It is a fact universally acknowledged that a raincoaster in possession of a dining-out budget must be in need of a burger. I admit it: I’m a sucker for any savory-looking patty with nice buns. I try hard not to be That Guy, that guy who orders the steak at a seafood restaurant, but when there’s a burger on the menu it’s gonna get ordered and that’s a fact. Since I’ve been traveling the back roads and highways of BC lately I will update you on the state of burgerage around the province, starting with the capital, which is not Vancouver which everybody thinks it is, but Victoria, land of the newly wed and nearly dead.
Of Victoria we have spoken before, and shall again, for it is one of my favorite cities. Large enough and wealthy enough (thanks to our taxes!) to have a great arts scene, but small enough to be walkable, at least neighborhood by neighborhood, with a great transit system, a magnificent setting, and a foodie culture that runs far more to the making than the ordering-and-photographing, it’s a charming, pretty city. Heck, I made an offhand reference to it on a hacker forum recently and was blizzarded with posts expressing just how much these hardcore hackers adored twee little Victoria, with its houseboats, its shameless Anglophilia, and its borderline-deranged worship of afternoon tea.
God only knows how many burgers I ate there, but here is one whose photo I happen to have with me at the moment.
The Beacon Drive In just beside Beacon Hill Park boasts that it has been “Serving up smiles since 1958″ and I don’t doubt it, in part because I’m not sure they ever redecorated. I remember coming here in the early 80’s, and it was laughably old-fashioned then. Now, it’s bloody priceless (which reminds me, is Archie from the comic books still driving that ridiculous Model T, because if he is, it must be worth about the cost of a new Lambo, but I digress). It’s also still busy, for good reason.
Not only is the menu a classic Diner With Everything from a Gidget movie, but it has West Coast add-ons like the Oyster Burger and Salmon Burger. Mine hostess and photographer Lori Dunn even got a float, it’s that old-fashioned. You can order a float here without being ironic.
In the 80’s it was famous for its onion rings, and even now they’re terrific; perfectly cooked in a crispy batter that’s not too thick, the onions within just caramelized enough to fall apart when bitten and not before. Could use a bit of seasoning salt, but that’s my only quibble. I ordered the BBQ Swiss Mushroom Burger and it was exactly as a diner burger should be; sloppy with sauce, juicy patty, whopping big pickle on top. There’s nothing exceptional about the sauce or the burger or the bun; it is exactly what it seems, a plain low rent burger that is nonetheless perfectly respectable in its blue-collar way. Note: the “Screaming Deluxe” Cheeseburger has hot sauce. And this is a place where “Deluxe” itself means “comes with lettuce, tomato, and onions.” So don’t be sniffing that you can’t find truffle fries on the menu. If Bruce Springsteen eats truffle fries, I don’t wanna KNOW! You know what I’m saying?
But the soft serve looks truly wonderful, and if it hadn’t been freezing cold and raining I’d have tried some. Striped, swirled ice cream! Truly, we live in an age of wonders.
More burgers to come! And even some non-burger food items!]]>
Wasn’t that a party?
Finally, finally, finally, just in time for me to leave town for at least a year, the Vancouver Gin Society (here they are on Twitter) has launched, ushering the Wet Coast metropolis into the realm of Cities That Can Hold Up Their Heads In Public.
Imagine my surprise to find out that the current gin Renaissance is a Cascadia-driven phenomenon. And here I thought I was the only gin fan in the world sometimes. If the 57+ gins at Killjoy hadn’t clued me in, perhaps I shall blame the 57+ gins for the fact that my brain clearly wasn’t working properly to pick up all the clues, including more new, local gins than this part of the world has seen since prohibition (technical question: is each bathtub designated a microdistillery?). BC alone has 12 microdistilleries at or near production. Washington State has 80 or so.
The society is the brainchild of James Lester, proprietor of the squeaky-new Sons of Vancouver distillery; they launched with just one vodka, but they have big plans for diversification in a teeny-tiny space. After meeting James at the Northern Voice blogging conference afterparty back in the Spring, I have no doubt that they will do whatever they DO do, well.
Gene Shook was shaken and stirred by the turnout
The Vancouver Gin Society is (as can be guessed from their web page) inspired by the very active Seattle Gin Society (there’s also a branch in New York), and we had Gene Shook, the head of that illustrious organization with us for this launch party. Something close to 60 of us sat down in the dining area of the enormous Legacy Liquor store to get in the spirit of things by downing these spirits in spirited company.
That’s enough of that. This is what I get for blogging sober: cheap wordplay.
The table filled out later. And the bar was already full when we got there.
That’s Oxley, Schramm, Victoria Oaken Gin, plain old regular Victoria, Long Table Distillery, Sound Spirits, Big Gin, and Big Gin Bourbon Cask.
