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Date: Wednesday, 19 Dec 2012 17:06

(Author’s Note: Yes, I’ve been away too long. No, this break up isn’t permanent. To demonstrate this, let me share with you a reading  I performed that was received quite well at my company’s Holiday party.

Also note – I’ve turned off comments. This is permanent, for reasons that I will gladly share with you. If you feel the need to respond to any of my thousands (!!!) of posts, feel free to e-mail me via the contact form.

- Kate)

All rights reserved by masahiro miyasaka. Used via Creative Commons License.

I’ve been doing Quality Assurance now for fifteen years. It is a very long time to be in that sort of job position, and it really begins to affect the way that one looks at the world.

To illustrate this, I would like to share with you a recent corrective action I wrote.

 

Dear Santa,

I am entering this corrective action against a feature that you had implemented upon your sleigh long after your initial design had been approved. I can find no documentation surrounding the implementation of your RLD, better known as your Rudolph Lighting Display. As you know, Section 21.93 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a major change as a change that affects fit, form, or function. Adding a ninth reindeer whose primary function includes illuminating a relevant pathway to the aircraft, fits that definition.

I strongly recommend sitting with your  SME/DER to determine your best course of action in light of this finding. Perhaps documenting an alternative means of compliance? Regardless, I would expect at least you to be able to answer a question regarding what is the mean time between failure for reindeer.

Love,

Kate

 

I’m pretty sure I’m getting a lump of coal this year.

Before getting too much further into this, let’s take an opportunity to thank the members of the Employee Activity Committee. If you guys could stand up, lets take a moment to thank them for all the work they’ve done here tonight.

In discussing over the entertainment part of tonight with Norma, the initial thought was that I would read from one of my books. I understood where she was coming from, but the idea didn’t seem that…festive…to me.  So I suggested that I could write something especially for tonight. The question though, was what?  I asked Norma, and she said “I dunno, something that puts them in the Holiday Spirit.”

What is the Holiday Spirit?

 

It’s a simple question, really. One that is often asked in various holiday specials and sung in a multitude of songs found on light rock radio stations after Thanksgiving.

 

What is the Holiday Spirit?

My parents raised me agnostic, so I was raised under the holiday tradition of bright lights, family get-togethers,  and many awful songs. I didn’t have access to some of the more religious components of the season. When I was a child, I didn’t connect with the sanctity of the season. As such, it has taken me far longer to understand what the “Holiday Spirit” entailed.

As a child, everything I knew of this spirit, I gleaned from the various animated holiday specials that I watched on an annual basis. A Charlie Brown Christmas taught me that procuring a sickly tree was a just reason to be mocked. The Year without Santa Claus taught me that Christmas is best left to the professionals, and, as an added bonus, also  taught me that Global Warming and the Coming Ice Age is little more than a battle between the Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The Little Drummer Boy taught me that everyone digs a drum solo.

Let’s talk about The Little Drummer Boy for a moment, because it was my favorite Christmas Special. Sure, I recognized that the story was about the simplicity of the gift being appreciated by Mary and the Baby Jesus, but what had me enthralled was the fact that the drummer boy was able to connect with the animals with his drumming. The Ox and Lamb kept time! What a conceit!

The only time that I’ve been able to communicate with animals with music was when one time, when I was singing, my cat coughed up a hairball.

Anyways, somewhere in all of these shows resides the Holiday Spirit, but clearly I was too young to figure it out.

My misunderstanding was so bad, that, when in fourth grade, when asked by my teacher  to give an example of what Christmas means to me, I wrote:

 Christmas means to me, that even when someone steals your presents, trees, and roast beast, if you just stand in the middle of town and sing, the burglar will turn himself (and his dog) in, and we will hold a feast in their honor.

Yup, 9 year old me, not only plagiarized  The Grinch who stole Christmas , but I turned it into an adorable story of felony breaking & entering with a touch of Stockholm syndrome.  This was something my fourth grade teacher explained to me later, after I read her note on my homework which read simply “Please see me after class.”

