Entries from October 2009 ↓

Men are from Uruk, Women are from Assyria

The Devil Drink
Thank you all, for failing to point out the other week that the story of Moses’ communication with God through the medium of a burning bush is not actually in Genesis, but rather in the book of Exodus. Hurrah for modern Scripture, I say.

In this edition, Dylwah gets anthropo-theologico-literary, Kirsty looks curiously at the cooking sherry, and Zoe has two bites of the cherry, asking about cocktails and the proper place for homebrew.

Shaken or stirred?
Zoe

Ah, now this is both a recipe question, and an espionage question.

As it relates to the dry martini, Bond was on his own. It’s generally a stirred drink—two parts gin, one part dry vermouth, pop in an olive or two on a stick and you’re done—but what’s not often remembered in the early 20th Century it was often made in large jugs to be shared, making shaking a technically impossible task. That form of the drink doesn’t often survive in these contemporary days of showy Tom Cruise bartendering and polished cocktail shakers, and when Ian Fleming’s hero asked for his to be shaken, it was supposed to be to read as a clear signalling of his individualism, difference and deviance. Modern readers and viewers tend only to get the first implication of the drink order. With what we know about the author’s… peculiarities, it’s probably best to leave 007 there.

As British spies go, I’m far more a fan of George Smiley, who enjoyed his claret at his club while he considered Cold War paradoxes and German baroque poetry, of outright despicable liars and traitors like the real-life scumbag Kim Philby, and of Graham Greene’s confidential agent, protagonist of a book written over the course of a benzedrine-fuelled, debt-driven six weeks or so. (I read it in the author’s foreword, so it must be true.) But then, I’m a traditionalist like that.

I don’t do Conrad or Dostoyevsky, but I’ve been known to enjoy Dumas… and with what you know about this author’s peculiarities, it’s probably best to leave the subject there.

In the Mesopotamian epic, Gilgamesh, Enkidu is introduced to us as naked and wild. He is ‘tamed’ through a combination of beer and the erotic arts of a temple priestess. My questions are these, is being tamed an unavoidable consequence of drinking beer or are the attentions of a highly trained priest or priestess also necessary for the taming process? will i avoid being tamed by sticking to wine and spirituous liquors? and finally, does the elevation of filthy lucre to godhead status mean that accountants are the new priest and priestesses, and should i let my children date one?
Dylwah

It’s hard to tell, Dylwah, given that there have been so few examples of the act. We’re really generalising from a sample of one—and certainly people in our contemporary days who drink lots of beer show little signs of taming. However, your magnificent question illustrates precisely why I’m a strong supporter of the ordination of women, and the equal participation of women in all religion.

Put simply: I don’t know whether beer and priestess sex correlate with taming, but by all means, let’s find out.

Christ chose Peter to be the rock upon which he built his Church, and from that sound basis, we got the Arian Controversy, the Councils of Nicaea, the split between Roman and Byzantine Churches, the Medieval Popes, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, furious Calvinist iconoclasm, the Spanish Inquisition and the Conquistadors in Latin America. We got Puritans with pillories, the metaphysical poets, Cathars in castles, Billy Graham, Fred Nile, Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton and and Evelyn Waugh. We got Gregorian chant, Bach, Andrew Lloyd Webber, gospel music, and nuns with guitars. Sure, it was two millenia of fun, but (Medieval Popes, Evelyn Waugh, and gospel music apart) there wasn’t a lot of drunken priestess sex, now, was there?

It’s not too late to turn society, ecumenically, around. From what we know about the attentions of erotically-trained Mesopotamian priestesses on ancient mythical epic heroes, we can certainly look forward to much more interesting religion if they’re hired in every suburban MegaChurch™. As Dylwah describes, Enkidu, wild man of the forests, gets drunk and is seduced, and as a consequence of his taming from the natural state, he has warlike and totally rad adventures with his best mate Gilgamesh across ancient Mesopotamia. (For those of you under thirty, imagine Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but less Californian, and with more sex and killing). Imagining that taming is an unavoidable consequence of beer drinking, is it really that bad? All I’m saying, is give Shamhat a chance.

As for accountants, well, I’ll let the joke about people who think they’re Gods just go without the telling.

I’ve just remembered a question that came up a while ago in discussion with dogpossum about the whole ‘only cook with what you’d drink’ debate. She was told by a bottle shop attendant that it was a myth, that you could put any old vinegar in your cooking.
Kirsty

I’ve heard both sides of this argument as well, Kirsty. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding about alcohol in cookery based on mutual good intentions. I don’t know on which sides of the argument you and dogpossum lie, but I know where I do. Let’s see if I can recap the arguments—please correct me if I’m wrong.

