December 2005 Archives

New Classic Cocktails cover shotI received a bunch of cool cocktail books from Santa this year, so I was anxious to try out a few new recipes. My favorite new book so far is New Classic Cocktails by Allan Gage. Within the glossy pages are beautiful photos and recipes for 80 "classic" cocktails, each combined with one that has a slight (or big!) twist on the classic recipe. Very nice book, with great pictures and interesting recipes, along with flaps on the inside of the covers to hold the book flat.

First up was the remix for the classic Egg Nog:


    Banana Custard

  • 1 oz brandy (I used a pretty cheap brand, E&J Brandy)
  • 1 oz golden rum (in this case, Sea Wynde)
  • 1/2 oz banana liqueur (basic Leroux)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 oz light cream
  • 1/2 ripe banana, mashed

Put everything into a shaker with crushed ice and shake well. And then shake some more. And then a little bit more for good measure, to get a good froth worked up. Pour it into a red wine or brandy goblet and decorate with a couple of banana slices.

Well, this didn't work out very well, for any number of reasons. The brandy isn't that good, I forgot how much I disliked this rum, I used pieces of frozen banana which didn't add enough flavor, and I couldn't find the banana liqueur I was looking for (99 Bananas), so I had to settle for a low tier brand name. All in all, it wasn't that good, although there was enough potential in the taste that I still would like to try it again.

Then we went for something completely different. This on is actually the "classic" cocktail part. The twist to this recipe was to use kiwi schnapps. Not sure I've ever seen that in any of my local liquor stores.

    Lynchburg Lemonade

  • 1 1/2 oz Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • lemonade to top up

Put the JD, Cointreau and lemon juice in a shaker with crushed ice and shake well. Pour into a nice tall highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with lemonade and decorate with lemon slices.

This one worked quite a bit better. It sure went down smoothly. It promises to be a great summer time, late afternoon drink this summer! I especially like the Wild Oats organic lemonade. It's a great lemonade. Another good one is the Paul Newman brand.

We brought our Lynchburg Lemonade down to the computers and made it through another level of Serious Sam 2, although I was then, and am still, feeling quite a bit under the weather. Rotten head cold that will neither get worse nor get better. And we watched episode 4 from season 3 of the Sopranos. Some pretty wild goings on these days!

Bonus Cocktail!

And as a bonus, I'll throw in a cocktail that I made last night. I was anxious to give this one a try, as it was a very good looking riff on one of my favorite classic cocktails, The Sidecar, and called for one of my favorite rums, Capt. Morgan Spiced Rum.

    Spiced Sidecar

  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 oz Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
  • 1 oz brandy (this time I used a much better brand, Hennessy Cognac)
  • 1 oz Cointreau

Put everything into your cocktail shaker with crushed ice and shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice and decorate with orange twists.

Now this worked out pretty darn well. It takes the basic ingredients of the Sidecar and adds Captain Morgan, which isn't a bad thing at all. I used Meyer Lemon Juice from a cool bottle of it I got from Santa. I'm still looking for fresh Meyer lemons, but this will do for now. I also put it into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with Lemon Drop Rimmer (what a smart Santa!), which worked out pretty well, I thought.

Friday Random 10 - CDs

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For today's Random 10, I went downstairs and grabbed a random 10 CDs from the shelf and will rip a few songs from each, picking one from each for today's list.

Security cover
  • Peter Gabriel - "Shock The Monkey" (Security [1982]) : Former Genesis member, this is the album just before his huge breakout So, but this song was a pretty big hit for Gabriel. Very strange album cover that proudly proclaims "FULL DIGITAL RECORDING". Woo Hoo!
  • Single Gun Theory - "From A Million Miles" (Like Stars in My Hand [1991]) : Cool, blue Australian new wave group, in the Dead Can Dance / Cocteau Twins mold. Lots of catchy music, perhaps a little too detached, but still good to listen to.
  • Sonny Boy Williamson - "Don't Start Me Talking" (Down and Out Blues [1959]) : I love dem blues, and Sonny Boy is a classic icon. Old fashioned, almost bebop, harmonica/piano/guitar blues.
  • They Might Be Giants - "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (Flood [1990]) : What a great record from one of the quirkiest bands around, these local boys are still making great records. Their major label debut, with lots of short poppy and funny songs (someone moved your chair? getting a rock?), it is a CD still in heavy rotation here. I could rip every song from this.
  • Bob Dylan - "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" (Blonde on Blonde [1966]) : Not much you can say about this guy that hasn't already been said a million times before. This double album is an early classic, with plenty of sophisticated lyrics (and some not so much, like this one's "Everyone must get stoned...":-), musical styles galore and enough weirdness for a dozen albums. Definitely one to be listened to over and over.
  • Lush - "Single Girl" (Lovelife [1996]) : One of my favorite albums over the last 10 years or so, this cut is actually from a 4 song promo disc I got from WZBC, the Boston College radio station, when I contributed to a fund raiser. This song is great for air guitar; a definite 'crank it up' when riding in the car. Really good guitar riff.
  • Loudon Wainwright III - "Whatever Happened to Us" (A Live One [1979]) : What a funny, cynical songwriter, and this CD is some of his best stuff. I've seen him live a few times myself, and he is quite a kick! How about this description of a relationship imploding:
    Why you broke my proverbial heart
    We used to be in love but now we are in hate
    You used to say I came too early
    But it was you who came too late
    Boy meets girl & they give it a whirl
    And the very next thing you know
    She thinks he's nuts & he hates her guts
    Then the bad blood starts to flow
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Head On" (Best of MTV's 120 Minutes, Vol. 2 [1991]) : Great rock'n'roll song from a great compilation of alternative rock bands from the 80s. Never Mind The Mainstream... was a popular "alternative" show on MTV, and this CD really rocks. I dare you to keep your feet still during this song! And there are plenty more here too.
  • Depeche Mode - "Everything Counts [Bomb Beyond the Yalu Mix]" (Just Say Mao: Volume III of Just Say Yes [1989]) : Another one of Sire's "Just Say Yes" samplers, this one has a some good songs, although fewer that caught my ears than the others. Really different mix for this Depeche Mode hit; more instrumental and synths. Interesting quote from AllMusic in the Vol 2 review:
    Granted, the various volumes in the Just Say Yes series do sound like the final death cry of '80s rock, but there's a very good reason for that: They were the final death cry of '80s rock.
  • Al Stewart - "Song on the Radio" (Time Passages [1978]) : Glasgow folk / pop singer's great follow up to his smash hit Year of the Cat, this one too has some great stories, all told by his wonderfully mellow voice. This song rocks out little more than the more well-known title track. A great 6 minute story.
    Cause you and me baby
    I saw you there
    Straight away I knew
    There's really no hiding
    I'll tell you right now
    What we're gonna do
    We'll go collecting the days
    Putting the moments away
    You're on my mind like a
    Song on the Radio