According to Gene and James, the Cascadia region is where it’s at for innovation in gin. First the craft beer revolution, then the renaissance of cocktail culture, now ginnovation. Is there any wonder nobody ever wants to leave??? He’s right, of course. Victoria, BC’s Oaken Gin has been around for years (and their Hemp Vodka), the product of a family business. They’ve also got a plain old regular gin, which is far over to the floral and volatile ends of the respective spectrums, and they just happened to go into production the year local bartenders were going wild for barrel-aged cocktails. What with bourbon casks being disposed of after one use, it wasn’t too hard to see what they’d do for their next product, and it’s been a strong seller ever since.
I started my tasting with a bit of the Ebb & Flow. It’s the first gin legally distilled in Washington State since Prohibition. I found it floral, with vegetal notes like cucumber poking through. Like a garden after a rain. Very smooth on the palate.
Bartender and Author (yes, both are capitalized in THIS blog!) Mark Sexauer, whose cocktail book Aphrodisiacs with a Twist was featured at the launch, mixed our drinks and in between spoke about the way an official appreciation society brings together the producers, bartenders, and the public, all of whom have a vested interest in supporting the spirit they love. Alcohol and good society enhance one another and if done right (and moderately), elevate the public discourse.
Spanking-new Long Table was the first official pour of the night. It took three years to bring the downtown distillery to fruition, although only 4 1/2 months to produce a decent gin. Their standard gin features 8 botanicals: it’s a London Dry style, juniper forward, with orange, lemon, coriander, and earthy afternotes and a bit of burn from the two different kinds of peppers. I bet these guys are no strangers to mescal! This summer they went a little crazy and produced a cucumber gin with cukes from Pender Harbour in the Gulf Islands. It’s cuke and pepper and only available at the distillery, so get your butt to Vangroover if you want some!
The Long Table was presented to us in a beautiful rosy-pink cocktail featuring a cordial made of blackberries, verbena and honey. It’s called a Blackberry Bramble, and it’s a perfect patio drink, although the dark and stormy winter night outside was NOT what we ordered.
Victoria Spirits Gin was released in 2008, and was Canada’s first premium gin. True to their vintage spirit, they use spring water from the property and a wood-fired still, leaving those of us with pervy minds with ample fantasy material (if you’re into sweaty blacksmith and fire-stoker fantasies, not that we’d know anyone like that! Ahem!). They do tours if you want to
objectify observe them for yourself. This gin has 10 botanicals including roses, accounting for the bouquet-like aroma, and a secret ingredient that they assure us isn’t all that secret but I’m too lazy to dox a gin right now, so it shall remain secret. There. Don’t say I never did nuthin for ya. The botanicals steep overnight right in the pot, unlike some gins where the botanical essences are added after distillation. Once begun, distillation takes about six hours. The result is less juniper, more citrus, as could be predicted by anyone who’s ever left unpeeled lemon slices in a pitcher of water overnight.
They gave us a lovely, lemony cocktail called the Hartland, which I could happily quaff all night long, but that’s no surprise: Solomon Siegel is legendary. It’s refreshing, not too sweet, not too alcoholic, and on the other hand not too “your 17 year old cousin will be safe with this.” It’s a sophisticated cocktail at the same time as it is an approachable one.
Schramm gin, from the Pemberton Distillery up near Whistler, BC, is a potato-based gin. I’ll let you think about that for a minute. Potato. Based. Gin. We’ve already covered what potatoes do for vodka (wonderful things), and they do exactly the same things to gin. The result is a silky texture unlike any other gin I’ve ever tried. The volatility of the spirit seems evened out, as if someone put the handbrake on the evaporation, but only one notch. It lets the flavours of the liquid itself come forward and disclose a lovely, heavy-bodied, balanced gin with that distinctive texture. Most of the botanicals come from within 15 km of the distillery, and they include hops and rose hips. We also tried it in a Schrammbuie, a cocktail of 1 part Drambuie to 3 parts gin. Although I loathe Drambuie with a fervor that will never die, I quite liked this cocktail.
Big Gin is named after Big Jim, father of Ben Capdevielle, a third-generation booze producer and the man behind Captive Spirits in Seattle. I never knew the man, but I have known the gin for awhile now, having first tasted it at the aforementioned Killjoy on a juxtaposition-themed outing.
Biggie and Smallie, my homies @killjoybar pic.twitter.com/j0vHnE2hjj
— raincoaster (@raincoaster) August 8, 2013
Capdevielle explains that although he is a third generation distiller, “This is our first TAX PAID distillery.” His family made whiskey during Prohibition, and his presentation style reminds me of Tom Bulleit of Bulleit Bourbon; it’s the same “oh, he’s a character” character that seems to go so well with fine spirits. “I swear to god, tonic is the reason people don’t like gin,” he says. “Ours is a gateway gin. It swings both ways.”
