Monday, December 31, 2007

Lavender Hill

As I have mentioned, my nickname isn't really Cool Bev, it's Fruity Bev. I've even been called a girl-drink drunk. But this recipe will make my pomegranate cosmo look as manly as a long-necked Bud.

So, for New Year's Eve: Champagne with lavender-lime neige, which I call: The Lavender Hill

Juice of 6 limes
~6 tsp sugar
12 clean lavender blossoms (organic by preference, but food grade at least)

Bring to a light boil and remove from the heat to steep until cool. Pour through a sieve to remove the flowers.

This lavender-lime syrup can be used for a number of purposes, but we are going to put it in a freezable container in the freezer. As it freezes, stir with a fork to "fluff" it up, breaking up large crystals. When it is entirely frozen, it will be a fluffy lavender-colored snow, or "nieve" as the French say.

Form snowballs of the nieve, and drop into flutes of well-chilled sparkling wine. It doesn't have to be expensive, but should be reasonably dry.

Enjoy while discussing Evelyn Waugh and Oscar Wilde. You can serve use soda instead of sparking wine for teetotalers or epicene youths.

And - Happy New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It was a Dark and Stormy...

I'm on holiday in New England, and have just been re-introduced to the great cocktail, the Dark and Stormy:

Fill a highball glass with ice
Add 1 shot Gosling's Black Seal Rum (No other rum allowed)
Fill with ginger beer (3-4 oz.s)

I understand this is a tropical drink, specifically Bermudan. But I always see it advertised in Boston bars in the winter. Possibly based on the name, possibly based on the New England taste for rum. But it is also a very warming drink, especially if the ginger beer is strong and spicy.

I find that a 4-pack of ginger beer is about sufficient for a fifth of rum. Try some tonight.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Musical Weekend

We started this weekend of with Help!, everybody's favorite - especially if you are old enough to have seen it as a kid when it was first released. Ms. Bev saw it twice back to back. After it was over the first time, there didn't seem to be anything to do but go back in again.

It was a natural followup to Casino Royale, since it is largely a James Bond parody, including Swiss ski chases and Bahamanian bathing beauties. Leo McKern and his band of Kaili worshipers make great un-PC comic relief. I think this movie is also where George saw his first sitar. But the best parts are:
  1. The songs: Still rooted in classic rock 'n' roll, but getting more sophisticated. The strange dragging beat of Ticket to Ride, the modal drone of I Need You, the bubblegum pop of You're Gonna Lose that Girl, and the beautiful vocal harmonies throughout. The orchestral references to Bond themes are also cute.
  2. Richard Lester: A great director of movies and music videos. Does lovely work with colors and deep focus. His sequences of the Beatles in "performance" (lipsyncing) really capture their personalities.
  3. The Beatles, and their personalities: Ringo is goofy, John is insulting, Paul is cute, and George is quiet. George has always been my favorite, and you can see why here: He is the always the one who jumps in to try to save Ringo. But in general, the boys were brutal to Ringo, plotting to chop off a finger while playing cards: "What's in your hand?". But you have to love them all.
Next up: The Music Man, Prof. Harold Hill's trials in setting up a boys' band in River City. I would guess that his idea is something like a younger, Iowan Beatles. That's not the way it comes out, of course.

This musical features the best patter songs outside Gilbert and Sullivan (possibly excepting Fugue for Tinhorns). The spoken songs blend sophisticated rhythms with clever yet colloquial words in an fascinating way. The twists and turns of Trouble in River City, with its pinch-back suits, Dan Patch, cubebs and Sen-Sen, always make your head spin.

My one complaint: Marion, the Madame Librarian, should be my ideal woman. Instead she is played by Shirley Jones. I prefer Hermione Gingold.

Finally, John Waters' Cry-Baby. The plot is the same as The Music Man, with the square girl falling for the bad boy. Actually, that's a pretty slim connection to hang this blog item on. Maybe I should go with the vocal harmonies of the doo-wop and rock-a-billy soundtrack in relation to the barbershop group in The Music Man. Or just not try to find a connection.

