Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Squid Mixes: Boulevardier

My wife found the recipe for a boulevardier at smitten kitchen, a website by Deb Perelman.  It is actually quite similar to a drink I made back in July called an old pal cocktail, also combining rye whiskey, Campari and sweet vermouth.  The proportions are oh so slightly different.  The old pal is 4:3:2 and the boulevardier is 2:1:1.  Having less Campari makes for a slightly less bitter drink which is nice.  The result is more cinnamon whereas the old pal was cranberry.  Perelman also allows for the use of bourbon rather than rye.  She isn't too fussy about combining the ingredients right in the serving glass rather than a shaker or mixing glass.  Bartending tools are fun but simplicity is nice, too.

A boulevardier is also similar to a Negroni, replacing gin with whiskey.  Paul Clarke described the difference most poetically at Serious Eats:  "A simple substitution? Hardly. The bittersweet interplay between Campari and vermouth remains, but the whiskey changes the storyline. Where the Negroni is crisp and lean, the Boulevardier is rich and intriguing."

The boulevardier was invented by Erskine Gwynne who published a magazine in Paris from 1927-32 called Boulevardier.

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Window Above: New World Symphony

Piece: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", op. 95, B. 178 (New World Symphony)
Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Premier: December 16, 1893, New York

I am slowly turning into my father.  Much as we might try to avoid it, becoming our parents as we age is largely inevitable.  My latest step in this steady march is my devotion to classical music radio.  I've been a classical musician for most of my life but as a consumer craving distraction from the day-to-day, I have generally preferred pop music radio platforms: Adult Alternative, Adult Hits, Classic Rock, etc.  Interestingly, it is my daughter who has pushed me in this direction.  With all of her musical involvements, she's actually become a bit of a snob (he says with beaming pride).  She will ask me to change the station when a particularly objectionable pop song comes on one of my other stations.  Classical music seems to keep both of us happy.

Fortunately, Vermont Public Radio (VPR) has an excellent classical music station.  It is now my default choice for the car and I have to admit that the switch feels like nothing short of a quality of life improvement.

Dvořák's New World Symphony has become one of my favorites in recent months.  Apart from hearing it on the radio, we also got to see it performed live at our most recent Vermont Symphony concert.  In composing the piece, the Czech master drew inspiration from both Native American and African American music as well as the wide open spaces of the American landscape.  I am especially fond of the second movement, Largo, the melodic theme based on "Goin' Home," a spiritual-like song written by one of Dvořák's pupils, William Arms Fisher.  The movement features one of the world's most famous English horn solos.

Now, if only Vermont had a jazz station...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Squid Mixes: Kir Royale

For our second date, my wife and I watched The Philadelphia Story in her New York apartment and drank kirs.  The movie has been a part of our family holiday traditions ever since (see review here), though we have not had kirs along with it quite so faithfully.  We spent Christmas week in Montreal so, as a continuation of our Advent explorations, we picked up a bottle of creme de cassis, a delicious black currant liqueur, from Quebec.  It seemed as good an excuse as any to experiment with kirs.
The kir royale combines cassis with champagne, whereas the regular kir features white wine.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  As noted in previous posts, this guide often produces unusually strong drinks.  The recipe calls for 2 oz. of cassis, quite a lot.  It also calls for stirring after combining the ingredients so you lose the pretty cassis at the bottom effect one often sees.  Mind you, it was still yummy but too strong and not bubbly enough for my wife's tastes.  Next time, I think I'll try the recipe on the back of the bottle which calls for significantly less cassis, added after the wine/champagne and allowed to sit at the bottom without stirring.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Window Above: Friday I'm in Love

Song: "Friday I'm in Love"
Writers: Perry Bamonte, Boris Williams, Simon Gallup, Robert Smith and Porl Thompson
Original Release: April 21, 1992
Band: The Cure
Album: Wish

I tend to be behind the times in my musical tastes.  I was unimpressed by U2, for instance, when the Joshua Tree album was first released but I became a big fan several years later.  My favorite band, The Beatles, broke up three years before I was born.  Even now, most of the music I listen to was written by dead people, much of it centuries ago.