My understanding of this “spirit” became even more confused as I entered my teen years, where I was apparently under the belief that the Holiday Spirit meant that I was to get whatever music I desired, and that the failure to get said music provided just reason to throw an appropriate tantrum. This belief led to the “REO Speedwagon” incident when I was thirteen, the “Night Ranger” incident when I was fifteen, and the “Metallica” incident when I was seventeen.  While at the time I believed the change in my musical tastes illustrated some measure of maturity, in truth, all of the incidents are too similar in motivations to demonstrate any measure of understanding of what the Holiday Season is all about.

I would like to think that I grew in college, and to some extent I did.  Mostly I renounced my material ways, and understood that the Holiday season isn’t really about gifts, either in the giving or receiving. Unfortunately, I painted everyone with the same large brush, mocking anyone who participated in such a gross, materialistic way, and that even a simple purchase of garland or tinsel meant that one was complicit in the great Holiday-Industrial complex conspiracy, and that even humming “White Christmas” meant that you were brainwashed.

Luckily for my family, I spent most of the holidays with college friends, where I attended various anti-Holiday parties with various English and Theater majors of the university I attended, and consumed holiday feasts consisting primarily of Wild Turkey, and Cranberry and Vodka. This was when I first understood what wisdom was. Let me say that if I now have to consider a choice between  going to parties where their primary theme is “No one really understands how miserable the world is but us” against the option of oh, I don’t know….let’s say test witnessing, I’ll choose test witnessing every time. I have truly become older and wiser.

It wasn’t until my first year after college that I started to truly understand what the Holiday spirit meant. I was on my way to a family get-together, sharing a ride with my older sister. About halfway through the drive, long enough, mind you, to demonstrate that she had given full on consideration of what she was about to say), turned to me and said:

“Don’t be a fargle.”

Actually, she said more than that, to which I’ll get to in a minute, but I need to explain the word “fargle”.

You see, my family works blue. We curse, a lot. Not drunken trucker level of cursing, but certainly a level to which it would be appreciated by a drunken trucker. So when I say “fargle” ,  for the sake of decorum, I’d like you to fill in your own obscene gerund and/or  epithet.  The point I want to illustrate here is that my sister called me a fargle.

Actually, what she said was even more profound.  What she said was “Don’t be a fargle.  Christmas isn’t about just you. And…would it kill you to smile for the sake of the rest of the family?”

At the time, I took it as a personal admonishment, which it was. But upon reflection, I realized how much this correction to my behavior was an apt description of the Holiday Spirit.

We live three-hundred and sixty some odd days of misery, of stress, or of indifference to our fellow travelers on this planet. We live in our own tragic routine, a rote application of what we’ve defined to be our lives.  Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. But the collective “we” have been able to create this holiday season that allows us to celebrate what we can be – Joyous, Peaceful, and full of friendship and love.

The Holiday Spirit is the embodiment of that understanding.  It’s a feeling where we understand that we’re all in this together, and that we share this planet with one another. And that for at least one day out of the year, we should try to smile with one another, or, at the very least, we shouldn’t begrudge another for striving for an uncynical joy. Because the holidays aren’t about you, or me. It’s about us.

And let’s face it: Our lives in this season would be far better off once we understand that we shouldn’t be such a fargle.

Happy Holidays Everyone! May you and yours have a full day of peace and joy.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Accidental Hedonist, Christmas, readings"
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Date: Thursday, 13 Dec 2012 17:25

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR.

 As any cheese maker will tell you, it’s not that hard to make cheese. You just take some fresh milk, warm it up a bit, and add something acidic to curdle it. Then, once it has cooled, you drain off the whey— the liquid part — and you’re left with cheese.

But when did we figure out how to do this? According to a new paper in the journal Nature, at least 7,000 years ago. Since then, the process hasn’t changed much.

Take that, Kraft Singles!

