Friday, June 29, 2012

[The Senior Essay] Introduction

Notes for the Reader
Excerpts will be posted unedited; will post my own commentary at the end. All senior essay related posts will be tagged "Batiushka Ioann". Footnotes will appear at the bottom of each excerpt. Prologue here.
Questions, critiques, and reactions of any kind warmly encouraged; I am looking to strengthen and improve. Please remember that this is essentially a hastily written draft.
Writing about theology and Church history as an inexperienced believer for a secular academic audience is harrowing. Don't ignore weaknesses and errors, particularly if they could be interpreted as heretical or blasphemous, but be cognizant of my constraints.

Icon & Iconographer:
Father John of Kronstadt and the Emergence of Sacerdotal Sanctity in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia
I. Introduction

In Dionysius of Fourna’s eighteenth-century iconography manual, one finds a curious instruction: “Draw a monk crucified on a cross, clothed in a tunic and a monk’s hat, barefoot and with his feet nailed to the footrest of the cross; his eyes are closed and his mouth shut. Just above his head is the inscription: ‘Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.’”1 He continues, describing the monk’s chest, stomach, legs, and so on, at each point specifying a different prayer (“Create in me a clean heart… Prepare your feet in the Gospel of Peace…”), before explaining how to depict “the all-devouring Hell,” the “Maker of lust,” “Death and the grave,” and finally Christ Himself, above the Cross. “Then write this title: The life of the true monk.”2

It makes for a striking icon, not just because the monk is in place of Christ, but because he is no particular monk at all. He is a cipher, an image to which all monks must aspire (and indeed this icon is most commonly found just outside monastic refectories). More than most this icon highlights the monastic genre of holiness—it is a didactic icon, not meant for veneration of and communion with any individual saint, but for contemplation of and instruction in the ways of a particular model of sanctity.

It is commonly heard among Orthodox Christians that saints are living icons, and in fact it is with this idea that Nadieszda Kizenko begins her recent biography of John Sergiev, the renowned “Father John of Kronstadt”, who was glorified as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1964, and by the Russian Orthodox Church herself in 1990.3 He is now remembered best as a sort of latter day defender of “Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality,” the reactionary cultural program championed by Tsar Nicholas I and his Minister of Education Sergei Uvarov, so counter to the revolutionary atmosphere that surrounded Father John in the last years before his death in 1908.4 Yet to reduce the complexity of his life to a flat religious conservatism is to ignore his greatest “creation”, as Kizenko puts it: the salvation of his own soul.5

As the son of a sacristan and a graduate of the St Petersburg Theological Academy, Father John was certainly familiar with the communion of saints and the depth and variety of holiness manifest thereby—despite this, he seems to have forged his own path to sanctity, eventually becoming the first parish priest to be venerated by the Russian Church.

This together with his many other idiosyncrasies (matrimonial virginity, living thaumaturgy, ascetic priesthood) has contributed to the idea that he is sui generis, or at least something approaching the founder of a new genre of sanctity. In 1909 Archbishop Nikanor (Kamensky) of Kazan wrote of him that “because people are different now, they need to be acted upon in new ways that are peculiar to them.”6 Even within his own era he was widely recognized as a breaker of established categories of religious life, and the wonder and confusion attendant on his ‘boldness before paradigm’ continues to this day. Yet a historical examination of the evolution of other genres of blessedness reveals that Father John’s trajectory was actually quite in keeping with the meta-tradition of expressive flexibility present in the Church since her founding. Genres of holiness, like icons, are didactic, and evolve, reify, and dissolve in response to the unpredictable contingencies of human society—they are models to be appropriated and internalized by the faithful, not for the sake of orthopraxy, but to guide them towards the fullness of right belief.
- - - - - - - - - -                             
1. Dionysius of Fourna. The 'Painter's Manual' of Dionysius of Fourna. Torrance: Oakwood Publications, 1990.
2. Dionysius of Fourna. The 'Painter's Manual' of Dionysius of Fourna. Torrance: Oakwood Publications, 1990.
3. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000:1.
4. Pipes, Richard. Russian Conservatism and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005: 99.
5. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000:183.
6. Kizenko, Nadieszda. A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000: 184.
- - - - - - - - - -
These notes serve two main purposes: to remind me what to fix when I go back and edit, and to seek your input on specific issues of concern to me. They will not always be interesting. 

