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Christmas Spirits V: No Way I’m Spitting This Out.

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(This is part of a drink-by-drink Christmas eve exploration of Charles H. Baker’s 1939 cocktail compendium book, The Gentleman’s Companion)

16h45

“This is basically like going the the Big Orange and dumping a gin in it, because you’ve had a bad day and you’re going to Dollar Cinema and it costs two dollars fifty right now.”

Mike’s adequate summation of Duffy’s Noon Cocktail, which just tastes entirely too much like orange juice to merit a more detailed description, but which ultimately does satisfy Brennan’s demand for “A healthy drink, to health me up between drinks.”

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Christmas Spirits II: Faded Glory

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(This is part of a drink-by-drink Christmas eve exploration of Charles H. Baker’s 1939 cocktail compendium book, The Gentleman’s Companion)

14h35
(Apologies for the lengthy and uncharacteristic intermission between drinks, but two of our party were dispatched to retrieve “nacho fixins” and an N64 gaming system with 007 Goldeneye, both soon-to-be Christmas Day staples.)

MORNING GLORY No. 2.

Good rye, or bourbon, 1 jigger
Gomme syrup, 1 tsp
Curaçao, 1 tsp
Cognac, 1 jigger
Orange bitters or Angostura, 3 dashes
Absinthe, 1 tsp.

Mixing technique seems to be torn between stirring in a bar glass with ice, straining into a whisky glass, and adding a little seltzer topped off with a twist of lemon peel – or stirring in the same bar glass, and turning into an old fashioned glass, a squirt of club soda, and a twist of peel.

Again, opted for no ice because, again, we weren’t anticipating it would hang about long enough to be warmed by the ambience. Agreed by all in attendance to be a solid and respectable cocktail, although stock limitations demanded we substitute a cheap but serviceable 10-year-old Italian brandy for the cognac. Ultimately it conveys a surprising delicacy for all the brutish and elbowey spirits involved, although to its discredit there is a slight hint of Mr. Clean on the nose. Opted for classic Angostura in lieu of orange bitters, but upon further consideration suspect that orange was the way to go.

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“May Your First Child Be A Masculine Child”

it's called the Luca Brasi.

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holy shit guys, i went to a bar in Vermont last weekend that had Fernet Branca on tap, for god’s sake. which i suppose is more symbolic than anything, but it is a symbol (of love for, and regular use of, Fernet Branca) that i appreciate. they also had two Hill Farmstead beers (aka The Best Beers) on tap, serve their bloody mary with a beer back and they make a cocktail that is just five bitters mixed together (Campari, Fernet, Punt e Mes, Cocchi Americano & Cynar). although i didn’t get a chance to really suss out their cocktail/bartending skills, because it was 11:30am (to their credit they were serving a full cocktail menu at 11:30am) and i had clawed my way into consciousness (been clawed into consciousness?), soaked in rainwater and Miller Highlife in the middle of the woods just prior, but it is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in, uh, Waterbury, Vermont.

oh yeah, it’s in Waterbury, Vermont, population 5,064. and it’s a bbq joint. and it has duck fat fries. and Stumptown cold brew stubbies.

and we’ve got a food truck operated by a street-food-themed restaurant.

 

get your shit together, Montreal.

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I Hope He Uses the Phrase “Homespun Intersubjectivity Engine.”

 

totally uninspiring title aside, this talk on thursday, “You Are What You Eat: Historical Changes in Ideas About Food and Identity”, by Steven Shapin, should be worth checking out:

The relationship between what you eat and who you are has been understood very differently in different historical settings. Now we believe that both our bodies and our foods are made of chemicals and that our health depends upon taking in the right combination and amounts of food constituents. But in the past both physicians and laity believed that the virtues and powers of foods might become your virtues and powers. If you ate rabbit, you might become timid while beef-eating might make you bold. These are very different idioms for thinking about food in relation to personal and collective identity, and this talk explores what changing idioms mean for changing notions of what people are like and how they come to be the way they are.

granting that even the blurb sounds pretty meh, Steven Shapin tends to be fairly interesting, and i am anticipating a depth and insight greater than is hinted above. co-author of the enormously influential classic of science studies Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life, Shapin was part of that early movement of scholars who attempted to open up the production of matters of fact and unpack their political content. the most exciting insights of Leviathan and the Air Pump being to provide a reading of Robert Boyle’s experimental writings as themselves political tracts, and of Hobbes’ Leviathan as being as much a work of natural philosophy as of political philosophy.

