Life


There’s a storm blowing in.

There’s a storm blowing in and the wind is picking at my blood, my teeth, lifting me. I can feel it out there crushing the air against the dampening earth, rolling the wind in front of the cloudforce, rolling over my brain in a curling wave of ecstasy and desire and looming pain that I can’t feel yet but will. It is coming and I can see it through the empty black of smothered night, see the lightning knifing across the cornfields and the prairies on the endless plains more than a thousand miles beyond the horizon. I can see the lighting threading the air and feel the rent air thundering against the ground running under my feet and into my body, but I can’t hear it yet.

It is coming.

Raw groans come unbidden from my panting mouth and I pace jerkily across the tiny kitchen, the cheap white linoleum floor foreign and strange. I see the walls and the lights and clock and the clutter of this life that I have built that has been built that is always being built around me but I’m looking through them into the night at the lighting flashing white and yellow across the plains.

I’m back in that boxed-in land of meandering sidewalks and sodium lampposts, scurrying harried shadows flitting in and out of the evenly spaced lights, running from the storm, hiding in their borrowed ubiquitous rooms. I want to suck in the wind and blow them away blow down the buildings that hold me in, pen in the sky. I remember the urge need to get out of those hemming paths, to run across open ground and find the storm. I wanted to meet it on its own terms, uncontained and swallowing the night. To stand in the open and feel the lashing rain. To squint my eyes against the torrenting sky and wait to be blinded by lightning overhead, turning green and purple in its nearness. To feel the crack of thunder while my eyes still burn from the flash and my skin feels as if it is growing spines.

There was a different woman there once. Not mine. Just a woman who wanted to see the storm, who was willing to stand under the lighting with me and see what the storm would do. I can feel her now, on the periphery of my senses, a needle in my head tracking her as she moves, trying to point me at her. She must come to me now with the storm, for she is long gone from me in all but ink on scattered pages of mismatched paper, trailing through years and boxes, tucked into stacks in the dark of closets.

So now there is just the gathering storm, and me lost on the edge of it. It seems a herald, a flag cast down from the hand of some mighty god, and I open myself up to the wind listening for the words.

But I can’t hear them.

All I hear is the rushing wind in my ears and my imagined heartbeat echoing out of some deep hole in the world, pounding my body like thunder. But my breathing is slow. There is no wind, yet, though I imagine it hammering down the few sheltering peaks to the west, the sentinels that stand before the endless oceans, that have stood through memoryless ages of storms like this one. The blood I feel in my mouth is a ghost, torn from my empty frustration and desire. I feel an ache through my bones, my nerves throwing signals as if water on a blaze, but the building is lost, unrecoverable. I want to stand in the storm and let the thunder beat me to my knees, but instead I hear the sound of eight padded feet scrabbling across the floor as they swipe and chase a hair-tie or some bit of paper. The only wind in this room is from the whirring compressor in the fridge, and so I have nothing to guide me through the night.

Vinegared Gin SlingAt the instigation of a friend of mine I recently tried making something called posca (or, perhaps more accurately, something similar to something called posca). Posca was a traditional Roman drink composed mostly of watered down sour wine, often flavored with herbs or spices and sweetened. It was, in effect, the equivalent of lemonade only with vinegar instead of lemon juice. At this point I imagine whoever is reading this may have a slightly skeptical look on his or her face, but this look is not entirely warranted. In fact, having made something roughly equivalent I can assure you this is very tasty.

The real trick here is to track down as nice a vinegar as possible. After all, you’ll be drinking it. I used Sadaf brand vinegar which I purchased at the local middle eastern grocery store mostly because it’s the normal brand that I use in cooking. You can use any brand and probably any sort of vinegar in doing this, though I prefer cider or red wine vinegar. What is essential is that it is not distilled or quickly brewed: you want the subtle complex sourness that the longer process creates rather than the overpowering smell of acetic acid that you get otherwise. Neither of the vinegars that I used in trying out variations on this smelled the slightest bit like distilled vinegar.

The easiest thing to do is to make a concentrate of sweetened vinegar. Unlike lemon juice vinegar doesn’t lose flavor over time so you can do this in large quantity ahead of time and just leave it in the fridge. I like a ratio of around three cups of vinegar to one cup of sugar – in the pictured version I’ve mixed brown and white sugar which is why it’s darker, but this was only because of necessity and not taste. Heat the vinegar and dissolve the sugar in it as if you were making a simple syrup. Then add whatever spices you want. Coriander is especially nice (essential, really, for what I’m going to suggest), but I’ve also put anise seed and a little bit of fresh nutmeg in as well to good effect. Then bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook for a minute or two before turning off the heat and letting it steep for a bit. When it is cool enough to handle strain it and pour into a jar or bottle for safekeeping.