- I hate the title. The paper was already a few days late when I wrapped it up, so I put down the first thing that came to mind and ran it over to the Slavic Department. My working title was "Living Icons, Dead Saints", but that sounded vaguely blasphemous to me.

- Came upon the monk icon entirely by happenstance: I was in the stacks rummaging about for books on the rural clergy and found a big gorgeous book almost entirely of full color illustrations of icons and liturgical art. It was in Russian, but I checked it out anyway. I'd flip through it when I wanted a distraction and stopped short the first time I saw the crucified monk. An ingenious friend of mine found a high quality PDF of the entire book online despite not speaking a word of Russian, and weeks later, when I was struggling to think of a hook to get the essay started, the crucified monk came back to me. Read more about this kind of icon here, and email me if you'd like a larger version of the image to the right.

- I usually like to have clever subheadings for each section.

- There are many formatting/style issues. Inconsistencies off the top of my head: whether and where to capitalize words like saint, icon, communion, church, and pronouns referring to God; how to refer to clergy; transliteration of names and words left untranslated; whether to translate names. Input from anyone with experience writing about the Church concerning academic writing conventions will be much appreciated.

- Don't like the word "founder" here: "at least something approaching the founder of a new genre of sanctity". Something like "herald" or "vanguard" is closer.

- Overall this is a very vague introduction and doesn't actually explain much about the essay (this will become clearer as you read more chapters). This is because I myself didn't know much about the essay when I wrote it, but once the rest of the essay is swept through and edited, it can be fixed.

[The Senior Essay] Prologue

I've been kidding myself since I submitted my senior essay to the head of my department in April that I'd go back and fix the many, many problems with it, but at this point I think the best approach is to make things...interactive (Academia 2.0).

Before we begin, some back story: as a Russian and East European Studies major, I was required to write what's called a "year long senior essay". That means that in both the fall and spring terms there's a spot on my transcript called "The Senior Essay"-- it's worth as many credits as a normal Yale course, but instead of going to lectures I was expected to research, write, and consult with an adviser of my choosing on my topic, culminating with the submission of "a substantial article, no longer than 13,000 words, excluding footnotes and bibliography."

A few words about my major: there are essentially two Russian majors at Yale-- mine, and the actual Russian major. This is something of a relic of the Soviet era, when there was both more of an interest in and demand for Russianists with strong backgrounds in history, politics, and the social sciences. My major requires courses in Russian history and social science focusing on Russia and/or eastern Europe, and at least four years' worth of language study. In my department, one's language proficiency could in theory be in a language other than Russian (Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, etc), but because those languages are taught rarely or not at all very few people take that route. The other major requires only literature courses-- a lot of them-- at least two of which cannot be in translation (which, I'll point out, are not courses my Russian would've permitted me to take at any point in my Yale career).

I am the only person I know who picked a major her very first semester in college and never once entertained switching-- I briefly fantasized about doubling in history, but Yale is made very uncomfortable by double majors, and I didn't have the discipline for it. Why REES over Russian? The emphasis on history and politics was very attractive to me-- in fact it was sitting in the very first lecture of "Russia from the 9th Century to 1801" freshman year that I decided to be a professional academic Russophile-- and the less stringent language requirement didn't hurt either. 

Good thing, too, because over time REES became my own self-styled Orthodox theology/Church history major. While Yale does have a religious studies department, it's not any kind of place to study traditional Christianity, and I had little interest in courses like "The Sociology of Religion" or "World Religions and Ecology". Because it's such a small department (5/3021 in 2012, I believe) my Directors of Undergraduate Studies (they rotated often; kind of a Defense Against the Dark Arts type deal) were pretty flexible about allowing courses outside the department to count towards the major. "The Rise of Christianity: East and West?" I remember one saying. "Sure, it's foundational." I didn't end up taking that course, nor did I need the flexibility-- by the time I left there were very few Slav history or poli-sci classes I hadn't taken. Still, my professors knew that I had a strong interest in the Orthodox Church, and it was a comfort and a kindness that they didn't try to push me into a more conventional focus.

Typically responsible students start thinking about the topics of their senior essays toward the end of their junior years, to approach professors about being their senior advisers, if nothing else. One's relationship with one's senior adviser ought be relatively close-- not only ought he have some degree of expertise in the proposed topic, but he ought be someone with whom one either already has or can build a dynamic of comfort and mutual trust.

