Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Wolf Moon

I remember January’s full moon from my childhood. My parents owned a cabin in southern Indiana back in the days when it was actually common to have an inch or more of snow on the ground through that cold month. This cabin had no heat and no indoor plumbing, which meant the inevitable trip to the outhouse before turning in for the night. I can remember the moon rising over the ridgeline, shining coldly through the bare trees. She wore a crown, a bluish-white moonbow that marked her standing as the cold and mysterious queen of the night, and her hard light cowed the billions of stars that populated the heavens.

January is the time of the Wolf Moon and if you’re in the right place, and you go out to look at the moon tonight, you might just hear a wolf howling up to the queen of the night sky. Here’s a little info about the Wolf Moon from Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cocktail Time

According to Merriam-Webster a cocktail is defined as "an iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients." This seems pretty accurate, it describes our modern sense of the cocktail as any combination of alcohol and a number of juices, flavorings, or other mixers, but a cocktail hasn’t always had such a broad definition.

The first published definition of the cocktail showed up in an editorial in The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806. This defined the cocktail as "…a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters."

In 1957 Gourmet Magazine put out the second volume of its beefy, hardbound cookbook. The book was an update to its existing tenth anniversary edition, meant to stand on its own as well as to update the previous edition.

Gourmet doesn’t bother defining cocktails, instead offering it’s officious instructions on the “proper purpose and presentation” of “drinks”, a category into which it piles cocktails, long drinks, punches, and coffee drinks into one chapter. They’re more concerned with the fact that “only foods of the nature of dry biscuits, cheese crackers, or olives should accompany the aperitif…” than giving the cocktail it’s due.

Still, I don’t mean to give Gourmet’s book. It hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s stiff, stuffy, concerted, and full of itself and that was what was expected of a 50’s era gourmet cookbook. It wasn’t about bringing culture to the people; it was about separating the upper crust from the ravel.

As an example I offer three champagne cocktail recipes, albeit not the common man’s drink.

Champagne Cocktail Recipes
A champagne coupe is a champagne glass. Not that the recipe says so. If the reader doesn’t understand what a coupe is, well why are they even trying? They probably ought to go back to eating beans from a can and drinking their cocktails from a paper bag! Contrast the Gourmet recipe with this modern recipe:

2 dashes bitters
1 tsp sugar
Chilled champagne
1 twist lemon peel
Place one lump of sugar with bitters in a chilled champagne flute. Fill with chilled champagne. Add the twist of lemon peel and serve.
The coupe has been replaced with a flute and therein is the answer to the strange choice of word in Gourmet, coupe is French for “cup”. French has long been the language of condescension, the verbal equivalent of a glove slap and turned up nose. In fact, in the Victorian era a gentleman was expected to speak French as well as their native language. French was a mark of culture and breeding, and a way of setting oneself apart from the commoners. It’s possible that the choice of a French term was equivalent to paying homage to a time perceived as more refined. A backward looking definition of refinement, therefore refining oneself would mean learning the underpinnings (French) of a cultured life.

I don’t know if there’s any validity to my assertions, I just know that I can look forward to a lot of common terms expressed in a foreign language.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Quote for January Quote

January is here, with eyes that keenly glow,

A frost-mailed warrior

striding a shadowy steed of snow.

~ Edgar Fawcett