Big Gin is a London Dry style, very juniper-forward. “If you don’t like juniper,” he says, “you don’t like gin!” And the floral gin makers at the table didn’t DARE contradict him. He uses the peel of bitter orange to give it an elegant edge, and it has absolutely no florals. Like with good bourbon he hand-numbers each bottle just because he likes the old-fashionedness of it. It shows that real people are making this stuff; it’s not being churned out by robots in a factory.
Bourbon barrel Big Gin is self-explanatory, and extraordinary. It’s finished for six months in the oak, and it shows. It has a reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally savoury, oily aftertaste, and smells like a clean, wet dog. These are good things. God knows I’ll never be hired by a marketing department, but when you get this stuff in your glass you will know exactly what I mean and you will be glad you bought it.
Sound Spirits of Seattle are close to my heart if only for the octopus on the label. And they immediately take up the tonic challenge gauntlet; they have brought their own, home-made tonic water. It’s historically accurate; originally, tonic water wasn’t carbonated, and it certainly wasn’t clear. Most tonics today use powdered quinine, but this Kina Water uses the real chinchona bark and amply qualifies for the highest hipster accolade, “artisanal.” This leads to a discussion of the medical uses of tonic and alcohol, and a reminder that the reason cocktails and cordials came into being in the first place was to be used as medicines. Then certain clever ancients decided to be slightly ill all the time and thus an industry began.
Sounds Spirits are the producers of Ebb&Flow and their Old Tom gin, which is NOT a London Dry style. It is not a floral gin. It is, like I told you, an Old Tom gin, which is the kind of announcement that makes sixty slightly tipsy people put down their glasses and knit their eyebrows (have you tried that after tasting seven gins? It takes a lot of coordination, let me tell you). Their base spirit is made with local barley, and it’s given a “tiny” amount of barrel aging, which gives it a tinge of colour and some savory oils. It’s sweeter, smoother, denser, and spicier than a London gin, and in a truly radical moment that can only come after 7 other tasters, the presenter suggests we try it in a mint julep.
Then everyone went off to the afterparty and I met my friend Cathy for a drink and a burger at the Tap & Barrel next door, since I’d never been. The service was terrific, but the burger was too dry. A deep fried pickle is a nice touch, but it needs to be thicker to stand up to the brutal frying process. The beer, however, was delicious and monumental. For some reason, my notes become illegible right about then…
The next event for the Vancouver Gin Society is a punch-off: gin punch fanciers vs rum punch fanciers: Vancouver gets Beefeater, and the Long Table distillery will be using their London Dry; they go up against the Seattle Rum Collective with Diplomatico Añejo Rum, and our hosts the Shameful Tiki Room will wield Panama Red Rum. Proceeds go to the Harvest Society, and may the best booze win. You can get your tickets on Eventbrite.
Full disclosure: Burger 55 in Penticton, BC, is one of the most successful self-employment clients of my old friend Lori Dunn. They applied for a training and support program for small businesses in Penticton and Lori approved them and has been one of their most loyal customers ever since. Since then they’ve won so many Best Burger and Small Business awards they’re about to run out of wall space to display them. Mind you, with about 300 square feet total there never was that much wall to begin with.
Their website has a Cult page. That should give you a hint.
Having gotten their start thanks to a community initiative, they are still community-minded. Peter Navin was the friend who originally found them their unique location; for the past several years, Navin battled brain cancer and ultimately lost the fight. Burger 55 created a commemorative Peter Navin burger for $7, and proceeds are donated to his family.
There are only three stools inside and a handful of picnic tables outside. In the heat of the Sonora Desert summer it’s best to sit on the side towards the creek, where you can get partial shade and a refreshing breeze. In the winter, it’s best to just get take out and eat it in the car facing the lake while having an emotional conversation while playing old rock ballads.
They also deliver, provided you order $15 or so worth of food and bev, which isn’t hard once you get into the premium add-ons and side orders.
Their deal at Burger 55 is custom made burgers: that doesn’t make them unique, but the paperwork does.
Well, it’s a very Canadian burger joint, you know? You walk in, you stop for a second and goggle at it just because it’s so dinky, then you reach to your right and pick up a clipboard and one of those mini-pencils you never find outside of voting booths or esoteric burger garages in Canuckistan, and you go through an extensive, small print checklist of what you want and what you don’t want. Salad style? Tortilla? Gluten free (of COURSE they have gluten free buns)? What kind of cheese, if any? Which sauces? And every section is a densely populated box and a tough decision, especially the free extra toppings which extend to roasted peppers and corn, beet strings, and the like. You want it, you put a checkmark beside it. You want double? Two checkmarks. Simple once you get the hang of it. There are eight cheese options alone.