    I don't know what it was that was painful
    But sometimes it's there in your face
    There are times when you just look disdainful
    Of the human race
    Ah, but then on the wings of emotion
    We circle each other in flight
    Till together we roll like the ocean
    In its bed at night

There, I've added a few more songs to my hard drive; I'm up to 180 songs. Still no sign of my MP3 player, though:-(

High School meme

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I've co-opted an interesting blog meme from Pharyngula about High School Daze:

Where did you graduate from and what year?

Mascenic Regional High School, 1978

Who was your significant other?

Vicky, from Jaffrey's Conant High School. She was a friend of a friend and we met at square dancing(!). I ended up breaking up with her after leaving for college (or was it vis-versa? - yeah probably that way), but went out with her close friend Janine for years after that.

Was your Prom a night to remember?

It sure was! We had a good time, and did our usual trip for a class dinner at a local restaurant. We spent alot of time picking on the people who scheduled it, because it was set for the Saturday/Sunday that the clocks spring forward, so we lost a whole hour of partying.

What was your favorite song you danced to the night of Prom?

Jeez, I'm not sure I remember after all these years. Maybe our class song, "Can't Stop Thinking About Tomorrwow"?

Do you own all 4 yearbooks?

I did, at least until the Great Basement Flood of 1990, where I lost them all :-(

What was your favorite movie in high school?

Star Wars. We also watched alot of Richard Pryor Live in Concert and Kentucky Fried Movie - hey, what can I say, we were high schoolers!

What was your number 1 choice of college in high school?

MIT. They didn't accept me, although later they hired me as a programmer! I ended up going to RPI, not a bad second choice.

What radio station did you jam out to in high school?

WCOZ, 94.5. For a time there, it was the most listened to rock station in the country. It is now called WJMN, a "jammin'" station playing hip hop and rap, so it isn't on any of my speed buttons any more:-) I also listened to WAAF, 107.3, which still plays album rock.

Were you involved in any organizations or clubs?

Plenty of them. I was Honor Society president (in one of the quietest years in their existence!), in the chess and math club (yup, major geek), drama club, and played soccer.

What was your favorite class in high school?

Probably English. By the time I was a senior, I'd run out of classes to take in my small (graduating class of about 60) high school, so I was taking things like Home Ec and an "independent study" in chemistry. But I always loved reading and writing, and the English teacher was dynamic, so I'd have to pick that.

Who was your big crush in high school?

I always wished I could've dated Lise Bourgault, but never did.

Would you say you�ve changed a lot since highschool?

Jeez, it's been almost 30 years - I hope I've changed!

What do you miss the most about it?

Not a whole heck of alot. I'm not one who looks misty eyed back to those days.

Your worst memory of HS?

Nothing too traumatic, I don't think. A few heartbreaks, a few clashes with teachers, but other than that, nothing major.

Did you have a car ?

Yes. I had an old beat up Toyota with a stereo system worth more than the car. I used to pour 50 weight oil into it nearly daily. When it finally croaked, I picked up a Plymouth Fury III for $300. I could lay down in the back seat, which came in handy a few times:-) I sold it before leaving for college for $600 - the only car I ever made money on.

What were your school colors?

White and maroon.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Mr. Densmore, the aforementioned English teacher. The only one to really challenge me in high school. I owed my survival in my first semester at RPI to my calculus teacher, as that was the only subject I was even remotely prepared for.

Did you own a cell phone in high school?

I was very proud have having a huge 4 function calculater.

Did you leave campus for lunch?

No. There was nowhere nearby to eat.

If so, where was your favorite place to go eat?

There was a small lunch place just up the road, but I never went there.

Were you always late to class?

Never.

Did you ever have to stay for Sat. School?

Never.

Did you ever ditch?

Never

When it comes time for the reunion will you be there?

Obviously written for one much younger than I! We did have a 25th year reunion, and I probably would have gone to it except it was on one of the two or three weekends we already had something planned. Oh well. I keep in touch with one or two ex-classmates.

Email security test

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Interesting article spelling out a test to see if the NSA is snooping on your emails. Set up a couple of test email accounts, and include a URL you can check on. Seems like a cool idea.

For more on the most egregious abuse of executive powers since Watergate, read Schneier's article here: Schneier on Security: The Security Threat of Unchecked Presidential Power

Who is snooping on my email?

Christmas note

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Hit the pedestal on the wall with a 3 screw (such as 3 x12BA) X 4 as follow photo, do not may wrong the bearing,so you can hitch your main unit on the wall if you need.

