Archive for June, 2008

Grains of Truth

June 23, 2008

As you will recall from my recent missive on martinis, I am trying to empty the flat of food, drink and condiments in time for my departure later this week.  This causes some unusual combinations, and while my tongue has taken some esoteric journeys, I am none the worse for wear.

In St Andrews last year I bought a rice cooker, the advantages of which I was taught long ago by my buddy Gary.  When Michelle was here we ate mostly pasta, but since I have been alone I have mixed it up a bit more, and have enjoyed experimenting with Indian food.  Running against the grain, as it were, I prefer brown and wild rice to the more bland white rices, and when you add some sautéed vegetables to some Indian sauce it’s not bad at all.

If I cook rice as a side dish, to take things up a notch I like to add a little butter, non-fat if it’s around, and maybe a little splash of sesame oil.  I like that mysterious, nutty quality that sesame oil brings, and it hasn’t killed me yet.

Last night I was in the mood for some low-intensity comfort food after a long and rigorous day of shopping on the tourist-strewn Royal Mile, so I reached for the rice cooker.  Sadly, I was out of butter — both regular and non-fat — as well as sesame oil.  Then I noticed a small jar of peanut butter.  Hmm.

If I can add butter to the rice and water in the cooker before I turn it on, and if I can also add sesame oil, why not add a blob of peanut butter?  (It was the smooth kind in this case.)  I measured the rice and added the water, and then I spooned out a glob of peanut butter the size of a golf ball — the larger American ball, not the smaller British ball — and tossed it in.  I switched the rice cooker on and then fled the room, having run out of courage.  Nestled safely in the living room I poured a glass of wine and waited.

In a little while the kitchen and hall were filled with that rich, satisfying smell of peanut butter, something like Mom’s homemade peanut butter cookies.  When the light indicated that the rice was done, I removed the lid and gave it a good stir and sniff.  The rice was moist and heavy, and smelled intoxicating.  Usually I look at rice as a filler vehicle on which you pile something interesting and nourishing, but I was shoveling this stuff down.

If you like to experiment in the kitchen, and Michelle LOVES it when I experiment, you might want to try mixing in some green onions or some crumbled bacon.  Tune in next week, when we see what happens when you use jasmine rice with peanut butter and jelly.

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Some Thoughts on Gin and Vermouth

June 22, 2008

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I have spent a fair amount of my career, my career as a drinker, thinking about that sublime melange combining gin and dry vermouth in propitious proportions.  My conclusion is this: it’s a good thing.

As we speak I am conducting further research, with gin from the freezer.  As the aim in these recent days is to run out of everything in time for my departure on Friday, I am prematurely out of vermouth, so I am making do.  Making do with a bit of citrus is not a very bad thing, so sometimes the mix-master on duty tosses in a bit of lemon, lime, or even a slice of pear.  On stranger days, when such luminaries as Kingsley Amis or Hunter S. Thompson come to mind, I add a pinch of cinnamon or ground cloves.  OK, weird, I know, but cloves has always been my catnip, and there are worse things to dump into the shaker.  I won’t list them here.

What kinds of things do you do?  What sorts of gin do you prefer?  What botanicals, additives, condiments or accessories do you toy with?  What martini stories do you know?  Please share.

My most important martini story by far started when I discovered, back in fall of 2006 in St Andrews, that Michelle liked martinis.  We went to a bar on South St called the Gin House.  We imagined speciously that they knew something about martinis.  But after I requested two martinis, and saw the very young bartender proceed to pour two large glasses of Martini and Rossi dry vermouth, I knew we were not on the same page.

As what happened at every bar in the UK, I had to instruct the man or woman behind the bar in the fine art of constructing a martini cocktail.  At a hotel in Stirling there were cocktail shakers behind the bar — a good sign.  (The universal bad sign was the absence of olives; you simply can’t find olives in a bar in the United Kingdom.)  But when I told the bartender to fill one of the shakers with ice, he used his ice tongs to carefully place precisely three cubes into the shaker.  I said, ‘no’, there should be more ice — so he added three more small cubes.  At the brink I told him ‘NO’ you must FILL the shaker with ice, which must have been a wholly alien thought for him; I think he sensed wisely that I might erupt and destroy the hotel if he didn’t end his miserly attitude towards ice, so finally he added a sensible quantity.  When at last we had our cold drinks in hand, with a bit of lemon instead of an olive, we calmed down — I calmed down — and we enjoyed the salubrious effects that gin and vermouth provide.

I hope I remembered to pack my shaker.

Do not suffer thirst.

Tortuous Science Lessons

June 21, 2008

A moron in Ohio masquerading as a middle school science teacher might be — should be — fired for Ohio science educationbranding a cross in a student’s arm.  Read that sentence again.  A guy somehow hired to teach science, the kind of “science” that comes out of the Bible, used an electrostatic device in a demonstration that “burned” a cross on a student’s arm, a painful, unwanted mark that lingered for weeks.

Rather than actually teaching science, John Freshwater spent his time in class imprinting religious symbols onto students and ranting about homosexuals and sin.  He refused to expunge the religious dogma that flavors creationism, while attempting to discredit the robustness and value of carbon dating as a tool for validating evolution.

It’s no wonder we have fallen behind other countries we used to lead in science education, since we allow people clearly unfit for the task into the nation’s classrooms.  Why does the system allow these idiots a pulpit for proselytizing when science teachers should encourage students to learn to think scientifically, like brave Copernicus (1473 – 1543)?  Copernicus proved by observation and analysis that the Earth spun on its axis, and like the other planets rotated around the sun, which refuted long-held and incorrect beliefs.  The official position of the church was that the Earth (and God by implication) was perfect in its immutability, and was fixed and still, while the planets, the sun, and all the other stars rotated about it.  Even though it didn’t make any sense.  Back then, speaking out against religious dogma could result in censure, loss of employment, incarceration, torture and death.  The church was so threatened by advances in science, and the loss of control and respect which inevitably would result from having its foundations disproved, that a combination of cruelty and dogma was its chosen strategy.

Haven’t we progressed in the last 500 years?  Isn’t it time we moved on?  Isn’t it time to fire John Freshwater and try to ensure people like him are not allowed into science classrooms?

Perhaps Freshwater should be exiled to doctrinaire Louisiana, land of incarcerated intellect, where he would be welcomed rather than censured, and he could reflect on the interesting link between his loss of employment and his student’s torture.  I look forward to the death of incursions by religious rubbish like creationism and intelligent design into science education.

Martian Ice Cream

June 1, 2008

Scientists are excited by recent discoveries of ice below the surface of the planet Mars. They will be busy for the near future performing analysis of data provided by the Phoenix lander, NASA’s latest successful probe sent with expert dart-thrower precision to the red planet. This correspondent has just learned that data is not the only thing that will soon come out of the scientific mission.

The Mars family of McLean, Virginia, written about previously in these pages and the secretive owners of the billion dollar candy business of the same name, intends to harvest frozen matter from the planet to market what will be called Martian Ice Cream. It will come in a variety of out-of-this-world flavors, but unfortunately will sell for astronomical prices.

Industry speculators believe this will prove to be a very profitable move for the confection company, due to the current gloomy economic picture. People are likely to spend on comfort food and short-term luxury items when prospects for the future are dim. With the huge increases in the prices of oil and food, the alarming rate of failed mortgages and rising unemployment, a big dish of exotic ice cream might be just the thing to mitigate the malaise and put smiles back on the faces of Americans. Especially if those Americans are very rich, given that Martian Ice Cream might prove to be the most expensive ice cream in history.

Watch this space for more news about Martian Ice Cream coming to a store near you!