The meat is all excellent quality, and they can do turkey burgers, beef, salmon, portobello mushroom, or lamb. On a low carb diet? Go for salad style for $3 extra, but it’s not a snotload of extra salad, I warn you. The esoteric selection of premium toppings includes a grilled local peach. The sides are: Fries, Fries with Curry Sauce, Side Salad, Sweet Potato Fries, and Onion Rings. The fries are all good but the onion rings, it must be said, are greasy. Tasty, but greasy. Onion rings, I remain convinced, require a different frying temperature than potatoes, and a darn good draining. Still, they are the superior side order (that is my past as an A&W fetishist catching up to me). Fries are for plebes, and for hangovers. #Truefax
If you can’t decide, the three standards (Hot, Burger 55 Signature, and The Other One I Forget Oh Wait It’s a Cheeseburger) don’t do it for you, and the Special of the Month isn’t your cup of protein (this month it’s Chicken and Waffle), you can ask them to freestyle, and they will make a unique mystery combo for you. I’ve noticed that freestyle burgers lean towards the saltier, so if that’s not something you want, say so for a demi-freestyle.
I had a AAA Beef burger on a cracked wheat bun with shredded beet strings, lettuce, roasted sweetcorn, homemade pickles, pickle relish, aged shredded cheddar (I forgot that aged cheddar doesn’t melt unless you put mushrooms on it while it’s melting), Burger 55 BBQ sauce, and some really good bacon strips. And it was perfect. They use local ingredients as far as possible, and make their own sauces. The sauces, particularly the Buddha Asian BBQ sauce, got so popular that they decided to bottle and sell them: Curry, BBQ, and Buddha sauces, plus their spice mix.
My friend Alex had a beef burger grilled on the flattop right next to my bacon, which flavoured it somewhat, with a cheese skirt, ie hanging over the side; they put a dome over it so the cheese melts all around in approved classic burger style. I haven’t seen that since I was at the old lunch counter at Save On Meats where they cooked a burger that was a full pound of meat, two half-pound patties that were so thick you HAD to put a dome over them or they wouldn’t cook through.
And if my headline left you thinking this would be an article about getting your pipes cleaned, well, if that’s your goal I’d just advise you to stick to salad style. Don’t nobody enjoy that process after a burger the size of your head.
Today is Flashback Thursday: flashing back to July (gawd, has it been that long?) and the special event was the Similkameen BBQ King competition. For non-Canadians, the Similkameen Valley is a gorgeous part of Southern BC. The river is perfect. The mountains are perfect. The grassy plains are perfect. And, as you can see from the above picture, they are all over the Hipster fashion trend.
I was once on a Greyhound going through the valley; also on the bus was a French Canadian fruit picker and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was from BC and had talked him into coming with her to Keremeos, “the” town in the valley, to pick fruit in the summertime. He was deeply skeptical about this decision, but deeply in love, so he had said yes and there he was on the bus, the scent of Montreal still wafting off of him (it smells like cigarettes and beer), trundling through the Similkameen valley as the sun rose. The mountain caught the light, the huge K (the legacy of a landslide) glowed pink, the valley glimmered green and silver with mist, and the bus stopped, let them off, and he fell to his knees and kissed her hand for inviting him to a place as beautiful as that valley.
So that’s the Similkameen.
Forgive my crappy iPhone pictures, but I did what I could without my trusty photographer Cathy Browne.
The setting? The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos, an historic grist mill, ie where the farmers brought their wheat to be ground into flour. It’s in the hands of my old friend Chris Mathieson, the only person I know with both a degree in Philosophy and skills as a blacksmith, so he’s perfect for this gig. That’s him, along with his wife Kyla, in the top picture. His first words when he saw me there, hundreds of miles from my normal dank cavern in Vancouver? “What are YOU doing here?” A warm welcome indeed, if not heated.
The challenge itself was Chopped-style: in other words, the competitors were given a set basket of ingredients from particular suppliers, and told to do what they could with them on the barbeque.
The ingredients were all local; the valley, along with the nearby Okanagan valley, is famous for its produce, and is now beginning to wrap its head around the very un-Canadian action of tooting its own horn. This event was an exercise in horn-tooting, and featured local wines along side the BBQ creations. Full disclosure: I got a media pass for the event, but only after contacting the organizers and asking if I could pay by Paypal, because I would have come up just for the day, all five hours each way on the 80-seat limousine. And lemme tell ya, it would have been worth it.
There were some very professional plates and some outstanding tastes. I’d come primed for ribs (BBQ, right?) but the chicken as a black box ingredient meant that chefs had to think outside that very box, and some of the solutions were very creative indeed. Chicken sliders, sure, but chicken sliders with a skewer of chicken bacon to garnish? That’s a different level, a level not generally found down gravel roads.
I don’t even like risotto, but the risotto was so good I went back for thirds. People were whispering, “Have you had the risotto? Have the risotto! They may run out. Psst, have you had the risotto?…”. And the basil ice cream was velvety, perfectly sweetened, and paired perfectly with the pound cake. Some of the wine pairings were more successful than others, but the main discovery for me was Forbidden Fruit Winery, whose fruit wines are sophisticated, layered, and miles away from Boone’s Farm.