Watching her friend reach up on top of the fridge for the three-quarters empty chateau cardboard to start the evaporation over the arborio rice in her risotto, the connoisseur of fine wine and good beer points to the unpredictablity of life, the risk of waking up dead tomorrow, and points out in a reasonable tone that life’s too short to drink shitty generic cask white. Why wouldn’t you cook with what you drink, she asks, if her friend places as high a value on the quality of her cookery as on her erudite palate? In return, the risotto cook points out that as she does place a high value on the wine she’s drinking, she’s hardly likely to want to waste even half a glass of the $40 Barossa Valley riesling they’re drinking just to flavour onions, and anyway, what’s her problem with a decent, well-trusted and high-selling Australian brand of dry cask white like Coolibah, and whose house does she think she’s in anyway, and would she please keep chopping those fucking mushrooms she’s ignoring and shut her hard-face-bitch mouth?

(Well, you know, that’s how I picture debate over contemporary cuisine in Australia.)

My point of view is this: the connoisseur is entirely wrong, and the risotto cook entirely right and justified. As cooking is a means to an individual or social end—a meal—so is drinking a means to the wonderful, sought after end of being drunk. Certainly I’m prepared to believe that one can taste a risotto made with vintage white as opposed to one made with vinegary ends of a bottle or even with leftover vermouth, but even more certainly you can taste the difference between Veuve Clicquot and Mildura Spumante when you’re drinking the stuff as God and I intended: without rice.

If you can afford Yarra Valley pinots now that most of the Valley’s been burned and the prices have gone up, bloody well drink them, don’t pour ‘em into your coq au vin. The chicken’s dead, it’s hardly likely to enjoy the stuff as much as you are. Did oenologists and viniculturists sweat into those barrels just for the benefit of the cheap Coles broiler? Would you pour that Hennessy XO into your trifle? Would you contribute a Margaret River red to your children’s spaghetti bolognaise along with the usual teaspoon of sugar and splosh of Worcestershire sauce? When cooking with alcohol, use cooking alcohol, and when drinking, drink drinking alcohol (which may, I rush to point out, depending on your budget and circumstances, also be cooking alcohol). That’s my rather intolerant verdict.

Cooking and drinking: equal, but separate.

how does one balance the intense pleasure of quantities of extremely fine home brewed beer available for the drinking at one’s pleasure with the many – MANY – accompanying hours of discussion on matters such as sparging, yeast harvesting and the colonisation of the small boy’s wardrobe for beer conditioning?
Zoe

That’s your second question, Zoe, but since it’s your blog, I suppose you get your own way.

It seems that, like in physics, your problems relate to the interconnectedness of energy, space, and time. A carboy in a child’s wardrobe could be a sign of tremendous ingenuity, like the Chicago Pile-1 nuclear reactor built in the pioneer 1940s out of bits of timber and graphite in a Chicago rackets court, or it could be the sign of a runaway chain reaction of hops and malty brewing mass that could engulf your children in an explosion of warm, sticky, yeasty goo. Without considerable research and blind testing (ie. until blind) it’ll be hard to tell which it is. Or is it the capped sealed beer bottles slowly carbonating towards a drinkable state that lie in your son’s room amongst the clothes and toys? I hesitate to suggest that as he gets to be a teenager, this is a problem of storage that might solve itself.

If what you want is the relocation of the brewing process outside your house, what about a co-operative with its own shed or hired garage? It occurs to me that brewing’s just the kind of activity that would benefit from the sharing of tools and knowledge, and that could be made cheaper by the pooling of money to buy raw material. A group of brewers would be able to use space and energy together a lot more effectively, and they’d be able to share, as you describe it, their extremely fine home brewed beer. You’d get beer swapping, you’d get communal advice and learnings, you’d get all of the crap out of your own shed and into someone else’s.

I can offer no advice, I am sorry to say, about dealing with constant tedious bullshit from one’s spouse. I’m the Antichrist, not Dr. John Gray.

And for that, let us all be truly grateful.


The Devil Drink answers your curiosities, satisfies your disagreements, and lays down the law on drinkers’ etiquette. Your questions for the next, irregular, edition may be asked in comments below or anonymously to thedevildrink@yahoo.com.au The sage advice of columns past can be found here.

Emica has a disappointment at Nahm

I mentioned to Zoe that a couple of weekends ago The Man decided it was about time he took me out- gosh! – and we went to Nahm, and she forwarded me a Terry Durack article praising Nahm in a recent piece on Sydney Thai food. Terry’s right about London having few great Thai options, but I am sorry to report that I’m not as convinced as him that Nahm is one of them. For us, it was a 50/50 experience, which, given we had such high expectations, was disappointing.

I was initially surprised that, located in the lobby of a posh hotel, Nahm looks like any restaurant located in the lobby of a posh hotel. I’ve no idea what traditional Thai decor is, although I’m pretty sure the kitschy knick knacks festooning my local Thai up the road aren’t, but the rather hootchy-kootchy bland light gold hotel chic room felt at odds with a cuisine that is so punchy, sweet/ sour, salty/ hot and fragrant. Not exactly something to complain about, but not what I imagined a Michelin starred temple of Thai food would look like.

After a bit of confusion on our part following complicated instructions about how to order from the five separate menu sections to ensure a balanced meal (soups, stir fries, salads etc), we ordered the tasting menu that had one thing from each section. An early disappointment for me was the entree, which was a beautifully presented crispy noodle net with prawn and herb salad. It was nice, and the crispy noodles were very cool, but it didn’t sing with the Thai flavours. It tasted a bit beige.

Apparently the kitchen was saving all the seasoning for just two dishes. The main fault with our meal was two dishes that were so salty we could only manage a couple of mouthfuls of each. There was an eel & pork stir fry and a mallard salad which were Dead Sea salty. It was such a shame because the duck in individual pieces was lovely but the overall effect was overwhelmingly salty and really killed any other flavour. The eel thing was scorched earth on a plate. I got the impression they’d salted it to get a crispy skin, which it had, but went overboard. I don’t know if that’s how they’re meant to taste and I’m just a soft westerner who can’t take a bit of enthusiastic seasoning, but after those two bad boys, the inside of my lips felt like when I’d been swimming too long at the beach – sort of pickled and wrinkled. However, the hot and sour soup with clams could raise the dead! It was poetry in a bowl – no, actually more like old skool motown (y’know- get up, get on up etc). And the grilled kingfish was beautifully marinated.

We had been told that the tasting menu is served in the Thai style, with everything served at the same time. But the tricky bit about that, especially when there are just the two of you, is that everything gets cold while you eat other things, which kinda made me feel rushed to get through each thing before it got stone cold – even the rice ended up cold! I can now see the point of those slightly daggy rice buckets they have in Chinese restaurants. I’m not quite as hung up as my mum on scalding hot food, but I am the kind of girl who always heats my plates, so food that’s the cold side of lukewarm isn’t great.

The desserts were interesting. I just had a plate of exotic tropical fruit, only two I could name but delicious. The Man had something called ‘ash pudding’ which was a rice pudding – yummy salty-sweet in the same way as salted caramel- and a sort of quenelle of black sticky stuff. It really did taste like vaguely aniseed flavoured dirt.

It was a shame we weren’t blown away because we’d been so looking forward to it. The Man and I agreed that, actually, our local Thai outclassed this meal in many ways and at a fraction of the price.

What are your Thai eating experiences? Dr Sista Outlaw, I would be interested to know about your experiences of ‘real’ Thai food versus restaurant Thai.

If You Don’t Like My Fire, Don’t Cite Genesis

The Devil Drink Once upon a time, our mutual host and gourmand Zoe prevailed upon me, communicating through the means of a bottle of bourbon, a half a dozen bummed B&Hs and her Judas Priest cassette compilation played on a held-together-with-sticky-tape 1990s Walkman with flat batteries, to come and give a fortnightly column of advice and agony auntery. Glad to, I said then. My pleasure.

Well, I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further.

It’s been a while since I rocked this progressive dinner party, and your pleas for advice, I regret, have gone without succour. I can only hope you haven’t been seeking out alternative sources of wisdom or—worst of all—attempting dangerous self-help. Dame Mint Pattie in her own special way has been doing My work and I salute her for it.

From now on, though they might be your questions, it’s My timetable.

Are we allowed to firebomb those responsible for brewing overseas brands here eg Becks and Heineken? I mean: what’s the point?
Harry

Honestly, I am not going to stop you doing it. If arson’s your thing, man, as the prophet said, let me stand next to your… fire.

I’m a bit unclear though on your motives. Are you offended by their market position, as a supporter of smaller brewers? By their pretentions to premium-beer status over other more worthy local labels—thinking in particular of the rather good Bluetongues? By the cultural imperialism of brands, nestling everywhere, settling everywhere, making connections everywhere, as Naomi Klein might have channelled Marx? Or is it just for shits ‘n’ giggles (as a wise man once noted, an underrated motive for terroristic violence)?

What’s the point of international brewing licences? I’d say it was making a recognisable consistent and reliable (if bland) product with a profitable brand. My principle is this: if the contents do the job, the label on the outside is just a bit of paper. It’s all going to the same place (well, one of two places) in the end anyway, so why be hung up on appellations? A rosé by any other name would… well, you know.

I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying, in all things, do unto others as you would be done by—then light that petrol bomb and fling it with My blessing.

What would Jesus drink? I know that one may not be so close to your heart, Dark One, but I’m curious as to what sort of grapes they were growing way back when, given lots of other crops have been bred into such different forms. Red for the most part I guess, but for Christ’s sake I hope it was better than communion wine or Kosher wine today.
FDB

What am I, FDB, Wikipedia?

Regarding the question of what Jesus drank: the traditional story (John 2:10-12) isn’t so much evidence about what Christ drank as about how:

…‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee…

It’s a story about being good to your guests. Jesus, way cool as he was, was illustrating the correct party-throwing procedures. The guy might have been a self-righteous pain-in-the-arse cultist, but he knew about catering.

Please note also the quantities involved in the wedding.

We’ve got these six (let’s say) 25-gallon jars. That would make how many bottles of wine? Well, 75 cl. to a bottle, 56.8 cl. to a pint, 8 pints to a gallon, so that makes 454.4 cl. to a gallon; so 150 gallons (from the six stone jars) equals 68,160 cl. of wine, divided by 75 cl. per bottle, equals 908.8 – round off to 900 – 900! – bottles of wine! Let’s say that, like today, there are around 100 guests at the reception. That comes to nine – nine! – bottles of wine per guest. Talk about binge drinking! And – the punchline of the story – by producing this excellent vintage in such copious quantities, Jesus “revealed his glory.”

DD, re the burning bush bit. Isn’t that the work of the Almighty? As I recall it was part of His campaign to impart an insight or two to Elijah. Credit where credit is due etc.
The Feral Abacus

Moses, Feral Abacus. Credit where credit is due, etc.


 The Devil Drink answers your curiosities, satisfies your disagreements, and lays down the law on drinkers’ etiquette. Your questions for the next, irregular, edition may be asked in comments below or anonymously to thedevildrink@yahoo.com.au The sage advice of columns past can be found here.

Julie and Julia and Nigel and Pammy Faye

meryl

Oh the joys of going to the cinema – especially when driven by our loyalty to PDP! We thought we were attending a foodlover’s premier of a promising-looking film about cooking and cookbooks. The good reviews of the filmic biography of Julia Child, starring Meryl Streep, sucked us in.

What we ended up experiencing was a special foodies night for a sweetly entertaining flick that was indeed about Mrs Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but also – its contemporary theme – about food blogging! Co-starring the very perky Amy Adams: Julie and Julia, the film by Nora Ephron pressed more buttons than we had anticipated…

Apparently the Dendy assumes foodies are easily stimulated. It wasn’t a premiere, so what did we get for our extra ten bucks?

cocktails

There were “free” tiny tipple cocktails (Bernini’d champagne) and on each seat a show bag of three samples including ten sea salted half macadamias, a teaspoon of lime and white pepper gianduja chocolate, half a teaspoon of vanilla salt, some Canberra Centre propaganda, and then three quarters of an hour of slightly naff food and cocktail demos. Naff though it was, it did feature Emmanuel the slowest “cocktail barista” ever to grace the stage, plus a non-committal but cliché-ridden master-sommelier-in-training. Nevertheless they did treat us to a very yummy soup-son the size of a twenty cent piece made from the vanilla salt cured salmon on a bed of mascapone cheese with horseradish. Soup-son? All the sophisticated French words were anglicized or malapropped by the Executive Chef, Neil Abrahams (vinegar-ette, acicity) throughout the event.

opening

The film starts with a lot of 1940s car sex. We were transfixed by the art director’s perfect reconstruction of late 1940s Paris, as the bored but larger-than-life (and seemingly always inebriated) Julia Child squeezed her way through narrow streets in a monstrous Buick Woody Wagon, and through classic French street markets with her engaging and endlessly diplomatic husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). Then we were fast-forwarded to a flat in Queens in 2002, to meet an equally bored 29-year-old Julie Powell, a frustrated would-be novelist stuck in a dead-end job taking sympathy calls post 9/11. While she’s much sharper than her yuppy friends, she doesn’t know what to do with her itchy mind.