Cry-Baby is not as cute as some later John Waters, and not as gross as some early. Cry-Baby's (Johnny Dep) gang, the Drapes, is pretty heinous, including the Buddy-Hackett-faced girl Hatchetface, Ricky Lake's child-dropping Pepper, and black-toothed Gramma Rickettes. But they don't discriminate and they know how to rock out. And Gramma Rickettes' husband, Belvedere Rickettes is played by Iggy Pop - and very well, too. I don't think he ever breaks character.

My favorite part is the songs, both classic and original (several by Dave Alvin, one by Alvin and classic popster Doc Pomus). What good is a musical without music? I would have preferred a musical showdown at the end between the Drapes and the Squares, but Waters never asked me, so...

In conclusion:
  • The Beatles: Greatest musical group ever.
  • The Music Man: Greatest patter songs, except for some other ones, maybe
  • John Waters: Sick, sick man. Great artist though.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cocktails of the Future

My reader, D.W. I, asks a number of questions about cocktails:
  1. What is a good source for classic recipes?
  2. What are the cocktail equivalents of the innovators like El Bulli and Fat Duck?
For classic cocktails, I'll just mention the Professional Mixing Guide, published by the Angostura-Wuppermann Corp. in 1947. My father or uncle probably picked it up at Stengel's Liquors in Brockton MA. My observations: They drank a lot more gin, and a lot of cocktails had egg or egg whites. We don't do that any more, do we?

Now, for cocktails of the future. Ferran Aria of El Bulli is famous for futuristic food, but has done as much for cocktails. Most of his tricks involve changes of state - decomposed cocktails with hot and frozen ingredients, cocktail caviar (liquor encased in little bubbles of sodium alginate/calcium chloride), aerosolized martinis.

Fat Duck on the other hand, is famous for molecular gastronomy - discovering unusual combinations of flavors based on the molecular compositions of the flavor molecules. Its liquid cousin, molecular mixology is somewhat less well known.

One famous Fat Duck combination is mango and Douglas fir. Can you imagine the piney note in a mango's scent? This seems like a cocktail recipe to me.

I have a recipe for Douglas fir infusion (basically, stick a clean branch of fir into a bottle of gin), but I have also found an interesting liqueur: Zerbenz stone pine Alpen liqueur. Pale red, slightly sweet, very piney. To the laboratory!

My results:
  • Mango juice/Zerbenz (various ratios): FAIL. The flavors somehow cancel out, leaving a watery tasting cocktail
  • Mango juice/Gin/Zerbenz (4:2:1): FAIL. The gin doesn't add anything, might even subtract something.
  • Gin/Zerbenz (3:1): WIN. This martini variation, using Zerbenz in place of vermouth is herbal and sweet. I used Anchor's Junipero gin, which has a big juniper flavor (and is SF Bay area based).
OK, so I didn't wind up going with mango/fir. Just couldn't get it to work. Maybe it takes a real molecular gastronomist. I did, however, invent the:

Stone Fox
1 jigger Junipero gin
1/2 oz Zerbenz stone pine liqueur

Shake over ice and serve up in a martini glass. Garnish with a pine cone or something.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best Bond Ever

I'm not especially a James Bond fan. Up to now, my favorite Bond has probably been Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond, in Casino Royale. Casino Royale is still my favorite, but this time with Daniel Craig.

The new James Bond movie certainly re-invigorates the franchise. As Bond, Craig is serious. To him, it matters. It's not just a game to him. He isn't cool and suave, he is intense and brutal. He always knows the one switch to pull, the one place to shoot, to make everything blow up. It totally works.

We were completely sold during a 20-minute long chase scene at the start, with Craig chasing Sebastien Foucan, freerunning/parkours style. This chase starts strong and builds to ridiculous. This modern school of action film-making - the Tony Jaa, Run Lola Run, Luc Besson, total balls-out energy style is, I believe, the reason film was put on earth. It looks like Craig is pushing himself to and past his limits to keep up. When you see him with his kit off, you can believe he is capable of almost anything.

