The Spotted Cow – A beverage – or maybe a desert

For the past week or so the song “Spotted Cow” from British folk-rock legend Steeleye Span’s Below the Salt album has been going through my head, quietly begging me to be the name of a new beverage.  As regular readers (both of them) will know, I’ve been fiddling about with beverage recipes the last while, like my Mazal Tov Cocktail, my Guavalhalla, and of course, my Arthur Gordon Pimm’s of Nantucket. I’ll not share my mojito recipe except in person, but I will cautiously share my plan for the Spotted Cow.

Probably obviously, the Spotted Cow is a variation on the venerable Brown Cow: Kahlua and cream or milk. But, how to make it spotted? How to keep the Kahlua as brown islands in the stream of white cream?

I thought for a day or two about some sort of molecular gastronomy solution involving edible alginate, etc., but that seemed too extreme. Finally memories of neighbourhood block parties flooded my mind:  Jell-O Shots!

So, after whipping a pack of unflavoured gelatine into 50 ml of boiling water 

and a miniature of Kahlua (from the freezer) into that (I inverted Mr. Knox’s directions on the sachet),

 I spooned the results into a flexible icecube tray, 

slid it into the fridge and stepped out into the frosty evening to walk to 7-Eleven for a bit of cream.

When I got home the little bottle-shaped Kahlua spots were nicely set and were easily popped out of the tray

and into the waiting glass of cream.

What an odd thing!

I ended up enjoying it with a spoon, as though it were some sort of dish of strawberies and cream going all boozy coffee and Jell-O and my quiet winter evening had been transformed into a strange James Bond morning in Istanbul directed by a late-period Stanley Kubrick but in the hotel roomat the end of 2001.
I think I’ll mix myself a Vesper and leave you (both) with the song that started this mess:

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The Guavalhalla: a Tiki Drink for the North

I’ve been thinking about Tiki drinks lately, probably because I recently stumbled on some kitschy Tiki mugs and because I’ve long had a strangely obsessive nostalgia for the remembered exterior of The Beachcomber restaurant, long, long vanished from Downtown Edmonton.  In my researching (some say “hoarding”) manner, I began to gather what seemed to be typical ingredients and began to consider some Tiki Experiments.

For those who don’t know, Tiki drinks are an invention of the mid-Twentieth Century in America and they have all the naive, colonial, appropriating, and, most important, happy elements of that mid-Twentieth Century (White) America. They’re mostly tropical fruit juices and garnishes, usually rum(s), touched with exotic syrups, topped with paper umbrellas and other frills, and usually served in a faux-Maori, glaring-face “Tiki Mug”.  They can be intolerably sweet sugar drinks but ideally are intensely refreshing confections of spirits and essences of tropical holidays.

For some reason I had bought some Guava nectar although I found it hard to find a Tiki drink recipe that used the stuff.  So, I needed to invent something, didn’t I?

What did I have? Guava. What to do with it? Name the cocktail, of course! I needed a name that included the word “Guava” which I was determined would be the major ingredient of my Tiki drink. As I drove through Edmonton one afternoon last week, I rolled the word Guava around with the rest of the English language. The English language is, of course, a product of multiculturalism just like this city I live in and, inevitably, the name came from a fusion of very different cultures.

“Guava” is likely ultimately a Taino word, transmitted to English through Spanish. What to do with it? “Guava . . . Guava . . . ” I said “Aguava . . . Aguava . . .” I said. “That’s like Aquavit, the Scandinavian caraway infused spirit” I said to myself. “Aguavavit.  No.  Guava . . . Guava . . .  . . . Guavahalla!” At a stroke I had the name and the principal spirit for my Tiki drink, a Viking-Tropical fusion.

The rest was mere details.