(punctuation, spelling and gammar all from the original)

RedSoxDVD.jpgNice help from the instruction manual, eh? This is from a cheapo AM/FM/CD player I bought for the living room. Presumably, it is telling me how to mount it on the wall using the enclosed "pedestal" but I'm not sure exactly what else it is trying to say!

We had a very nice Christmas, even if the oldest daughter was a little sick. She did alright while the children's ibuprofren was effective, but she ran out of steam early and spent most of the afternoon laying in bed, watching the TV. I got lots of lazing about clothing like sweat pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts, but I'm still waiting for my Red Sox 2004 World Series DVD - c'mon c'mon already!

Otherwise, lots of loot for the kids. My Little Pony for the youngest, and Littlest Pet Shop for the oldest. I'd love to count how many pieces they actually got total; it'll be hundreds I'm sure, maybe in the thousands. Zoiks! We'll be cleaning up around here for days...


My (scientific) hero

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A great interview with my favorite scientist, Richard Dawkins, done by a religious site of all things! Some audio clips and typical straight talk on evolution, "intelligent" design, and god:

Interview with Richard Dawkins

Cocktail of the Week - Clover Club

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cloverclub_10.gifFeeling a little frazzled because of the holidays, I reached back for another old classic, a cocktail I've been making and enjoying for quite some time. It's a bit of a fern bar drink, but at least it has gin in it, so how bad could it be? Well, it does use raw egg, a bit of ano-no these days, but still the Clover Club looks good and tastes great!

    Clover Club

  • 1 1/2 oz gin (Bombay Sapphire here of course)
  • 1/4 oz grenadine (Fee Brothers, as I still haven't gotten around to making my own!)
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • egg white from one egg

Yup, it's true - you use raw egg white. Pour the gin, grenadine and lemon juice over ice. Crack an egg in half and strain the egg white out with using the shell. It's pretty easy actually. Shake vigorously, at least until your hand freezes a couple of times. Pour it out into nicely frosted cocktail glasses. If you're making two of them, carefully split the first couple of pours so everyone gets the same amount of the cool froth. It's a great looking drink; I should've taken a picture. A nice blush red, with a white foam on top. And it tastes really good - trust me, you won't even notice the egg white.

We then played 3 hours or so of Serious Sam 2, the sequel to our all time favorite co-op game. This one isn't too bad, but it's missing something. It's still early and it seems to be getting better, so we'll give it some more time.

Then we watched the third episode of the third season of The Sopranos. There seem to be some more interesting story lines coming along, so it is definitely picking up steam.

Best off.... books

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A couple of lists from the Boston Phoenix, the local alternative weekly newspaper:

Books | It�s all true - favorite non-fiction books

Books | Speeding through life - best in fiction

Firefox hacks

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Cool feature in Firefox that I didn't know about. Called "Quick Search", it allows you to type in a keyword and phrase and immediately go to a particular search engine and execute the search. Firefox comes with two built in - one for google and dict, to look something up on Dictionary.com. Here's a page that quickly adds a bunch more:

Geek to Live: Fifteen Firefox Quick Searches - Lifehacker

Thanks to Babak for the heads up : Geek Style: Firefox Quicksearch tricks

Edit: Another cool quicksearch page: Quicksearches -- Samples and Instructions

Another favorite blog - Deltoid

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Another one of my favorite blogs is Deltoid, by Tim Lambert. An Australian, he does a great job of demystifying subjects like the Lancet study estimating civilian deaths in Irag, and generally trying to keep people straight on numbers.

Anyway, he has a couple of fun "bingo cards" you can use if you read along a wingnut article on either global warming or DDT. Check off the boxes as they trot out yet another false canard - get four in a row and you win!

Deltoid � DDT ban myth bingo

Deltoid � Global Warming Sceptic Bingo

Dialogue?

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Very funny cartoon about what the "dialogue" between right and left feels like these days:

WorkingForChange-This Modern World: You're a moonbat!

JibJab's 2005 Round-Up

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Those crazy fellas who did the brilliant "This Land" flash movie (did you know they got sued by Woody Guthrie's, that proud borrower himself, estate for it?), have done a very funny 2005 (or 2-0-5 as they call it) retrospective:

JibJab.com

Journey to Care-A-Lot

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bio_000_char_grumpy.gifWe took a journey to Care-A-Lot, the land of the Care Bears. The Care Bears are a big deal in this household, and the chance to see Care Bears Live was too much to pass up, even if the closest the show got was two hours away in Amherst, MA.

The weather was not looking good at the start of yesterday; one of those "everything but the kitchen sink" storms we get here - a little snow, sleet, freezing rain but mostly rain here in the Boston area. But I wasn't sure what it might be like in Amherst, which is out in the western part of the state. But by the evening the bad weather had gone away and the trip was pretty uneventful. We did stop for some McDonald's take out and it was about as bad as I've ever gotten from them. Cool greasy hamburger and fries that had probably been sitting under the "warming" light for an hour - yech! It's good to get one of these reminders that, in general, it just isn't good stuff. Not that you have too many choices, riding down the Mass Pike.

The show was fun and the girls had a blast. Grumpy Bear finally convinced the rest of the slack-abouts that the "Rainbow Meter" really wasn't broken and more caring was needed. After a few hugs and a rousing closing number, the meter pegged out and all was well again. The crowd was mostly a little younger than ours, but it was a good show and they got some loot and we made it home without incident.