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Food History, Archaeology, cheese, dairy..."
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Date: Tuesday, 13 Nov 2012 16:38

It’s been a while, I know. But bear with me, as movement is afoot.

Stay tuned!

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Accidental Hedonist"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Oct 2012 16:49

My interview with Rick Steves will be available this weekend on any Radio Station that plays Travel with Rick Steves (it was recorded back in June of this year). We discuss my book Sweet Tooth, as well as other travel items surrounding candy.

 

Listen in, and hear what happens when I’m interviewed on three hours of sleep and have a minor case of food poisoning.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Press"
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Date: Monday, 15 Oct 2012 21:17

For the past thirteen years, give or take, I would sit in front of my keyboard and type out items that popped into my mind.  Sometimes I approached this with great determination. Other times, I would do the literary equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall, and seeing what would stick.

Then I would click on a button, and publish the result in order for the world to read.

It’s a strange phenomena that this medium allows us. I could write about anything, and mere seconds later, a visitor from India, South Africa, or Akron, Ohio could consume it and consider it. This was magic made true by programmers and network administrators. For thirteen years, give or take, I took advantage of this and wrote with intent and joy. For the first few years, I wrote on another blog, where I could share/describe a medical issue to which I had to attend.  For the past eight-plus, I’ve chosen to write about food, with a dalliance in travel here and there.

The intent for the first blog was catharsis.  The intent for the second blog, the one you’re reading now, was unashamedly professional. I wanted to  publish a book with a major publishing house.

I’ve been lucky enough to now publish two .

Since then, or, more specifically, since accomplishing my intention, I could not come up with a new reason to write.  And so, I stopped.  I hadn’t just stopped writing on the blog. I stopped writing, period. No quick exercises at home, no notes in the margins of the books I was reading, not even a comment in any of the other blogs I was reading. Beyond a daily e-mail or two for my primary job, I barely mustered more than one-hundred words in the past three months.

What have I done instead? I’ve toiled at the said primary job, and took a week to go to Europe, again (this time to Vienna, Munich, and Prague), and half-assed some research on a beer book. But for the most part, I let the world wash over me, instead of trying to direct its tide to suit my needs.

The reasons for this were many. So many, that it was difficult for me to parse out the why’s surrounding this sudden and uncharacteristic behavior. As near as I can figure out, I should develop some new goals that exceed, but relate to, the previous professional goals. In other words, I wish to have more books published, but wish them to be “better”, for lack of a less-cliched word. What “better” means is an idea that is still being slopped around in my consciousness, and being played with every time something definable appears.

There is the rub. “Better”. How do I begin moving beyond the benchmarks of 99 Drams and Sweet Tooth? Writing about food history is a difficult field to break into, and I can count on my hands the number of people who are doing it well.   It’s just my luck that I have a passion that is the niche-iest of niches.

So, to those of you writing me and asking where have I been? I’ve been here, trying to create a new intent, and trying to better myself, and not really figuring out the hows surrounding it. Not yet, at least. But don’t consider this blog dead. It’s more dormant, until I can figure out where I want to gonext.

 

 

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Accidental Hedonist"
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Date: Tuesday, 24 Jul 2012 13:22

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was initially a secret society, formed in 1848 in London and designed as a rejection of the art academy process. Rejecting the academic painting approach and what it stood for, these group of men ( William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner) instead chose to approach art in the styles of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe. A time that was Pre-Raphael.

What that meant is their art, at first, had a  ”minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature”. Their intent was to make art approachable to the common man, through themes and stories that recognizable to anyone, and not through subtext that was unapproachable by most.

