Monday, May 4, 2009

Dancing Crow


As I've mentioned before, I like crows. This crow is dancing for the joy of sunshine at Ecola State Park on the Oregon Coast.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Watching the hummingbirds


My apartment has a nice balcony and I knew there were plenty of hummingbirds around; I even heard them in the winter. That inspired me to buy a hummingbird feeder and hang it under the overhang on the balcony. The first week was discouraging, as I waited and waited for one of them to show up. It was really exciting the first time I spotted a bird perched out there, sucking up the nectar and now, although it has become commonplace, it's still a treat to watch them.

Taking photos is another story, but I finally got a few that aren't terrible. The most difficult trick is catching one leaving the perch because, without any notice, they just bullet off into the sky. I had given up and was just getting ready to put the tripod away, when I shot a last series and lucked into the shot above.

I still don't know if I'm being visited by a number of different hummers that share a remarkable resemblance, or whether I've got one remarkably piggy little bird that stops by several times per hour.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I have a blog?


Apparently I do have a blog, but for the last two months or so, I've malingered. I'll try to be better.

The two beautiful hot dogs above are from Wayne's Chicago Red Hots, recently-ish opened on MLK here in Portland. Those dogs are the real thing: Vienna Beef hot dogs with the full complement of authentic Chicago goodies including pickle, tomato, onion, weird green relish, mustard and celery salt, all on the correct poppyseed bun. After several failed attempts to get a certain stepdaughter to bring Vienna Beef dogs back from Chicago, I've finally found a place to eat them.

Wayne's not only does the hot dogs properly, but they have a big screen tv on which to display Cubs' games while stuffing them down. In future visits, I'm going to be scouting for Chicago natives in hopes of learning how to eat the damn things without getting onions all over my shirt. I think there must be some secret for the angle of attack . . .

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When love comes to town


I have been enviously reading reviews and comments about Russell's Reserve Rye for awhile now, hearing only good things and wondering when the OLCC would get off their duffs and order some for the local liquor stores.

According to my friend and goofball writer, Lew Bryson, Jimmy Russell celebrated his 54th anniversary with Wild Turkey last fall. He has been the master distiller there for ages and his son Eddie was promoted to associate distiller a few years ago. Together they created Russell's Reserve 10 year old bourbon, originally produced at Jimmy's signature 101 proof and subsequently reduced to 90 proof. All Wild Turkey whiskies are superb, and the Russell's Reserve is no exception (although I dearly miss the 101 version).

Wild Turkey has produced a spectacular rye for years, during a span of time when it seemed that American drinkers had lost their taste for rye whiskey, and any version could be tough to find. Also bottled at 101 proof, WT Rye is a solid kick in the pants, full of honey and vanilla. It is serious whiskey.

Russell's Reserve Rye, like the bourbon, is bottled at 90 proof after aging six years. It is a remarkably soft and smooth rye whiskey, with the characteristic Wild Turkey honey but far more gentle than the bigger bottling. Of all the ryes I've tasted, it may the most accessible, with no alcoholic burn, none of the spice and hard edge that other ryes might have. It's clearly designed for drinking straight -- no help from water or ice needed, and it is probably not a terrific choice for a cocktail because of its subtlety. "Sipping" whiskey has become a cliché, often undeserved, but I can think of no better way to describe Russell's.

I'm guessing that this whiskey comes from specially-selected barrels of their standard rye, aged a bit longer and bottled at a lower proof so that the flavors need not battle with alcohol. What emerges is a terrific whiskey, and I'm very pleased it's finally made its way to Oregon. Odd, though, that the level in the bottle seems to have dropped considerably since I bought it. There must be a leak.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Orange you glad you asked?


What a nice coincidence! Trader Tiki's blog had a post about orange juice - and some of the weird and unpleasant options for packaged juice. The question arose about which oranges made the best juice. Most of the time, "oranges" in Portland means navel oranges, navel oranges, and sometimes large navel oranges. I intend no criticism of the navel orange and certainly freshly -squeezed navel orange juice is worlds away from frozen, or pre-packaged juice of any kind. But there are better options.

I have always been partial to Valencia oranges for juice and eagerly await the arrival of Valencias in the local market. So I was very excited to find some today on a routine trip to New Seasons market and then was even more pleased to find another orange, called a Cara Cara - which ironically turned out to be a variant of the navel orange.

The Cara Cara is the orange on the left, the Valencia on the right. The Cara Cara is seedless, but a little more pulpy than the Valencia, yielding a less juice. On the other hand, the flavor of the Cara Cara was very sweet and rich; as much as I like Valencia, the Cara Cara knocked it out of the park--and it has that lovely deep color as well.

Under the circumstances, it seemed important to make a cocktail, if only to use up some of the juice. Or, really, to make a cocktail. I ended up with a Monkey Gland, from the 1920s.



The Monkey Gland

1.5 oz. Tanqueray
1.5 oz. freshly-squeed Cara Cara juice
1 tsp. Herbsaint
1 tsp. real grenadine

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Session saison


There is a brewery somewhat southwest of Brussels in Belgium that produces several of the beers on the very top of my list of favorites: Brasserie Dupont. It may be subject to argument, but in my opinion their beers define the modern saison. Originally brewed as a refreshment for Wallonian farmworkers, and thus undoubtedly low in alcohol, most of Dupont's beers range from about 6% abv to over 9%.

The flagship beer is Saison Dupont, a coppery effervescent beer that beautifully combines the fruitiness of a Belgian yeast strain with plenty of hop character and a dry, refreshing finish. Another personal favorite is Moinette Blonde, which is even more hoppy than the standard but again, not with a great deal of the bitterness we associate with American "hoppy" beers. And then there is the seasonal Bon Voeux, richer and stronger (9.5% abv) than the Saison, and the beer I most often choose as my "favorite beer."

Most of the Belgian beers that appeal to beer geeks are bottled at a fairly high alcohol content, corked and conditioned in the bottle, which allows them to be cellared if desired. "Singles" or "bieres de table" are difficult to find in a commercial bottling, although it seems the monastic breweries produce them for consumption in house, "at table." Dupont's Avril (which appears to be the same as Biolegere in Belgium) falls within this range, at 3.5% abv. In the UK, ales produced at a similar alcohol content are quite common, and considered "session beers" because it's possible to spend an entire evening at the pub drinking them with less effect than beers in the US (or particularly, Belgian ales). In the US, of course, "3.2" beers have a well-deserved reputation for being watered-down and flavorless.

Avril is a remarkably flavorful beer, recognizably related to Saison Dupont and Moinette, and obviously much less alcoholic. It's also obviously different, lighter and initially bordering on "thin". It seemed to me that much more of the character of the yeast (especially a bubblegum ester) came through in Avril than in the stronger beers. Like the other Dupont ales, it's effervescent and bottled at a higher level of CO2 than American beers, which enhances the aromatic character of the beer.

Customers used to paying for punch will probably be disappointed. I paid about $9 for a 750ml bottle here in Oregon and only slightly more for a bottle of Moinette Brune from the same brewery -- at 8.5% abv. But I was also far more clearheaded after finishing the Avril than I will be after finishing the Brune. Which may be later today, come to think of it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Suavecito cocktail


Just in time for Valentine's Day.

Primarily created to find a purpose for rum. The lovely rosy tone derives from the use of Peychaud's bitters. Initially, I tried this with light rum, St. Germain, pineapple juice and peach bitters but it was entirely too floral and, well, gross. Angostura bitters added a nice balance to the sweetness of the St. Germain (as does the tartness of pineapple) and began to add some color. St. Germain's lychee flavor is surprisingly robust and even 1/2 ounce definitely shows up in the finished drink, and I think it marries very nicely with the pineapple juice.

And simple. Simple is good.

2 oz. Cruzan Estate Light Rum
1/2 oz. St. Germain
1/2 oz. pineapple juice
3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

Shake with ice and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Background music by Malo.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dinner is Chili Colorado


Actually, a very simple meal thanks to the genius of Bruce Aidells & Denis Kelly. The Complete Meat Cookbook gets a lot of use around here, whether it's Chili Colorado, the Lazy Way (see above) or Lisa's Lazy Potroast (hmm, something of a theme), or how to cook a tri-tip or make lamb with preserved lemons or a Cuban pork roast -- whenever the question arises "What am I going to do with this?", the meat book comes down off the shelf.

As in, what do I do with this 4# chuck roast that will utilize what's already in the kitchen (reminder to self: the chile powder is all gone, must visit Penzey's) and will require a minimum of effort (that's the "lazy" bit). This recipe fit the bill. Soak some ancho chiles and then throw them into the food processor with a bunch of onions, garlic, seasonings and beer. Dice the beef and then throw it all into a Dutch oven and bung it at 350°F for a couple of hours. Eat up some canned pinto beans and warm up some tortillas. Open a jar of salsa. Dinner (and probably more dinners until I'm sick of the sight of it, but still . . . ). Now if only I could remember which is chile and which is chili, and why!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Old Grand-dad Review


Is Old Grand-dad the most underrated bourbon in the world? It seems to me that no one takes it seriously, while heaping praise on a whole swarm of latecomers, many of them costing much more money, and delivering very little more to show for it. It isn't fashionable, it doesn't come in a beautiful bottle, and it has an old-fashioned, unfashionable name. It's been around forever (or at least since the 1880s) and reportedly hasn't changed much since. You'll probably find it on one of the lowest shelves in the liquor store, but it's definitely worth stooping over to pick up a bottle. It's the very definition of bourbon.

We're talking about Old Grand-dad 100 here, the "bonded" version. An 86 proof bottling is available and not really worth the effort. There's also a 114 proof monster that is well worth seeking out, although it's really not for the faint-hearted. The BIB version is the real gem, with a huge backbone of rye for spice coupled with a surprisingly sweet palate and a very long finish. 100 proof is a lot to drink straight and there is definitely an alcoholic burn that mellows with a bit of ice.

The high proof also makes it a natural for cocktails, although I've yet to see it mentioned as an ingredient. As the new generation of bartenders has discovered the versatility of rye in cocktails, especially in drinks like the Manhattan, they may have missed this one entirely. Rittenhouse BIB rye gets frequent mention, but the Old Grand-dad is an equally suitable choice and holds its own with robust vermouths like Antica Formula. For an all-American version of the Manhattan, I paired it with Vya's very rich and dense sweet vermouth, 2 to 1 with a couple of dashes of orange bitters and it made for a spectacular cocktail. (And as it turns out, it makes a killer whiskey sour.)

Some day, Jim Beam might pour this into a fancy bottle, double the price and sell a ton of it. I've seen that happen with other fine and unnoticed bourbons, and I'd be seriously miffed if they followed suit. In the meantime, stoop down and pick up a bottle. Tell me if I'm wrong about this exemplary bourbon.

UPDATE: I just noticed that the OLCC store sells the 86 proof OGD for 50¢ more than the BIB. Huh? Binny's, by contrast, charges $2.00 more for the BIB.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Walkies


Dogs don't ask for much and almost nothing makes a dog happier than going for a walk. Where? Who cares? Walk around a few blocks, sniff all the other dogs' signatures, leave many signatures of your own, wag your tail and just walk. Who needs fancy things when you're a dog?