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The Guavalhalla in a non-Tiki glass

The recipe for my Guavahalla (Guavalhöll in Norse)

In a cocktail shaker with lots of ice shake vigourously:

1.25 ounces Aquavit (I used Brennivin from Iceland)
0.5 ounce White Rum
0.5 ounce Jamaican Rum
2 ounces Guava nectar
1 ounce pineapple juice
Juice of half a lemon
0.25 ounce orgeat syrup
a splash of ruby red grapefruit
a scant splash of passion fruit syrup
a dash of pimento dram
a little coconut water

Serve over copious amounts of ice

Garnish with a pineapple wedge, citrus slices, cherries, lingonberries, cocktail umbrellas or whatever you have lying around.

Enjoy (responsibly) the northern caraway peeking through all those tropical flavours as our northern winter rises on our horizon and our wonderful Edmonton elms begin to drop their leaves again!

The Arthur Gordon Pimm’s of Nantucket: A Beverage

Many years ago I heard of an intimidating beverage called “The Hangman’s Blood”, ostensibly invented by Anthony Burgess. Burgess called the Hangman’s Blood “a beery concoction of many liquors and stout and champagne.” Sometime after hearing of Burgess’ “invention”, I was quietly and purely by chance reading an odd children’s novel called “A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. “A High Wind in Jamaica” was published in 1929, a month after Burgess’ twelfth birthday. I don’t know if young Tony Burgess read Hughes’ book, but . . .

Captain Jonsen, however, had his own idea of how to enliven a parochial bazaar that is proving a frost. He went on board, and mixed several gallons of that potion known in alcoholic circles as Hangman’s Blood (which is compounded of rum, gin, brandy, and porter). Innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so, once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort. (A High Wind in Jamaica, p. 64 in my Folio edition)

When I realized Hughes’ precedence over Burgess, I edited the Wikipedia entry on Hangman’s Blood to set the record straight. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was me.

But, I’m actually not writing about Hangman’s blood today, except as a prelude to my own variation on that drink which I suspect but can’t prove has a deeper history alluded to in Hughes’ mention: “that potion known in alcoholic circles . . .”

My Office

I was sitting in my office last week having a cold Pimm’s and Sanpellegrino following a hot afternoon of yard work. Apparently Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel was in the back of my mind because suddenly a drink recipe burst fully formed from my forehead like Athena from the brow of Zeus: The Arthur Gordon Pimm’s of Nantucket. Tonight I mixed the first ever (as far as I know) mug of it. And here it is:

The Arthur Gordon Pimm’s of Nantucket

Into a big glass place

Ice — lots of it — for the Antarctic
Navy Rum — one measure — for the seafaring life
Gordon’s Gin – one measure — for the hero’s middle name
Pimm’s No. 1 Cup — one measure — for the hero’s last name
Amontillado Sherry — one measure — for one of the finest of Poe’s stories
Bourbon — one measure — for Poe’s time south of the Mason-Dixon
Juice of half a Lime — to ward off scurvy

Top the glass up with

Arthur Guinness’ Stout — for the hero’s first name

Garnish with

A healthy pinch of Salt — for the sea spray over the bow in a Southern Ocean gale.

 

The ingredients and the finished product

I’m happy with it. Definitely an ocean flavour to it, and something mysterious and unidentifiable but pleasant. Unusual, but not a Poe Horror. The aroma may have a little something of the (watery) grave about it, but it’s strangely pleasant. And there’s a distinct earthiness about the flavour. The salt is necessary. This is certainly a drink to savour while savouring Mr. Poe’s writing!

A close-up view

A note: I did not make my Arthur Gordon Pimm’s of Nantucket with the double measures Burgess recommends for his version of the Hangman’s Blood. Singles seemed adequate and more in keeping with the temperance Mr. Poe strived for but did not always achieve in his life.

Public Service Announcement

Please drink responsibly.
At home.
Alone.
Late at night.
In the dark.
Reading something by Poe!

