Saturday, July 5, 2008

Finally, a Martini I like!


I have tried, really, but Martinis just haven't done it for me. It's true that I haven't tried all the possible gins in the world, but most I have tried turn the drink into a big juniper bomb, and I'm just not that fond of juniper. It's not that I don't like gin, but I prefer it combined with other flavorful ingredients, so that the juniper and other botanicals enhance those other flavors rather than overpowering the drink.

Tanqueray Rangpur Gin was a revelation for me. It has limes, along with ginger and bay leaves, added with the traditional botanicals during distillation. It's lighter and fruitier than many other gins, especially the standard bottling of Tanqueray. I wanted to mix it with something, but I didn't want to cover it up too much, to get a better notion of the flavor. I figured, what the hell, make a Martini. A "50's" style Martini at that. I'm a big fan of the vermouths coming from the California winery, Vya, because both their dry and sweet vermouth have a lot more character than just about anything else I've tried that didn't come from Carpano. (The sweet vermouth reminds me of Christmas, maybe like a plum pudding, and it makes a killer Manhattan.) And I finally landed a bottle of Angostura Orange Bitters, perfect for the older style of Martini. It's a very simple drink and far too easy to drink.

Rangpur Martini
3 oz. Rangpur gin
.5 oz. Vya dry vermouth
2 dashes of bitters

Stir with ice and serve in a cocktail glass with a twist of lemon.

My favorite baseball player


Fourth of July was a good baseball day for me. The Mariners actually beat a team that wasn't also terrible, which was a very nice change. After that, I got to watch the Cubs beat the Cardinals in St. Louis and, best of all, Carlos Zambrano was back pitching after having been out with a shoulder injury and was in great form. I love watching Carlos Zambrano play baseball. I've never seen anyone play the game with more passion than this big (6'5") Aztec-looking man from Venezuela. He throws with his entire body and then bounds off the mound, exhulting when he wins and agonizing when he loses. And, unlike a lot of pitchers, he can hit (currently at .360, which is better than just about the entire Mariners team) well enough that he is even used as a pinch hitter.

Mostly, though, I just love watching him loving the game and playing it with a huge heart. Chicago fans are lucky to have him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Watch Too Much TV

Way too much TV. Now that the regular season (such as it was, given the writers' strike) is over, I can't look forward to Lost, Heroes, Supernatural, or Ugly Betty for months. It's time for the true summer season that has just as many new episodes and shows as the old traditional September to May season I grew up on. And, of course, a lot more networks on cable, some of which have a lot more freedom in what they present because they're not going out over the airwaves polluting the minds of little kids. Just mine.

(If this was a normal summer, of course, I'd be spending a lot of evenings watching baseball games but with the way the Mariners are "playing" this season I can't stand to watch most games past the first couple of innings. Once they're down by 10 runs going in the third inning, much of the joy is gone.)

At any rate, I got really excited when the TiVo let me know the new season of Rescue Me was coming up. Denis Leary's drama? comedy? about a firefighter and his dysfunctional life is easily one of my favorite television shows of all time. When the first episode appeared on the "now playing" list on the TiVo I settled down with snacks and a drink and WTF? It's over? Did it record wrong? Maybe it was somehow queued up at the end of the show rather than the beginning and I only caught the last five minutes. Uh, no. It was a six-minute show. The next one is five minutes. Denis Leary is trying to ruin my life. Ooh, very clever. The website for the show calls them "minisodes". I call it sadism. At the end of the latest "minisode" they announced 20 brand-new full-length episodes. Coming in 2009.

So on to the new season.

I can easily imagine someone pitching this show to a producer. "So, there's this cop, and he's kind of like, well, a maverick. He does things his own way and is always bumping up against The Man. And he's got a screwed-up brother who's always getting into trouble. . ." And the producer, who thinks this is a really good and original concept, says, "OK, but instead of a guy, let's make the cop a hot blonde!" And since the cop is now a woman, the brother turns into a sister and we have to throw in a lot of family stuff, 'cause that's what women do. So we've got the flaky sister and let's have a flaky mom. And instead of a cop, she's a federal marshal in Albuquerque, which turns out to be the elephants' graveyard for witness protection, where witnesses and criminals come to die, usually because they've done something really stupid. And she's not only a maverick, she's a misanthrope (true to the cop cliche) except maybe she likes her baseball player boyfriend. And her partner. Kind of.

Honestly, I only watched the pilot because I've been carrying a torch for Mary McCormack since she played Kate Harper, the Pentagon liaison or whatever the hell she was, on West Wing. So far, that's why I've kept watching the show because it's really standard television cop fare. No great insight, no astonishing dialog, no reality. But McCormack does cranky and sarcastic very well and she's big enough that she's convincing when she smacks a bad guy and knocks him down. Without that torch, I'm not sure why anyone would watch the show, but USA network seems to be more willing than most to give a show time to build some momentum. Maybe they'll let McCormack do a full 12-episode season and maybe the writing will pick up. I'm not holding my breath.

And then there's Swingtown, which might have been ABC's attempt to cash in on the critical success of Mad Men. While Mad Men is edgy and dark, pointing some very cruel light on the early 60s, Swingtown is murky and, well, dull. Part of the problem might be that the swinging social life of the suburbs in the early 70s is inherently boring, and not at all helped by the really bad music and hideous clothing styles of the period. It's also more than a little disconcerting, at least for me, that one of the leads is Jack Davenport, last seen hamming it up on the really funny and sexy British show, Coupling, and the very English officer in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They couldn't find an American actor?

Molly Parker
may be the most convincing character (oy! a Canadian!), probably because she got the whole "smoldering sensuality behind the prim fa├žade" thing down pat in Deadwood. The truth, though, is that I've given up on the show after a few episodes because it is booooring. I might have been able to survive the awful soundtrack if I cared at all what happened to all these couples and their kids but the truth is that none of them is either likeable or interesting. Pfft. Cancel the Season Pass on the TiVo. Just freed up an hour each week and allowed for an extra three minutes recording My Boys, which is much more fun.

Fear Itself is a modern version of The Twilight Zone, with a dozen one-hour horror films. Each has its own cast, writers, directors and no connection to the other films except what is clearly a decent budget and some real effort to make the stories interesting and scary. I've only seen the first two episodes so far, but they've been pretty good. They were characterized by decent scripts, decent acting and some truly creepy (and occasionally gross) effects. The first episode was definitely not Rod Serling material (definitely "horror" rather than "terror"), but the second definitely has his touch for cautionary lessons in life. With Supernatural in summer hiatus, Fear Itself will be my best source for the creepies.

So I appear to be batting 1 for 3, with a maybe. Clearly, there will be less distraction from the TV this summer than there has been. Although the Mariners have actually won a few games recently . . .