard advertisements for non-prescription medicines. In those remote times, cigarettes and beer ads were also routinely permitted--so the question of the public's health was decidedly an ambiguous matter from a regulatory standpoint.
Over the last two decades, spending by pharmaceutical companies on lobbying, and advertising to the general public on television, have mushroomed. Drug companies are making very big money on a host of new products, designed to appeal to people who have common chronic afflictions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, indigestion and irregularity, depression, diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, joint and muscle disease, chronic pain, skin hair and nail problems, and so forth. None of these conditions is new, and the treatments are generally familiar and routine.
Non-prescription medicine is available to the general public, because it's considered safe enough that ordinary people can be trusted to use it in a safe way. Prescription medicine is considered to be safe only when prescribed by, and taken under the supervision of, a trained physician. Marketing prescription medication over public media to the general public is a relatively new phenomena--the campaign to convince people that taking riskier artificial or synthetic substances is going to make a significant difference in their lives.
Many of the new drugs aren't even "primary" treatment products. They're just designed to "help" when used in conjunction with a primary treatment regimen.
It used to be that drug companies targeted their campaigns to pharmacists and doctors. When I was growing up, the father of one of my friends was a pharmacist. He'd received hundreds of "gifts" and come-ons every year, to influence him to promote the use of one or another commercially marketed pills or applications, in the hope that he would recommend them to his customers. Toys, paperweights, pens, calendars, it was a relentless flow.
Today, drug companies have gotten permission to promote prescription medications directly to the general public.
We've all seen the new ads. They have fancy names, scientific sounding--like Verdaxa, or Duvadin, or Clinolix--and we know the FDA has passed them, but FDA approval apparently doesn't guarantee safety, at least not any more.
On each ad, there is a cheerful vignette of someone performing daily routines, or on vacation. They're all smiles, liberated from the distractions of their medical issues, getting on with life, celebrating just being alive.
But while all this visual drama is taking place, a comforting voice is narrating the serious side effects which may accompany the desired "cures" the drug was designed to effect. The possible "side-effects" of a pill for depression may include heart attack, stomach ulcers, swollen feet, and even "certain rare cancers."
You would think that any advertisement which was required to inform you about all the bad things which could happen to you if you used a product, would probably not work.
But we all know that big corporations aren't stupid, and they wouldn't be using these ads if they weren't working.
Americans have always loved taking medicine, and it's becoming more true every year. Is it because we have an inordinate credulity for panaceas? Do we think we can medicate ourselves into health?
Most people know that eating a good diet, and exercising regularly, are the best behaviors for good health. Smoking, drinking immoderately, living a sedentary life, being socially isolated, or taking unnecessary risks such as driving too fast, or crossing streets while texting--these are all behaviors designed to shorten your life, or to lead to poor health.
But people are not rational. They will do things they know are bad for them, out of sheer laziness, or simple mischief.
People can be convinced of almost anything--right up to, and including, committing suicide.
The pharmaceutical companies know this, and they rely on it.
Would you take a drug which "might" help with a chronic condition, but which carried the risk of certain much more serious side effects?
"Certain rare cancers have been reported."
One obvious limitation to the variety and diversity of mixing is the number of traditional kinds of spirits there are. There's gin and rum and bourbon and scotch and brandy and vodka and tequila, any one of which provides a firm platform for the exploration of tastes and combinations. Still, one often senses the monotony of this limited panoply of historical precedents. One may expand this range a bit by using aperitifs or fruit drinks as bases, but then we're straying into punches and coolers and toddies--not cocktails. Cocktails as such deserve to have their own categorical purity, which we should respect.
So, in the round-robbin of shifting alternatives, here are five more, some so new they don't even have names.
This one is a delicately spiced number. You don't see apple liqueur used much in popular recipe books, and I can't think why. Apple flavor, especially the crisp "green" side, makes perfect sense in a drink. Maybe the association with apple juice is somehow wrong. Gin is a flavored spirit, and here the delicate herbs in the gin mate with the apple and Genepi aperitif to make a very sophisticated flavor, "dried out" by the lime.