Optical Illusion

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Another one of those wacky optical illusions (thanks once again to Joho the Blog:

Very cool illusion

For more optical illusions, see this page:

Akiyoshi's illusion pages

Too much time on their hands

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A classic example of someone with too much time on their hands - an ASCII movie depicting a scene from The Matrix. Truly impressive (requires Javascript):

ascii-movie

(Hat tip to Joho the Blog)

College Football Bowls

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For the 8th year in a row, I've set up the "College Football Bowl Challenge", where you are asked to pick out the winners to all 28(sic) college football bowl games. And, while you're at it, rank them in confidence level from 1 to 28. No, it isn't as complicated as it sounds, and my form will help you along. It gives all these meaningless bowl games some real reason for watching them! So give it a try if you are interested:

2005 College Football Bowl Challenge

Christmas Pictures, 2005

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Ahh, the Christmas portraiture session! An annual rite more akin to wrestling with greased pigs than it is to a calm picture session. But this year I had a new plan - we'll use all that modern technology can do for us in order to ease the normally excruciating pain. I figure by using our digital camera (a low end Fuji FinePix A330), we can immediately get "dailies" to view and see if any will work for the holiday card. And we can even print them out on our little photo printer to get real feedback.

First step is getting the girls all cleaned up. They were both worked into a lather because we had, earlier in the day, set up and decorated the Christmas tree. It's a little smaller than normal; not sure why, it wasn't planned that way. I take great pride in picking out a good Christmas tree, so it is a shopping trip I usually do solo. The local Home Depot had reasonable prices on the trees (US$27 - I think I've paid as much as US$40 in the past), and it was surprisingly uncrowded in the tree section. I wandered down to the back and slowly took out some trees, tore off the wrapping and checked it out. After about 6 or 7, I found my tree, and brought it home Friday.

We let it stand for a day or so, and then I did the lights. I also bring up the multiple boxes of Christmas tree decorations, and then all three women tackle the job of putting them on the tree. It's too stressful for me, as there are kids and hooks and breakable bits flying all around the tree. In the past, I've been called in to put some near the top, but as this tree is a little shorter, I was only need for the star on top. It looks real nice and the girls still can't keep their hands off it. No tinsel, thank you very much. It makes a mess all over the house, and if I have to pull another strand out of a pet's butt ever again, it'll be too soon!

After dragging them into and out of the shower, getting their hair combed, and putting on the latest Christmas fashion, we are ready to start taking pictures. They don't normally slow down for anything, never mind after being all wound up for Christmas, so I sometimes feel like a sports photographer, cranking the shutter speed up on my camera to try and freeze the action. But we took a few shots, adjusted positions, took a few more and let them rest. Gabrielle printed out a bunch and really liked several of them. It's hard getting one that has both girls with reasonable expressions, looking at the camera, hands down and the lighting correct. But we got several we liked, and we whittled it down to one.

Then we utilized modern technology some more. I uploaded the picture to Snapfish (because my cable Internet provider has a deal with them) and we picked out a folding card, a border, added some some pithy saying and voila - we'll be getting them in the mail sometime later this week. Add a personalize message, address and a stamp and we're good to mail! You can even have them address and mail them for you, but we had already bought fancy Christmas stamps, and we like to had a quickie note to each one before we send it out.

The picture included with this post is not, in fact, the Official 2005 Arnold/Accardi Christmas Card Picture tm, but an early test picture, before we got them dressed up. Ya gotta have some surprises for Christmas, you know! Nice smile from Adrienne, isn't it? That's the sort of thing you have to deal with when taking a portrait of a six and five year old...

Book List revisited

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So let's see how I've been doing on my reading list, which I last talked about here:
  • Spring Forward and Freedom Of Expression® : I have to admit, I didn't quite finish either of these. I did get about 7/8th's the way through the former and about 3/4 through the latter. For both of them, I felt I got the point - sort of a one-trick pony who's trick gets tiring after awhile. They both had some fascinating moments (at one point you could drive for 45 minutes in the Atlantic states and cross 7 times zones!), and I'm glad I read them, but I had had enough and it was time to return them.
  • Speaking of returning, I had to return both Curse of the Narrows and The Republican War On Science before reading much of either, due to their popularity at the library. Both looked excellent and I've printed out their library page in the hopes of returning to them some day (ha!)
  • I also had to return In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse - I just couldn't get 'round to tackling its 600+ pages. But again, I hope to soon.
  • I'm still listening to The Journey of Crazy Horse, despite the fact it is overdue. It's been a good listen, and I like the change of view from the normal Euro-centric history.
  • I haven't had time for any of my non-library books (The Ancestor's Tale or Seabiscuit), but they remain nearby.

I have added five(!) more library books to my pile, though:

  • Film writing and selected journalism [ISBN 1931082820] and Let us now praise famous men ; A death in the family, & shorter fiction both by James Agee [ISBN 1931082812] : after reading a fascinating review on BostonPhoenix.com, I went and ordered these books at the library. Part of the Library of America series (you know, the fancy books with the black covers), these are the collected works James Agee, a fascinating writer of American fiction, screenplays and film criticisms. I've flipped through them, and read his offhand review of Casablanca, and I hope to be able to read some more. It doesn't seem like he likes too many movies!
  • Old man's war by John Scalzi [ISBN 9780765309402] : I've been reading Scalzi's blog Whatever since I came across his list of "50 most influential Sci-Fi movies of all time" in his book The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies (I posted about it here). Now, I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, but I like easy, space-opera-ish kinds, and his books sounded like they might fit the bill, so I ordered the first one, as the second one has just been published. It looks pretty easy going, and I'm looking forward to tackling it.
  • Unfinished business : on and off the court with the 1990-91 Boston Celtics by Jack McCallum [ISBN 0671733745] - I'm even less of a basketball fan than I am a sci-fi fan, but Bill Simmons, the ESPN Page 2 Sports Guy, was talking about great sports books and this one topped his list, so I figured I'd give it a go. After all, this was about the only Celtic team I cared one whit about (you know, the LarryKevinRobert team), and their last gasp during the 90-91 season. And so far, it is worth all Simmons' accolades - what a brilliantly funny, in depth, perceptive and opinionated book it is! I'm nearly finished with it, and I've been having a blast! Highly recommended, even if you'll need to get it from the library.
  • Now I can die in peace : how ESPN's Sports Guy found salvation, with a little help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Red Sox by Bill Simmons [ISBN 1933060050] - speaking of Bill Simmons, his book finally made it to the top of my "request" queue, and I picked it up at the library the other day. I should probably get right to reading it, as it has 21 holds out on it, so I won't be able to renew it. This is a collection of vignettes on the 2004 Red Sox, that magical season none of us diehards will ever forget. I've only flipped through the first few pages, and so far so good!