As some of you may know, after my junior year I was forced to take a year off, and while I could've thought ahead and contacted professors about my senior essay during my time off, I was too worried about being readmitted at all to take such a bold step. In August 2011 I was readmitted, though, and come September I was in quite a pickle-- there aren't too many Russianists at Yale, and even fewer with anything beyond a rudimentary knowledge of the Church. I hadn't thought anything through very much, let alone done any preliminary research, when my DUS called me in to ask how the adviser search was going. Everyone I'd asked (read: everyone who knew anything about Russian history) was already booked and couldn't take on any more advisees, and I couldn't very well not write about Russia! Owing to my unique circumstances my DUS agreed to "advise" me until our head honcho Russian historian (who was really ideal for me to begin with) got back from sabbatical the next term.

Suffice to say I did no work at all that first term, BS'd a two page long "prospectus" in December in which I babbled about Ober-procurator Pobedonostsev and the Holy Synod to avoid an F on my transcript, and had nothing at all to show my actual adviser when we first met in January. He rather promptly threw out the Pobedonostsev idea and told me that if I was going to research primarily in English, and wanted to write about the Church, I was essentially limited to Father John of Kronstadt or Vladimir Soloviev. I'd heard of them both, but knew more about Soloviev, so I started with Nadieszda Kizenko's biography of Father John, A Prodigal Saint. I finished it in about three days and never really looked back-- sorry Volodya!

While I did a reasonable amount of research, the essay itself I wrote over the course of a very strung out week, with the bulk of the writing happening in a 72 hour period. The more I read, the less it seemed there was to say about Father John-- whatever I was looking for, I wasn't finding, and entire books I'd read as background and taken heartbreakingly extensive notes on became completely irrelevant and unusable. By the end I was near constantly fantasizing about running off and wandering the country reading tarot for cigarette money. 

Eventually I did vomit something out, and I think there's a bit of potential tucked away in here somewhere. Let's find out together, shall we?

Because you know you want a drink

I have a confession to make: I didn't plan to follow yesterday's SCOTUS announcement very closely. I suppose I'm cynical enough to look suspiciously on even the most conservative ruling, and modest enough to admit that I have sufficient knowledge of neither Constitutional law nor the legislation itself to contribute meaningfully to any conversations.

But already by 9am, from the obscurity of my sad little bedroom in suburbia, I'd been infected with the feeling of some kind of holiday-- mind you, my circle is pretty overwhelmingly politically minded, so I don't presume that everyone had this experience, but without seeking it out I was bombarded-- in my inbox, on Facebook, even on Tumblr-- by people reading, reflecting, raging, rejoicing. I knew that I could've started an unprefaced conversation about anything from the 10th Amendment to Citizens United with anyone on my gchat contacts list and he would've been right there with me. Maybe it's because I'm starved for civilization and human contact out here in Suffolk County, but I found that kind of unspoken shared awareness refreshing and even exhilarating. 

Before I knew it I was flipping through an ever increasing number of tabs, scanning liveblogs, collecting hashtags, and, of course, silently judging those friends who hadn't thrown themselves headlong into the rumbling tsunami of analysis and speculation as I had.

I didn't emerge with nothing but salt and a ringing in my ears, but I'll save my own spurious musings for another time-- for now, I thought I'd express myself a bit more creatively: in drink.  

The ACA-Tax
Because some types of inactivity are party fouls.
  • 1.5oz Fleischmann's* vodka, warm
Offer to everyone, force those who don't empty their shooters to pay.
*Other bottom shelf vodkas such as Dubra, Popov, and Poland Spring may be substituted. Embarrassing American attempts to imitate Swedish brands preferred. The truly daring and/or spiteful may use Malört.
The Marbury v Madison Twist
It'll get you drunk, but not in the way you'd hoped-- and the strength of your liver will never be the same.
  • 1.5oz tequila
  • 1.5oz gin
  • 1 oz club soda
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
Shake over ice, garnish with lime spiral, run in the opposite direction.

The Chief Justice
This foxy number isn't easy to read.
  • 1oz sweet vermouth
  • 1oz dry vermouth
  • dash Fee's Old Fashion bitters
Shake vermouths separately to chill, mix in glass, top with bitters, drink til you're sure that Roberts privileged judicial restraint over a solid originalist reading-- or that he championed dual sovereignty by succumbing to judicial activism-- or...

The man has one facial expression, and it's this
The Randy Barnett
Activity tonight, inactivity tomorrow!
  • 1oz absinthe
  • 1oz vodka
  • 2.5oz Red Bull
Believe me, you'll know the difference (even if you won't remember why).

