Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Year, new you: try French wine

It's like this. In the store the aisles of domestic red wines, especially the cabernet aisle, are a mess. It's not that the nice young fellow who takes care of them isn't tidy, although there is that. Rather, so much product is crammed into the space, so much sells through and so many new things arrive so often, that it's a tough job to squeeze it all in and still make it "shoppable," as we say in the trade. Meanwhile, the shoppers agonize over all their choices. Will this wine, or that one, taste right with this meal? Will it please these guests? "We always try one new cabernet a year." Will it be the perfect experience? What if my favorite wine has gone to a new vintage? How do the 2012s compare to the '11s?

It's not that I'm making fun, although there is that. Rather, just five steps away from these hundreds of Domestic Reds lies the French wine aisle -- two of them, both sides -- where few people venture. It's tidy. Everything is shoppable, "double-faced" as we say in the trade (two bottles of each wine face the consumer, prim and at attention). There are choices, not just among two superb grape varieties made in the two best vineyards in Napa Valley in the last two years, but choices ranging from Alsace's rieslings to the Loire's Vouvray and Sancerre to all of Burgundy's options, red and white, to all of Bordeaux's options, red and white, to all the Rhône Valley's options, red and white. Champagne has its own aisle, as does Sauternes. More of everything lies behind lock and key, in "the cellar."

There are also choices in the French aisle because not much sells through. Are you worried about vintages, or about whether a wine is ready to drink now? Go to the French aisle. You will find wines from 2005, '06, '09, look closely and you may even see an '03 or a 2000. Lots of 2010s, 2011s, and '12s of course. You can pick up a "vertical," a selection of wines from one producer made in different years, without too much trouble. As for cost, you can spend as little or as much as you like. I'm told that some of the $10 Bordeaux on the bottom shelf are actually the closely guarded and always-prestigious "futures" of yesteryear.

As for taste, now here I suppose is the nub. Why drink French wine? In a way, everyone agonizing over the exuberant mess in the California cabernet aisle is drinking French wine; cabernet sauvignon is the grape of Bordeaux and if we were to confine ourselves truly to our native grapes, we would be very moderately enjoying things like Muscadine (scuppernong) and catawba. Why not go to the source? When people hesitate, I tell them this: it seems to me that whereas California cabernets and red blends tend to coat the tongue in a delicious, spicy and lush and somewhat flabby way, French wines have a core that you almost eat. I say this with a straight face, and so far no one has laughed.

Why do they hesitate, still and always? Why is there little to do in the French wine aisle except dust the bottles? I suspect it has to do with the novice's fear (yes, yes, aren't we all) of not getting the very best of any product whose reputation, vague but mammoth, precedes it. Of course the language barrier is no help. "I have no idea what I'm looking at with all these 'Chateaus,' I'll just stick with Howell Mountain." 

So I exhort you. Go to the French aisle in your liquor store. An experiment costing $12 there may please you just as much as a sure thing from the Russian River Valley of $20 or above. Remember, RRV -- as we say in the trade -- is essentially trying to imitate the French anyway. As for quality assurances, i.e. the novice's fear of wasting his money on less than the very best, I suppose it's mostly the famed classification of Bordeaux in the 1850s that freaked everybody out for generations and still does. In 1855, some guys running a World's Fair in Paris ranked several dozen French wines as the best to show off to the world. Sixty were red Bordeaux and one was a sweet white dessert wine, also from Bordeaux (Château d'Yquem). All those classed growths are still there. But Bordeaux produces 800 million bottles of wine every year (Herbst, The New Wine Lover's Companion). Don't worry about it all. Just try something new.

2009 Château de Lisennes Bordeaux Supérieur (a notch above "basic" Bordeaux, like Mouton Cadet), retail, about $13.  Curiously, this particular wine is only available, in the U.S., in Illinois. There are many other nice French wines

For more information on affordable Bordeaux wines, see Planet Bordeaux. Or in French, cleverly, Planète Bordeaux. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New cocktail: MAILER-DAEMON failure notice: "Mailbox full"

Why on earth anybody responds to a famous author's writings is beyond me. I guess we all think we're going to give the great man pause in some superb way, or we're going to be discovered, too. All we get is a ding in our inboxes, encouraging us to subscribe to whatever online magazine the famous author writes for; or we get a MAILER DAEMON failure notice. This time it was "mailbox full," which I gather is unusual in these post-floppy-disk days. Oh well. Here's what I wrote him. His groupies, know him as VDH.  