3 part Boodles gin
1 part apple liqueur
1 part Genepi des Alpes
1 part fresh lime juice
Shakes and served up in very cold cocktail glasses.
Exotic ingredients are making a comeback in the liquor business. Today, you can find "bitters" in dozens of flavors, and other kinds of special ingredients are appearing too. Here, I use black burnt sugar syrup (which is a little like clarified molasses) to lend a bit of down-south sweetness to a classic dark rum arrangement. No one would be surprised or embarrassed to be served this in New Orleans or Key West on a hot afternoon in late summer.
2 parts dark rum
1 part puerto rican rum
1/3 part black burnt sugar syrup
1/3 part blood orange liqueur
1/3 part cinnamon liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice
Swirled and served on the rocks, or up, with or without an orange or lemon peel floating on top.
This one is very seductive, but the optional addition of vanilla-almond syrup is hard to settle. I first made it with, and it seemed a trifle too sweet, but when I made it without, it seemed comparatively dry. I think maybe just reducing the amount to half a teaspoon of syrup might be the trick. The ginger with the parfait d'amour (a proprietary flavor that's in the orange family, but is more complex than that) is really a revelation.
3 parts golden rum
1 part parfait d'amour
2/3 part ginger liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla almond syrup (optional)
1 part fresh lemon juice
Shaken and served up.
Here again, the use of the burnt sugar syrup, alters in a good way the effect of the traditional Peychaux bitters. Galliano goes well with lots of other flavors, and here it deepens the quality without diverting it. This one, like the dark rum recipe above, is inspired by Southern hospitality and charm, which you can experience second-hand just by drinking this drink!
4 parts Jack Daniels sour mash whisky
1 part Galliano
1.5 parts fresh lemon juice
1/3 part burnt sugar syrup
four dashes Peychaux Bitters
orange peel + 1/2 teaspoon orange juice
Swirled and served up.
This last perhaps doesn't fully qualify as a cocktail, since it's based on an aperitif--dry vermouth--instead of a straight spirit. Still, especially for the ladies, it's the perfect Summer cooler, which can be served up or on the rocks, and of course it's a weaker drink, so less dangerous or inebriating. Not that I worry too much about that, since I rarely have more than one drink at any given time. I've nick-named it the "punch drunk" since it's really sort of a punch, but will not make you "drunk."
2 parts dry vermouth
1 part compari
1 part triple sec
1 part lime
1 1/2 part soda
On the rocks, or up if you prefer.
Hint: This is not a mystery novel.
I'm old enough now to remember when dairy products were delivered directly to your door at home.
If you live long enough, nearly everything that once seemed typical and universal, eventually seems old-fashioned. Change is the common thread that runs through life, though the pace of that change has itself changed over time.
For someone living in Europe during the Middle Ages, I suppose it must have been possible to see the world as pretty permanent and static. When you were born, people rode horses, and went to church, and worked the soil, and made things mostly by hand. At the end of your life, these things were still true; little had changed in your world.
Today, the pace of change is so rapid, that in a hundred years, much of the environment, and what goes on in it, may seem so unfamiliar and outdated that it's astounding. People in 1900 could hardly have imagined what was coming, and if you'd told them about it, they probably wouldn't have believed you. Or they would have thought you crazy.
What's cooler on a hot day than a nice cooler?
Coolers aren't cocktails per se, but they are often included in cocktail compendiums, because they involve mixtures which include alcoholic ingredients.
Coolers may or may not have strictly defined "goods"--goods being hard liquor in any of its usual incarnations. Alcoholic content occurs in wines and beers and liqueurs and so forth, but aperitifs and cordials have not traditionally been considered cocktails, though they may constitute significant parts of cocktail recipes.