And the winner was Karl Schorb from the Branding Iron. From the remarkable number of “Congratulations, Karl” blog and Facebook posts from his competitors, it’s clear that he’s a key figure in the tight-knit Okanagan and Similkameen gourmet community. Here’s the winning plate:
My notes (after perhaps six tasting-size pours of local wine) “Truly yummy.” Yes, I am a master of subtlety when it comes to reviews. Now take a look at the competition (and forgive my iPhone shots through the window of the shuttle bus from Penticton, because what choice do you have, really?).
But thanks in part to knowing Shawn Soole of Little Jumbo, also known as Liquid Revolution, we are broadening our horizons somewhat. I mean, the last time I saw the man make a Martini he used liquid nitrogen, and water that he’d distilled himself. This is the bartender who invented the Grilled Cheese Washed Rum and the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Martini, which got so much media coverage that now he refers to it as “that bloody cocktail.” So, he is a horizon-broadener of the first rank, because it’s impossible to resist the tasty if deranged things he mixes up.
In any case, our good friend Bart Calendar, he who lives a lifestyle which literally embodies the word “aspirational,” has introduced us to a cocktail so crazy, yet so dazzlingly tasty-sounding, that we simply must try this at home. It is called the Rum Steak, it has rum and steak in it, and it comes from Papa Doble in Montpellier, France.
Stir all the ingredients with ice in the mixing glass and strain into a chilled old fashioned. Garnish with a baked slice of beef marinated in homemade acacia honey infusion.
Now, here’s the backstory, ie how to make the spiced maple syrup and acacia honey infusion…
Vanilla and Spice Maple Syrup:
To prepare 17oz: in a saucepan with maple syrup 17 oz, cajun spice 3 bar spoons and separated (ie seeded) vanilla 2 pods. Leave to simmer and fine strain.
Acacia Honey Infusion Beef Slices:
Mix acacia honey 3,5 oz and angostura bitter 5 dashes. Spread homemade acacia honey infusion over a slice of fresh beef. Bake it in the oven for 4 hours at temperature of 60°C.
Yes, it does sound like hella work, but it also sounds absolutely amazing. I’m going to ask Bart for a debrief after he has one (or quite possibly more) of these on his next visit to Papa Doble. By the way, it retails for $17.]]>
This guy is legitimately eating a 3 lb block of stinkie ass cheese on a rush hour train. @Gothamist #subwayproblems pic.twitter.com/MWIGmnWjrE
— Jim (@jimgh141) October 10, 2013
This man is my hero (with a few caveats).
According to the guy who twitpic’d him, this blithe cheese fiend was digging into the wheel of Brie with his fingers and then putting it on crackers. Okay, gross. Dude clearly needs to upgrade to crackers with decent cutting ability; you use the cracker edge like a knife to cut off a piece of cheese and then, coincidentally, the cheese is on the cracker already! How convenient is that? From long experience, I would recommend your quotidian saltines, or a Wasa crispbread, perhaps the rye; although it is not sharp, it has a tensile strength that is truly gasp-inducing. When the apocalypse comes, you’ll be able to build fallout shelters from this stuff. Carr’s are, although lovely, easily shattered by the cheese-cutting operation, and are to be steered clear of in subway picnicking situations.
Also, Miss Manners will certainly back me up on this: stinky cheese should not be shared in enclosed spaces without the consent of those enclosed in the spaces. Also, if your Brie is stinky there’s something wrong with it, so this probably wasn’t Brie but something in the family. God knows I loves me some Chaumes, but the fumes will dissolve window glass. If in fact it was Brie, then he’s probably paying the karmic price for stinking up the subway car, spending the weekend on the bathroom floor, groaning.
To get your transit picnic right, remember these key things: No stinky cheeses! Or you’ll get mocked all over the blogosphere! And either a knife (really, who does not carry cutlery with them at all times? It is for such emergencies the Swiss Army gadget was invented! Get the one with the corkscrew, of course) or crackers of sufficient strength to both cleave and provide a satisfying textural contrast with the creamy cheese. Bonus points: an actual cloth napkin, because you’ll never get the grease stains out of your $300 leather satchel.
As one does.
The Sourtoe cocktail is a real thing, and has been a real thing in Dawson City since the Seventies, 1973 to be exact, when a severed human toe turned up in a boat. You know, as they do. It’s even inspired a book: The Sourtoe Cocktail Club: The Yukon Odyssey of a Father and Son in Search of a Mummified Human Toe … and Everything Else!
Well, being Northerners, it occurred to the locals that the best thing they could do with their toe booty would be to preserve it in salt, then charge tourists outrageous prices to drink a cocktail with this most Goth of all garnishes in it. In the beginning, the cocktail was a beer mug full of Champagne, but soon enough they realized that using expensive ingredients cut into the margin and besides, they wanted to cater to the Bacardi and Coke crowd too, so they allowed people to order whatever they liked, “Sourtoe style” and charged them premium rates.