what does any of that have to do with food? well, nothing, but the development can be sketched like this: one of the major themes of Shapin’s work over the years has been to look at the historical role of virtue in scientific thought and practice; the sort of moral content that is disavowed in the usual portrait of dispassionate, disinterested science but in fact has been quite central to its construction and the ideas of right-living for scientists. in Leviathan and the Air Pump this emerges in Boyle’s idea that the production and confirmation of matters of fact must occur in a delimited space (the laboratory) occupied by trustworthy people (men) of virtuous character who could act as credible witnesses for the veracity of experimental results. ever since, there has been a hard kernel of trust at the centre of the scientific research endeavour (tempered, ideally, by replication, peer review, etc.). you can call this a social understanding or an intersubjective understanding, but i think the second is more illustrative for our purposes, because (i’m skipping a couple of steps here) when you start viewing ‘objectivity’ as an intersubjective accomplishment rather than an individual possession or a position (the ‘view from nowhere’ for example. Daston & Galison’s expansive examination of this is certainly worth checking out), you can start to come at this foundational dichotomy in a different way.

and in what better field to fuzzy up the conventional opposition between subjectivity and objectivity than that of taste? ‘taste’ in the sense of ‘preference’ has been both totally sociologized and as Shapin argues in a paper from a couple of years back entitled “The Sciences of Subjectivity”, completely neglected as a an object/subject of study by historians and social scientists (to get the meat of his perhaps counterintuitive argument, you’ll just have to read the damn thing). ‘taste’ in the sense of ‘sensation’ and the interface between self and world has received still less (contemporary scholarly attention), even while organic chemistry and neuroscience devote ever more attention to its elaboration and explanation. our faith(s) in science notwithstanding, we are many of us at least comfortable with the idea that there is something of taste (perhaps at the intersection of the two definitions of taste) that resists or eludes objectification. i realize this is all very abstract (and likely boring, i am after all very boring), so here is a video of Steve Shapin talking about the history of the tastes of wine. which i hope he talks about more at McGill on thursday because this is something in which i am particularly interested for how it willfully (and often controversially) pushes taste into a different terrain of referentiality, into a sort of speculative organoleptics. by which i mean a realm of taste and tasting wherein one is as driven by associative concerns as much as by ‘objective’ tastes whatever they are. it’s intimately empirical and yet trenchantly non-objective, perhaps not even intersubjective, for that matter.  

more on this later, probably.

also, if that all read as totally opaque academic obscurantism, don’t worry, the talk will almost certainly be more accessible, as Shapin is bald and bluff and moustachioed and doesn’t appear to give a fuck.

 

 


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Holy Hell.

The Fish.

by Lydia Davis.

She stands over a fish, thinking about certain irrevocable mistakes she has made today. Now the fish has been cooked, and she is alone with it. The fish is for her – there is no one else in the house. But she has had a troubling day. How can she eat this fish, cooling on a slab of marble? And yet the fish, too, motionless as it is, and dismantled from its bones, and fleeced of its silver skin, has never been so completely alone as it is now: violated in a final manner and regarded with a weary eye by this woman who has made the latest mistake of her day and done this to it.

 

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Fine-Tuning the Contours of Realness.

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the ‘Abyss of BBQ’, which is something that I have never properly explained, but has for some time been rattling around my skull shaping experiences, proliferating references, refers to the tendency (that was up until recently in North America an inevitability) of more exploratory and unconventional potato chip flavours to end up just tasting like some variation of BBQ (‘Black Hole of BBQ’ might be a more fitting analogy, but I am erring on the side of poetic resonance here). or, at best / worst / most, like some BBQ-borderline-All-Dressed. which I suppose, given that All-Dressed by definition contains BBQ, would just be “Half-Dressed”. like a deep v-neck and tights, I suppose, were I to suggest a fashion equivalent.

