Monthly Archives: September, 2014

September 30: The Magic Flute

Mozart“1791: Mozart composes The Magic Flute. On December 5 that same year, Mozart dies. 1985: Austrian rock singer Falco records ‘Rock Me Amadeus” -Falco, “Rock Me Amadeus.”

Yes, as noted opera scholar Falco knows, it was on this day in 1791 that The Magic Flute premiered. With music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, The Magic Flute is perhaps the most famous and most beloved of Mozart’s 22 operas.

The Magic Flute was the crowning achievement of Mozart’s years long collaboration with Schikaneder’s theater troupe, which had previously included the composing of art songs and a few arias in the comic opera Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher’s Stone). As the troupe was not a traditional opera company, Mozart had to write a score that had something for both virtuosos and comic actors with small ranges. Additionally, the score needed to not be so complex that non-professional singers wouldn’t get lost. For instance, the main vocal lines of arias for the comic character of Papageno often feature a string intro that mirror the vocal line, allowing the actor playing Papageno to easily find his note.

The opera itself is a fairytale story of a brave, but prideful, knight’s quest to rescue the daughter of the treacherous Queen of the Night from a wicked sorcerer. When the opera premiered at  Vienna’s Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden, with Mozart conducting the orchestra, it was an instant smash hit. During the opera’s initial brief run, crowds came night after night to see the show. This greatly raised Mozart’s spirits, as he had recently contracted a mysterious illness. Over the ensuing decade, the opera was performed hundreds of times by many different theater companies. It remains an operatic staple to this day. Sadly, Mozart was not able to see The Magic Flute achieve such success, as he died from that mysterious ailment just a little over two months after The Magic Flute premiered.

There’s a great little drink called The Magic Flute. It’s a sweet, after dinner drink that fittingly uses Mozart White Chocolate Liqueur as its main spirit.

The Magic Flute

  • 2 ounces Mozart White Chocolate Liqueur
  • 1 ounce Amaretto Almond Liqueur

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: The Boston Americans take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game that was the first of its kind.

September 29: Miguel de Cervantes

CervantesPioneering Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes was born on this day in 1547. Cervantes is best known for his landmark novel Don Quixote, considered by literary historians to be the first European novel.

Don Quixote is a tragicomic satire of medieval chivalry.As you’re surely aware, the novel is the tale of Alonso Quijano, a Spanish noble, who after reading too many medieval romances embarks on a quest to restore the traditions of chivalry as the knight Don Quixote de la Mancha. With his trusted squire, a simple farmer named Sancho Panza, at his side, Quixote embarks on a series of misadventures, most famously tilting at windmills he believes to be giants, in an attempt to make reality more like the books he so loves.

Ten years after the initial publication and great success of Don Quixote, Cervantes released a continuation to the story. In this sequel, Don Quixote, Part Two (which is typically now included with the original novel in most printings), Cervantes uses (some would say “invents”) the technique of metatextualism. Cervantes implies that not only were the events of Don Quixote real, but since the novel’s publication, the real Don Quixote’s fame has grown. When strangers meet Quixote and Panza, their reputation precedes them, and eventually a Duke and a Duchess seek to amuse themselves at poor Qixote’s expense by sending him on a series of fake quests. This idea of characters being aware that they have been written about and are characters in a story was unheard of at the time. Since then, the concept has been a common literary device, used in everything from the introduction to Mark Twain’s Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn to Rocky & Bullwinkle.

On the occasion of Cervantes’ birth, let’s raise a glass to Don Quixote with a Distorted Chivalry. This drink was created by Joe Intiso, a bartender at the restaurant Postrio in Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel And Casino, and fittingly uses Don Q Rum. This potent number is sweet, but too many of them might make you mistake windmills for giants.

Distorted Chivalry

  • 1 ¾ ounces Don Q Gran Añejo Rum
  • ¾ ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup
  • ½ ounce fresh lime juice
  • ¼ ounce Crème Yvette
  • ¼ ounce Pernod

Wash the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with the Pernod, then shake all other ingredients with ice and pour into the glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Tomorrow: The story of Tamino and the Queen Of The Night.

 

September 28: Football Under The Lights

msnslog2We’re about a month into the professional and college football season, so it’s only appropriate that we mark a special event in football history. On this day in 1892 the football team from Wyoming Seminary traveled to Mansfield, Pennsylvania to face off against Mansfield State Normal School’s squad in a game that was the first of its kind: The first football game played at night.