The Cure is another example.  In truth, I was highly dismissive of the entire British alternative genre in the '80s.  I wrote of my attitude towards The Smiths in this post.  Whiny songs about clinical depression set to electronic keyboards?  No thanks. 

My feelings about The Cure changed when we moved to Vermont in the early aughts.  The area's Adult Alternative station was and still is The Point: WNCS, 104.7 based in Montpelier.  At the time, they played The Cure a lot.  It annoyed me in the beginning but in time, the band grew on me, this song in particular.  After all, I was a beginning teacher.  What's not to love about Friday?

This new love came at a cost.  The station also played The Grateful Dead a lot.  I was never a Dead fan but considered them mostly innocuous.  The Point drove me to hate them.  And so it goes.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
via Amazon
The Throne of Glass series is our daughter's current favorite.  She even has a TofG-themed iPhone case.  She is devoted to fantasy in general and given that the story is led by a booty-kicking female protagonist, her interest is not surprising. 

I was frustrated with the book in the beginning.  Maas employs a detail-dump approach whenever she
introduces a new character or setting.  I get that imagery is important to a lot of readers.  I just prefer a bit more subtlety.  Throne of Glass is rarely subtle.

Despite my early misgivings, I got caught up in the story.  Celaena Sardothien was the most notorious assassin in the kingdom until she was captured and sent away to a slave camp.  One day, the crown prince springs her out of her misery with the promise that if she wins a competition back at the castle, she will eventually gain her freedom.  Meanwhile, there is a mysterious evil afoot.  The other competitors are being gruesomely murdered, one by one.

There aren't a lot of plot twists.  Pretty much everyone turns out to be who you expect them to be.  The most interesting narrative developments come in the evolving relationships between characters.  The people don't change much but the way they see each other does.  Celaena herself is a bit puzzling: an effective but not entirely cold-hearted killer.  There's romance along the way, too: a love triangle between Celaena, the prince (Dorian) and the captain of the guard (Chaol).

Even with the lack of subtlety, there is occasional elegance in the language.  The story is absorbing and it reads quickly.  The world building is admirable: languages, races, religions.  Overall, I'd rate the book above Percy Jackson but below Diana Wynne Jones's Howl series.  Daughter tells me the second book is better so I'm intrigued.  After all, I don't even know the saga well enough to understand the quote on her phone case yet.  There's a TV show in production, too, air date TBD.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On the Coffee Table: French Milk

Title: French Milk
Writer and Artist: Lucy Knisley
via Amazon
French Milk is Knisley's self-illustrated travel diary of the six weeks she and her mother spent living in Paris.  This was my second dip into Knisley's work, having read Relish a few years ago (see here).  Interspersed with her drawings are photographs, often of the same subjects which makes for interesting side-by-side comparisons.  Knisley's art represents simplified and somewhat idealized versions of reality.

I was a little disappointed in this book.  Lots of shopping and eating - okay, I can't say I really mind the eating as I myself do plenty of writing about eating.  But I guess I was hoping for deeper cultural insights whereas most of Knisley's material is about... herself.  The blurb on the back cover promises a personal look at the mother-daughter relationship but I'm not sure we really got much of that either.  Perhaps it is honest and realistic.  It's just not what I wanted. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Squid Mixes: Rum Swizzle

The rum swizzle is considered by some to be the national drink of Bermuda, though others claim it is the dark 'n' stormy.  My recipe, from The New York Bartender's Guide, combines dark rum with lime juice, Angostura bitters, sugar and sparkling water.  Drinks described as swizzles date as far back as the mid-18th century.  The swizzle stick was named for the beverage.

For us, the drink was a vehicle for the Mad River First Run Rum we got as part of our Advent adventures (see here).  The lime juice supplies most of the flavor but the rum does bring a pleasant warmth to the party.