Cards on the table, I involuntarily aaaaw'd when I saw this photo.
(Randy Barnett at Lysander Spooner's grave.)
The Commerce Clause
It'll let you be what you want to be and do what you want to do.
  • 2oz vodka
  • 1/2oz blue curacao
  • 1.5oz pineapple juice
The National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius*
Interesti-- wait, what the hell is going on? I... oh, fuck it.
  • 3/4oz Irish whiskey
  • 1oz red wine
  • 1/2oz Tuaca
  • 1/4oz lemon juice
  • two dashes Bitter Truth Creole bitters
Drain a coconut, dry on roof for 23 hours, disinfect with boiling orange flower water, let dry in slightly warmed oven. Pour in whiskey, wine, Tuaca, and lemon juice. Shrink wrap coconut, cook sous vide at 50°C for 14 minutes. Still in airtight plastic, bring to Congressional baseball game. From pitcher's mound, thrust coconut in the direction of home plate. After the second out, pierce plastic and strain into a chilled rocks glass with one large spherical ice cube two inches in diameter. Serve to Vice-President Biden.
*Loosely inspired by "The Twee Barber", courtesy of Nick Detrich at New Orleans's notorious Cure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mission Brewery Shipwrecked Double IPA Review

From the website:
San Diego Style Double India Pale Ale
A amazingly balanced and hoppy beer, yet finishes as smooth as silk with no hint of high alcohol hotness usually associated with strong double IPA’s. Super citrus and grapefruit aromas and flavors from the generous use of Cascade, Magnum, Centennial and CTZ hops.
9.25% ABV.  75 IBU.  12 SRM.
Booze hound that I am, I'm a total sucker for double IPAs (also known as imperial IPAs): take a tasty, sophisticated IPA, up the ABV and the IBUs, and you've got yourself a double. If you don't like the hop bitterness in your typical IPAs, steer clear of this style-- to balance out the booze and hops there will sometimes be a malty sweetness, but this is first and foremost a bitter style.

This is my first Mission beer, and I wasn't too disappointed. Once again I don't have the right kind of glass-- I'd recommend a tulip for this one-- this is one of the best smelling beers I've had lately (more on that in a second), and it benefits from warming up a bit-- tulip glasses allow the warmth from your hand to wake up the flavors as you hold it. They're also gorgeous, allow you to fully appreciate your beer's color, and maintain the head better than would a pint glass.

So, back to the smell: incredibly sweet, but not in some kind of lambic beat-you-over-the-head-with-fruit way. It's just damn inviting-- the hops are there, but you really can't smell those 75 IBUs. When I was drinking this a few weeks ago I wasn't a huge fan-- maybe because I've been having a lot less beer lately I can appreciate this more, but when I took a whiff of this today all I could think was that every time I've just really wanted a beer, this is the smell I had in my head.

It's stronger on the tongue than the nose-- the bitterness jumps out pretty strong, but for a double IPA the hops are surprisingly subdued (note that this does not mean they're not very prevalent! just not as prevalent as I'd expect). This is actually a very balanced double-- the malt cuts against the hop bitterness in a very pleasant way, making for a very drinkable brew. The carbonation's about what you'd expect-- I like my IPAs bubbly, and this one just about hits the sweet spot-- I have occasionally come across craft beers that go too far in the frothy direction, and for my money the Shipwrecked gets it just right.

As it warms up the citrus blooms a bit but overall it maintains a pretty clean finish. If you don't like IPAs, you won't like this one, but if you do, and want to break into the imperials, I can't think of anything better. So far as strong beers go, this'll treat you better in the summer than a stout, and the sweetness definitely helps, but I can never really put my finger on what season I think IPAs belong in.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bezyaitstvo's Revenge: Crepe Success

(Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

Because once I just knew I could salvage the frankenblin recipe I tried this morning, I went ahead and tweaked the proportions, made another batch, and got very different (much improved) results.

Original recipe:
1/2 cup skim milk
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

What I did (approximately):
2/3 cup milk
1 3/4 cup water
2.5 tablespoons butter, melted (1/4 cup is 4)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Basically all I did was decrease the butter and increase the other liquids, especially the water, and man, what a difference! The batter was much runnier, which it's supposed to be for a thin blin-crepe-thing, and in fact if I did it again I might put in even more water. They still cooked fast and flipped quickly, and I still think I overgreased the pan-- I have this bizarre fear that they're going to stick to the pan and tear apart, even though that hasn't even come close to happening once. Because the batter is thinner it spreads out in the pan very nicely, and I've also perfected my ladling wrist so that they come out pretty damn circular every time (seriously, use a ladle, not a spoon-- huge difference, both in shape and how they cook).