In those days it was not unusual for a small private college prep school like Wyoming Seminary (so named because the school was located in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley) to take on a collegiate team like Mansfield State. With that said, this first night game was highly irregular. For one thing the lights didn’t provide enough illumination. The lighting was so bad, that several players actually ran into the light fixture. So, the two teams agreed to only play until halftime. In the end, the game only lasted 20 minutes, and the final score was a 0-0 tie.

Although it wasn’t a particularly good game, it’s still celebrated for its historic importance. Every year, during the last weekend of September, Mansfield holds a “Fabulous 1890s Weekend” during which the game is re-enacted under better lighting. In 1992, the Monday Night Football game between the L. A. Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs held on the evening of September 28th doubled as a celebration of “100 years of night football.” Both of the participating schools still exist. Wyoming Seminary continues to play football to this day, while Mansfield University (formerly Mansfield Normal School) disbanded their football program in 2006 after a disappointing 0-10 season in the NCAA’s Division II. During the team’s final three seasons, Mansfield put up a record of 2-29.

To celebrate the first football game played under lights, I tried to find a drink that had an appropriately “light” name. So, I present to you The Enlightenment, a drink fittingly created by Aidan Demarest of the wonderful Los Angeles bar The Edison. Demarest describes this drink as “The thinking man’s whiskey and a beer, or the poor man’s Champagne Cocktail?” and recommends using Woodford Reserve for the bourbon and Edison Light Beer, from Boston’s New Century Brewing Co, but any light beer will work just fine. You’ll want to use a light beer like Edison Light or Sam Adams Light so that this cocktail doesn’t get too hoppy.

The Enlightenment

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce pomegranate syrup
  • Light Beer

Shake the bourbon, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup with ice, Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with light beer.

Tomorrow: We tilt at windmills.

September 27: The Tonight Show

Tonight_with_Steve_AllenIf you had turned your television dial to NBC at 11:15PM on the evening of September 27, 1954, you would have seen comedian Steve Allen sitting at a piano, welcoming you to the first episode of Tonight Starring Steve Allen, saying that the show “is going to go on forever.” Of course, Allen was just referring to that particular episode of the program (which was going to be 105 minutes long, with commercials), but he could have just as easily been talking about The Tonight Show’s future as a television institution.

The Tonight Show launched alongside The Today Show as an attempt to create original television programming for the early morning and late night hours. Shockingly, many people in the tv industry thought that this endeavor was doomed to fail, assuming that Americans had no desire to watch television before going to work or heading to bed. They turned out to be wrong.

The premier episode of The Tonight Show aired live, so naturally there were many hiccups. The cameraman hired to film the opening credits (which were supposed to be broadcast live from Times Square) didn’t shoot them properly, and the NBC affiliates kept cutting to commercials at the weirdest times, often leaving Allen stuck trying to explain to the audience what was going on. However, the show managed to go on as Allen welcomed guests Wally Cox and Willie Mays (via remote broadcast) to the inaugural Tonight Show. It’s fascinating how many of the now de rigueur late night features appeared in the first Tonight Show. In addition to the celebrity interviews, Allen’s show featured an opening monologue, comedy sketches, pre-recorded off-site pieces and a couple of musical numbers.

Allen stayed on as host of The Tonight Show for two and a half years, with Ernie Kovacs hosting the Monday and Tuesday night episodes during that last half-year. After Allen left the show, NBC changed the comedy and chat program into a serious news program hosted by two veteran newsmen called Tonight! America After Dark. This format change only lasted six months, primarily because many NBC affiliates dropped the program entirely due to a lack of public interest. So, NBC was forced to return The Tonight Show to its old format, but with new host Jack Paar at the helm in July of 1957, and although the hosts have changed over the years, The Tonight Show remains the same as it was in 1964, albeit with fewer technical errors.

So, if you’re up late watching The Tonight Show, or any other late night tv, perhaps you might want something that’ll help you stay up late. In that case, how about a Late Night Reviver? It’s a coffee based shooter with a nice hit of Grand Marnier that’ll keep you up until the start of that show Carson Daly does at 1:30AM.

Late Night Reviver

  • 1 ounce fresh espresso
  • 1 ounce Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon of whipped cream

Place the Grand Marnier and espresso into a large shot glass and stir. Top with the teaspoon of whipped cream and garnish with a little bit of shredded chocolate or powdered cinnamon.

Tomorrow: Football under the lights.

 

September 26: John Chapman

appleseedYou’ve probably heard the story of Johnny Appleseed. The tale goes that one day, John Chapman, who was born on this day in 1774, decided to leave his home and head west into the American frontier, throwing apple seeds everywhere he went, eventually gaining the nickname Johnny Appleseed…at least that’s how the story goes.