Dear Mr. Victor Davis Hanson,

Every once in a while, I think your editors ask you to write something optimistic, and the "Still Dazzling" article seems to me to be the latest. Right on schedule too, around Christmastime. They always seem to follow a more heartfelt (and depressing) piece chronicling the disintegration of life in rural CA. Anyway thank you for the dose of good cheer.

You're right, it's all about ordinary people carrying on, the trouble is it's also the ordinary people who foot the bills, and I sometimes think authentic crisis will come when ordinary people figure out they have no voice left except tax revolt. Then we may see what the government is willing to do to get their hands on the money.

I also agree with something Dennis Prager said years ago, that liberalism is a religion. Using politics to fight it does not work. Eighteenth century political cycles, i.e. voting every two years, move too slowly to keep up with 21st century, left-wing compassion tyranny. Or royal edicts, for that matter. I sometimes think a true opposition leader, when he comes, will be a religious figure -- not even necessarily a pastor or Bible-thumper, but someone with some kind of inner core that will be impervious to the weapons of the entrenched media/academic elite. I look forward to the first president who does not have a White House press corps, and sends no representatives to "the Sunday morning shows." I think maybe he'll choose to live in Detroit, or Branson, or maybe even (if he has a lot of imagination) Mexico City. Why not? 

You said the ordinary American keeps on working, taking care of his family, ignoring pop culture, and doing what he excels at. Good for you, yes, I think you're right. Years ago when I still read the Chicago Tribune I read an article of yours in which you wrote that what distinguishes today's America from earlier, declining empires was the presence in our midst of an elite which loathed the country and fought hard for its worldwide contempt and collapse. Even the Romans, you said, did not have that. I've always thought that was the best thing you have ever written and the thing historians will remember you for. 

Thanks again for the dose of Christmas cheer. Looking forward to next year's version.


Drown your frustrations with a little something from a very pre-floppy-disk era. We're going to resurrect and re-christen the Calvert Party Encyclopedia's [1961] "Princeton cocktail," a delight not only from 1961 but from the early 1900s. Paul Clarke at Serious Eats records that the Princeton was created by "New York barman George Kappeler, who mixed it [ca. 1900] along with other Ivy League-named drinks at the Holland House bar." It must be true, since our Encyclopedia lists the recipe for the Yale on the very next page. The Princeton is simpler. It requires two of our favorites, gin and port, plus orange bitters.

Specifically it requires Old Tom gin, a style sweeter than today's usual gins. Mr. Clarke says that if you can't find new makers of Old Tom, the flavor can be approximated with a mix of regular gin and a bit of simple syrup. I suggest regular gin and -- why not? -- a bit of apple cider, or possibly even apple cider liqueur. Let's try Journeyman Distillery O.C.G. (Old Country Goodness) apple cider.

Therefore, our new cocktail becomes --

1 jigger (1 and 1/2 ounces) gin
generous dash -- say, 1/4 teaspoon -- apple cider liqueur, such as Journeyman
1/2 ounce -- a little less than half a jigger -- port
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with 4 ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass. The usual garnish is a twist of lemon peel, which seems to me a jarring note. Port and lemon? No. A little cube of apple with peel seems better. Mr. Clarke by the way says the gin and bitters only should be mixed together with ice; after they are strained into the cocktail glass, the port is poured carefully down the side of the glass, so that it  may settle prettily at the bottom. Kind of like voters.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Food and Wine's Herbed Meatballs with Rich Tomato Sauce and Ricotta, plus a barbera

From the January 2014 "Readers' Choice" issue. I think you may give yourself some leeway with the gigantic list of ingredients. If you happen not to have fresh mint or enough ground cumin on hand, do not fret. The main point is not to skimp on (1) the milk-soaked ground almonds and (2) the fresh basil leaves and garlic; these latter two ingredients have made all the difference in the last three meatball recipes I have prepared. I must write a book about meatballs, after I write one on lemons.