 

 

 

On Gluten-Free Bread

Hoy, ayer y mañana se comen caminando,
consumimos un día como una vaca ardiente,
nuestro ganado espera con sus días contados,

pero en tu corazón el tiempo echó su harina,
mi amor construyó un horno con barro de Temuco:
tú eres el pan de cada día para mi alma.
— Neruda, Love Sonnet LXXVII

I never thought I’d be bothered with the gluten-free thing, but, when someone close has a number of food-sensitivities and the request is made to try one’s hand at a gluten-free baguette for a small family dinner, suddenly one is excited by the new challenge.  So, with about two days’ notice, I had to draw on all my experience and knowledge of bread baking and at the same time temporarily forget a lot of what I knew and ignore my expectations and instincts.

The big challenge of gluten-free yeast bread baking is the fact that gluten is the almost-magical ingredient that makes real bread possible. Nothing in the world has quite the properties of that mix of proteins called “wheat gluten”.  Wheat gluten has unparalleled ability to form airtight, extremely elastic little bubbles. Even rye gluten is not a match for the gluten of wheat.  If you try making a loaf of 100% rye bread, look closely at the dough as it rises, particularly if brushed with oil.  You will see — perhaps even hear — bubbles escaping to the surface of the dough.  This is why 100% rye bread is inevitably more dense than a good wheat bread.

What can possibly be added to non-gluten bearing flours that will help form and hold bubbles with something approaching the satisfactory?  Eggs, particularly egg whites, are often recommended. But, did I mention food sensitivities? Living with a mild nut allergy, I’ll not dismiss the concerns of the truly food sensitive. (The fashion/fad food sensitive I will happily dismiss.)

So. No gluten. No eggs. What’s left?

Well there’s this interesting product that is derived from what amounts to bacterial snot. Xanthan gum is a polysacchride, basically a charbohydrate polymer that is secreted by the bacterium Zanthomonas campestris. The gum was discovered by Allene Jeanes and her team in the mid-20th century and approved for use in foods in the U.S. in 1968. It’s a relatively new and very versatile food additive manufactured in a simple process not unlike brewing beer or, indeed, bread making.  A vat of feedstock is inoculated with the bacteria, the concoction is allowed to ferment for a few days, and then a load of isopropyl alcohol is dumped into the vat (that’s the part that makes me smile at the “natural” label on my package of xanthan gum).  The alcohol makes the fresh snot solidify and sink to the bottom of the vat. The gum in rinsed, dried, and ground up for sale in expensive little packets at your local Green, Organic, Whole, Vegan, Gluten-Free Health food store.

Without the xanthan gum, my project could never have risen much above terribly disappointing hardtack. And if I didn’t talk much about the isopropyl alcohol bit, I might be able to get away with it.

I skimmed a few recipes online and read the back of my sack of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour — mostly chickpea flour so watch out for gas if you eat a lot of this bread. Then I laid out my basic recipe, based mainly on my own real baguette recipe.  I used a cup of Bob’s flour, quick rise yeast, salt, two teaspoons of xanthan gum, half a cup of water and a splash of lime juice because it was handier than lemon.  I was aiming for something like the texture of real bread dough, but the result was a little crumbly and not at all elastic.  After a bit of time to rest and maybe rise, I threw it into a 450 degree oven for twenty minutes and pulled out — a bread stick! It was dense but tender and chewy with good flavour, but not a baguette by any measure.

For the second attempt, I used the same proportions except for the water. I used a full cup of water and made what I would call a batter rather than a dough.  I oiled the top of the loaf and left it to rise. I could see bubbles popping through the oil.  When it was close to double in size, I gave it 20 minutes at 450 degrees and this time I had something approaching an actual baguette! And it tasted good!  It wasn’t really what I would call bread, but it was a quite satisfying product in itself.