Because they were thinner they were much more flexible, like actual blini, so I was able to fold them over and make nice little sandwiches for my father and I. Same deal as last time-- slather in horseradish, put on some swiss and turkey or roast beef, cook in pan till cheese is gooey. MUCH better-- the overpowering stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth quality is totally gone, and the blin frames its contents instead of dominating it.
so I still have to work on aesthetics with these, Constantinople wasn't built in a day
In my opinion it wasn't "chewy", which is a complaint I've heard about eggless pancake-things, and while I haven't tried these with eggs yet, I'm not sure why I'd bother (when I get around to making real buckwheat blini, of course, that's another story).

My long suffering father is used to me inflicting the results of my kitchen experiments on him, and because he is kind he always pretends to like what I plate up, but I could tell he actually liked these-- when I told him there were more in the kitchen he didn't even wait for me to leave to get up to fetch more. Cheap, fun, quick, simple, delicious, very customizable-- what more could you want? Definitely going in my regular rotation.

Bezyaitstvo: the heretical blinwich

Got a ridiculous craving for blini this morning and decided to try my hand (I've never made them before, somehow). Unfortunately, we had no eggs, so I went with this "eggless crepe" recipe-- a far cry from my intention, but when you get a drunk desire to cook at 5am, well, you cook.

I skipped the vanilla extract but otherwise followed it as written. I think that the batter was much too thick and I definitely consistently overgreased the pan (I was using a "vegetable oil spray" instead of actual vegetable oil, which probably didn't help), but all things considered, as a first attempt, things went okay. 

I'm not sure what the point of eggless crepes are, since they're still not vegan, but if you're wondering whether they're edible-- most certainly! Mine came out very thick in that stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth way; I'll find out once I buy eggs whether their addition would've prevented that. Because the batter was so thick it was a huge pain to get it to spread thinly enough in the pan, which meant the pseudo-blini-crepes were thicker and had a smaller diameter than is ideal. They also didn't fold the way they should-- I put some peach jam into one and folded it over for my father, and while it didn't break in half, it did crack pretty ugly.

I ended up making myself a little breakfast sandwich with 'em, since they were all relatively small: spread a decent amount of horseradish sauce on one side, put on a couple slices of deli sliced turkey and a slice of swiss cheese, top with another horseradish'd "blin", cook in pan on medium heat til cheese is melty and the turkey warm (flip if you think the bottom blin is getting overcooked), and voila-- incredibly filling breakfast.

heretical blinwich
So, again, far from ideal, but if all you've got is flour, butter, and milk, you've got a lot more than you think!

Here is a legitimately interesting rundown of ways to substitute eggs in various recipes-- worth reading just to give you a better sense of the many different functions eggs serve in different dishes, even if you have no interest in cooking without them.

Never trust a skinny tie

Been back on Long Island for about a month now, and have come to the deeply frustrating conclusion that there are no good bars within a half-hour of my parents' house. Despite this, I decided to go bar hopping with a friend of mine from high school in Port Jefferson on Saturday--I figured a nice area like Port Jeff must have at least one or two joints with a decent selection of something.

I'm not going to name the bar I'm about to complain about, because I don't want to be one of those bitchy Yelp people, and when all's said and done, I got what I ordered, and didn't pay nearly what I should have for it. But my experience there really... funny? disappointing? Another excuse for me to write about alcohol?

Disclaimer: This is a bar snob post. I am going to sound very pretentious. I'm particularly judgmental of sub-par bartending because it's a dream of mine to pour someday, so it irritates me when I see others do it worse than I think I could. I didn't tip the guy badly, if it makes you feel any better.

It was around 9:45pm on a Saturday night when we walked in. The place seemed like your typical not-quite-sports-bar: heavily lacquered wood framed by television screens and bar stools; nothing very distinctive.

