Friday, September 24, 2010

History of a Cocktail: The Sazerac

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Infrogmation
Ok so this pre-dates most of what I like posting about, but who cares, this cocktail is delish, classic, and therefore timeless. I don't usually stray from my vodka drinks, but I'm pretty much open to anything. From the looks of it this cocktail's history is not only long, but also mysterious and secretive (insert moody, melodramatic music here). The cocktail emerged some time in the 1830's and has been hailed as the first cocktail to be invented in the United States (although there is evidence that this is untrue). The basic ingredients are rye whiskey, bitters, a sugar cube or simple syrup and absinthe. It's usually garnished with a lemon peel and served in an old fashioned glass. I think the art form of the drink is in the preparation (and the brand of liquors you use as well). I'm sure every bartender has their own method, but basically you take two old fashioned glasses, one is filled with ice. In the empty one you muddle the sugar component and the bitters, then you add the whiskey. Next you empty the ice from the first glass and pour in some absinthe to coat the inside of the now cold glass. The excess absinthe is discarded. Finally you pour the original mixture of whiskey, bitters and sugar into the coated, cold glass, and garnish with some lemon.  I'm no professional, so I opted for trying out the drink from someone who knew what they were doing.  I tried it at a very cozy, almost cave-like bar called The Falls in Downtown L.A.  It was much too dark for me to take a picture of the drink with my outdated iPhone, so thank you Flickr Creative Commons for the pic.  Honestly it was just as much fun drinking this cocktail as it was watching the bartender make it.  When he had to drain the glass of absinthe he actually tossed the glass up in the air.  The taste was not my usual cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I can only describe it as rich, woodsy and definitely manly.  I would almost call it seductive, if you can call a drink that, and I guess I just did.  It's not a drink for the feint of heart and certainly not a drink you would knock back all night, unless you sipped them very slowly.  I would say that if you've never tried one, you should at least do so once. According to some the drink was originally made with cognac instead of whiskey. Also, although the ingredients of the cocktail are well known, the original method or recipe is what remains ambiguous. The name itself is derived from either the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans (opened in 1859) or a cognac brand called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Additionally here are some gems that all relate to the Sazerac Cocktail:

  • In the movie, State of the Union (Liberty Films, 1948), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy the character of Judge Alexander's wife favors the Sazerac cocktail and Katherine Hepburn's character gets tipsy drinking them.
  • The Sazerac is the official cocktail of Lousiana.
  • The Sazerac is featured in The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was first published in 1930 and continues to be in print to this day. The book contains many classic recipes and was penned by legendary barman Henry Craddock (he invented the White Lady and popularized the Dry Martini). The book takes it's name from The Savoy Hotel in London.
  • The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans has a gunshot hole in one of its doors towards the back of the bar that legend says was meant for Huey P. Long, the Democratic politician from Louisiana who was popular for his ideas, but was also accused of fascism (The video contained on this page of the Roosevelt's website gives further insight into the famous Sazerac Bar).
  • Much controversy has been stirred simply because the Sazerac is made with absinthe (which is probably the most controversial spirit out there). However the absinthe is only used to coat the glass that you drink a Sazerac from. Absinthe's reputation has long been smeared simply because at one point it was said to have dangerous, addictive and psychological effects on those who drank it. The presence of the chemical thujone was largely to blame (a very small quantity), but it has been proven that the spirit is not any more harmful than any other spirit. In 2007 it made its way back to the United States after having been banned since the early 1900's.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner, 2009; 406 pages; ISBN 1439165394
Goodreads Rating: 3 stars