At this point if you want to make posca all you need to do is pour an ounce or two of the vinegar mixture into a tall glass and fill the rest of the way with water. You can use cold water, and add ice if you like. I find that unlike lemonade and most other drinks I actually find posca more refreshing when it’s sitting around room temperature, though, so it’s as least worth trying this.

This is a little boring, though, and as suggested in the title my first instinct was to go ahead and add gin to the drink. Luckily this works out pretty well: remember, one of the main flavors in the mixture is coriander, which is also a common botanical used in gins. It could probably be made more complex with the addition of a bitters (I have a bitters made with Rue that complements the fruitiness of the vinegar nicely, as it turns out). But honestly it’s pretty tasty as it is and adding a recipe for bitters to this post would be recommending and unreasonable amount of work when it comes to trying things out. Since the effect overall of adding gin is to make the drink a watered down and mildly sweetened gin with some vinegar mixed in there I’ve called it a vinegared sling. (It was easier than inventing a fancy name, at any rate.)

This is as much of a recipe as it makes sense to give for something as simple as this. But don’t be fooled: it really is delicious. As a side note I’ll add that the proportions here are entirely speculative. What actually tastes best will depend pretty substantially on what sort of vinegar you use, and how strong it is. So start with roughly equal quantities and then just experiment around until you get a nice balance.

Recipe

1 1/2 oz Posca concentrate
1 1/2 oz Gin

Pour into tall glass, fill with flat water.

Posca Concentrate

3 Cups high quality vinegar
1 Cup white sugar
– or –
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
– or –
equivalent quantity of honey

Add sugar to vinegar and heat to dissolve. Add

Coriander seed, other spices to taste.

Bring to a boil until everything is neatly dissolved and smells fragrant. Take off heat and let cool. Strain and bottle.

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The Secret Ingredient

3/4 Oz Sweet Vermouth

3/4 Oz Curacao

1/2 Oz Fernet Branca

1/2 Oz Dark Soy Sauce

1 Dash Herbsaint

Shake and strain.

The trick to this cocktail is to make sure to use dark soy sauce, not the more commonly available light soy sauce (or Japanese style soy sauce).  Dark Soy sauce has a thick almost molasses like flavor in addition to the rich saltiness of the soy sauce most people are familliar with.  My thoughts with this recipe had mostly to do with the effect that salty flavors have on bitter ones – for whatever reason when salty flavors are added to bitter flavors both seem to moderate themselves pretty quickly.  (This is why salads with dark greens taste better with a pinch or two of salt over them.)   So I added the dark soy sauce, which has a fairly salty bite right at the beginning of the flavor, to a drink with a large quantity of the most aggressive potable bitters I had on hand.  The recipe that I’ve provided is actually the result of a lucky mistake – my original plans had only included 1/4 oz of the dark soy sauce (I was afraid the saltiness would overwhelm the other flavors, or end up being unpalateable).  But after I accidentally added a full 1/2 oz I discovered that actually that amount balanced nicely with the other flavors and that the saltiness hadn’t been particularly obvious in the final drink.

The sweet vermouth and curacao actually end up acting as background players in the cocktail, despite amounting to the majority of its volume.  The majority of the flavor comes from the Herbsaint and Fernet Branca, with the soy sauce providing a dark almost chocolatey background to the flavor.  I would go so far as to say that it almost tastes like chocolate, somewhere deep down in the flavor.  There is surpisingly little saltiness in the flavor, or bitterness, at least compared to what the recipe would suggest.  The main effect of the combination of fernet branca and soy sauce is that, despite a good hard shake (as you can see from the photo), the drink is rich and almost syrupy feeling.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend this as a before dinner drink – it is too dark, rich and thick.  But it would make a surprisingly good digestive.  Overall I’m both surprised that Soy Sauce could be as effective an ingredient as it turned out to be and a little bit pleased with myself for figuring out that it could be one at all.

If Fernet Branca isn’t to your taste, though, there is a useful substitution that can be made.  Personally I like the stuff an awful lot, but the peculiar menthol taste isn’t always something people go for.  About a Teaspoon of Angostura bitters and upping the vermouth and curacao to an ounce each should give something pretty similar but with a slightly more aggressive bitter flavor and without the edge that the drink gets from the Fernet Branca.

I have a digital camera now!

I have a digital camera now!