For the rich tomato sauce:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves, torn
  • 2 Tbsp. oregano leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 (28 ounce) cans whole Italian tomatoes with their juices, crushed
  • 6 large anchovy fillets, chopped. (You may please yourself about this. I understand that anchovies are a basic, ancient, and respected flavoring, approved of by no less a source than Sylvia Windle Humphrey, whose A Matter of Taste must forever stand as one of our Culinary-Hall-of-Fame, retro favorites. Still, the only can of anchovies I ever opened reminded me, in all their red segmented glory, so vividly of earthworms that I have no desire ever to open another. You might replace them with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, the composition of which I believe owes much to anchovies.)  

For the meatballs:
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 and 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley -- also called Italian parsley or cilantro, this is the opposite of the curly, decorative, slightly peppery but mostly inconsequential kind we see on restaurant or Passover seder plates. I was just beginning to appreciate the odd tinny flavor of flat-leaf parsley when I read somewhere that, traditionally, Western cuisines have rejected it because its smell is that of bedbugs. 
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped mint
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped oregano
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. chopped thyme
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. dry red wine
  • 1 and 1/2 tsps. ground cumin
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground fennel
  • 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Ricotta cheese, for serving

I reiterate that we must feel free to play with this immense and specific list of ingredients. Where, let us say, not only mint or cumin but perhaps fennel and oregano are missing, I see no reason why the cook may not substitute rosemary, curry powder, celery salt, or that wondrous Chilean merquen, smoked chili pepper flakes. The mishmash of spices will taste nice, provided you have provided yourself with the keys, which -- I reiterate --  are fresh garlic, fresh torn basil, almonds and milk. 

Task one: make the sauce. Not difficult. In a large sauce pan, warm the olive oil  Add the garlic, basil, oregano, bay, and red pepper. Warm over moderate heat for 30 seconds. We do not want burned garlic, that horror of horrors, the smell of which you can identify upon walking into any not-so-well-run pizza joint. 

Add the tomatoes and simmer over "moderately low" heat until the tomatoes are "saucy" -- excellent word -- about an hour. [Stir in the anchovies, and] season with salt and pepper. [Maybe.]

Task two. Make the meatballs: Soak the finely chopped almonds in milk for about 10 minutes, until they are thoroughly moistened.  Add the ground meat, the eggs, herbs, and all the spices. Form into small balls and saute briefly in the heated 1/4 cup olive oil, in batches a few at a time, until all are nicely browned.  

Then, either return all the meatballs to the skillet and ladle on the tomato sauce which has already cooked for an hour, bring to a boil, and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about another half hour or so; or else simply add the half-cooked meatballs to the simmering sauce, bring to a fresh boil, and simmer another half hour.

While they finish cooking, you may assign yourself task three, which is to cook a potful of pasta. 

To serve all forth, spoon little dollops of ricotta cheese over a helping of pasta and these herbed meatballs in rich tomato sauce. Your accompanying wine should be any red of your choice, but nothing too full of California-style spice or blueberry jam. Why not something more bracing, more cleansing and Italian? A Valpolicella? A barbera, my new go-to wine of choice? I used to have an Italian co-worker named Lorenzo who said, "you really can't find a much better wine than a barbera," -- I think he meant, "in the ordinary course of life, assuming you are not buying Chateau Lynch-Bages as a regular thing" -- and I think he was just about right.

Stefano Farina Barbera d'Alba, retail, about $10.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Retail rant: among the top 5 worst Christmas songs (plus a cocktail)

They used to play over the radio at a former workplace, you see, and so one became slowly irate. I am sure I could make a new list for the new workplace. And why yes, these are in order. 

1.) Etta Jones, "It's Christmas time." A maundering voice screeches and drones on, rather like a vaguely lecturing teacher, about "peekin' out the window," ting-a-ling-ling. Maundering trumpets try to make some sort of desultory melody to fill in the blank spaces. Very, very bad.

2.) Lena Horne, "Jingle Bells" -- Lena of the fierce smile, fierce eyes, hard face, harder voice. When she sings about not knowing where she is going on her sleigh ride -- "with my baby by my side, I don't really cay-uh" -- one is reminded of wintry Russian stories about the bride being thrown off the sledge to the pacing wolves. In this scenario, Lena is the fierce-eyed chucker-out, not the bride.

3.) James Brown, "Santa Claus (go straight to the ghetto"). Tough call. What he does isn't music, yet one can't ignore the screams.

4.) Brad Paisley, "Santa-looksa lot like Daddeh." Santa-wasa much too thin. And he didn't come down the chimney, so momma must have let him in. As Miss Mapp would say, such a new idea.