One way of suppressing the hard alcoholic content of drinks is avoiding the use of "goods" altogether, thus reducing the percentage of alcohol present in the drink. Alcohol does have a very weak flavor by itself, but it's how it interacts with other taste elements that makes cocktails intriguing. No matter how little alcohol you imbibe, there is some effect on the brain and nervous system (as well as your digestive tract). But as I've pointed out more than once here, getting drunk or "tipsy" isn't the point of enjoying cocktails, and if it is, you've missed it entirely.
The other consideration with coolers is sweetness. Soft drinks were invented to bring interest to water, which is a vital necessity to the body. If you're really thirsty, there's nothing like water, just as, when you're out of breath, there's nothing like fresh air. Soft drinks are flavored water. Flavored water has been popular for thousands of years, but popularly marketed flavored water drinks are a very recent development in history--one of the hallmarks of the modern world.
Cocktails are like soft drinks for grown-ups. Lots of drinkers avoid sweeter cocktails, seeing them as nothing more than soft-drinks in fancy dress. I tend to agree, especially when faced with the "equatorial""cool-aid" versions you often see offered at popular restaurants or taverns. Most of these don't even qualify as cocktails at all. You can spot these fakes by checking the order of ingredients. Inevitably, they involve the addition of fruit juices, at the expense of reducing the actual alcoholic content to less than 15%. In the restaurant and bar trade(s), this is usually a way of reducing costs, by cutting back on the actual amount of goods used to make them. These "weak" drinks don't deserve the name of cocktails, and should be avoided.
Chacun a son gout. A large percentage of cocktail drinkers like martinis. The majority of traditional martinis are nearly pure goods, without any adulterating content (such as vermouth). Vodka martinis can be very good with certain foods, such as raw oysters, where the subtle saltiness of the shell-fish works in tandem with the dry clarity of the liquor. But if you enjoy variety, insisting on unadulterated goods as a steady diet is boring.
But enough of this spin. The subject was coolers, and here are two nice recipes I've developed, used in conjunction with a "soda" that is presently new on the market.
During the English occupation of India, so-called quinine water became a common way of ingesting the chemical (quinine--a prophylactic against malaria), and quinine water, mixed with gin (or vodka) has been a traditional combination for over a century.
Tonic water (or Indian Tonic Water) is a carbonated soft drink. The commercial brand Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water contains less sugar than is commonly used in most marketed tonic sodas, and it's what I've used here. You need less sugar, since the liqueurs or aperitifs I've used are sweet by themselves. Using a common tonic water with them would result in just the sort of "cool-aid" aspect I'm averse to.
1 1/2 part midori
1/12 part limoncello
1/5 part cinnamon liqueur
1 part fresh lime
add 3-4 small pieces of ice
Tonic soda water to top up
1 1/2 part genepi des alpes
1 1/2 part st germaine liqueur
1 part fresh lime
add 3-4 small pieces of ice
Tonic soda water to top up
If these drinks seem too sweet, you can always use unsweetened carbonated water, or even boutique bottled drinking water. Tap water, I think, is just too pedestrian to use. A little carbonation stirs up the mix, and keeps it lively. And the quinine gives it character, which was always what made the English Gin and Tonic combination so seductive.
There'll always be a British!
It's been a long season again this year, a year marked by injuries and disappointments, and a few bright spots too.
Following last year's triumphant, and improbable, championship run, it might have been expected that some of the propulsion from last year would carry over into this year's campaign. Great dynasty teams--such as the New York Yankees (1947-1964, ten championships, with 15 World Series appearances), or the Cincinnati Reds ("the Big Red Machine," 1970-76 with two championships), or the Yankees earlier (The Babe Ruth Era 1921-1932, 7 Series appearances, 4 championships), or, perhaps most impressive of all, the modern Yankee teams of 1995-2012 (with 17 post-season appearances, and 5 championships)--tend to repeat, but given free agency, it's unusual for all but the richest franchises to keep good teams together for more than a couple of years. Consistently good teams (i.e., the Cardinals, or the Braves, both of whom have had impressive multi-year runs in the last 30 years) are usually the result of superb management and shrewd player manipulation (trades and contracts and farm systems).