The rule was, the toe had to touch the lips, and many a toetippler would pose for commemorative photos brandishing the brown and shriveled appendage like a stubby cigar. Naturally, when tourists are paying $20 a shot for Canadian Club with a toe in it, and $5 a shot for CC without, it behooves one to take care with one’s toes, and to put exorbitant fines on anyone who would masticate or otherwise abscond with or damage said tootsie-section. In the Seventies, $500 was a big fine. Not so much today, as one American tourist reportedly knew. He was the (hero? No. Protagonist? No.) nouveau riche or at least nouveau flush in the first paragraph, who apparently had done his homework (there’s a website whose design apparently dates from the 90’s. The 1890’s) and thought the boasting rights were worth the money.
Hell, any fool can get bottle service, but how many can talk about the time they committed cannibalism legally?]]>
Phillips Ginger Beer, of which we have blogged previously.
Bombay Sapphire and Tonic with lime, which is a classic.
Yet another Bombay Sapphire and Tonic. Can you ever have enough (apparently on a really hot day you can, and I have the sunburn to prove it).
Would you put that thing in your mouth? Well, I hardly think so: the nutmeg (and the red, lacy mace) is truly one of the least attractive foods of all time, and that’s before you know how it used to be harvested.
Nutmegs are native to one small archipelago, the Bandas in eastern Indonesia, and having been there myself I can say that getting anyone or anything off the Bandas and onto your dinner plate back home is one of the labours of Hercules, although Mercury would have come in a good deal handier.
But I can also tell you that when you are approaching these islands, you smell them before you see them, and the scent is nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. And when your boat brings you in over the reef to land on Run, the small island that the English traded to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan, you step out and it’s as if the island exists on its own plane, halfway between 1600 and the 21st Century. There’s a generator powering a ghetto blaster with music that sounds a bit like Kanye, only in Bahasa Indonesia instead of English. But there is also, outside of every tiny house, a blanket spread, on which are drying freshly-picked spices; cloves, mostly, but also cinnamon, nutmeg, and a couple of things I couldn’t quite identify.
Run is where I learned how nutmeg was harvested for centuries. The Bandas are not only home to the nutmeg fruit, something about the size and shape of a small, malformed apple or possibly a large quince with a skin problem. They are also the home of the nutmeg dove, which looks exactly like a regular dove, only an awful lot closer to the size of a bald eagle.
Perhaps I exaggerate. A large cat. Yes, this is a dove the size of a very large cat, which can unhinge its lower jaw like a snake’s, in order to swallow the nutmeg fruit whole. The pit, including the mace covering, is indigestible to the dove, and passes through.
You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?
Well, it’s a lot easier than climbing trees.
Speaking of admissions, I must admit that having possessed myself of this kernel of knowledge, I had suddenly lost all desire to find out how they harvested it nowadays, because if my stay in Indonesia taught me anything, it’s that they will do things the cheap and easy way because why wouldn’t you do it that way? And nutmeg doves are free.
The Guardian, incidentally, has done a fine writeup on the sociopolitical history of the nutmeg, and you should go read it. There may be a quiz later.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the hunt for nutmeg helped build the modern commercial world. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (modern Istanbul), embargoing trade across the sole sliver of land through which a few merchants had evaded the Arab-Venetian spice monopoly and forcing Europeans to find new eastern trade routes. Columbus sailed the blue Atlantic looking for a passage to India; and Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, his men charging on to the shores of Kerala crying, “For Christ and spices!” The Portuguese military genius Afonso de Albuquerque annexed the Indonesian Molucca islands, of which the Bandas form part, in 1511. The fortresses he built there established and then consolidated a Portuguese monopoly over the world’s nutmeg that lasted almost a whole cushy century.
I have been in the fortresses he built there, and have snorkled through the ruins of Fort Elizabeth, which the English built to guard Run from the Dutch. The Dutch and Portugese, one island over, built a fort they called Revenge, of which little remains, but what little does remain is more than enough to chill your flesh on a day when even the trees are sweating.
I assure you, my skin starts crawling just to look at the image, even if the place has apparently been turned into a cassava farm. But where was I? Yes, going to talk about breakfast next, now that we’ve covered death, war, politics, third world poverty, and the digestive tracts of grossly swollen pigeons.
Indonesia is that kind of a place.
Oh, and the nutmeg will get you high, apparently. That explains a great deal of the local government.
One thing they do right there, having been conquered by the Dutch every few years for a couple of centuries, is pancakes. And one of the things they do with them is put a little spice in them, pretty much always nutmeg, because their tastes are subtle there and the sharper snap of cinnamon is not so much to their taste in the morning. Nutmeg is a spice that rewards cooking, richens and deepens, becoming much more interesting if it’s actually baked into something rather than sprinkled on top by a smiling barista. And one of the things it’s best in is pancakes, although it also adds a great deal to a savory stew, particularly if beer is one of the liquids in it.