They rejected hackery, any idea that showed  ”anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind.” They initially focused on the familial stories of the bible, but soon turned to landscapes, heading out into the world with canvas and paints. This seems obvious now, but before them, an artist would sketch a landscape, take it back to the studio, and then recreate the colors from memory.  What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did was to capture the colors as they saw them at the time that they saw them. The result? Paintings had more detail than ever before.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shallot

More than anything else, the PRB moved the art world, begrudgingly at first, out of its traditions of the time. While the diversity of the Brotherhood’s work makes it difficult to tie it to one or two basic themes, what the PRB accomplished more than any other movement was to make the artist the driver of the work, not the ideals era in which they were born. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fostered for more than any thing else was that artist had the right and the duty to develop their own identity and styles.  This belief would soon change the art world forever.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Art History, art history, Frederic Georg..."
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Date: Monday, 23 Jul 2012 12:58

Let me work with a simple premise – A country’s beer culture is a reflection of that country’s history. It may not be a full reflection, but it does show enough to illuminate some important aspect of that country.

So why is it, that a country that’s the size of the state of Maryland, holds the rapt attention of most beer aficionados?  It’s not as if Belgium is a major European tourist destination – at least not in comparison to England, France, Italy, and Spain.  It’s certainly not a primary player in the history of Europe, having not even been a country until the 1830′s. So, why is Belgium so keen on beer?

The answer lies in its history. It’s a gross simplification, but the basis of the Belgian brewing industry lies in the fact that during industrial brewing’s formative years 1850-1920 , Belgium had other primary concerns than figuring out the level of regulations that dictated limited styles of beer. This lack of oversight actually made imports into Belgium cheaper than what they could brew in 1900.  The Belgian brewing scene was poor at this time.

Then, occupation in World War I set back the industry even further.  It wasn’t until the Belgian government banned genever from cafes and taverns that the industry started to take off.  The marketplace, demanding some level of inebriates, welcomed local beers into the fold.  New things were tried in order to differentiate one beer from another. Never having a Reinheitsgebot helped, and as well as a lack of a brewing “tradition”. Brewers were able to try different spices and herbs, even adding sugar to their drinks.  Add in the unique yeasts of the region, and a predilection for the taste of malt over that of hops, and the resulting melange of beers available to Belgians increased.

As breweries in England and the United States consolidated, and the industry shrank (in terms of breweries, not in sales), and as the Belgians rejected German beers (for obvious reasons) Belgium breweries soared with variety.  Yes, pilsners ended up on top as they did in other countries (Belgium’s most popular beer is a pilsner called Jupiler), but the marketplace was diverse, enough so that it became a source of pride for the region, quickly evolving into its state today.

Belgium’s brewing traditions are truly only about a century old, rather recent in the grand scheme of things. But this has worked in their favor, making them a “must visit” for any fan of beer.

 

 

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Belgian Beer, Belgium and its beers, Rei..."
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Date: Monday, 16 Jul 2012 14:00

This is it – the finals. Out of the initial sixteen gins selected, these were the two that you deemed best. Your final task here is to pick one over the other. Will be be the lesser known No. 209 gin from San Francisco? Or will it be the popular Scottish Gin, Hendrick’s?

The choice is yours.  You have one week to vote.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
Author: "Kate" Tags: "Gin, Distillery 209, Hendrick's Gin, No...."
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Date: Tuesday, 10 Jul 2012 10:43

A nice intro to the Pre-Raphaelites from the BBC.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 byWilliam Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ll discuss in further detail soon. Video’s are below the jump.

Episode 1 pt.1

Episode 1 pt.2

Episode 1 pt.3

Episode 2 pt.1

Episode 2 pt.2

Episode 2. pt.3

Episode 3 pt.1

Episode 3 pt.2

Episode 3 pt.3

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Art History, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Joh..."
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Date: Monday, 09 Jul 2012 14:40

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899

Martini:

1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "The Classic Martini, food history, gin, ..."
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Date: Thursday, 05 Jul 2012 14:18
Author: "Kate" Tags: "The Classic Martini, Bombay Sapphire gin..."
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Date: Thursday, 05 Jul 2012 14:16
Author: "Kate" Tags: "Accidental Hedonist, The Classic Martini..."
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Date: Tuesday, 03 Jul 2012 15:06