Ice Hotel

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IceHotel.gifI was doing a little channel surfing earlier this evening, right after the little buggas had gone to bed and I stopped for a bit on a show called Fine Living. Well, I'm not much of a fine liver, although I can aspire to it, now can't I? But this show was dedicated to all things ice, and was a top ten list. I really only caught #1, and was fascinated by it.

On TV : The Insider's List : 10 Top Icy Items : Fine Living

A the top of the list was Ice Hotel Canada, a hotel that only stands from January to March. It is built entirely from ice! Located just north of Quebec City, in Quebec Canada, it is truly a sight to see. Mind you, it really is as cold as it sounds - they brag about the temps staying around 25 degrees (F), no matter how cold it gets outside (down to about the spot where C & F meet). And yes, everything in it is made of ice, except for the fireplaces, which are specially designed to not throw off heat. Everything else, from the beds, to the desk, to the cocktail glasses, are made from ice - too cool!

Of course, this much coolness comes at a price, Ugarte, a price. Nightly stays range from CAD$500 (about US$415 as of this writing) to nearly CAD$2000, so it might be cold, but it ain't cheap. Still, it sounds like quite a kick!

MartiniBook.gifWell, it was cocktail and computer games again last night. I will often flip through my cocktail books if the drinks of the week from Drinksmixer.com are particularly horrid, as they have been recently. I mean, with names like Kamakazie (sic) Razzberry and Pink Panties, I was hesitant to even look at the ingredients for this week's drinks! So I pulled out one of my most trusted books and we tried the:

    Macaroon

  • 3 oz. vodka (in this case, Stolichnaya)
  • 1/2 oz. chocolate liqueur (Godiva's)
  • 1/2 oz. Amaretto

I figured on trying a martini from one of my two my favorite martini books, The Martini Book, a skinny little hardcover book that has lots of cool recipes, great pictures and pithy jokes, notes and sayings, like:


A slightly tipsy guest at a party approaches
the host and asks, "Do lemons have legs?"
"Lemons with legs?
You must be completely gone!," replies the host.
"Oh dear," sighs the guest,
"I'm afraid I just squeezed your canary
into my martini!"

This cocktail was a little overwhelming, but I can't really fault the recipe just yet. I was shocked to find that I didn't have any Amaretto in the cabinet, so I was forced to improvise. My first impulse (and the better one I think, in retrospect) was to use Frangelico, a wonderfully nutty (hazelnut) liqueur. But instead I tried Tuaca, a subtler vanilla/citrus liqueur, and I don't think it had enough umph to stand up to the overpowering chocolate liqueur. I'd be willing to try it again in awhile, both with Amaretto and Frangelico, as they have enough flavor to stand up to the chocolate bully.

ShakenNotStirred.gifI have to get a new copy of my Berk Martini Book, as we dried some artwork on top of it and lots of glitter glue (oh the horror!) dripped on it and now many of the pages stick together. The other martini book I really enjoy is Shaken Not Stirred, a wonderful little book with a gazillion "martini" recipes in it from bars all over the world. Lots and lots of interesting ones to try out!

After swimming in the shallow end of playful martinis, we moved on to a real classic:

For this one, you first pour the Scotch over some large, clean ice in a nice clear, "Old Fashioned" glass, which is the short one. I have some cool square ones that I like alot. After pouring out the requisite amount of Scotch, carefully add the Drambuie to it. Add a swizzle stick and you're good to go. And real classic cocktail, and one I enjoy at any time.

'Tis the Season For Deception

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Honesty is very important to me. It's a quality I value above all others, in my friends, my co-workers and my family, and one I take great pains at exhibiting myself. It's also one that we, like most parents, insist on from our kids. Trust comes along with honesty, and the two make for a solid relationship, whether its between spouses, friends or the parent and child.

I think that's one of my major criticisms with the movie Sideways, an otherwise enjoyable and funny movie - the main characters were neither honest nor trusting. It made me uncomfortable even watching how the two "friends" would lie so easily to each other, and how all of them tended to leap to bad conclusions. That's not how I would want to live my life, and I like to think I work really hard at living up to that ideal.

A story my Dad tells about me as a kid is kinda funny. I was about 10 years old, and he came home from work one evening to find the snow bank on the side of our house littered with broken glass. He couldn't figure out what had happened, so he asked me, as it was outside my window. He was very impressed that I immediately owned up to it, explaining that "I liked the way they smashed". He figures many kids would try to deny it, or weasel out of it, but I fessed up immediately and avoided any payback.

And so we work very hard at insisting our kids be honest. Lying is a serious taboo around here, and while it does make for some tough decisions, it is an important sticking point. It makes it hard when your child does something wrong but then is honest about it - you don't want to be too mad, as you want to reward her for her honesty, but on the other hand, there should be some kind of consequences. But if you are honest back to her, and explain the dilemma, while praising the honesty and doling out reasonable punishment, I think it works out okay in the end.

