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Spirits | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 6
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Rainwater Madeira

In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the unctuous Lord Beckett offers Captain Jack Sparrow a small glass of honey-colored liquid that must surely have been Madeira, the preferred drink of 18th-century British and Americans alike. (It was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite drink.)

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Least expensive of the fortified wines, Madeira bears the singular virtue of being utterly still like whiskey or eau de vie. Uniquely aged in heat rather than cool, the sweet wine oxidizes slightly and thus after opening retains its flavor even in hot climates.madeira.jpg

Riddled with flu on his return from Italy, Mr. Henry repaired to his favorite apothecary, Nancy’s Wines for Food. Though his head was full of cotton, his reasoning was not occluded. Mr. Henry decided that the purchase of a subtly aromatic libation would be money wasted. Consequently he threw himself on the mercy of a young apprentice with shaven pate and satyric smile who recommended an $11 bottle of Rainwater that Mr. Henry dutifully drank every evening for a week.

The cure was thorough and complete. Rainwater is the cough syrup of the gods.

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With newly-acquired curiosity for the mysteries of Madeira, Mr. Henry detected traces of it in a mascarpone cream dessert served by Cipriani at the McKim, Mead & White designed 55 Wall Street, one of Manhattan’s greatest rooms, former site of National City Bank, the Merchant’s Exchange, and the New York Stock Exchange.

The dessert is one that itself must be very resistant to decay because the cream is principally composed of stiffly beaten egg whites with some mascarpone and a splash of Madeira. Sandwiched between pastry layers and sprinkled with shaved coconut, it was light and toothsome. (Best of all, it can be prepared without cooking!)

Breakthroughs in Medicine for Mr. Henry’s Liver

Today the New York Times “Science Times” section (p. F6) reports that in a 14-year study the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver cause by alcohol abuse was lowered by drinking coffee. The more coffee the participants drank, the better their livers fared.

Mr. Henry would like to extend a personal thanks to the principal author, Dr. Arthur L. Klatsky of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, Oakland, California. Although the study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine did not include Mr. Henry’s case history, he would like to contribute a post-publication testimonial whole-heartedly supporting the paper’s conclusions. Mr. Henry has conducted extensive field research in this domain. Two strong cups of good coffee in the morning go a long way toward quieting his jumpy liver. In light of the paper’s conclusions, from now on, when necessary, he will drink three or four.

Mr. Henry has every confidence that through internet publicity this study will reach its intended audience in time for them to adjust their coffee consumption to maximize health benefits. The need is critical. Please help.

Whisky for Dad

Because from among Mr. Henry’s myriad talents a grasp of computer application software is conspicuously absent, he only just now received the many kind messages sent by his reading public. One of the first e-mails came from a Japanese site called Sweets which judging by its pink background looks as though it may be devoted to matching up lonely Japanese girls with suitable salary-men. Since it is written in Japanese, however, its nuances have escaped even Mr. Henry’s subtle capacities for apprehension.

The e-mail below suggests that in a single week Mr. Henry has already become a voice of authority and experience, a veritable Rip Van Winkle of the information highway. Consequently he feels not merely a desire to help, therefore, but a positive obligation.

Mr. Henry,

Let me first take a moment to cheer your new food blog under the auspices of the ever-benevolent Manolo. I come to you with a question that given your love of Scotch, should be easy to answer. My father’s birthday is next month, and he is a Scotch drinker. Since (unlike with wine) I do not like Scotch, I am forced to rely on the advice of others in procuring new and different Scotches as gifts for him. If you would let me know what you think are some good choices for his birthday. I’ve previously gotten him a Bowmore Port Casked scotch and Talisker. I’m intrigued by your mention of Oban.

Looking forward to your response,

Megaera

Dear Megaera,

With such a lilting Celtic name you must surely take the choice of Scotch with seriousness of purpose. Mr. Henry, therefore, will do no less.

Oban is indeed the right choice, or at least cannot be the wrong choice, but it is a choice ripely made only after a sail round all the others.

For Mr. Henry to assess this request he needs to conjure a profile of your Dad’s regular habits. Does he take his Scotch as an aperitif for its restorative qualities to both energy and appetite? Or does he retire for a post-prandial glass with feet up surrounded by his all-adoring family (or at least one daughter who does not disapprove of his drinking)? Does he excuse himself to the smoking room at the back of the house (or completely outside the house)? Or is he a reformed smoker who longs for a smokiness in the glass that recalls those freer days? Does he drink it neat, with a splash, or on the rocks?

