Saturday, March 26, 2005

On Baby Duck

The Canadian Museum of Civilization has this exhibit going on about the history of wine. No, no wine tastings or anything like that, but a lot of pottery and glassware with lots of documentation showing this history of wine worldwide.

This being Canada, of course there's a section on the Canadian wine industry. One thing that surprised me was a display on Andre's Baby Duck wine.

Baby Duck is technically a sweet sparkling wine. It's also what people call a "soda pop" wine, because that's pretty much what it tastes like. A fruity pop with a slight kick.

Back in the 1970s -- before it became fashionable to be sophisticated about wine -- Baby Duck was one of Canada's most popular wines. I suppose you could say Duck was the equivalent of Ripple Wine in the States.

I remember drinking Baby Duck when I was in my teens. My parents liked to serve it for holiday dinners like Easter and Christmas, and they allowed us kids to have a small glass each on the theory that there wasn't enough alcohol in it to do us harm.

A couple of days ago, I saw they were still selling the brand, and I bought a bottle. Still dark, still bubbly, still tastes a lot like soda pop that I can imaging some restaurant wine stewards shuddering at the thought.

Still, it does go nicely with a light salad and sandwich. It won't ever be my regular drink, but a little Baby Duck now and then does make for a nice change of pace, especially during the summer months.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Random Thoughts on Beer

-- Whoever came up with the idea of dropping green dye into beer for St. Patrick's Day ought to be shot. Beer is the kind of drink that should not be polluted for the sake of appearances.

-- The proper beer for St. Patrick's Day is, of course, something from Ireland. Guinness, of course, comes to mind; but for those who find it a little strong (not to mention chewy), Harp Ale or Kilkenney will do just as well.

-- Ian Fleming's secret agent James Bond drank much more than just martinis. When in Jamaica he occasionally had a bottle of Red Stripe beer, while in the States he preferred Miller High Life.

-- Beer is an ideal ingredient for use in stewing beef, because it acts as a tenderizer (something about yeast carbonation being an aid to breaking down protein).

-- Dark colored beers are best in winter; light-colored beers are best in summer.

-- If you want a fruit-flavored beer (i.e. lemon or lime), you are better off pushing a wedge of either fruit into a freshly opened bottle and pouring the results into a glass, than ordering a pre-flavored beer. (It's the outer skin which contains the flavoring oils.)

-- Limes go better with beer than lemons.

-- I think I could go for a drink just now.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

James Bond's Scrambled Eggs

I'm not kidding. Author Ian Fleming actually attached a recipe for scrambled eggs in his James Bond short story, "007 in New York" (reprinted in the Penguin editions of Octopussy and The Living Daylights).

In gastronomical terms, Bond is probably better known for his martini (shaken, not stirred) rather than for his eggs (which are stirred, not shaken). It's still a nice recipe, though, and a lot less complicated than the Nero Wolfe version (which uses a double boiler and takes 40 minutes to make).

Fleming is probably one of the first 20th-century authors who used "branding" in his output: mentioning certain products by name that Bond liked to use. It wasn't because he was paid to do so; it's just that he used the products himself or read about them, and figured to establish his super-agent (as well as other characters such as CIA agent Felix Leiter and 007's boss M) as men of discriminating taste, much like himself. (It's one of the reasons why 007 always likes brown eggs as opposed to white.)

Accompaniments for scrambled eggs, for Bond, included champagne (his preference was Tattinger's but any sparkling wine would work out), buttered toast points, and smoked salmon (007 preferred the latter from Scotland and not Nova Scotia, but it's easier to get the latter in Canada). Not to mention a pretty girl in a bed, but we needn't go into that.

I've added a few annotations in the event that you don't have four individualists to feed, but just yourself and Jill St. John (or Ursula Andress, or Maryam d'Abo, or Halle Berry, or you can insert your own personal substitution here).

Scrambled Eggs James Bond

For four individualists:

12 fresh eggs [or 3 eggs per person]
Salt and pepper
5-6 oz. of fresh butter [about a stick and a half, or 3 tbsp. per person]

Chives or fines herbes

Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well with salt and pepper. In a small copper (or heavy bottomed saucepan) melt 4 oz. [half a stick] of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk.

While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove the pan from heat, add the rest of the butter and continue whisking for half a minute, adding at the same time finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittinger) and low music.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

On Chili

Would you believe me if I told you that the Bible mentions chili?

Have a look at this passage, II Kings 4: 38-41:

When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, "Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets."

Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were.

So they poured ikt out for the men to eat. And it came about as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out and said, "O man of God, there is death in the pot." And they were unable to eat.

But he said, "Now bring meal." And he threw it into the pot, and he said, "Pour it out for the people that they may eat." Then there was no harm in the pot.

"Death in the pot." Now that's about as good a description of "he-man" chili as I've ever seen.

Chili is nothing but a stew: meat and spices. Like curry and hot-and-sour soup, it's a dish that's also a test of manhood: Real Men use so much hot spices that if you can eat it, if there isn't hair on your chest there should be. (Unless of course you're a female.)

There are thousands of chili recipes out there. I've got at least half-a-dozen at home that I've tried. Some I like, some not so much. There are, of course, a few things I've noticed when making chili:

1. Chili needs cumin. Cumin (either in seed form or ground) adds a backbone to chili, gives it the sensation of solidity that the heat can be anchored from. Most canned chilis (and a lot of fast food versions) use cumin a lot.

2. Chili needs chili powder. You can make chili without resorting to the fresh hot peppers such as jalapenos or Scotch bonnets, as long as you have a good chili powder to use. (Powder, not sauce; commercial chili sauces tend to be weak.) Different powders have varying degrees of heat.

3. You don't need beef. If you're using ground meat, ground chicken, turkey or pork will work just as well as ground beef.

4. Chili is better with beans. Those of you from Texas, put away your nooses, tar and feathers; it is not a blasphemy to mix in beans with chili. You need a different texture to contrast with the meat in any case, and red kidney or romano beans work remarkably well.

5. You can cool down a "too hot" chili. It's not too hard, really. Remember what Elisha did? Certain starches will absorb some of the acidity that contributes to the hotness of chili. Beans for example, but also corn kernels.

You can also tone down the heat by using something sweet (or something associated with sweetness). Honey or molasses work well enough. So do mint leaves, or unsweetened cocoa powder. Altoids, on the other hand, aren't a good idea.

And remember: milk cools taste buds better than water for washing down a bowl of red.

On Nalgenes

A few weeks ago I picked up a couple of pint-sized Nalgene water bottles. Possibly I'm following a trend: the younger people at my Naval Reserve unit have been bringing these bottles in during their training.

One of them liked the firefly yellow color, which I thought bizarre because it reminds my of a specimen bottle for urine testing. The first one I bought was violet, because in certain kinds of light it turns into a vivid blue (a more appropriate color for water). The second one was the more stable slate blue. (I take the blue bottle to Reserve training because as far as I can tell no one else is using that color.)

Actually I find them quite useful. Certainly the water doesn't taste like it just came out of an Army canteen. And they're a convenient size to tuck into a shoulder bag; if you fill it at home with filtered tap water, you won't need to buy bottled water during the day. It may be a fashion trend, but it's one of those trends with practical value.

There've been some concerns expressed over the product safety of these bottles, but I'm inclined to dismiss them. Animal research is a useful indicator, but the applicability to humans is minimal at best.

Anyway, if you haven't done so already, you may want to think about Nalgenes for carrying water if you're working out or need water refreshment during the day.