5.) Brenda Lee, "I'm gonna pop-pop Santa Claus (with a water pistol gun)." Squirt, squirt! Storied career or no, in my house we call this performer "the swamp child in a bottle," because that's what the voice sounds like.

I feel better. Enjoy a new cocktail, the Honeysuckle. The honey does give the drink an unusual flowery character.

  • 1 jigger (1and 1/2 ounces) light rum
  • the juice of a small lime (or half a large lime)
  • 1 tsp. honey

Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker, and strain into a cocktail glass. Have two, depending on your schedule. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Brown and gray, or -- another essay (a try) at fashion blogging

We tried this once before, and now we're going to try it again. In a small camera, combine:
  • One day off
  • One gray silk dress, worn as a tunic
  • One pair last year's boots, -- full disclosure: not leather, and so alas already showing signs of, um, wear and tear; note to self, next time invest in real leather
  • One faux fur vest, from when Daisy Fuentes was still making things for Kohl's or maybe it was Target, and maybe she still is
  • One slightly garish Victorian-style necklace from (if memory serves) the Lia Sophia direct sales company, which coincidentally just announced it is closing down as of this December
  • One pair earrings
  • One hat
My favorite fashion bloggers are beautiful young things who never tire of snapping and posting photographs of themselves in their latest "street style" or vintage mixes. Since I recently unearthed from the back of the hall closet a small tripod for my camera, and also found instructions online for the camera's self-timer capability, I can more or less mimic their technique. They seem to do lots of the downcast-eyes thing. Also some artful, sort-of-caught-off-guard "candids."

In the next photo, below, my point was to show (sort of) the boots. I'm always amazed when, in professional spreads in Bazaar or Vogue, even though I don't take in Vogue anymore because it's too fawningly leftist, things you can't even see are credited. A manicure; a barely glimpsed ring; a watch, "Kate's own," or "Gwyneth's own." My watch is my own, my favorite Anne Klein pink porcelain with the 52 tiny crystals all around the face. "I love it to pieces," as the fashion bloggers say.

The day was one of those utterly dolorous, brown and gray early winter ones which some people find hateful, but which I think you can make the best of, "if you approach it in the right spirit" as Georgie says of planchette in Mapp & Lucia. Think not of hopelessly vanished summer weather but of cozy fires, smart hats, of steaming pots of tea and English novels read by lamplight. Interior voyages to stormy moors and mysterious gray castles and things. Anticipate the warming glass of port before bedtime. If you are like me, you will have spent last evening listening to a live-streaming re-broadcast of Maria Callas singing Norma at La Scala in 1955, strangely mesmerizing and soothing, plus reading -- on another open "tab" -- about the Cathars (because Joan Sutherland once sang Esclaramonde, and who on earth was that? We must know). So you see even on a day of brown fallen leaves and gray skies, you will have plenty to think about. One thing you might think about is that the beautiful young fashion bloggers tend to live in Portland or Seattle, where they can go out and set up their tripods on Puget Sound or in front of some temperate-climate rain forest bursting with ferns and redwoods. I live elsewhere. 

Now we come to the hat. Victorian Trading. I used to be convinced I could not wear hats, my face being too absurdly small to support them as it were. However this one, called "Winter Sky," proved delightful beyond resisting. I am sorry you cannot really see the little green bird who is the centerpiece of the decoration. Only if you look very closely will you spot his small beady black eye. 

Incidentally, I wonder if at my age it is about time to start wearing makeup. Remember I'm a child of the 1970s, when everybody was natural and wore "Earth shoes" and burlap blouses. Quite an emotional handicap. It's just that I have spared you a few of today's downcast-eyes photos, in some of which the horridly liverish colors of les paupières made me look as if I were ready for the coffin. The beautiful young fashion bloggers never look like that. A bit of eyeshadow might help, only we don't want shadows, we want brightness. Incidentally also -- scarf, "Florentine paisley wrap" from the Acorn catalog, coat, Vince Camuto by way of Macy's.  

