Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kumquat Martini Season

Here's a picture of our dog Chowderhead contemplating the kumquat bush in the driveway.

Kumquats are among the few foods Chowder doesn't like.  He does sometimes help out by watering the bush - in his fashion

As you can see we have a good deal of fruit this year and that fruit has been ripening nicely.  Experience has revealed that if I pick them in large quantity they'll go to waste inside.  So, instead, I leave them on the bush as long as possible.  That way I can enjoy a few freshly picked bursts of citrus each time I walk by.

Yes, I like kumquats.  I'm like the dog in one respect; there are very few foods I don't care for, but our opinions about kumquats differ.

And I am the reason we even have a kumquat bush.  Leslie planted it.  She has occasionally attempted to grow certain plants simply because I like the produce.  She herself doesn't care for kumquats any more than the dog does.  She planted it for me.  The kumquats have been a great success.  Not so great successes have included strawberries and blueberries, those are both ill-suited to our climate.

One thing I've acquired a taste for as I've grown older is martinis.  I noticed that these always tasted better to me in restaurants than when I made them at home.  So I set out to make a better martini.

To this end, several years ago, I took an informal martini making lesson from composer Bill Kraft.  Bill makes a great drink.  I've experimented with his method and lately my recipe has formalized.

I realize that tastes and dogmas vary when it comes to cocktails.  This is just how I do it.  If this doesn't sound good to you, at least you'll know not to ask me to make one for you.

Mix together:
  • 4.5 ounces (3 shots) of gin (Lately I've been enamored of 114-proof Few gin.  It's potent stuff.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vermouth (Yep, this is a dry martini.  I try to ignore Tom Lehrer's recipe: "Hearts full of youth, Hearts full of truth, Six parts gin to one part vermouth.")
  • A dash or two of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters (you might already have McCormick Orange Extract in your spice cabinet.  That'll work too.)
  • Crushed Ice  
Shake well.

Pour into a super-chilled martini glass.  I use a wine goblet from my Grandmother's etched pink depression stemware set.  My Grandmother was not a martini drinker.  The small size of this glass determines the quantity of gin in the recipe.

Garnish with two or three fresh-picked kumquats.  (In the off-season I settle for green olives.)

Drink up.  After all 'tis the season.  Best wishes for a prosperous new year to all three of my readers and everyone else as well.

The resulting libation looks something like this:

I've been using Carpano Antic Formula vermouth, a strongly-flavored dark-colored liquid.  I selected this brand mostly because it came in a small bottle.  I had been told that vermouths get old once the bottles are opened and you can well imagine that I don't go through the stuff very quickly.  I've started keeping it in the fridge to prolong its life.  I'll try another brand next time.

Listen to the source of Tom Lehrer's martini recipe:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

JB-AFAP Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible

I haven't posted a 30 Second Spot in, like, more than a year.  (One year and four days to be precise.)

'Tis the season for my annual contribution to the War on Christmas, and let me tell you, this is not my best work.  It is scored for bass guitar, bass tuba, bass drum and sleigh bells.

The one thing JB-AFAP has in its favor, however, is short length.  You could listen to it twice in one minute - and that includes 10 seconds of silence.

Got half a minute?  Merry Melodies to all.

Click here to hear JB-AFAP (Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible) by David Ocker, © 2015, 30 seconds

My personal history with Jingle Bells as an expression of my seasonal musical disaffections is almost as old as Mixed Meters itself.  Here's a complete list of the Jingle pieces so far:

Jungle Bells (2006 - 209 seconds)
Jingle Bulls (2006 - 231 seconds)
Jingle Bills (2007 - 30 seconds)
One Note Open Sleigh (2008 - 38 seconds)
A Combination of Jingle Bells and the Internationale (2009 - 327 seconds)
Solstice Lights (2010 - 640 seconds)
Jingle Bells - The Long Version (short version) (2011 - 212 seconds)
Jinglemonics (2012 - 247 seconds)
The William Bell Overture (Jingle Tells) (2013 - 390 seconds)
Jiggle Belts (2014 - 75 seconds)
JB-AFAP (Jingle Bells, As Fast As Possible) (2015 - 30 seconds)

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Genial Idiot Discusses the Music Cure

There are a lot of books in our home, most of them Leslie's.  One set of old volumes has occupied a prominent location in our den since we moved here nineteen years ago.  We have long since stopped noticing it.  It's decoration, like an art object, just sitting there because, well, what else would we do with it?