The one thing they both love is food. Julie remembers her mother’s first Julia Child boeuf bourguignon, while Julia overcomes the barriers of gender and gaucherie to become a Cordon Bleu chef. The French, she discovers, “eat French food everyday: Heaven!” As we follow Julia passionately demystifying French recipes, we watch Julie discovering her own foodie passions via a self-imposed blog challenge (“I could write a blog. I have thoughts!”). She sets out to blog her way through every recipe in Julia’s book in a year, 536 recipes in 365 days. Time and space are nicely compressed as Julie becomes Julia. Almost.

Between postings in Paris and Marseilles, then somewhere in Germany, and then somewhere in Norway, and ultimately back “home” in the USA, there were lots of “yum” food pix and sequences. Julia discovered a correspondence between “hot cock” and cannelloni, while Julia (stuck in Queens) discovered that the poached egg was “like melted cheese”. Hmmm. Both husbands survived the “you can’t have too much butter” mantra.

But it was cute. Julie found the courage to boil live lobsters; discovered she had fans who actually read her daily purge; finally mastered the art of deboning a chook; saved her marriage from her own obsessive egotism; got an interview in the NYT and subsequently got flooded with publishing offers. All of this inspired by the spirit of Julia. Apart from a slightly sooky offering-in-homage of a half-pound of butter in a Julia Childs memorial in the Smithsonian at the end of the film, this is a delightful tale of food and love and blogging. A combination made in heaven.

Dr Sister Outlaw, sullying the food blog with an open thread on … (whisper) dieting

I am prepared to admit this is not appropriate talk for a food blog, because, like most contributors and commenters here, I believe Prog Dinner Party is about celebrating food, not restricting it.

However, in recent weeks a friend and I have put ourselves on diets, as we prepare for a wedding and try to fit into the frocks we’ve chosen (the bride, btw, is a tiny elegant little thing who has to work to keep weight on).

My weight loss method is loosely based around the CSIRO diet, which is a great sort of boot camp on how to cook with less fat, even if I can’t afford to buy all that meat and I don’t eat pork. My version is to follow the formula of two or three small serves of carbs a day, loads of veges and salad and some fruit and low fat dairy and oodles of lean red meat, chicken and fish (up to 350 grammes a day!). Of course I also restrict fats (not much of a problem as I’m not really into cheese or chocolate) and I cut down on carbs and (sob) alcohol. Let you know how it works in a few weeks. 

But, in the mean time, I thought it might be interesting to ask PDP readers what they give up when they are faced with the choice of either losing weight or buying a whole new wardrobe. Conversely, if you have the opposite problem, of unwanted skinniness, you might want to reveal what you eat to gain weight. Folks, it’s time to share …

Dame Mint Pattie samples the Curate’s egg menu @ the Canberra wine dinner

On a wet, icy Saturday night we’re playing ‘spot the winemaker’ in old Parliament House. It goes something like this: no tie, expensive but rumpled suit that looks as though the wearer has arrived straight from the office – senior public servant, scratch and sniff tweed sports jacket matched inappropriately with jeans – our man in Canberra, corduroy trousers, sensible shoes and possibly scotch guarded coat – winemaker.

The excuse for this stereotyping* is the Canberra district wine & regional food dinner, and while making outrageous assumptions about complete strangers is always fun, we’re really here for the booze chance to try the region’s best wines.

Anne Caine, energetic Prez of the Canberra District Wine Association, noticing 14 Canberra wines had cracked Halliday’s Top 100 Wines of NSW, cooked up a dinner with Janet Jeffs and Ginger Catering to showcase the result.

It was, as a certain sartorially challenged, tweed aficionado said, a top idea, as well as a convenient way to get a handle on where some of the best Canberra juice is heading. And the results were excellent.

wine dinner

Top drops of the night included old mates like the Brindabella Hills sauv blanc and the Collector shiraz, and other local heroes such as the Wallaroo riesling and Capital Wines shiraz. While the dinner mainly featured wines from the 07/08 vintages, the 2005 Four Winds shiraz and the 06 Yarrah Wines Cabernet showed how a little bottle age can make all the difference for the right wines.

The only bum note was a couple of the food courses – a goat cheese ravioli that had but a passing acquaintance with boiling water and a deconstructed lamb pie that our man said looked and tasted like it had been assembled by a semiotician rather than a chef (but I expect he’s just been reading Roland Barthes again).

Next year – and this has all the makings of an annual event – if the quality of the food matches the wine, I’ll be a completely happy Dame (well, as long as OMIC wears some reasonable strides).

* and we won’t even mention what I had to say about the chicks (yes I’m a bit of a biatch, move along).


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