 

Out of the entire catalog of Belgian Beers, there is one category that mystifies me. And being born and bred in the United States, where beer ignorance is part of a national DNA, I hadn’t even heard of this style of beer until I was way past my thirties. I am speaking the Lambics, of course; a style of beer noted for its ties to beers historical roots, what with its emphasis on open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as well as the wacky notion that beer tastes better after it ages in a cask.  As we come from a culture where mega-breweries harp on the idea of “freshness dating”, the fact that there are good to great beers out there that requires 1-3 years of aging before it gets its optimal taste is unique in the worlds where Budweiser and Coor’s reign supreme.

What the lambics are, in my opinion, is evidence that the marketing arms of industrial breweries are full of it.  For every claim of freshness, for every claim of precision in brewing, lambics demonstrate an exception.

Their are several varieties of lambics out there, from the pure lambic and the fruit lambics, to krieks, and something called gueuze, an oddity so different from what one thinks of beer, that the folks at the Good Beer Guide to Belgium describes it thusly:

Your first encounter…(with oude gueze)…can be astonishingly awful. It may make you want to send it back immediately, but then persuades you to hold on for just another mouthful. Having soldiered through the bottle and awarded  yourself a gold rosette for adding painfully to your knowledge of  brewing history, it should make you vow neer to try it again. Then order another just in case you got it wrong….After your third you will never think about beer in the same way again.

It’s this sort of talk that gets me all hot and bothered about how it tastes and what it represents.  A well-made gueuze is seen as the apex of brewing; the golden fleece; the beer that’s kept in hiding until that one special moment in one’s life that calls for something  both wonderful and unique.

The beers are not just unique to the beer world, they’re unique to Belgium, with most coming from an area just to the west/south-west of Brussels, in an area called The Pajottenland, in a region of land that’s only a little larger than the size of Brussels itself. This is a theme we’ll run into again and again with Belgian Beers – namely, how can an area so small (Belgium is comparible in size to the state of Maryland) do so much with beer?

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Belgian Beer, beer, beer culture, Belgiu..."
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Date: Monday, 02 Jul 2012 12:16

John Ruskin goes hand-in-hand with the work of J.M.W Turner, because as critics ravaged Turner’s new, non-traditional approach to art, it was Ruskin who defended him and other artists like him, with the release of the book Modern Painters.

The well-reasoned critique within Modern Painters helped set the stage, or at least, provided enough rationale to new and different approaches to art, that it is a variable that needs to be accounted for in the transition from Romanticism to Impressionism.  There is much in the book that should be devoured with glee, but I want to point out a specific quote: There is a moral as well as material truth – a truth of impression as well as of form – of thought as well as of matter.

In other words, there is truth in perception as there is in reality.  A mountain exists in the landscape whether I see it or not. It is true by its nature. But when I do finally see that mountain, my impression of it is equally true, regardless of how it measures up to its nature.

What Ruskin states in Modern Painters is that an artist is obliged to be truthful to the thought of the mountain as to the mountain itself.  And if the techniques of paintings used to convey the truth of the thoughts run counter to the techniques employed by the Italian and Dutch masters of the seventeenth century, than so be it.   For an artist, it is truth one is after, not a specific technique or approach to the truth.

So when J.M.W. Turner showed this piece…

…yes, it was different, new, and non-traditional in its approach.  But from Ruskin’s point of view, Turner was being truthful to the impression of what he saw,  and was effective enough in his technique to convey it. This is, in part, what makes Turner great.

There’s far more to Modern Painters than that simple idea. His take down of the painters who we deem “The Masters” is, in of itself, masterful. From an art history perspective, however, just know that this book exists and that it challenged the notion of what “art” was at the time of its release in 1843.

 

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Art Criticism, art criticism, art histor..."
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Date: Sunday, 01 Jul 2012 19:34

I’ve been sitting on this decision for two weeks, when I first compared Knickerbocker Gin to Leopold Bros. The problem? They were both quite excellent, and choosing one meant not giving the other its fair due.