My friend and I grab a seat at the bar, and I get up to see what they've got-- given the decor my expectations weren't very high, and I don't mind a simple bar, but sometimes places can surprise you. First thing I notice: about fifteen different flavored vodkas (and we're talking Smirnoff Raspberry Twist, here, not a respectable Van Gogh); not very encouraging. Then I see a bunch of whiskeys I don't recognize and quickly realize it's because they're all Irish (sorry, Jameson fans). Beyond that it's all your typical stuff. I'm trying to decide whether I want to settle for a Jack and (diet) coke or the bland IPA they've got on tap when two things catch my eye: on a lower shelf, cloaked in shadow, sit bottles of Pernod and St Germain. My standards for this bar immediately go up-- no one would carry stock they don't know how to serve, right?

It's pretty crowded so there are three guys behind the bar: two of them are dressed casually in ill-fitting polos and shorts, but the third was wearing a dress shirt, skinny tie, and proper trousers-- he's the one who took our orders. "Awesome," I thought, "we got the guy who knows what he's doing."

My friend orders a beer and I ask for a Pernod rocks. The beer he gets right away, but he spends about two-and-a-half minutes scanning the shelves trying to find the Pernod (I thought it'd be pretty obnoxious for me to point it out to him). When he finally finds it, he grabs a rocks glass, shovels in some crushed ice, and then completely fills it with Pernod-- way more than I was expecting to get, and not how I imagine it's typically served, but what the hell, I wasn't about to complain about that, and I wasn't really expecting proper ice at that kind of bar.

Normally when bar-hopping I like to switch after one drink, but I couldn't leave before having something with the St Germain.

"Could I have a gin and tonic with St Germain?"
"You want a single or a double?"
"Uh... double, sure."
"What kind of gin do you want, rack?"

And that's when I knew this guy had no idea what St Germain was. Personally, if I'd been tending and someone asked for that, I'd probably suggest a couple of our top brands, but certainly wouldn't assume they wanted the absolute worst thing we carried. For those unfamiliar with bar lingo, "well" or "rack" booze is the default you'll get served if you don't specify a preference, and usually means the stuff that's too cheap to display; they're often literally kept beneath the bar, hence the names.
St Germain and the kind of gin one one ought actually mix it with.
St Germain is a relatively expensive, high quality (notoriously delicious) liqueur, so a patron ordering that probably doesn't want to ruin it with a crap base liquor. They're also probably looking for some balance in their cocktail, so while I'm an alcoholic and will never shy away from a double, it was a pretty strange question to ask, especially because I'm a relatively petite young woman, and he'd just given me heaven-only-knows how many shots of Pernod (although maybe once he saw how I knocked that back he made some [correct] assumptions).

Still, because I am awkward as hell and didn't want to waste his time while I mulled over my gin options, I agreed to the rack gin. I also kind of figured it couldn't have been that bad. Hoo boy.

He grabs one of the mason jars they serve their beers and mixed drinks in (a cute touch, I'll grant), scoops in some ice, pulls a bottle of gin I have never before seen in my life from beneath the bar, pours in about two-and-a-half shots, and just about tops it off with tonic. Then he stares dumbly at the shelves behind him again for about two minutes before giving up and going into the back to find someone who actually does know where the St Germain is (again I was too awkward to just point it out for him). For all I know he didn't even know what it looked like. He pours maybe 3/4 oz on the top, squeezes a lime wedge over it, shoves it on the rim, throws in a bendy straw, and without giving it so much as a swish pushes it across the bar to me.

A lot of that I could forgive given the nature of the bar, but between not stirring it even once and the straw I sincerely had to keep my mouth from gaping. Who puts a straw in any kind of high ball? And what kind of bartender is in such a rush they can't stir a damn drink, especially when he's making it directly in front of the patron? I also found the lime distracting given the elderflower, but some folks will take a lime with their St Germain g&ts, so I can't really complain about that.

The rack gin was so flavorless that it let the elderflower really take the lead, which I didn't mind at all, so it did work out, but for goodness sake, bar owners: don't stock shit your staff doesn't understand.

He only charged me $8 for each of the drinks, which is actually a phenomenal deal, all things considered-- I don't know whether he was being nice or really had no idea what he'd served me, but, like I said, I tipped him well. I wouldn't have been half as nitpicky if they hadn't carried such nice things! I guess they just bought them to look nice on the shelf. A dangerous game, my friends.