It's been shown that teams that play the star free agent market usually fail to deliver, while teams that nurture talent through their farm systems usually fair better. Trades can still be crucial to a team's success, but trading "up" can be very risky, depriving a team of significant money it might have used on lesser, but better suited, talent.
In the case of the Giants, their core key players over the current run were Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Brandon Crawford, Angel Pagan, Sergio Romo, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, and Javier Lopez. Of these, all but Pagan, Hunter and Lopez were products of the Giants' Farm System, a fact which speaks to the importance of home-grown talent versus free agent blockbusters.
There are two reasons the 2015 Giants couldn't overcome the Dodgers for the NL West title--which presently is in its final stages, with the Giants 8 1/2 games back with three weeks to play.
First, the starting pitching. Four years ago, I predicted that Bumgarner would eventually surpass Tim Lincecum as the team's starting ace, and that has definitely come to pass. Lincecum's metoric rise from 2007 to 2010 was not a fluke, but it was evident that, given his slight body,and his tortuous wind-up, he wasn't a pitcher who would have a long career. The two Cy Youngs, and the blazing fast-ball that could strike batters out, were not destined to last. As his velocity declined, he began to press, and lost some of his control. By the middle of 2012, his ERA had doubled, and his strike-out ratio steadily declined. Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner's star was rising. By the end of last year--and in the play-iffs--it had become apparent that MadBum was a superstar, the kind of player who can carry a team, who performs best under pressure. Big, lanky and focused, Bumgarner resembles Randy Johnson, with an easy, slinging motion, a durable body, and a determined bearing (which can't be taught or learned, but seems an aspect of inherited character). Bumgarner has become THE franchise player that every team needs to succeed. If and when he tests the free agency market, the Giants might find it difficult to match a rich team's high offer. But Bum is signed through 2019, so that isn't an immediate issue.
It's fun (or sad, depending on how you look at it), to wonder what might have happened if the Giants had had the courage to go out and hire a 2nd top flight starter (to back up Bumgarner), and if Panik, Crawford, Aoki, Pagan and Pence hadn't all gone down. My guess is that they'd be in first place, but then there's the nagging question of reliable starters. Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong, Lincecum--these guys weren't up to the task this year, and there wasn't a hell of a lot management could do about it, once they'd made their bets.
So it's wait until next year.
I wouldn't mind if the Giants trade one of those hot new infielders (perhaps Tomlinson) to someone else for a slugging outfielder with legitimate home run numbers), and they bit the bullet and acquired an ace like Greinke or Sunny Grey. Not signing Sandoval should have given them the money to have done this at the beginning of the year, but then all those injuries weren't anticipated either.
But next year will be a different story, with the Lincecum era officially over and the journeymen leaving. We've not heard anything about any good new starters in the farm system, so I would expect the team to shop in the off-season. It will depend on who's available (Greinke will be a free agent), and how astute the traders are. If we want to get back to glory in 2016, there'll need to be some turnover, and a few new faces. Change is in the wind.
Traditionally, the Sazerac is considered to be the official drink of New Orleans, whose history can be traced way back to the beginning of the 19th Century. Because of the French influence, the drink's basis has been considered cognac (or brandy), though variations of it can be made with rye or bourbon with no proprietary fuss. The primary spin of the Sazerac, however, is the absinthe, which, despite the very small amount used, is still the signature flavoring agent.