Try it, you’ll like it. Trust me, I’ve spent several decades telling everyone I don’t like nutmeg, when really I just didn’t like nutmeg sitting on top of things. Nutmeg should be in things. Like pancakes.
Musical interlude via the DailyDot:
But am I going to let you settle for powdered nutmeg? No, I am not. I wouldn’t do that to you. Once you’ve had the real thing freshly ground, the stuff that comes in packages reveals itself as bearing the same relationship to the original that Nosferatu did to Ryan Reynolds after the sun came up.
You need a grater, and you can waste your time and money and skin off your knuckles playing around with several fancy items that look like they belong in a dominatrix’s toolkit, but we here at the ol’ Manolofood blog will take better care of you, and we will recommend only what we’d use ourselves, if we hadn’t spent all our money on martini olives this week.
Cuisipro Nutmeg/Cinnamon Grater (and yes, you will wash it with soap EVERY TIME if you use it for more than one kind of spice. Promise me, now.
This one is nice and practical; it knows if you only use it for nutmeg, you’re not going to wash it out every time, so it has a lid that keeps your leftovers fresh, and it’s easy to handle, so there will be very little knuckle skin mixed in with your pancakes. Yay!
My personal favorite, because it’s just so cute and the perfect size for a singleton, is the Gra-Mini mini grater. It’s also around five dollars, so it’s perfect for a stocking stuffer they’ll think is useless and end up using every single day. Major smug points for you.
I happened to pick one of these up at the hardware store while buying a box of rat poison (what can I say, it was a bad breakup) and the Italian man behind the counter nearly infarcted from laughter. With tears in his eyes he picked up the grater and mimed freshening a dish of rat poison with some parmesan. Oh god, that moment really lightened his life, I can tell you.
There are some words of power in the Productosphere, and “Peugeot” is one of those words. Therefor, we present the Peugeot PM19488 Amboine Nutmeg Grinder which is extravagant, tasteful, gloriously indestructable, and perfect for rich fussbudgets who don’t like to actually touch their food with anything but the inside of their digestive tract. You know the type. Excited about molecular gastronomy so they can eat steak foam and save on the calories. But they are generally important and must be placated with extravagant gifts, like ancient gods. So, here. It’ll probably be the most useful item in their kitchen and they will never touch it, because they eat out every night anyway.
But when I win the lottery, I’m buying one. And then renting a cleaner, to wash it out for me all the damn time (I’m two-timing nutmeg with cinnamon; yes, I am THAT GIRL).
This is the kind you don’t want. Seriously, 7.5 inches? Wasn’t that thing on an episode of Law and Order, Special Victims Unit?
Anyway, you’ll be a Special Victim if you try to use this with your bare hands.
I have a confession to make. I’m only including this one because of its name: The Nut Twister. Yes, I am twelve.
But at less than half the price, it’s not a bad riff on the Peugeot, even if that chrome case will not be as durable as the wooden one (trust me on this!).
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about 1437 words more than I ever thought I would write about nutmeg. Pay heed!
Oh, they do also make nutmeg jam, out of the fruit itself. You don’t want it; it’s like apple butter, only mealier.]]>
Victoria, British Columbia: home of the Newly Wed and the Nearly Dead. What comes to mind when you think of Victoria, British Columbia?
No, it’s fine. I’m not in a hurry.
Well, the fact is you’re probably right: Victoria is as quiet as a city can be and still be a city, and quite a delightful exception to the usual urban bustlitude it is, too. The fiercest competition in town is rhododendron-and-herbaceous-border-based, and all the pedestrian crossing lights are extra-long, to accommodate the mobility-impaired and the just plain meandering, which often enough includes your faithful foodie and drinkie blogger right here.
And it did, just a couple of days ago. Accommodate me, that is, and that to a positively decadent degree; my suite at the Parkside had not one but two fireplaces, two big screen tv’s, and two bathrooms. For one person. I felt like inviting people over for a pee or something, not to mention enjoying the view from the bathtub, although that invitation might be limited to Viggo Mortensen and Julian Assange and while it might be a tight fit I’m more than willing to try it. It had to be said.
But where was I?
Now, I don’t know about you. I only know about me. And why? Because you hardly EVER use the comment box, not that I’ve taken it to heart. Oh, no. Not that the comments box and I stare at one another in the darkness, asking where we went wrong, where the silence comes from, is it me, is it you, is it the XML-PRC?
Not at all. But where was I?
Victoria. Oh yes, I was in Victoria. Well, let me tell you something about Victoria you don’t know (I won’t tell you everything you don’t know, because we’d be here for the next 45 minutes, easy, and I bet it’s feeling like that already). I’m going to tell you that when it comes to foodie culture, this pleasantly placid BC burg has your city beat.