And yet we as adults spin a fancy set of fairy tales. Around here there are three of them - the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, and the whopper of them all, Santa Claus. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these are just gussied up lies, and I get very uncomfortable this time of year.

The Easter Bunny isn't too bad. It isn't all that integral to our family, and there isn't a long buildup. Easter Sunday (an otherwise uncelebrated Sunday), they wake up to fancy Easter baskets, with lots of cool stuff and they get to eat almost as much candy as they do on Halloween, only this time it is in the morning. Gabrielle goes out and hides some plastic, candy-filled eggs on the lawn and we have a grand time going on an Easter egg hunt. We aren't force to fib for too long, or spin elaborate fantasies about traveling the world. I think even the girls don't buy into it too much at this point - they just enjoy the loot.

The tooth fairy is a little more serious of a lie. In these days of falling teeth, it is big business. We gave each of them US$10 for the first tooth and have ratcheted it down to US$5 now - still a pretty impressive sum. There was almost a complete and utter disaster last month, after Adrienne lost her first tooth. Gabrielle usually does up a nice letter from the "tooth fairy", and makes a big deal out of each one. But this time, as I was taking my shower early the next morning after we made a big production of putting the tooth under her pillow at bedtime, it occurred to me that Gabrielle hadn't said anything when we did our late night final tuck-in. Usually, we talk a little about the process. So I jumped out of the shower, and shook her awake. Sure enough, we had both forgotten to do it! And Adrienne could awaken at any moment, only to find the tooth still there - holy shattered illusions, Batman! Gabrielle just barely got in there as Adrienne was groggily coming to, and we escaped with the fantasy still intact, for better or for worse.

But now we have Santa Claus. I'm am turned off enough by the overt religiousness of the whole thing ("attack on Christmas" notwithstanding), but the elaborate Santa Claus myth means that I spend nearly all my waking hours for a month spinning a web of lies and deceit. Now, the appropriately famous "Yes Virginia" editorial brilliantly captures how I try to approach the season - one of giving, seeing family and enjoying good times. And everyone tries not to make a big deal out of these lies we tell our kids about Santa Claus delivering presents at 650 miles per second, but it still bothers me to no end. I don't see an easy way out of this one though. It seems churlish to explain to the girls about how we buy presents for them, and that "there ain't no Santy, little girl..."

And make no mistake about it - Christmas is a big thing around here. And the combination of myths and religion surrounding it make it a very uncomfortable time of year for me. I figure it'll only be a couple more years and we can be honest with them, and I can once again relax and enjoy the season. I have to watch myself all the time, lest a truth slip out and "ruin" it for them. And so what kind of lesson is that we teach them? Is this one of those "Don't do as I do, do as I say" times? The Advent calendar is a particularly ironic piece of Christmas tradition we obseve, it being probably the most overtly religious thing we do in this household. Shiver

So I'll be glad when we can come clean with the girls. I'm still trying to figure out the religion angle, but that's a post for another day. I assume we all get over the shock of learning just how elaborately our parents can lie to us, despite their admonitions to the contrary. I don't hold it against my folks at all. But still, it can't be all that great an example, can it?

30 Second movie reenactments

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A collection of Macromedia Flash movies, where bunnies reenact famous movies like "The Shining", "Titanic" and others, all in 30 seconds or less. As a special holiday treat, be sure to check out their version of "A Christmas Story".

Angry Alien Productions, Sase and Topsie

Not Random Today

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Today isn't a random ten for listening. I bought two CDs last week, one I've been wanting for awhile and one newly released, and I've been listening to those two quite a bit since then. So I'm doing a complete play through of the two for today's "Random 10".

16 Lovers Lane cover artFirst up is the one I've been wanting for awhile - 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. I picked up the "Extended" version, which is remastered, adds 3 video tracks and adds a second disc of even more music.

If I had to pick a genre of music as my favorite, it would be music like the Go-Betweens do so well. Maybe you'd call it "Power Pop", or "New Wave Rock", whatever. Famous practitioners that I like include The Cure, The Smiths, The Police. Other not so famous ones include Swans, Hoodoo Gurus, The Cranes, and Yo La Tengo. Great hooks, impeccable craftsmanship, and intelligent lyrics are all common to these bands. And while I've been a fan of this genre forever, and a Australia-phile from way back, I'm have to admit to having never heard of The Go-Betweens before about six months ago.

I've been using Rhapsody.com as an online radio station for quite some time, because both my former ISP (Speakeasy.net) and my current ISP (Comcast) have it as a free perk. It's great to listen to music sans commercials and talk, and I hear lots of cool groups I've never heard of before. Another cool thing you can do is to set up your own radio stations, and it plays music based upon your choices. You can either listen to a radio station based upon a particular artist, or set up your own by giving it up to 10 artists. It matches up the songs and plays a selection from their pretty vast library from these and similiar artists. For instance, I have a station called "Power Pop" that has:

    My "Power Pop" Rhapsody radio station
  • Yo La Tengo
  • The The
  • The Smithereens
  • Mission of Burma
  • Hoodoo Gurus
  • The Chills
  • James
  • The Go-Betweens
  • A3
  • Silencers

Well, I think it was while I was listening to their shortlived New Zealand Pop radio station, when this song kept showing up that I absolutely adored. It turned out to be "Clouds" by The Go-Betweens. Further research showed it came from an album considered by many to be one of the seminal albums of the 1980s, described using words like "superb", "breathtaking" and "nothing less than searing", by "[a]rguably Australia's greatest pop group ever". Not sure how I missed these guys, but with words of praise like that, it immediately went to the top of my extensive "Want to Buy" list.

And it is as good as advertised. One brilliant track after another. One of those CDs that I find hard to pick just a couple songs to rip. They had a minor alt-radio hit with the song Streets of Your Town and that is certainly highlight of the CD, along with the aforementioned Clouds. I guess the band members were going through some messy inter-band romances, very much like Fleetwood Mac during their Rumors recording session. And so the songs alternate between highs and lows of romance in a wonderfully intricate manner, all backed with great rhythms and solid guitar playing, along with Amanda Brown's intriguing backing vocals and violin playing.

The music videos are good too. There are three, including two versions (Australian and US) for Streets of Your Town and one for Was There Anything I Could Do?, another winner from the album, about a lover leaving him and going 'round the bend:

She went out with her paint box
Paints the chapel blue
She went out with her matchsticks
Torched a carwash too

And the bonus second disc has even more sonic goodness. The remixed singles version of the album opener, Love Goes On! really rocks, and then there are several nearly finished songs, some demos, and a live song. This is one great CD and one that will get played alot in the future. I'm going to really give it some credit and listen to it on the stereo system tonight. 100 watts of clean Marantz sound, going through some serious Phase Technology Teatro 7.5 speakers.

Blue air I crave, blue air I breathe
They once chopped my heart the way you chop a tree.
Told to equate achievement with pain
I took their top prize and paid them back with rain.

Visions of blue
I'm angry I'm wise and you.
You're under cloudy skies.

Aerial coverMy new purchase is the latest from the w�nderkind, Kate Bush. Her story is simply amazing, and I've been hook on Kate ever since her first album, Kick Inside. I had a co-worker who was an true Kate Bush fanatic, who knew and did everything Kate. Still does, I guess!-)

Her music is often a translucent passageway to another world, intimate and warm. Her Cloudbusting song, and the accompanying video, is a true classic. I saw on AllMusic that Cloudbusting, the 12in version, was released on a cool sounding 4 disc set called Back to the 80's: The Long Versions, which is unfortunately out of print and hard to find. A real stickler for production, Aerial, a two disc release, is her first CD in over ten years, and is well worth the wait.

Disc One is a collection of "domestic" songs, with her waxing poetic and beautifully over everything from her son, the number pi and even a washing machine. It must be an incredible freedom to have the ability to express yourself in song. I would surely love to write an elegiac to my daughters that is 10% of the heartfelt beauty she expresses in Bertie. And on the flip side, it must be quite a release to be able to really dig at a person like Sting did when he wrote Every Breathe You Take about his ex-girlfriend!

Bertie

Sweet kisses
Three wishes
Lovely Bertie

You bring me so much joy
And then you bring me
More Joy

Mrs. Bartolozzi

And all your shirts and jeans and things
And put them in the new washing machine
Washing machine
Washing machine
I watched them go 'round and 'round
My blouse wrapping itself in your trousers
Oh the waves are going out
My skirt floating up around my waist

Disc Two is a full story arc, covering a Day In The Life, as it were. From early morning (Prelude) til late at night (Nocturn), it once again brings out the beauty in everyday life. Her voice is a breathtaking instrument, and the arrangements are impeccable. All in all, another winner, and one that will bear repeated listening, and is also looking for the full stereo treatment, as I've listened to each of my new CDs only on my computer and in the car. I sometimes will put on the stereo downstairs while I am working, and just crank the volume to 11.

It's good to get two winners. Recently, my CD purchases have been disappointing. Despite the ability to play songs directly from the CD on Rhapsody, I still haven't really enjoyed the entire discs from most of my recent purchases, just enjoying the cut I bought it for. But these two (really four!) CDs are enjoyable from start to finish.

More coffee tasting notes

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We dabbled in new coffees for the first time in quite a while. As I mentioned earlier, we've settled on the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe bean from Armeno Coffee. It's the perfect bean for us - robust without being bitter, making a full-bodied morning "wake me up I have to face the day" coffee. It's a reasonable price (approximately US$45 for 5 pound bag, delivered) and really works for our morning cuppa.

So this last time when I ordered, I decided to try some of the other Free Trade coffee beans they offer, as the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is one of these. The other three were Mexican Organic, Peru Organic and Sumatra Takengon.

We started with the Sumatra blend, and I was worried right away. As I opened the bag, I noticed a very dark, bitter smelling bean - our least favorite kind of bean. And yup, that's what kind of coffee it made - dark, bitter, strong coffee. Not a good pound, and I couldn't wait to get through it. Probably a 4 on the scale of my earlier posting.

Then we moved on to the Mexican Organic. A better smelling and looking bean, but probably too far to the other extreme. As the web site says, it makes a very light bodied cuppa, and even at the strengths we make it, it lacked character. Not strong enough but still a very pleasant coffee, so I'd give it a 6.

Last of the new beans was the Peru Organic. Again, a very nice bean, making a solid cup of joe. More body than than the Mexican, but in no way, shape or manner a bitter coffee. Still not "big" enough though. It approaches greatness, but falls a little short, especially by the second mug, when it no longer offers the kick I still need. This one gets a very appreciative 7.

Then we went back to the Yirgacheffe for the last pound and yup, it is the winner and still champeen. About as strong a coffee as you can get, with a complete lack of bitter aftertaste. Snaps the eyes open in the morning, yet is still drinkable after the second or third mug. It still gets the 9, and is still the coffee I order by the 5 pound bag. And we have a fresh bag awaiting us in the morning!