travelling outside of North America, however, exposes one not only to a plethora of new chip flavours, but also a very different set of culinary reference points around which the standard canon of flavours constellate. the most jarring of which, particularly where is concerned the thinking of this Abyss of BBQ is the fact that BBQ is -not- a tried and true point of reference for potato chip flavour profile design (or consumer familiarity) the other side of the Atlantic. which is a reminder of how distinctly (North) American is “BBQ” as such; both the chips and the culinary technique / culture to which they so tenuously and non-specifically refer. arguably, “BBQ” flavour in North America points to nothing, it points to no specific meat, it points to no specific sauce, thus belying the considerable diversity which of course exists in American BBQ (to say nothing of commercially available BBQ sauces, that represent a simulacric register unto themselves); it points only to the BBQ chip itself, or the idea thereof, such that any chip flavour that invokes a particular BBQ’d food item, such as ribs or, say, baby back ribs (the imaginative capacity of chip flavour scientist-administrators for what can be BBQ’d is strikingly lean, it seems) is inevitably understood as a variation on the pre-existing ur flavour of non-specific ‘BBQ’. which of course is not even itself a single flavour, because pretty much every BBQ chip one eats falls somewhere or other along the spectrum of sweetness v. smokiness anyway (and further usually just taste like Mrs. Dash with more or less smoked paprika involved).

which is why it is extra-specially conceptually interesting to encounter “BBQ” chips in European countries (such as England, which I consistently forget is in Europe at all), because one can’t help but wonder whether their reference point is in fact the American BBQ chip or some notion of “American BBQ” as a culinary entity – put another way, is the (ie, any given) European BBQ flavoured chip a barbecued meat flavoured chip, or a a BBQ chip flavoured chip? it us not always clear. in the case (at hand), of the British version of “Smoky BBQ” Kettle Chips, one gets the sense that there is a “real thing” that the Kettle UK creative team is attempting to approximate, but it is almost as if they assumed that the American BBQ chip was itself an approximation of some truly existing object called “BBQ” and they in turn were trying to get closer to that Real. in effect, it tastes like a more tasteful, carefully refined version of BBQ. but what does that mean? WTF, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? it’s just less gross, less vulgar than the typical BBQ chip? it tastes more like more real things (like, plants and shit) went into making this thing that is supposed to taste like… what? a condiment? a process? fat and fire and the contraction of time into the relaxation of flesh?

 

my friend James tells me that even the appearance of the BBQ chip in the UK is an indication of the extent to which the usual British resistance to American cultural influence is being dissolved by the recent trend in burger and BBQ joints popping up around London (see also: how the British are now big into building ridiculous towering eyesores, and the proliferation of beers that don’t taste like room-temperature dishwater, which i also will be getting on about soon, believe you me), although I am inclined to speculate that the American BBQ boom is more the consequence of forward-thinking entrepreneurs realizing what an opportunity had been presented by all these Britishers eating BBQ chips and being like “Wait, barbecued –what-?”

 

also, these chips are huge. can you see how big is this chip? that chip was huge.

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Three Things of Which In Themselves I am a Great Fan, But Which Abstracted As Flavours I Avoid:

 

1. lemons. in many forms: fresh, preserved, seared, zested. but lemony, no thanks. associations with cleaning product inevitably prevail.

2. almonds. almond paste and marzipan equally distasteful. amaretto all the worse. notable exceptions – danish frøsnapper.

3. bananas. for which i have been suffering an unaccountable craving of late  (that i gratify based on a rumour i heard that we [the world] will be running out of bananas soon, so i may as well get ’em while i can) due less to any great affection for their taste than what i assume is an underlying potassium deficiency, or the state of nigh-perpetual hangover that seems to attend my waking hours regardless of how recently or copiously i drank. possibly it is of neurasthenic or glandular origin. notable exceptions – banana bread, and Salers Gentiane, which does not taste like, nor does it bear any relation to, bananas, and in the rest of the world outside of Canada is not even yellow.

 

 

it appears the unifying theme is dessert, to which it may be objected that one is commonly subjected to bad imitations of lemon, almond, and banana flavours in the candy/dessert world, but i have found that even the best and truest of such desserts leave me cold.

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A Rosy, Shit-Eating Grin (more tour fragments).

you will take my word for it there there is a bread beneath those.

~

a woman in Copenhagen, biking while eating a sandwich with one hand*, catches our eye(s) and gives us a wide, winning, smile – the kind of open, morale-boosting 
smile that makes one feel as if it is, however precarious, not only 
possible, but laudable, to strike and maintain a certain balance.
 we’re doing alright, and may just continue to be alright. or will at least fall on our 
faces doing what we love.

from a scrap of paper found in my vest. context: day off in Copenhagen before continuing on to play a total of 2 1/2 shows over the course of  1 week in Sweden and Norway (aka The Most Expensive Place Ever). already €450 in debt. not, however, a sandwich as pictured above, the famous smørrebrød, which are themselves beautiful and awesome as was that smile, but even harder to eat on a bicycle.

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