The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto is one of the most satisfyingly curmudgeonly pieces of writing I’ve stumbled across in some time. Published by Bernard DeVoto in 1948 and reissued with a fabulous introduction by Dan Handler (known to most of us as Lemony Snicket), it contrives to sing the praises of alcohol while completely disparaging most of the people who drink it.
The basis of DeVoto’s argument is that there are only two acceptable cocktails: a slug of whiskey and a martini. The martini must be composed of gin and dry vermouth, must be ice cold, and may contain a sliver of lemon rind but absolutely nothing else. Like Manhattans? Be informed that “whiskey and vermouth cannot meet as friends and the Manhattan is an offense against piety.” Like a Gibson now and then, or an olive in your martini? “…nothing can be done with people who put olives in martinis, presumably because in some desolate childhood hour someone refused them a dill pickle and so they go through life lusting for the taste of brine. Something can be done with people who put pickled onions in: strangulation seems best.” You don’t even want to know what he says about people who drink rum, let alone those who put fruit juice in it. The book is full of shamelessly vindictive commentary that you will feel the need to read out loud to the nearest person, whether they want you to or not.
Necessary reading for anyone who enjoys a quiet drink at the end of the day.
Gin Martini (DeVoto’s approved method)
Approximately 3.7 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth. Pour the spirits over a great deal of ice in a cold pitcher, stir well to chill thoroughly and strain the drinks into chilled cocktail glasses. A few drops of lemon oil may be squeezed out onto the surface of the cocktail. Serve immediately. Do not attempt to mix a pitcher of martinis in advance and keep it in the fridge – ” you can no more keep a martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.”
Yes, the Chiffon Chicken Pie won out, after a neck-and-neck race with both the Norway Strudel and the Mock Chicken Legs. I honestly don’t know whether to feel relieved or horrified. So any way, now I need to go buy some Ritz crackers and pimientos (I seem to have an unopened box of gelatin already), and we’ll make this either later this week or next (we’ve been eating a lot of chicken, I might need a slight vacation before undertaking the pie).
Say, if anyone is still morbidly curious about the other regrettable dishes, I’d be happy to supply you with the recipes for you to try them yourself. No problem!
One of my birthday presents this year was a truly enthralling item: The Sunday News Family Cook Book. It was published in 1962 by the New York News, and includes “favorite recipes” from readers as well as recipes from the paper itself. Many of the dishes in it sound just fine, although instructions are occasionally a little vague. Others, however, are mind-numbingly weird, and the food photography is…um…fascinating. Have you seen James Lileks’ book The Gallery of Regrettable Food? This book is right up that guy’s alley.
Some highlights (you can vote for your favorite at the end):
Hamburger Bean Medley. This includes baked beans, kidney beans, lima beans, and chow mein noodles, and makes my eyeballs ache. And just think of what it might do to your digestion.
Being sick last month really helped me get through some of my To Be Read backlog. I finally got around to Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoir of learning to cook Sichuan food (Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper), which was impressive but sort of made me not want to ever go to China. Her description of how to cook a sea cucumber until it tastes of nothing at all was utterly fantastic; I had to read it out loud to every family member within reach. I’m not sure this would be a good book for a vegetarian to read, however – at least not if they’re the squeamish variety.
Then I stumbled across this innocuous little book at work called The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. Continue reading
This little book is a powerhouse of Indian cooking. It’s small, it doesn’t lie flat, it has no pictures (except a few line drawings), and it’s far from comprehensive, but this one book revolutionized Indian food for us. Not right away, though.
It was a gift from a friend many years ago, after I had already given J a copy of Yamuna Devi’s Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, and we felt (rather smugly) that we had everything we needed for cooking Indian food. But if you’ve ever used the Devi book, you may have noticed that her ingredient lists are enormous, her instructions are tiresomely exact, and she puts a somewhat intimidating weight on the history and context of the food. We had the book, but I mostly used it to make flatbread and hot yogurt drinks to go with our Patak’s Curry Paste concoctions. Spice Kitchen sat on our shelf, unappreciated.
Then one day we opened it. Continue reading
J and I have been religious subscribers to Cook’s Illustrated for years. We keep every issue, and occasionally drag the whole pile out and paw through it looking for that really great shrimp recipe we remember seeing – was it last month? Hmm, no, actually, it was two years ago…so we get to see all the old issues again and maybe find something new to try. And don’t get me wrong, Cook’s isn’t always perfect – they know nothing about Mexican food, and frequently their product reviews have not a single thing that’s available on the west coast. But many of their recipes have become gospel in our household, and sometimes you just want to be able to find it quickly.