In other news, I've decided that if I can't be a bartender, I'd be a great mystery drinker. Hire me to assess your bar! I'll do it for free if you catch my tab.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Toxicological Anthropology

Came across this while digging around the internet for something the other day-- it's an article on childhood alcoholism from the Revue Internationale de Médecine et de Chirurgie, translated from the French in No 1, Vol 40 of the Pacific Medical Journal, published in January 1897, available for your perusal online here.
M. Lancereaux, at a recent meeting of the Academy of Medicine, reported two very important observations showing the pernicious influence of alcoholism in children upon their development. One case was that of a girl between thirteen and fourteen years of age, whose parents were drunkards, and who had been accustomed to drink half a litre of wine daily ever since she was three years old. She had the appearance of a child of eight years. ... The other case was likewise that of a daughter of alcoholic parents. ... From an early age she had habitually drunk wine diluted with water, from her seventh year she was accustomed to drink chartreuse and other liquors, "to fortify her stomach." ...she showed manifest signs of a neuritis with atrophy of the lower extremities. Laboratory experiments upon the young of rabbits have fully confirmed this action of alcohol upon the growth, and this special effect should be remembered and included with the influences of alcoholism upon the increase of crime, idiocy, and insanity.
I've often said that if I couldn't have been a Russian and East European Studies major, I would've gone to the American studies department because it's the only place I could imagine writing a senior thesis on what I've dubbed "tobacco anthropology". As I get older I find this fascination with the cultures, norms, etc, that grow up around poisons extending very thoroughly to alcohol. 

I was trying to think of a name for the study of histories, mythologies, and cultures surrounding popular poisons but didn't get much farther than toxicology, which quite stupidly has already been claimed by something much less interesting. I also came to the unfortunate realization that if I went around calling myself an amateur toxicologist people would get all kinds of wrong ideas.

In any case, I come bearing tidings of yet another new diversion of mine, somewhat related to the above: the Drunk Shoe. It's a very simple project, and the idea wasn't even my own: pair up alcohol and shoes, take a picture. It's been a lot of fun for me thus far, so I hope you check it out.
The glare on this one drives me mad (working with a very...low tech set-up), but I  do love that owl.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

With a pint of Green Chartreuse, ain't nothin seem right

"There's a reason there so few photos of Marlissa and me," she said. "For Marlissa, the explanation is fascinating, but sad, too. For me, though, it's just ego plain and simple. I'm a proud old broad who can't stand the way she looks, especially when compared to the way I used to look. Ego, pride."
 She wagged her eyes and took a sip of her drink--chartreuse and soda, an exotic liqueur unfamiliar to me. "Name a conceit. I delude myself that it's okay because I admit that I'm vain. I haven't reached the age where my body only embarrasses others. Why advertise what you've lost and can never recover?"

It is a novel, I confess, I have not read (and am not sure I have any interest in reading), but I couldn't keep this passage to myself once I came across it earlier today.

I am still alive-- I won't promise to write for you soon, much as I'd like to, because it seems that for me to make such a vow is to assure several weeks of unbecoming silence. In the meantime do visit my latest diversion the telephone's out of cigarettes, which I can promise is full to bursting with all manner of oddity and spectacle such as inspire your humble bloggess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In which pretension takes many forms

1. I finally gave in and started myself a tumblr.

2. I realized that all the creaky nuts and bolts in my brain that start turning when I cook also rev up when reading about proper cocktails. I fear, o my brothers, that I am becoming a liquor snob. To that end, here's my current bar (limited, of course, by my budget):
  • Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey
  • Ruskova Vodka
  • Green Chartreuse
  • Leroux Creme de Cacao
  • Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli Maraschino
  • Kraken Black Rum
  • Kahlua*
Some cocktails I've enjoyed with that bizarre collection of bottles (NB: when I mean juice, I write juice; if not assume the real thing):

Courtesy of Phil Ward at Death & Co, a bar I almost had the pleasure of visiting a few weeks ago when I was in the East Village. Rye, green chartreuse, maraschino, and lemon juice-- had to sub in Jack for the rye, and while it was still incredibly delicious, the sweetness of the Jack was really too much. Still, one of the best cocktails I've had recently-- go for it.

What it's supposed to be: gold rum, pineapple, lime juice, green chartreuse, white creme de cacao.
What I drank: that, with regular creme de cacao instead (was lucky enough to be with a friend who had some gold rum on hand at the time).
I am always pretty skeptical of creme de cacao and bought it only because I've heard it can work wonders with chartreuse, so expect some experimentation on that front. This one, at least, was pretty good.