For more of my favorite young fashion bloggers, go here --

Delightfully Tacky
Vixen Vintage (who on earth gets skin like that plus gets to be named Solanah? She could at least be Pam or Debbie like everyone else)
Keiko Lynn (ditto -- and she seems to be a big deal in the fashion blog world, #84 of Signature 9's top 99 most influential, for those who are keeping track)
The Soubrette Brunette
Finding Femme (a bit wacky in a pink flamingo sort of way -- you'll see what I mean when you visit)
ChiCityFashion (Chi stands for Chicago. Hey! the same gray skies as me! The same dead native grasses in the concrete planters downtown! And I've walked on that wooden footbridge over Lake Shore Drive!)

And, some heavy lifters:

The Cherry Blossom Girl -- in Tahiti this week. Black sand beaches. Black scallop bikini. Endless pictures of me, me, me, and me. But beautiful. As Nigel purrs over Andrea's lofty puzzlement in The Devil Wears Prada, "Yes, that's what this billion dollar industry is about -- inner beauty."
Le Blog de Betty.  Paris.
Cupcakes and Cashmere
The Sartorialist. Ranked at Signature 9 the #1 most influential fashion blog there is. Puzzling choice. Deeply joyless, distinctly un-wacky. You're better off with Cupcakes, or with me, even.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pillsbury's "Simply From Scratch" Apple Cream Cheese coffeecake (1981)

My notes were very brief. 
quite a project
baking pamphlet, picked up in a thrift store
cardamom $14 a jar
Let me give you the recipe first, so that you may begin to judge what a project it was. You are going to make three things, a cake, a filling, and a topping, so you will need three good sized bowls just for a start. (What luck that we happen to be reading Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork (2012), whose first chapter, "Pots and Pans," delves into the history of why we have so much duplicate stuff in our kitchens). You will also need two cups of peeled and chopped apples, plus two sticks of butter and an 8 ounce package of cream cheese set out beforehand, to come to room temperature.

Pillsbury's "Simply From Scratch" [that's the baking pamphlet,1981] Apple Cream Cheese coffeecake  

First, grease and lightly flour a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Then, for the cake, combine:
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/3 cups milk
2/3 cup butter, softened  (yes, you will work softened butter into an already thick and milk-moistened dough)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Next, make the filling. 
one 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups chopped apples
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom (this is the delicacy that costs $13.99 a jar)
1 Tablespoon flour
2 Tablespoons butter, softened 
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and spoon the mix over the cake batter. Use a rubber spatula to gently swirl the apples partly into the batter.

Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 375 F.

Finally, make the topping. Mix together:
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Sprinkle over the cake. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. "If desired, top with whipped cream."    

It is most scrumptious, but I must ask whether one teaspoonful out of the $14 purchase of cardamom made that much difference in the end. I am inclined to think not. The gunmetal gray powder once had a distinct lemon fragrance in the jar, a fragrance which seemed to lose itself amid the cream cheese, the apples, and the butter. Nutmeg might have been more to the point.

Besides, some time has passed since I made this cake. When I opened the jar again to smell whatever was left -- almost all of it -- the first words that came to my mind were model airplane paint. My brother used to make very nice model airplanes, painting and gluing with utmost care. I have not smelled that paint since I was maybe twelve years old. Not for nothing do we hear assurances that the sense of smell is the most evocative of all. I threw out the jar of cardamom.

Still, I'd like briefly to discuss its marvels, for apparently it has them. There is no better way to enjoy them vicariously than to quote the strong lovely prose of Sylvia Windle Humphrey, whose A Matter of Taste (1965) is our spice-and-herb bible. She says: 
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamom maton) ... a jewel of a spice, it is the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron comes first), so dear because every delicate little seed pod has to be snipped off the plant by hand with scissors. The yield is low, too, only about 250 pounds per acre. It is native to India, but most of our supply now comes from Guatemala. [Mrs. Humphrey seems to be still right about this last, even fifty years later.]

Cardamom, a clean flowery-spicy breath sweetener, is put up by nature in handy little-fingernail-sized, bleached-white capsules, each containing ten to twelve pungent black seeds, easy to fit into pocket or purse. As a member of the ginger family it has some of the properties, but not the taste, of that invaluable plant. It is sweeter than ginger, with less edge, yet has authority. Like ginger, it awakens the whole tongue, making it, in moderation, a good ingredient in a spice blend which is to be used to bring out the flavor of main dishes. Like ginger it belongs with fresh melon. Like ginger, it is good for the stomach.