The Wit and Humor of America, in ten volumes, edited by Marshal P. Wilder, published by Funk and Wagnalls Company, has copyright dates of  MDCCCCVII (Bobbs-Merrill Company) and MDCCCCXI (The Thwing Company).   The whole thing is online courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

So, anyway.  One evening last week Leslie and I were sitting in the den, probably watching something boring  and forgettable on television, when I happened to pick up Volume VI.  Thumbing through it, my eye fell upon the title "The Genial Idiot Discusses the Music Cure" by John Kendrick Bangs.

This turned out to be a short story in which our hero, the Genial Idiot, confers with his doctor, Capsule M.D., about the efficacy of using music to cure physical ills.  In spite of the medical professional's skepticism, the Idiot proceeds to offer copious anecdotal evidence that music does indeed have healing powers and eventually suggests it will soon become a dominant medical treatment modality.   What was apparently just a silly joke over a hundred years ago has now become an accepted treatment in our times.  Thus civilization advances, first comedy, then remedy.

Of course, from my all-too-modern viewpoint, the story is neither funny nor well-written.  I have no way to evaluate how someone would have reacted to it in 1907 or thereabouts.  Probably rolling on the floor laughing, or whatever acronym for ROFL the hipsters used back then.

So, anyway, my interest in Bangs' story was piqued by mentions of composer Richard Wagner, who would have been ever so popular during those times.   And, as you know, Wagner's awful, endless opera music is one of Mixed Meters' favorite bugaboos.

First the Idiot tells the Doctor about claims for the healing power of music which he has read in the press:
It may not be able to perform a surgical operation like that which is required for the removal of a leg, and I don't believe even Wagner ever composed a measure that could be counted on successfully to eliminate one's vermiform appendix from its chief sphere of usefulness, but for other things, like measles, mumps, the snuffles, or indigestion, it is said to be wonderfully efficacious.  
Then, after describing his own experience of how his insomnia was cured by attending both Parsifal and Gotterdammerung, the Idiot adds this:
Clearly Wagner, according to my way of thinking, then deserves to rank among the most effective narcotics known to modern science.   I have tried all sorts of other things - sulfonal, trionel, bromide powders, and all the rest and not one of them produced anything like the soporific results that two doses of Wagner brought about in one instant, and best of all there was no reaction. No splitting headache or shaky hand the next day, but just the calm, quiet, contented feeling that goes with the sense of having got completely rested up.
Doctor Capsule is unimpressed.  He responds:
You run a dreadful risk, however.  The Wagner habit is a terrible thing to acquire, Mr. Idiot.
The Idiot is not worried about getting addicted to Wagner.
I am in no danger of becoming a victim to it while it costs from five to seven dollars a dose.
That's about $120 to $170 in today's money.  Sounds about right for a half-way decent seat at a live opera.  (If we're lucky maybe Martin Shkreli will buy up all rights to Wagner and raise the price by 5000 per cent.)

The Idiot then tells another story about his friend, an artist, whose upset stomach was cured by a neighbor playing Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord on a cornet.

As the story concludes our Idiot makes predictions on how music will, in the future, cure nearly all medical ailments and revolutionize the medical industry.
If a small boy goes swimming and catches a cold in his head and is down with a fever his nurse, an expert on the accordion, can bring him back to health again with three bars of Under the Bamboo Tree after each meal.

So, anyway, I'm sure that by now you're anxious to read The Genial Discusses the Music Cure.  It's available widely online.  You can even find audio versions.

For your convenience I scanned and OCR'd and posted the story myself.  Read it right here on Mixed Meters.  It might cure your insomnia better than a Wagner opera.

For further reading: