Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Woke This Morning Thinking of Tits

I woke this morning thinking of tits.

"So what?" you may ask. "I myself think of tits no less than 329 times a day." Yeah, ok, fair enough. You and a bunch of my friends. But bear with me. This is noteworthy for several reasons. I do not recall ever, in the last forty-some years, greeting the day with thoughts of tits. Oh, I can appreciate a nice rack when I see one. I'm gay, not blind. But I spend just slightly more time mulling them over (even in passing thoughts) than I do thinking about which kosher wine I'll serve with breakfast, what's in this month's issue of Cat Fancy, or whether this is the weekend I'll finally crochet a cover for my oven.

To clarify: I do none of that.

Bardot and her, um, raccoon eyes
But here's the thing: I was thinking specifically of Brigitte Bardot's tits — and this despite the fact that no concrete image of Brigitte Bardot came to mind as I stretched under the sheets. Some European sex kitten, I vaguely recalled, whose popularity peaked before I'd learned to walk. Blonde, perhaps.

They were being talked about in my mind in the gravelly, booze-worn voice of British actor Michael Gambon. Though Gambon is known to younger generations as Professor Dumbledor in the Harry Potter movies, his roles as dangerous, dastardly men are what stick in my mind. Albert Spica, for instance, in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover or Eddie Temple in Layer Cake. The voice, though I could not make out particular words, had a distinctly lascivious tone. Not wholly unexpected, given that these were, after all, tits being talked about, but the voice was overbearing, boorish. I pictured him pawing at me while explaining something...something that clutched at the edges of my memory, then slipped away. This had to do with dinner. I was sure of it. Did Bardot, perhaps, pen a cookbook? And it wasn't jugs, or hooters, or headlights; it was...

My eyes snapped open. I had it! In my best Michael Gambon voice, I barked out "...roast chicken like Bridget Bardot’s tits." A muffled hrrmpf came from the other side of the bed. Not everyone was awake yet.

The phrase that had been haunting me was from A.A. Gill's essay Tour De Gall in last April's Vanity Fair. The piece is so good, so anchored in my memory, that it seemed to have had me wondering whether I'd switched teams in my sleep. In it, Gill wrote about the Paris restaurant L’Ami Louis, frequented by titans of state and screen and which he excoriates, in devilish detail, as the Worst Restaurant in the World. I like the passage below dealing with the recommendation best in the Michael Gambon voice. Try that bit in Michael Caine's if you like, but not soft, velvet Old Michael Caine: Young Michael Caine, all loud and nasal and vaguely threatening.
In all my years as a restaurant critic I have learned that there is a certain type of florid, blowsy, patrician Brit who will sidle up and bellow, with a fruity bluster, that if I ever happen to find myself in Paris (as if Paris were a cul-de-sac on a shortcut to somewhere else) there is this little place he knows, proper French, none of your nouvelle nonsense, bloody fantastic foie gras, and roast chicken like Bridget Bardot’s tits, and that I should go. But, they add, don’t bloody write about it.
If you missed it the first time around, read Gill's essay. L’Ami Louis may or may not be the worst restaurant in the world, but Tour De Gall is the most enjoyable restaurant review I've read in a long time.

And if you still can't quite place Gambon, here he is as Albert Spica in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Not entirely Safe for Work, but, then, you're sitting there reading about tits, so either you're not at work or you suffer from the delusion that nobody knows what you're doing on company time. That's Helen Mirren with the hair and a very young Tim Roth at the table.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Amsterdam's Canals: A Drunkard's Deathtrap

Understand that Amsterdam is one of my most favorite cities in the world. In fact, when I lived in Philadelphia, I kept a bag packed for those weekends when roundtrip airfare to Amsterdam dropped under $200. It didn't happen often, but when it did, I knew I'd soon be eating breakfast at Cafe Luxembourg overlooking Spui, the cobblestoned square at the heart of so many of my Amsterdam adventures.

A "private" model from
Heavy drinking and concomitant public urination is so common in the city, however, that residents have a term for it: "wild pissing" (wild plassen in Dutch). Despite the presence of outdoor pissoirs throughout the city, such pubic conveniences aren't always used. Anything is fair game when a full bladder demands attention — trees and buildings, for instance. Even the city's famous canals are not exempt from a good hosing down.

Earlier this year, Radio Netherlands relates a story from De Telegraaf that 51 people have died in those canals over the last three years. One was the result of crime. The other 50?
De Telegraaf newspaper concludes that the other deaths were the fault of the victims themselves: they fell into the water and were unable to get out...Most of the canal casualties are apparently men who fall in while attempting to urinate into the water from the side.
How is it determined that men fell to their deaths while urinating? The article doesn't specify. Of course, witness statements might help establish that. But my guess is that their open flies were the common giveaway.

The article makes no mention, either, of the obvious: many of these drowned men with their supposedly open zippers had to have been drunk enough to lose their balance at the canals' edges and, hands occupied, tumble into the dark waters below: an ignominious end.

Please, dear readers, should you visit Amsterdam, have a few drinks too many, and find yourself outside, use the public toilets. That's why they are there. If the completely open four-man pissers make you a bit shy, keep an eye out for older, more private ones like the one above.

And before your flight back home, be sure to piss on a fly in Schiphol Airport.

Hands-on Whiskey Distilling Class in Colorado

For the past several years, the American Distilling Institute has offered small hands-on classes for aspiring distillers and those who want to know more about distilling. ADI president Bill Owens once (in)famously fermented and distilled doughnuts at one of these five-day workshops. Owens, it must be noted, has an impish side and likes tweaking peoples' notions of proper whiskey.

June 3-8, ADI is holding another class. I've got nothing to do with this; just passing on information. This class will be led by distiller Jordan Via. Via has led similar events at Sweetwater Distilling (in Petaluma, CA), but is now plying his trade at Breckenridge Distillery, site of next month's get-together. 

The class includes;
  • Denver International Airport shuttle to and from Breckenridge 
  • Sunday night welcome BBQ 
  • Five nights lodging in Breckenridge
  • Breakfasts and lunches    
  • Hands-on instruction with Master Distiller Jordan Via (Monday through Thursday)  
  • Demonstrations and presentations by industry professionals and suppliers 
  • Optional morning walk with ADI President, Bill Owens 
Attendees will participate in the process from charging the still with distillers' beer to the final steps of wresting the usable alcohol from that beer. Since this is a slow process, there will be breaks during which speakers will talk about aging, blending, distribution, marketing, branding, sourcing materials and other topics about opening and running a distillery. Lots of smelling and tasting.

Distiller Jordan Via explaining how to run a still
The five-day class is $3,500. Owens tells me that, at that price, most of the attendees already have done their reading and are seriously considering either launching a distillery or — in the case of the occasional sommelier who signs up — are professionals in the beverage field who want to expand their knowledge of how spirits are made. For more details, head over to the American Distilling Institute's website.

For first-time drinkers in Colorado, Owens offers words of advice: "...[C]onsuming alcoholic beverages at high altitude can get you drunk fast, so limit your drinks to 1 per hour. Bottom's up!"

Sunday, May 6, 2012

South Carolina Orange Cordial

200 Years of Charleston Cooking was first published in 1930. If you were to flip through the edition in my library, you will find a recipe for homemade orange cordial using not brandy as one might expect, but “good corn whiskey.” Should you have access to a gallon of corn whiskey and the patience to gather the pith-free peelings of fifty oranges, then you are in business.

The original headnote calls this recipe “doomed to go untried.” In 1930, you see, Prohibition was still the law of the land and beverage alcohol was illegal. In spite of this, I suspect the good people of Charlestown, South Carolina wouldn’t have had great difficulty, if they were so determined, getting their hands on even as much as a gallon of corn squeezin’s.
Orange Cordial 

Another recipe doomed to go untried reads: 
"Take the thinnest parings of fifty oranges to a gallon good corn whiskey. Leave two months, then pour off and add a thin syrup made of two and one-half pounds of first white sugar and one pint water boiled until it commences to thicken." 

 — Bluff Plantation, Cooper River

Friday, May 4, 2012

Getting a Grip on Smoke: an Idea from Chip Flanagan

Chip Flanagan is on my mind today. Flanagan is executive chef at Ralph's on the Park, a mid-city restaurant directly across the street from City Park in New Orleans. Catching a breeze on the upper story's wraparound porch after a meal is a thoroughly civilized — and mighty enjoyable — way to keep cool on sultry Summer evenings. Helps to have some whiskey in hand (which the bartenders downstairs will happily supply).

But it's the not drinks, the view, or the architecture that's got me thinking of Ralph's; it's what Flanagan has been doing with smoke that's got me mulling options for our new place in San Diego.

Smoked pork belly at Ralph's
Back in December, we bought a 1914 Craftsman house. The sellers had hidden the pad for the original garage out back under a layer of new mulch next to loquat and lilly pilly trees. It was well disguised and we took nearly a week to discover the deception.

The options, as I see them, are two; (1) keep it or (2) get rid of it. The area gets a lot of sun. If we rip it up, I can plant avocado or citrus trees in the 180 square feet. If we keep it...what to do?

And then I remembered Chip Flanagan: I could turn the pad into the foundation for an outdoor kitchen, starting with a smoker. From little more than an old proofing box and a couple of hot plates, the chef has rigged a respectable smoker that he showed me when I was visiting. At the time, a few pork bellies hung within, each slowly acquiring a mahogany mantel. Not long afterwards, I greedily tucked into some of that unctuous, soft, sticky swine.

A flare up in the smoker
Yeah. That's what I want.

Smoked meat is the birthright of every Kansas City native and ever since I was a kid growing up in that town, I've wanted a smoker of my own. When we lived in places a smoker was either impractical or illegal, visions of home-smoked hams, sausages, bacon, chickens, and more have kept me up at night — but the obsession over smoked meats didn't abate. Now that I own the ground under my feet, it's time to decide not whether to build one, but what kind to build. Flanagan's steel box is a compelling design — it's simply a bakery proofing cabinet with the electrics removed and it's on wheels already, so it's mobile(ish). Flanagan uses old skillets with wood chips heated on portable hot plates and for the smoke. The thing would have to have vents to control the flow of air. Add a few cross bars for hanging meats, maybe a wire shelf for smoking cheeses or salt, and we're on to something.

That's it.

With such a simple box, the chef makes great stuff for the restaurant. There's the smoked belly, of course, but also cauliflower, which he uses in soups, salads, and custards. Right now, he's got an oak-smoked pork chop on the menu and he also sometimes cold-smokes tuna with hickory.

Tonight, I'm picking up a little bullet-shaped smoker from a guy who's never used it. That will hold me until I figure out whether I take the Flanagan route or take the plunge and build something more substantial.

But mark this: come Monday, we'll have smoked chicken gumbo for the first time in many years.

Ralph's on the Park
900 City Park Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119
(504) 488-1000