Let me be clear, these are two very different types of gin, with Knickerbocker eschewing the traditional London Dry recipes, trying (and succeeding) to do something different. Leopold goes the opposite route, instead focusing on paying attention to the details of a traditional distillation. Knickerbocker is heavy on the botanicals, Leopold Bros. focused on perfecting the process of a classic recipe.

That’s not to say that Knickerbocker is not as well distilled as Leopold Bros. It sits very smoothly on the palate, and has no rough edges to the spirit that other gins have shown themselves to have in previous head-to-head.

So why did I choose Knickerbocker? It was that same bugaboo I came across in a previous tasting – Knickerbocker was interesting. Or, at least, it was one smidgen more interesting the Leopolds, which was also quite interesting.  The flavor profile of Knickerbocker provided something new and different. Yes, yes, the juniper was there, but it played with its citrus notes a little more, and the other botanicals, including cardamon, coriander,  were more assertive, but balanced quite nicely.

I have a feeling that if Knickerbocker ends up being my number one gin, then Leopold’s will be the second best gin in this exercise. Had it gone head to head with a different gin, I suspect Leopold’s would be in the final four as well.

But they didn’t, so they’re not. It’s Knickerbocker by a hair.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Gin, gin, Knickerbocker Gin, Leopold's S..."
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Date: Tuesday, 26 Jun 2012 15:06

Moonlight, A Study at Millbank – J. M. W. Turner – 1797

Take a few moments to look at these paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (aka J.M.W. Turner aka William Turner). While the subjects are important, what I wish to point out is the techniques used, and how Turner’s approach to light evolved. When looking at these paintings, focus on the approach the artist took to convey his ideas, and how that translated into technique.

 

Mount Vesuvius in Eruption – J. M. W. Turner – 1817

 

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire – J. M. W. Turner – 1817

The Devil’s Bridge at St. Gothard – J. M. W. Turner- 1841

Rain, Steam, and  Speed, The Great Western Railway – J. M. W. Turner – 1844

Looking into his catalog of work, the evolution is just as clear.  By the time he reached near the end of his light, Turner was experimenting, not just with light, but with how the light was conveyed on the canvas, and how the approach used could alter the scene or event being painted.  What makes Rain, Steam, and Speed, The Great Western Railway so intriguing to me, is not just the technique, but how it relates to the artist and his previous works.  Early on, he followed tradition. By the end, he was painting almost nondescript scenes, with areas left clouded or ambiguous, and only a few items on the canvas that could be recognizable. He was pushing and exceeded traditional boundaries that had been taught in the art academies.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Art, art history, Joseph Mallord William..."
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Date: Monday, 25 Jun 2012 13:52

Ask the Internet and one shall receive.

As we get closer and closer to having the best gin available to us, I wanted to ensure that when I address the “shaken vs. stirred” debate, that my shaking technique was appropriate.  Luckily for me, the good folks at Chow have already addressed the issue and have created a YouTube video to help demonstrate.

In the video is A. J. Rathbun, author of the books Good Spirits , Luscious Liqueurs, and several other books on cocktails and spirits. I have several of his books and trust him in what he has to say.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Spirits, A. J. Rathbun, cocktails, stag1..."
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Date: Sunday, 24 Jun 2012 23:58

One of the things that filling a 16-gin-bracket-in-order-to-determine-one’s-favorite accomplishes is that it allows one to see their predilections a more clarity. I’ve already seen this once so far in this endeavor, where I’ve come to terms with the fact that an alcohol-heavy spirit is a bug and not a feature for me. I’ve given my reasons for this before – alcohol numbs the palate, making it hard to taste the complexities within – but I recognize that ultimately this is a subjective preference based off of my own ability (or non-ability, in this case) to taste well with a higher ABV in tow.