1 Oz Boomsma Oude Genever

1 Oz Islay Mist Blended Scotch Whiskey

1/2 Oz Campari

2 Dashes Kirsch

Orange Twist; Lemon Twist

I think this one turned out fairly well, so I thought I’d post something (mostly, admittedly, for Ian’s benefit). I was thinking about odd combinations of base pairs and figured I’d go for broke and try something I hadn’t seen before. As it turns out the combination of Oude Genever and Scotch works surprisingly well. The gin softens the harder, peatier edges of the Scotch while still keeping the maltiness. This might also work with a Jonge genever, or a different blended scotch (the Islay Mist is pretty, well, Islay-ish, but it seems to meld well). The Campari and Kirsch combination struck me as another possibly interesting pairing as well, and the bitter orange flavors work really well with the maltiness of the base. Finally I put both an orange and a lemon twist in this because, well, everything else came in a pair but it works in an interesting way. Overall I think this drink worked well.

Ian has been bothering me to post more, but since I haven’t tried anything new in the cocktail area recently I’ve been bad about that. (In case anyone is wondering: gin is still excellent.)

That said, there’s always links to things out there on the internet and, in this case, apparently on television as well. Here you go – I am, as the title suggests, not sure how to react to this. On the one hand, it really does appear to exist. But there’s always the chance that this isn’t true, and all that’s happening here is that my brain has started misfiring in dramatic and surprising ways. If it’s the former – enjoy!

——-

Update!   Because I can’t leave things like this alone I started googling “Dog Wedding” and apparently this is, yeah, kind of a thing people do.  A lot of the results – like, I hope, this one and, more straightforwardly, this one – are just about how to include dogs in weddings (ring bearers and the like).

But I also found this how to page on, well, exactly what it sounds like: How To Host A Dog Wedding, which has to be one of the more amazing how-to guides out there.  Highlights include “Set up a dog sized wedding place. The garage will work…” and, (in the “Tips” category) “Don’t go too overboard.”

And, best of all, right in the middle of these search results was this useful page.

I recently got a new phone, after switching from Verizon to T-Mobile. (By “recently”, I mean, roughly three hours ago.) I’ve been fiddling with it off and on since then, though not seriously. Since I don’t use phones much, or at least no more than I’m forced to, I mostly just want to know how to transfer my old phone book over from the previous phone, check voicemail, and make calls. Ideally I’d also like to know how to do this “ringtone” thing since, I think, unlike my previous one this phone can actually do that. I think fifty crying babies would be pretty awesome as a ringtone. Everyone else would feel the way I do about incoming calls!

More to the point, though, the text message part of the phone has a series of “templates” built into it – which is actually quite clever. There’s a “I’ll meet you at ” template, a “I’m in a meeting right now, but I’ll be out at ” one, etc. If I used text messages this could be a really useful feature. What I’m ambivalent about, though, is that one of them is “I love you too”.

Seriously – “I love you too“. So not one that you’d automatically send to someone, but only in reply. And I’m not sure how to react to this. On the one hand it’s kind of hilarious. But at the same time I find it sort of sad as well, as if the phone is already designed for vaguely pathetic people. But not vaguely pathetic in the way that I’m vaguely pathetic (there is no “Leaving my apartment seems like a lot of work tonight” message, for example). So it’s not useful. Still, I suppose I could always add some new templates. But since that would involve committing to actually using text messaging I think it’s better not to.

Why does the Chronicle of Higher Education continually have people write articles making claims about Philosophy who do not know much about philosophy? (And for once I’m not being annoyed by Carlin Romano!)

For the record, if you find yourself tempted to write an article about John Stewart Mill, and you find that on reflection a good title for the article you have written is “The Forgotten Philosopher”, well…

It’s hard to explain how wrong this review is about so very much (though the book may well be interesting), but, for example:

Any book that inspires college sophomores is likely to be dismissed by professional philosophers as, well, sophomoric. But shouldn’t we judge a work of political philosophy by how long it continues to inspire debate? By that standard, On Liberty is a classic.

Not only this standard, in fact, but basically any other standard you’d care to think of! I mean, good grief people. Mill is probably the most famous Utilitarian ethicist. He is read in more or less any introductory ethics class you’d teach at a college level – either Utilitarianism, or On Liberty (if the class has a more political bent). This puts him at roughly the level of Aristotle or Kant. And I have yet to hear him despised, sneered at, or dismissed – or at least no more than any other philosopher is treated this way. He. Is. Not. Obscure. Or. Forgotten.

Also, as more of a side note, this particular understanding of the state of philosophy currently –

Contemporary academic philosophy is riven by a great divide: Either you adhere to a Continental perspective identified with Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger that addresses big speculative subjects like the Essence of Being, or you identify with the British and American analytic school that puts a priority on rigorous logic, language, and meaning.

No.

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