Now I had to produce the presentation loaf, the one that would be the accompaniment to a family chili dinner. A little bit of tinkering with ingredients and process and the following recipe is what I have to call an almost complete gluten-free success (it wasn’t so good for garlic bread, I’m told):

My Gluten-Free Baguette

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose flour
2 generous teaspoons xanthan gum
1 tablespoon fast-rising yeast
1 scant tablespoon baking powder
salt
1 cup water
a splash of vinegar
olive oil for coating the top of the loaf

Mix dry ingredients very well.
Mix water and vinegar.
Mix wet ingredients well into dry ingredients. The dough will be very wet, more like a batter, about the texture of a pound cake batter.

Spoon the batter into a parchment-lined baguette pan. Shape into a smooth loaf with the back of a wet spoon. Spread olive oil over top of loaf.

Let rise for half- to one hour until sort of doubled.

Bake 20 minutes in a pre-heated 450 degree oven. Spritz water onto the loaf in the oven every few minutes.

If you love bread but have a sensitivity to wheat or gluten, there is definitely hope, as long as you don’t have a problem with bacteria being doused in isopropyl alcohol so that bacterial snot solidifies and is collected for your bread. You’re already cooking the life out of yeast cells. Can it be so bad that millions of bacteria died for your baguette?

On Bread

Like bread-making, any mugwump can do it.

— Elizabeth David, “Pleasing Cheeses,” Nova, October 1965.

Real conversation:

“You make bread?”

“Yeah”

“You got a bread machine?”

“No.”

“Then how do you make bread?”

“?”

I’ve baked bread as long as I can remember, first with my mother’s guidence and for at least four decades now on my own. Through high school I kept a sourdough starter alive, baking five smal loaves every Sunday as the centrepieces of the next week’s school lunches. Some might argue that I find baking bread to be one of the simplest of kitchen things because of this stupid long experience making the stuff. I would argue, however, that I feel this way because it truly is absolutely dead simple to bake a more than decent loaf of bread with little experience and less effort.

The other day I made a couple of loaves. No kneading. About three minutes of hands on effort. Lots of free time to do other tasks in and out of the house while ostensibly making bread.
Here it is:

Stir together

2 cups of bread flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
a bit of salt
a spoonful of “instant”yeast

Stir in 13 ounces of water

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and go away for the day or go have a good night’s sleep.

Whenever you get around to it, give it another quick stir.

After an hour or two, divide the lump roughly in half and quickly shape the two bits into elongated lumps on well-floured boards. Cover with plastic wrap. Go away for an hour or two.

Put a couple of heavy cast-iron lidded casseroles or pots or something into the oven and crank it to 450°F. There’s only one in the picture because my sister-in-law had my other one.

A while after the oven and the pots get hot, take the plastic wrap off the loaves, pull the pots out of the oven, take the lids off, sprinkle flour into them, flop the loaves into the pots, put on the lids and shove the lot back into the oven.

After thirty minutes or so, take the lids off and let the bread brown for five minutes.

When the five minutes are up, take the pots out of the oven, lift each loaf out of its pot, scrape the flour off their undersides, and put them on a rack to cool, if you can wait to taste your newly baked bread!

That’s it. Bread the easy, old-fashioned, no machine way. I’ve even baked this bread in a fire pit in my back yard (the cooking time was under ten minutes).
To be honest, I don’t know why there’s any sort of market for bread machines.

My Mazel Tov Cocktail

It’s pretty hard to be alive and not be aware in some sense of the U.S. Election. And for anyone who spends a bit of time on social media it would be difficult to be unaware of Donald Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes’ televised “Mazel Tov Cocktail” slip of the tongue  Of course, the twitterverse exploded with fulmination and amusement and, eventually, recipes.  Last night CBC Radio’s As It Happens even got involved.

Well, I can play that game, too.

After some moments of historical thought, consideration of current events south of the Medicine Line, and ruminations on flavour, I’ve come up with my own Mazel Tov Cocktail along with justifications for each ingredient.