There are any number of departures from the style and content of the series, but also many echoes, reflections and origins-of. In the credits, an animation of playing cards, we see a fractal development of the club, with each knob growing a smaller club, with smaller clubs growing on each of them. I think that's a clue to the fractal, self-similar nature of this film, drawing from all periods of Bond, as well as it's own period.

I haven't read the book, so I can't say how closely this film followed it. It doesn't share much with the previous movie, although there is a card game, and Bond is drugged. However, in the earlier film, he sees bagpipers. Here he goes into cardiac arrest. This is an improvement.

However, the earlier film had a slow motion pillow fight with Ursula Andress set to Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love". So maybe that is still my favorite Bond movie. But Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever.

In conclusion:
  • More parkour in action movies.
  • Is this Casino Royale so good it ends the franchise?
  • Nothing beats Ursula Andress and Dusty Springfield.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Dancing Fools

The story in Dance, Girl, Dance is a familiar one: one girl wants to practice her art, another gives the audience what it wants. Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball are chorus girls. O'Hara wants to dance ballet, but the world wants to see Lucille shake her stuff. Lucy is happy to oblige, and becomes a big name in burlesque. She even hires O'Hara as her "stooge" to do a classical ballet number, which the audience heckles.

We'd probably feel more sympathetic if O'Hara weren't a weak dancer, and wet as a duck's behind. Personally, I was yelling, "Get off the stage!". Ball is definitely the more interesting character - an evil, selfish, backbiting, gold-digging mantrap. And we love her for it. Like in Delightfully Dangerous, burlesque is the gutter and O'Hara gets a big speech about what jerks the audience is. Gee, it looks like good clean fun to me.

Meanwhile, O'Hara and Ball meet sentimental, drunk, creepy Louis Hayward. He woos O'Hara, but goes out with Ball. He also stalks his soon-to-be ex-wife. He is a complex, self-destructive type. But ballet producer Ralph Bellamy (as usual, the nice guy) is taking an interest in O'Hara.

Spoiler: I was amazed that the movie has a happy ending - Ball marries the drunk, then divorces him for $50 grand so he can go back to his wife. O'Hara is heartbroken, but it looks like Ralph Bellamy might get her on the rebound. I've always wanted to see Bellamy get the girl, instead of the jerk. And I never want the nice girl and the cad to get together. I guess it's romantic, but you know it never works in real life.

Soundie pioneer Dorothy Arzner directs, and does a fine job. The girls look outstanding - we paused the DVD for frame after frame, especially the closeups, just to see the way Arzner treated their faces. She did the best she could for the weak dance numbers, mainly by showing reaction shots. Some great characters lend a hand, like Ed Brophy as "Dwarfie" and Maria Ouspenskaya as the girl's ballet teacher.

I can't see this appealing to the general public, but if you liked Delightfully Dangerous or Ziegfield Girl, you should give this a try.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Singapore Scandal

Any time I'm in Singapore, I like to stop by the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. This cocktail, invented here around 1910, is iconic to lovers of tropical drinks. This trip, I had an epiphany: These are terrible. Specifically, they taste like they are built on a Koolaid base. And they probably are.

I can't claim that my recipe is traditional or true, but I think it tastes a lot better than what you'll get at the Long Bar:

1/4 shot Benedictine
1/4 shot Cointreau
1/2 shot Cherry Heering
1 shot Gin
Squeeze of lime (1/4-1/2 lime)
Pineapple juice and ice to fill an highball glass

Shake and garnish with pineapple slice and cherry.

The bitter herbal gin and the sweet and sour fruit juices and liqueurs are the obvious stars in this drink, but it's the Benedictine that ties it together, with a rich deep mystery.

My research indicates that early recipes (pre-1970?) used soda instead of fruit juice. Sorry, I prefer fruit. However, inferior fruit juice is almost certainly the problem at the Long Bar. Maybe they should go back to soda.