NYC, Montreal, Chicago, pack your knives and go…
I went to a foodie/drinkie dinner in honour of Tom Bulleit of Bulleit’s Bourbon in Victoria and as everyone gathered around the table (some two dozen, unless I’ve forgotten how to count past ten without taking my socks off and that’s always a possibility, particularly at a bourbon dinner) it rapidly became evident I was the least foodie person present. One fellow pulled out five or six baggies full of white powder – Hoo boy, it’s party time, you’re thinking, and you’re not exactly wrong, but while the baggies were a cause of great excitement among the assembled partiers, they were filled with an unexpected substance: sea salt. It was sea salt he’d collected from different harbours all up and down Vancouver Island, as many shades of white as the Innu have words for snow. And my friend Janice pulled out her latest batch of House Made bitters (she makes everything from chai bitters to rhubarb bitters to celery bitters for your morning Bloody Mary), and so it went from the fellow who collects knives over 100 years old to the fellow who distills dandelion brandy until it got to me and I said, “I don’t actually make anything, but I consume exceptionally well” and that seemed to be enough. Hey, what’s a symphony without an audience, eh?
That dinner, which I should have written up at the time but will get to sooner or later, took place, like many of the best occasions, at Clive’s Classic Lounge in the Chateau Victoria, within stumbling distance of the Inner Harbour. I adore this place, but it’s not just me who loves Clive’s: Tales of the Cocktail, the internationally recognized cocktail snobbery and standards organization has just named Clive’s one of the four best hotel bars in the world, along with the Artesian and the Savoy in London and Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon.
And it was at Clive’s that I found myself the other night, for any night that I am in Victoria it’s a better than fair bet I’ll be at Clive’s. And what did I do there? I stole the menu, of course.
These menus, they’re like gold. Bartenders in Vancouver bid for them in cocktails. I got the last one up to three Negronis, and that from a bartender who hates to mix anything more complicated than scotch on the rocks. They do, of course, have “PLEASE FEEL FREE TO TAKE THIS MENU” on the back, but I like to pretend there’s evildoing in it: a splash of nefariousness makes the drinks taste better. Okay, Vancouver, what am I bid for this latest menu, which contains a spread of tiki drinks, both classic and “antiki”? Use your words, Vangroover: put them in the comments box!
Now, there are few things I love as much as a good tiki drink, and few things are as abused in this cruel world as the palate of the tiki drink fancier ( #firstworldproblems ). I remember a holiday in Oahu where I drank at a different bar every night just to see what they hell they’d put in their Mai Tai: anything from gin and pineapple juice to a flower that smelled like rotting liver and a grass leaf from the waitress’s skirt (that just can’t be sanitary, can it?). If you’re ever stuck in Oahu, play the Mai Tai lottery and you’ll never be bored (although you may be queasy).
But back to good tiki drinks, and one specifically, from the Antiki side of the menu at Clive’s: the Holy Hand Grenade.
Now, I defy anyone with an ounce of Nerd Pride to flip past a drink named after a Monty Python bit without ordering it, although the Dead Parrot might be a challenge, not to mention Spam. Naturally, a table full of bloggers fresh from the Social Media Conference had to sample such a geeky delight, and here it is: a world exclusive as far as I know, and believe me, I know better than to actually ask, because then someone might tell me it wasn’t, and if Almighty Google doesn’t tell me so then LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, so here it is, a world exclusive: the original Holy Hand Grenade by Nate Caudle of Clive’s Classic Lounge in Victoria. And yes, it’s in metric: nerds LOVE the metric system, duh!
The Holy Hand Grenade
50ml Bulleit Bourbon
1oz Green Chartreuse (OUNCE? what is this, Nate? Are you going bilingual on me or something?)
20 ml Appelkorn
20ml Chestnut Syrup
20ml Lime Juice
Shake and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a cross made of palm leaf.
This is absolutely effective against vicious bunnies that are terrorizing the countryside, whether escaped from a Monty Python skit or from Hef’s mansion. After a couple of these, that bunny will be thumping you on the back and telling you what a fine, fine person you are and how did he not notice it in all these years?
How tasty is this thing? Well, as with all good cocktails that aren’t pousse cafes, it gives the impression of being one perfect thing, rather than an assemblage of ingredients. You’d be hard-pressed to identify any of the ingredients here, actually, and it comes across light enough that you could be excused for thinking it wasn’t a bourbon drink at all. Given the varied sweetnesses of which it is concocted, it’s surprisingly light and refreshing, with a mellowed citrus taste and a complex, warm and earthy aroma and aftertaste which is unusual in a drink this summery. It’s perfect for sitting on a patio or lanai, enjoying the scenery or maybe a paperback of something amusing by nerd god Terry Pratchett.
In fact, I have a strong feeling this would have turned Frank from Donnie Darko into Harvey of, uh, Harvey, in no time at all.]]>