At the time I read this book I had been meaning to read The Time Traveler's Wife because of all the hype (with the movie and everything), but all the copies at work were checked out, so when I saw Her Fearful Symmetry come in, I grabbed it. I have to say that up until 3/4 of the way in I was set on giving it 4 stars, but the way things ended totally disappointed me. **Stop here if you haven't read this, BIG SPOILER ALERT** First off let me run down the basic plot and characters of the book. Elspeth and Edie
Noblin are identical twin sisters. At a relatively young age Elspeth (who lives in London) dies of cancer, and her lover Robert is left with a huge hole in his life from her absence. Elspeth's sister, Edie, has been raising her own twin daughters in the United States. After Elspeth's death, the twins, Julia and Valentina, are surprised to learn that Elspeth has left them her London flat. They travel to Europe and start getting to know the aunt they never met by living in her flat. So here is where it gets weird (and this is something you don't learn until the end). When Edie and Elspeth were young they decided to trade places to try and trick Elspeth's fiance, Jack. The "original" Elspeth (playing the part of Edie) sleeps with Jack and becomes pregnant with the twins, Julia and Valentina. The charade continues all the way to the United States until a few months after the twins are born, when Edie and Elspeth switch back. So the "original" Edie takes the place of Jack's wife and the "original" Elspeth (the twin's real mom and Jack's original fiance) goes back to London. So by the time the twins themselves travel to London they don't know that their birth mother is actually the one who died. There is more to the story that I won't go into, and other characters, but basically at the end of the book Elspeth's ghost kills her own daughter Valentina in order to live again and be with Robert. She completely robs her of a chance to live an independent life, a life of designing, traveling, working, and being on her own - away from her controlling twin Julia. By the way, Julia bothered me the entire time. Why was she so clingy? I was so glad when Valentina starts to stand up to her and I was looking forward to seeing Valentina on her own (but Elspeth totally ruined it). I guess the only real happy ending is Martin & Marijke (a couple who live in the same building as Elspeth). In the end I was glad that Robert abandons Elspeth, and I was totally expecting her to have another set of twins when we learn she is pregnant. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the characterizations, the settings, and even the plot at some points - just not at the end. I didn't want a complete happy ending, but I thought that Elspeth was just so selfish and manipulative, and she didn't deserve to take Valentina's life away and get a chance to live once more. Now that I've read this book and consequently, The Time Traveler's Wife (I had to read it before I watched the film), I can say that Niffenegger's writing can be really great, but oh-so-confusing. Her characters are all pretty out there and I can appreciate the fantastical elements, but I just can't appreciate being robbed of a happy ending where the good characters get some kind of redemption. I'll think twice before I pick up another one by this author.

Photo: From website

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jewels are a Girl's Best Friend

Like the saying goes, everything old is new again, and crystal brooches are no exception. These handy-dandy accessories are great for dressing up just about anything, from a cashmere sweater to a favorite clutch or coat. I have a few stashed away, but my favorite one was owned by my great-grandmother (who from what I was told was very stylish and kind of flashy). I inherited this piece, along with a great black faux fur coat that at the time had the brooch pinned to it. Since then I've used this brooch on just about everything, from dresses to head scarves to purses. The versatility is endless. That's the great thing about costume jewelry, no matter what, it's pretty timeless and there are infinite uses for costume pieces. You can find it for relatively little money on eBay, at flea markets and garage sales, pawn shops, and even brand new pieces at trendy mall shops. 
There are even books dedicated to this jewelry sector, such as Costume Jewelry by Judith Miller (DK Adult, 2007) and my favorite Jewels of Passion: Costume Jewelry Masterpieces by Sherri R. Duncan and Deby Roberts (Schiffer Publishing, 2008), which includes stories behind some of the most beautiful pieces created in the 20th century by designers like Christian Dior, Kenneth Jay Lane, and Trifari. Ultimately I think what draws me to costume jewelry, and especially brooches, is that they are fashion pieces that most people can afford and they can completely change the look and feel of the most simple article of clothing or accessory. In a recent trip to The Hollywood Museum I got a chance to see some pieces owned and used by two of my favorite icons, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball, and knowing that these two ladies also enjoyed a big hunk of crystal and rhinestone around their neck or on their lapel, just confirms how jewelry can really be a girl's best friend (or at least their best accessory). 

Marilyn Monroe accessories used during early screen tests & Lucille Ball's personal jewelry collected from her home on Roxbury Dr.

Book Cover Photos: From website

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Sweet & Hot Labor Day

Here are some Labor Day festivities happening in the Los Angeles area, including a music festival featuring music from the 1920's, 30's, 40's and 50's that is sweet and hot (not in that order).

Jazz at LACMA Series and Latin Sounds LACMA Series
September 3rd Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
6pm BP Grand Entrance FREE
September 4th Violinist Susie Hansen and her 9-piece band
5pm Hancock Park FREE

Sweet & Hot Music Festival
September 3rd - 6th

All Day at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott (check website for ticket prices)

LA County Fair
September 4th - October 4th

Opens at 10am on September 4th (check
website for ticket prices)

Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine
September 5th

12pm-8pm Paramount Studios, Hollywood $55 General Admission
(kids 9 and under free w/adult)

Long Beach Blues Festival: The KJazz Blues Bash
September 4th
7pm Carpenter Performing Arts Center at CSULB
$55 General Admission
The Taste of Beverly Hills
September 2nd - September 5th
Times vary by day 9900 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (check website for ticket prices)

September 4th - September 6th
10am-6pm Downtown Hermosa Beach FREE

Dance Downtown at the Music Center (Samba)
September 10th (after Labor Day, but who cares, it's free!)
6:30pm-10pm Music Center Plaza, Downtown Los Angeles FREE

Plus, you can always do a walking tour of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, or a food tasting tour of Old Pasadena or Farmer's Market/3rd Street.

(Photographs: Flickr Creative Commons)