In the traditional Sazerac, you merely swirl the inside of an old-fashioned glass (a squat tumbler with a wider-than-normal diameter), dispose of the excess, and build the drink inside this coated container. For those who don't like the basic licorice flavor, this may be as much as they stand. For those who enjoy it, that little a portion may seem stingy. Back before the recent absinthe revolution, people used Pernod or Herbsaint liqueurs instead of true absinthe, which was banned in the U.S. for many years due to the presence of wormwood, which is the "active" ingredient that produced the symptoms which originally got it into trouble here. In Europe, people still like some Pernod cut with tap-water, producing a milky pale yellow drink that's just about pure licorice-tasting. When I was a kid, we used to chew twisted black and red rubbery ropes of commercially marketed licorice candy--I could stand the red, but the black was so sour and "burnt" tasting, I couldn't eat the stuff. Licorice is used in a number of various common proprietary liqueur mixes (Galliano, for instance).
In any event, what I've done here is substitute a good blended (and aged) scotch for the goods, and treated the result as a variation on a classic recipe. The classic Sazerac recipe is for some simple syrup, dashes of Peychaud bitters, and a lemon peel, with the absinthe swirl preceding. My recipe substitutes blended scotch for the rye or brandy, Grenadine for the Peychaud's, and adds Drambuie and some fresh lemon juice. Perhaps it doesn't deserve to be compared to the classic New Orleans mixture, but it's close enough in my mind to bear a taste similarity.
4 Parts Chivas Regal 12 yr aged blended scotch
1 Part Dambuie
1 Part Fresh Lemon Juice
1/3 part St. George Absinthe Verte
1 Teaspoon Rose Grenadine
(makes two servings)
The Wikipedia entry for the commercial soft-drink 7 Up provides a nice summary of how the innocent sweet drink we all know today evolved over the 20th Century. (As a child, I consumed unconscionable amounts of this stuff, along with Byerly's Orange, Nehi and Squirt.) 7 Up's origination appeared two weeks before the Stock Market Crash in 1929, as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. It contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilizing drug. Lots of such "patent medicine" products were once marketed as being healthy or promoting a sense of well-being. The company changed hands several times after the war, and is presently controlled by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. 7 Up has been reformulated several times over the years. The lithium citrate was removed in 1950. There are various theories about what the name "7 Up" actually means, including theories about the ph measure of the drink, and the atomic mass of the lithium content. It probably doesn't matter, since the name has entered the language, in the same way that Coca-Cola has. Current day 7 Up doesn't contain any fruit juice at all. Some of the previous ad jingles I can distinctly recall include: "You like it, it likes you,""Fresh up with 7 Up,""Nothing does it like 7 Up,""Never had it, never will [caffeine]."
The lithium got me thinking about something else. The late poet James Schuyler's break-out book of poems was titled The Crystal Lithium [New York: Random House, 1972], which incidentally was also the title poem of the collection, which had appeared originally in The Paris Review. The poem as set out in long, talky lines, and was a kind of revelation of a certain kind of American Modernist style and image-making. Schuyler was a great friend of the painter Fairfield Porter, and often visited and stayed at his place in Southampton; Porter often made oil portraits of the poet.
I'm not sure who first told me what the lithium crystal actually meant--perhaps Barry Watten--but the connection is Schuyler's use of it as a drug for his bizarre mental instability which plagued him throughout his life, and which he wrote about frankly in his work. In his manic phase, his erupting imagination wasn't under sufficient control to allow him to think clearly, but the Lithium, which he took on prescription, allowed him to write effectively, and was the enabling key to his highly admired work in the 1970's and 1980's. The book's title is thus an acknowledgment of the importance of psychoactive chemical influence in the life of a talented creative artist. Schuyler's Freely Espousing [Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969], The Crystal Lithium, Hymn to Life [New York: Random House, 1974]. and The Home Book: Prose and Poems, 1951-1970 [Calais, Vermont: Z Press, 1977], were all important to me in my own work as a writer. Schuyler's perceptual keenness of observation, his frankness and wit, were revelations to me at the time.
7 Up, a commercially marketed soft drink, contained an ingredient that would one day be used by psychiatrists to treat patients. And an American poet who was struggling with his personal demons, could be freed of those demons, enabling him to fulfill his ambitions as a writer.
All of which, as has been said, "