Thursday, January 17, 2013

Poor Man's Apertivo

One of the first things I learned to drink is an aperitif called Lillet.  My mother once gave me a little taste when I was in High School. I remember her explaining to me what a “fortified wine” was. When I was living with my grandparents, or—later—visiting them, in my twenties and early thirties, Lillet on ice with a twist of orange peel and splash of gin became the cocktail that I would drink while they had their martinis. Since then, my improvised, Granddaddy inspired (he suggested both the orange rind and the gin) mixture has become a signature (albeit, rather freeform in its ratios) cocktail in my house.  Sometimes its more like a martini, with more gin and less Lillet, and sometimes it’s the gin that is in the minority.  The problem is, the stuff is darned expensive.  If you know where to go, it can be had for less than $15.  But most places, if they stock it at all, charge almost $20 for as 750ml bottle.  What if you could make it yourself? 

Here is the recipe I started with on 17 January 2013; it is very closely based on one that was in the New York Times in 2011.  This version was on a blog called Glutton for Life.

Vin d'Orange
makes about 2 litres
— 1/2 cup dark rum
— 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
— 2 liters good quality rosé (about 2 1/2 bottles)
— 1 cup vodka
— 8 whole green cardamom pods
— 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
— 1/2 vanilla bean
— 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
— 2 lemons or grapefruit, or one of each
— 3 tangerines or oranges with a good balance of tart and sweet
Wash the citrus and slice them in thick wheels. Place them in a clean container (glass
or hard plastic) with a wide mouth and a tight-fitting lid. Add the sugar, spices, rosé
and vodka.
Stir this well with a spoon (not wooden, as it may harbor bacteria that could inhibit
fermentation) and fasten the lid. Keep the jar in the refrigerator, or a cool dry place,
shaking occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
After about 6 weeks, mix in the rum, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh
strainer or several layers of cheesecloth. Stored in bottles at a cool room temperature
or in the refrigerator, your vin d’orange it will last indefinitely. Drink it plain on the
rocks, or mixed with sparkling wine or water, garnished with a slice of orange.

I used a cheapish (BotaBox) Pinot Grigio rather than a rosé; if the final result isn’t a lot cheaper than actual Lillet, then what’s the point? I did not have any pink peppercorns, vanilla bean, or green cardamom pods.  Instead I used some kernels of allspice, some regular cardamom pods, a small splash of vanilla extract, and the cinnamon stick called for in the recipe.  For the citrus I used a lemon, a grapefruit, and three oranges (maybe I should make a knowing reference to Prokoviev).  My first taste after the initial mixing suggests that 1½ cups of sugar is too much, but time will tell.  This batch should be ready for rum and testing at the end of February.   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Red Book of Westmarch

This post goes out to my friends who are fans of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Those of you who know me really well, who "knew me when," know that I my fascination with all things relating to Middle-Earth knows no bounds.  Not only do I love The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I have read and taken real pleasure in every last unreadable page of posthumously published material as well, from The Silmarillion, through Volume 12 of the seemingly endless History of Middle-Earth.  Through the willfully archaic language and arcane textual notes, Tolkien's genius as a mythmaker and world-builder still shines through, if you have sufficient patience to find it.

A few years after the critical debacle and financial success of the published Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien ruefully reflected on that book's weaknesses in his preface to The Book of Lost Tales: "it is certainly debatable whether it was wise to publish in 1977 a version of the primary 'legendarium' [this was always Tolkien pere's preferred term for the totality of his work on Middle-Earth] standing on its own and claiming, as it were, to be self-explanatory.  The published work has no 'framework,' no suggestion of what it is and how (within the imagined world) it came to be.  This I now think to have been an error." [p. 5. emphases added].

Although, as CJRT points out, his father never explicitly set about creating such a framework, the evidence seems plentiful that he meant to do so (something Tolkien fils also admits). The central conceit of "The Red Book of Westmarch" from which everything in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is supposed to derive, is explicitly constructed to embrace materials outside the scope of either of the two published novels.  We are told in the preface (and shown in the main narrative) that Bilbo has spent his time in Rivendell immersed in the lore of the elder days, producing three volumes of "Translations from the Elvish."  Through the character of Findegil "The King's Writer" there is also an avenue prepared for the inclusion of "mannish" materials relating to the Dúnedain, and probably the Rohirrim as well.  Really the umbrella is large enough to include almost anything.

Among the many critical banners that can appear across the top of a flawed Wikipedia article, my favorite is the one that warns that an article (usually about something fictional) has been written in an "in-universe" style.  It seems to me that that is the problem with Tolkien's posthumous works.  Christopher Tolkien took to providing a framework, but it is one that usually makes the works less accessible, not more.  What we need is an editor, or editors, from inside Middle-Earth. And we already know from published texts what this book is—The Red Book—and who those editors should be (or were) and (in the main) what their voices are like: Bilbo—fond of humor and simple jokes, scholarly, distracted, perhaps slightly arrogant about his own accomplishments and abilities; Frodo—humbler, and more serious-minded, even grim, haunted by his own quest and its sacrifices; Sam—folksy, practical, admiring of his Baggins patrons, and of the elves and the Dúnedain, but late to the game of scholarship; and Findegil—a functionary of King Elessar, a scholar and archivist, steeped in Gondorian lore and folklore, probably somewhat baffled by the Hobbits, and aware of the disconnect between Gondor's traditions about the elves, and the renewal (however brief) of actual contact with them.  We might imagine too the contributions of Pippin and Merry, of Sam's daughter Elanor Fairbairn.

These voices and perspectives could give a frame to a wide range of Tolkien's materials, provide a means for reconciling the divergent forms of the tales produced over a period of almost sixty years: a version of the "Fall of the Gondolin" translated from eyewitness accounts by Bilbo in Rivendell (perhaps the 1950s version found as the first chapter of Unfinished Tales) could naturally vary radically from a version of the same story collected by Findegil from the oral or literary traditions of Gondor (represented by the very early version that was one of the "Lost Tales.")  Bilbo's own character and age could explain the tendency of his translations of the "purer" versions of stories to be unfinished, whereas the vast differences in style and substance of the earliest (but often most complete) versions of the stories could be explained by their passing through the oral traditions of the Dúnedain for many thousands of years.

Part of me really wants to DO this.  Tolkien's works will probably not enter the public domain in my lifetime, but who knows?  Anyone want to collaborate?