I use this as an example to better support my second predilection that I’ve come across – I like “interesting” drinks. Imagine my discomfort as I sit here writing this line, without a clear definition of what “interesting” actually means. I admit that there’s no one consistent definition, and that puts my critical palate even more in question.

Take, for example, the third gin that I’ve put in my final four - Bulldog. I like it because it’s well made, it has a nice balance, and that there is no one flavor that smacks one repeatedly over the head.  Alas, these are the same characteristics that describe No. 209, to which I was comparing Bulldog.  So what differentiates the two? Well, Bulldog is interesting to me. It’s interesting because it has subtlety and nuance, a rarity in the gin world.  It uses different botanicals than No. 209, other than the standard juniper. It presents itself as a London Dry Gin, a more conservative gin style than No. 209′s  New Western Dry Gin style, and it does so with panache.

Yes, panache.

I drink Bulldog, and I don’t feel as if it’s off to the juniper races with other more popular gins. I get the sense that the folks at Bulldog are looking to do their own thing, but they don’t need to shout about it.  I like No. 209, but I’ve tasted their flavor profile – juniper with citrus- in other gins. Bulldog seems to show restraint, a great characteristic to have in a market full of “look at me! Look at me!” type gins.

And this makes them interesting. So their gin goes into my final four.

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Gin, Bulldog Gin, gin, No. 209 Gin, tag1..."
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Date: Tuesday, 19 Jun 2012 15:55

Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute – Joseph Mallord William Turner

 

We, or should I say, I have a very specific idea on how non-famous artists get their pieces viewed today. Either they place them on the walls of any business that will have them – say, your local coffee shop or book store – or, the pieces are submitted for review to local galleries. There,  the artist will either have individual pieces that will become part of a collection that’s trying to convey a specific theme, or the artist themselves will be highlighted, with several to dozens of pieces are shown.

I have no idea how true this is today, and I admit that it’s a fiction created in my head based off of nothing more than minimal inputs from actual artists. I do know that the world today is more capitalistic, and that this drives the art scene, somewhat.

My point here is what it’s not. It’s not patronage (although this probably still occurs today), and it’s not a student getting a showing at the local art college (which definitely still occurs today, having been to a few of these myself). It’s this latter example I want to expand upon, because in the early 1800′s, the Art Academies of Europe were where an artist learned their craft, cultivated their talent, found patronage, and had their work shown at annual exhibits. It was the academy system that was the primary means of promoting art in Western Europe, and if one wished to succeed in the art world, inevitably an artist had to demonstrate whatever skills and talents that the leaders of each Art Academy felt was indicative of such.  In other words,  an artist had to meet someone else’s definition of what was acceptable, rather than meet their own. This is a broad interpretation of what likely happened, but it needs to be said for reasons I will cover later.

That’s not to say that those who held sway with the academies were less than liberal in their approaches.  Pieces that pushed the boundaries were featured a fair bit. For example, The Grand Canal, Venice by Joseph Mallord William Turner, pictured above, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 is an exercise of imprecision*, a sacrifice of “reality” and technique in order to create a more balanced painting.

My point here is that the Academies weren’t necessarily stodgy, but there was a well worn path that one needed to follow. This is a topic for a different post. Right now, all we need to know is that the Academy system existed, and it was the primary means for an artist to succeed in the early to mid 1800′s.

(*The painting is based off of separate sketches that were drawn at different locations in Venice, combined into a single painting that creates a scene that doesn’t truly exist in our reality. This imperfect approach was seen as a detriment to Turner’s work by some, not an asset. The same could be say of his approach to color, as well as technique. While his subjects were classic romanticism subjects – at one point he believed that landscapes could “convey a full range of artistic, historical, and emotional meanings” – it was his techniques that separated him from other artists of the times. Looking at his piece from 1844 entitled Rain, Steam and Speed,  - The Great Western Railway, you can see he was doing things differently.  You can also see a better detailed reprint of his The Grand Canal, Venice here)

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Art History, art academies, art history,..."
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