Cardamom is most familiar in sweets. Fine Danish pastries and coffee cakes are frequently seasoned with cardamom, both in the dough and in the filling. In all the Scandinavian countries it has been both a favorite seasoning and flavor ever since Viking sailors first carried it home from the markets in Constantinople more than 1,500 years ago. In Norway, the Christmas season reeks of cardamom, and the Swedes consume fifty times more cardamom per capita than does the United States. 
She goes on to rhapsodize about its "clean warmth," "floral perfume," etc. I begin to think that perhaps there never was very much authentically going on in my jar of cardamom, even perhaps that I can't source the real thing because I don't know any Vikings. We will have to let our Apple Cream Cheese Coffeecake do the work of reeking-of-Christmas on its own.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A little bit of perfection -- new cocktail -- the New Job

Cocktails, like other good things, must surely have their recipes tweaked and perfected very slowly over the course of time. They must surely change, grow, and come to fulfillment depending on who liked what foundational thing, capital T, and who had what ingredients on hand to improve the Thing. Remember Mrs. Wakefield at the Toll House, who had only to cut up some chocolate bars into a plain butter cookie dough to create the immortal chocolate chip cookie; remember also King Louis XV, who is said to have invented French onion soup from only onions and a bottle of flat champagne "after a joyous night in eighteenth-century Paris" (Madeleine Kamman, The New Making of a Cook). 

When it comes to cocktails I like a sour, like my master Charles Schumann (American Bar). A sour is a large category of drinks, fundamentally lemon juice, sugar, and a spirit. We here at Pluot, by way of At First Glass, have mixed and enjoyed whisky sours, gin sours, Boston sours -- in which we learn that an egg is many things, but it is not refreshing -- and of course our longtime favorite, rum sours. When recently we availed ourselves of a stash of good Calvados, we tried and very much liked the "Arc de Triomphe," or Calvados sour. Once upon a time we even invented -- didn't we? -- something new, the Sour Blossom martini.

Today we tweak again, based on ingredients to hand, and devise a delectable cocktail very much in need of a name and a wider audience. It goes like this.

The __________ 

In a shaker, combine:
the juice of half a lemon
a dash of sugar or simple syrup (perhaps a quarter teaspoon at most -- or equal parts to the juice, if you like your drinks less tart)
half a jigger Calvados
half a jigger good bourbon, plus a tiny extra splash of  it (I used Bulleit)
Squeeze a splash of fresh orange juice into your cocktail glass -- perhaps half a teaspoon or so. Stir all the other ingredients in the shaker with a few ice cubes. (We prefer our drinks stirred, not shaken, because stirring keeps the ingredients a tad warmer and more flavorful. To shake is to anaesthetize.) Strain the lemon-and-bourbon/Calvados mix into the glass with its waiting orange juice. Garnish any way you like, provided it is simple, say a grape or a cherry, or don't garnish at all. The prettiest choice is a blushing yellow Rainier cherry, but they are only in season for a short time, and we must enjoy our new creation, The ____________,  in other months besides May.

Now what shall we call this little tweaking and approximation of perfection? It's tart, it's sweet, it has bourbon's rich fruitiness and Calvados' whiff of the apples of Normandy. For all its homey-ness, the orange juice adds a plump touch of the exotic. Though calling the drink the New Job seems downright prosaic, still we think we'll leave it at that. After all we are about six weeks into this life milestone, and are gratified to have pretty thoroughly learned the fundamentals.

Speaking of which, it's a curious thing -- and I must ask, is your workplace like mine? -- at the New Job, everyone does the same four or five tasks all day. Each task has about four or five components all of which are subject to a specific clerical error. Committing one of these errors, in other words getting one-fifth of any task wrong, nullifies the whole thing and creates cascading problems for everyone else "down the line," which is exactly the right, mass-production metaphor to use. A manager who has done the work for ten years can spot an approaching clerical error long in advance, whether I make them at my six weeks' experience, or whether a colleague makes them at his three or four years' experience. And of course the corrective is to "pay attention" to all things. Only, sometimes, that exhortation seems to backfire. It reminds me of a scene in 30 Rock when boss Jack asks earnest page Kenneth whether he can walk and talk at the same time. "I always could, but now I'm not sure," Kenneth blinks, and then carries on doing both, awkwardly. In order for any workplace ritual to become second nature, you almost have to stop paying attention, don't you? Being New, however, I think I will keep that little bit of perfect wisdom to myself.

Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...