The MacallanTo Mr. Henry’s ever-evolving palette, the salient question here is the choice of before-dinner or after-dinner. The Macallan, an excellent Speyside that became enormously popular in the 1980’s, is in his opinion exclusively an after-dinner drink. The lingering oak, honey, and brandy aromas imparted by long aging in sherry casks render The Macallan an ideal substitute for cognac, indeed an improvement on it or on any other after-dinner drink, but the same notes of sweetness feel more like an end to the evening repast than like a beginning.

Your previous two choices were quite different in character: Bowmore is an Islay — the region known for smoky, peaty, altogether salty tastes. Lagavulin is the fiercest of these; it hits you like a North Sea wave over the foredeck. Laphroaig is a paler and smoother distillation but with equal smoke and peat.Caol Isla If your Dad liked Bowmore, Mr. Henry suggests Caol Ila which, like Bowmore, is a milder Islay but one with slightly fewer floral qualities. But Caol Ila is hard to find in stores.

Talisker is an Island malt, and yet in color, tone and balance it closely resembles Oban, a Highland malt. Mr. Henry prefers Talisker to the other Island stills. It is equally satisfying before or after dinner. Curiously enough Mr. Henry discovered Talisker in (of all places) Paris where he got stuck staying in (of all places) a British hotel in the 16th arrondisement, the very last available hotel room in the whole Frog City. Forced by the upstairs presence of small, sleeping Henry offspring to stick close to the hotel at night, with a jaundiced eye he accepted the advice of a too, too young French sommelier who suggested Talisker from among a list of some 50 Scotches.

And Talisker became Mr. Henry’s preference for some years.

Through the advice of a wizened old downtown reprobate, a lowly writer by trade, some years later he sampled Oban and found his new Big Love, his first wife, his default choice for any occasion.

Similar in character to Talisker, Oban balances its amber, raisiny nose with hints of “sea breezes” that recall the salty Islay brands. Thus, if your father liked both Bowmore and Talisker, try a bottle of Oban because it combines the best elements of both.

In the ideal Henry liquor cabinet, a bottle of each would stand side by side. This is Mr. Henry’s vision of Big Love – a plural marriage characterized by sharing and harmony. However, Mrs. Henry does not seek such domestic arrangements. Moreover, lately Mrs. Henry has been watching the grocery money more carefully than usual and thus no $50 bottles of Scotch have gained recent admittance to the secret recesses of Mr. Henry’s cabinet.

Sea breezes remain in the air, not in the glass. Instead of sipping, Mr. Henry writes.

Memoirs of a Sushiphile, Part II

When Mr. Henry has sushi one of the first things he needs to decide is what he is having. That is, what he is having to drink with tonight’s sushi.

Nectar of the Sushi Gods

As an appropriate accompaniment to sushi, sake is an obvious choice, and as it happens there is a perfectly respectable bottle already open in Her refrigerator. For lunch, green tea is always advisable because at this point in the career of Mr. Henry’s liver even half a beer at lunchtime leaves him feeling as if someone had thrown the sea anchor overboard. Forward progress is impeded and, heaven knows, he needs to be getting along with his life goals each and every day, and this includes afternoons.

Scotch is Mr. Henry’s personal favorite with sushi and with nearly everything else, for that matter.

A healthy pour of Oban or Talisker over ice cubes made from filtered water (more genius from the engineers at Sub-Zero) provides an ideal imbibational choice – strong enough to cut through the lingering fire of powdered wasabi, yet without the sugars of wine or the starches of beer.

White rice is as close to library paste as Mr. Henry’s educated palette will accept. When the short-grained is served chewy and lightly vinegared, however, scotch efficaciously clears away any lingering bits of hamachi or maguro, leaving the mouth ready to greet the next wiggling arrival.

When you elect to switch away from wasabi-based sauce toward a bit of eel, however, you need a more powerful cleansing of the palette, a thorough and abrupt alteration, the commencement of a new chapter in the evening’s unfolding novella. Here is where your choice of drink is key, and here is where you can change your whole meal, indeed, your whole approach. You might even say that your choice of drink determines your cultural identity, your very ethnicity.

Memoirs of a Sushiphile, Part I

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