Talk to a human

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Paul English, someone who I vaguely knew when I worked at Interleaf, has a really cool web page. It's called the "IVR Cheat Sheet", where IVR stands for... hmm, I'm not sure! But basically it is a list of numbers so you can avoid voice recordings and jump straight to a human being. It's on my quick links bar now:-)

IVR Cheat Sheet(tm) by Paul English

Cocktail of the Week - Vodka Martini

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As I mentioned last week, I bought a couple of new vodkas (Rain and Tito's Handmade) and in order to give them a real test, I decided to make a real classic - an extra extra extra dry Martini. I'm much more of a Bombay Sapphire gin man, but I figure a martini is the best way to "taste" vodka. Here's my long evolved process on making the perfect martini:

  1. Most importantly, you need cold ingredients. This is where most bars fail. Store your vodka and gin in the freezer. Store your vermouth in the refrigerator (it's a wine, so it will freeze up solid if you put it in the freezer). You don't necessarily need to store your cocktail glasses in the freezer, although I do. If you put them in the ice tray about a half hour before you need them, you'll have nicely frosted glasses.
  2. Fresh, perfectly cracked, ice. Not ice that's been sitting in your freezer for months, slowly desiccating away, absorbing strange odors. And you need it cracked just the right size. Too big, and it won't chill things nicely. Too small, and it will water down your drink. Up until recently, I found the best tool for doing this was the Lewis Ice Bag. You put ice cubes in the heavy canvas bag, give it a few whacks with the wooden club, and you have correctly sized ice pieces. You can easily control how big or small the pieces are, just by how many times you whack it. It comes in a nice container, with some classic cocktail recipes, including the martini one I now use. Electric ice crushers don't work very well, as they tend to make the ice chips too small - more like slush than ice cubes, which means they melt too rapidly. But now I use the ice machine in our new refrigerator, which makes some pretty good crushed ice. Maybe a tad too small, but servicable nonetheless for making the perfect martini.
  3. Top shelf ingredients. Because there is nothing masking the taste of the liquor in a martini, you have to use great booze. We're a Bombay Sapphire family here. There just isn't enough taste to regular vodka to make it all that interesting as a martini. Tanqueray is a solid gin, especially the No. Ten label. However, gin seems to be affecting us a little more and for a little longer, as we get older, so moderation is the key here. Vodka doesn't seem to have this effect on us, so it has become a preferred mixer. I'm not nearly as wedded to a premium vodka brand as I am to Sapphire as a gin. We've done some taste testings in the past, and while you could taste some differences, it was more that - a difference - and not something that would create a preference either way. I've enjoyed all the big names in premium vodkas, like Belevedre, Grey Goose (what is it with these liquor web sites? Addicted to Flash and asking a stupid question about how old you are, like they are pron peddlers or something), and the like. I also like Three Olives Vodka, for something that tastes great and is a good price.
  4. The vermouth you use is amazingly important, despite the fact the the modern martini uses very very little (the Winston Churchill martini recipe calls for gin in a cocktail glass, and then look at a bottle of vermouth:-). This is especially true for a vodka martini, with the (dry!) vermouth adding most if not all of the flavor. I'm a Noilly Prat man myself. Remember, vermouth is a wine, so you need to keep it cold but it can also get old. Don't let it sit around in your refrigerator!
  5. Okay, now that you have your ingredients, it is time to make the drink. Put the perfectly cracked ice pieces into your cocktail shaker. I love to collect cocktail shakers, but I really only use the standard stainless steel tall cup, topped with a glass mug. Like James Bond, I like my martinis shaken not stirred. I used to stir it, but then I tried this recipe from the Lewis Ice Bag and have been shaking it ever since. Pour your cold vermouth into the shaker, give it a couple of vigorous shakes and then strain out all the vermouth you can get out, leaving just coated ice in there. That'll be plenty of vermouth.
  6. Now add your vodka or gin that you've pulled from the freezer. Don't be stingy, add plenty, because you have nice big cocktail glasses, chilling in the freezer right? Now shake it again, until your hand gets too cold to hold the steel cup. Set it aside to let it rest.
  7. While the martini is resting in the cocktail shaker, get out your olives. I don't like fancy olives. Give me a nice giant, pimento-stuffed green olive any day. All the other kinds add more flavors I don't want in my martini - anchovy, pepperoncini, etc. I have to admit, we did try almond-stuff olives last night. I figured the almonds wouldn't add flavor to the drink anyway. I still prefer standard ones. Put the olives (don't be stingy here either!) on a paper towel and squeeze. Try to dry them off. Again, you don't want olive brine to ruin your perfect martini, do you? While some like a "dirty" martini, where you actually add extra brine on purpose, the very idea of mangling a perfect cocktail like this makes my skin crawl. Stick the olives on a colorful toothpick and set them aside.
  8. Take your chilled cocktail glasses out of the freezer. You want a clear glass, so you can enjoy the transparent perfection of your creation. Don't hide it behind a colored cocktail glass please! Now strain your martini into the cocktail glasses. Don't worry about a few ice chips getting in there; that just adds to the beauty of the whole thing.
  9. Gently place your toothpick of olives into your cocktail glass and bask in the perfection that is a martini. Take a sip. It should almost take your breath away, even a vodka one. Freezing cold on the tongue, yet burning down the throat. Ahhhh, I can taste it now!
So that's my process for making the perfect martini. And I've never gotten any complaints, either! The main thing is to use cold ingredients, the right vermouth and to make it dry.

The Rain vodka martini was amazingly smooth. Too smooth perhaps, going so far as to have almost no character at all, even for a vodka martini. The drinking was good, though. The almonds in the olives were pretty bitter, but thankfully didn't add any taste to the martini.

The martinis made from Tito's Handmade Vodka had all the character you could possibly hope for from a vodka martini. There was a fullness on the palate that I don't remember from other vodkas. I'm looking forward to trying another martini from Texas again real soon.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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