Mazel Tov Cocktail

1 ounce Manischewitz kosher wine, obviously

1 ounce Finlandia vodka (I wanted Koskenkorva but it doesn’t seem to be available in Alberta)

1 ounce orange juice

1/2 ounce Wild Turkey Bourbon

A healthy dash of orange bitter(nes)s

Shake well in an iced cocktail shaker.

Serve in tiny glass bottles with an outrageous weave of orange zest and a small sprig of rue.

An outrageous weave of orange zest and a sprig of rue

Manischewitz Concord grape wine is awful, sweet stuff on it’s own, but a necessary accompaniment for any Mazel Tov toast.

The improvised incendiary device known as the Molotov Cocktail was given its name by Finish soldiers during the Winter War against the Soviet Union. It seems only appropriate to give Finland a nod in my Mazel Tov Cocktail. Koskenkorva would be even better.

The orange juice provides a necessary citrus balance to the grapey sweetness of the Manischewitz. It also is a cheap shot at a certain presidential candidate’s epidermal pigment challenge.

The Wild Turkey Bourbon? Wild. Turkey. cf. above mentioned candidate. And his supporters.

And I don’t think either the bitters or their orangeness need explanation.

I think you see where I’m going with the garnish.

The ingredients, with a lovely Canadian sunset

Good luck with your election, neighbours, and Mazel Tov, America!

A glass actually works better

Thoughts on Charity Auctions

Recently I’ve involved myself in two charity auctions. I had the winning bids for three items in an online fundraiser for Northern Light Theatre, and I have donated a painting for an online auction organized by Edmonton artist Jay Bigam as a fundraiser for the Red Cross’ relief efforts for Fort McMurray.  These two online fundraising auctions got me thinking about a decision I made sometime ago: I make it my policy to not donate my art to charity auctions unless there is a minimum reserved bid. I made this decision after I learned that one of my paintings was sold at charity auction for less than the cost of the frame.  I found this to not only be personally insulting, but alsi insulting and disrespectful to the organization trying to raise money for its good works.

In the case of the Northern Light Theatre fundraiser, I went online to check it out because I’ve been a fan of the Company since its early days a generation ago.  I saw fifty dollar gift cards had been donated by three restaurants I’d be happy to feed my hunger at — The Blue Plate Diner, downtown, Under The High Wheel and The Next Act, both in my neighbourhood (Old Strathcona). I checked out what the bids were at.

Five Dollars.

All three of them had been offered five miserly dollars. Some schmuck had said (three times) “Fifty dollars of your food and drink is worth five bucks to me! And your theatre company? The same Five bucks!”

Screw that noise!

I bid fifty bucks each of them because Northern Light Theatre is worth at least hundred and fifty bucks to me and those restaurants deserve proper respect for supporting live theatre in our city.

In the case of the ongoing artists’ fundraiser for Fort Mac evacuees Jay was adamant from the outset that there would be artist-set minimum reserved bids. Once Jay and the Red Cross worked out the mechanics, and even though I’d already donated to the Red Cross’ Fort Mac fund, I without hesitation offered my Sunflower:
image

We’ll see how it goes when bargain-hunting vultures are shut out.

Something else that really bugs me about all this is that crowd-funding campaigns have fundamentally the same model as charity auctions but with inflated reserved bids. Give ten bucks you get a doohickey worth a nickle. Give a hundred and you get a wotzit worth five.

And bragging rights.

Sad, but, since crowd-funding seems to be so much more attractive than charity, maybe charities should give up the charity auction idea and sacrifice a few percent on the kickstarter altar.

But, I’m going to claim my bragging rights:

I gave a hundred and fifty bucks to Northern Light Theatre to help keep Edmonton the insanely vibrant live-theatre place it is and I gave proper respect to three generous restaurants who help make Edmonton the crazy foody city it is.

Next time you see a charity auction, show some respect: bid the value or even more (t’s a fundraiser, not a firesale).

And then brag about it. You’ve earned the right.