Put this one in quotes because I'm not sure how fair it is to call this a julep, but hey, I had some ginger beer laying around I'd been meaning to get rid of, so why not? Bourbon (used Jack), simple syrup (skipped it), ginger beer, pineapple, and mint. I didn't have any mint, and man was I sad-- this is a perfectly passable summer drink as is, but I think the mint would've leveled it up.

This sounded fascinating right from the start: black rum, light rum, pineapple juice, balsamic reduction, and ginger beer. I wanted to try this just to see how the balsamic reduction fit in, but by the time I got to it (I was at a friend's showing off my new shaker that night) I was too lazy to whip some up. So, minus the balsamic,  and with gold instead of light, it's certainly tasty, but nothing particularly interesting, and I can think of better things to do with the Kraken. I do intend to mix it up proper at some point, though, so stay tuned.

With all that in mind, what do you suggest? I know, I know, I need to get my hands on some gin if I really want to mix with chartreuse, and probably pick up some blood orange bitters-- but if you have suggestions, fire away!

*I like Kahlua in espresso "martinis", sometimes. There, I said it. Your disdain has no power over me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Founders Imperial Stout (Review)

I've always been more of a defender of book cover-judging than most, but especially when it comes to beer. The first beer I ever liked was North Coast's Russian Imperial Stout Old Rasputin, which I ordered solely because of its name. The double headed eagle on this gorgeous Founders Imperial Stout similarly heralds glad tidings.

Since the exquisite Cask Republic opened in New Haven in early 2011 I've been spending ever more of my bar budget (read: the contents of my wallet not earmarked for other poisons) on imperial IPAs, since they tend to have a lower price-to-ABV ratio than my beloved dark beers. Now that I'm back on Long Island for a bit, I visited the local beer distributor and picked up a pack of these babies, having had only the best experiences with Founders (the Dirty Bastard in particular comes to mind).

Like going back to vodka after a semester of bourbon, my very first sip reminded me why my heart lies far east of the Rhine*.

This stuff pours like motor oil-- some dark elixir of bitterness meted out in small vials during the reign of Richard III, flowing like an endless silk handkerchief from a felled magician's sleeve into the glass. I didn't have the proper glassware for it (something more akin to a brandy snifter is more appropriate), but I didn't mind, since the smaller circumference of the glass kept the head alive for quite a while. This thing is chewy and resilient; the head's got a deep caramel color to it and looks so solid I could float a wafer on it (actually, I probably could have).

With 90 IBUs this stout isn't for the faint of heart-- I've never had a beer so bitter I didn't like it, so I was in heaven. Have you ever had a really strong dark chocolate, like 70 or 80% cocoa? If you didn't like that, I'm not sure you'd like this. It's 10.5% ABV so if you're used to weaker beers, prepare yourself-- it goes down pretty easy, although as it warms up in the glass the ethanol does assert itself a little more. Beers like this should be served at what's called "cellar temperature" (50-55 degrees), so if you're looking for something to cool yourself off in these June days go find a pilsner or something (I've always found a nice maibock works well, personally).

Make sure you give this a proper smell (this is where the brandy snifter is helpful)-- as any wine or beer snob will tell you, scent strongly affects taste, so if you just go at it without acclimating your olfactories you're missing out.

There's not much carbonation here, in keeping with its overall weight, and this isn't a beer to rush through, or to accompany food. If you think Guinness is heavy, well, you're downright mistaken-- I can tackle a Guinness and a burger easily, but this one's gonna demand your full attention, and you won't be sorry to give it. Particularly toward the end it almost recalled some barleywines I've had in terms of mouth feel, so if you like a poppy beer this brew's not for you. If you like Guinness, you might still enjoy this beer, but be warned: dry and/or Irish stouts are lighter in about everything but color (lower ABV, less bitter, less heavy), so while I'll never sway anyone from trying an excellent beer, you might want to work your way up to this one.

In 2010 this beer took home the bronze for American-Style Imperial Stouts in the World Beer Cup, in case it's pedigree you're after. I read it described somewhere as "a contemplative beer", and I can't say I disagree-- it's a lot to take in, and while I've had more than one in a sitting before I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. The flavors and weight can get overpowering after a while, and now that I'm on my second six-pack of the stuff in two weeks I think it's best when balanced out by a nice simple ale, or even cider.

Happy drinking, folks-- maybe next time I won't review something horribly out-of-season.

PS: For those curious, I did graduate. Onward and upward, I suppose.

*"Russian Imperial Stouts" come from England. Also this is technically an American-Style Imperial Stout, but I won't say anything if you won't.