In truth, Chapman’s journey began in 1792 when he was just eighteen. He and his 11 year old brother left their Massachusetts home and headed west, living like nomads for about 13 years until they were reunited with their father when he moved out to Ohio in 1805.  Chapman’s brother stayed with his father, but Chapman soon started an apprenticeship with a local orchardist.

The exact details of Chapman’s life from this point on are vague. Several stories say he lived in Pennsylvania for a time before he began spreading apple seeds. Contrary to the contemporary image of Johnny Appleseed, Chapman didn’t throw apple seeds about willy-nilly, he actually planted apple nurseries. Chapman would plant a nursery, build fencing to protect the nursery from livestock and then entrust neighboring farmers to watch over the young plants. He’d then return every year or two to check back in on the status of the apples. And that’s it; that is basically all we know about Johnny Appleseed. We don’t even know where he’s actually buried. Seriously, there are at least three places in Indiana that claim to be his gravesite!

So, we don’t know much about Johnny Appleseed, but we do know that his apples helped many Americans enjoy a nice alcoholic beverage. See, Chapman’s apples weren’t the most delicious. They lacked the sweetness that most folks like in an apple, so Chapman’s apples were usually turned into apple brandy and cider. So, let’s toast Appleseed’s work in spreading apples (and alcohol) across America with an Appletini. While many contemporary Appletinis are made with a sour apple schnapps, we’re going to use an older recipe featuring the apple brandy Calvados.

Appletini

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Calvados
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an apple slice and a cherry.

Tomorrow: Steve Allen starts America’s longest running comedy show.

 

September 25: America’s First Newspaper

1690_Publick_Occurrences_Sept25On this day in 1690, America’s first newspaper,  Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The paper was unusual for its time, as most newspapers at that point were one page broadsheets. Publick Occurences on the other hand was a full four pages in length!

Publisher Richard Pierce, and editor Benjamin Harris intended to make Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick a monthly (“or, if any Glut of Occurrences happen, oftener”) newspaper primarily focusing on events happening in the American colonies. Unfortunately, this first issue would also be Publick Occurences‘ last. Publick Occurences ran a report that French prisoners were being abused by Indians who were allied with British troops and perhaps unsurprisingly, the British authorities did not take too kindly to this story and ordered the paper shut down. It would be another 14 years until America’s second newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was published. Only one copy of Publick Occurences remains in existence, and it’s currently in the possession of the National Archives of the United Kingdom in London.

So, as we sit here, 324 years later, in the middle of the decline of the newspaper industry, let’s pay tribute to the dawn of American journalism with a Journalist cocktail. This recipe comes to us from the classic Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s a crisp twist on the Perfect Martini (gin with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth) with a few citrusy notes.

Journalist

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Curacao
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: “Lord, there goes Johnny Appleseed/He might pass by in the hour of need.”

September 24: Jim Henson

Jim_Henson_MuppetsHi-ho, Michael the barkeep here, and today we’re celebrating what would have been Jim Henson’s 78th birthday. Henson is best known for creating the Muppets and Sesame Street, but he began working with puppets long before he introduced the world to Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest.

Henson got his start when he was just a teenager, making puppets for a Saturday morning children’s show called The Junior Morning Show that was broadcast in the Washington D. C. Later, as a college freshman, Henson would be hired by another D. C. station to create a puppet show called Sam And Friends. The show featured five minute sketches starring a bald humanoid puppet named Sam and his friends, which included a lizard-like creature called Kermit.

From there, it was only a matter of time before Henson and his felt puppet-marionette hybrids received national attention, appearing on many different tv shows. In 1963, the Muppet Rowlf the Dog appeared on The Jimmy Dean Show and quickly became Dean’s sidekick. In 1969, the Children’s Television Workshop hired Henson to work on a new education children’s show called Sesame Street, and in 1975, Henson would create Muppet sketches for the first season of Saturday Night Live. Although the Muppets and Saturday Night Live parted ways after that first season, Henson would draw inspiration from that variety show to create The Muppet Show.

The Muppet Show united Kermit and Rowlf with a whole troupe of new Muppets as they attempted to put on their own variety show full of sketches, songs and celebrity guests. Of course, backstage antics and a pair of grumpy old hecklers would always keep the show from running smoothly. As Muppet performer Jerry Juhl once said about the Muppets, “if The Muppet Show had a basketball team, the score would always be Frog 99, Chaos 98.”

So, on the anniversary of Jim Henson’s birth, let’s raise a glass to Kermit the Frog’s ability to keep chaos in check with a Green Frog cocktail. This drink’s main ingredient is the bright green banana flavored Dutch liqueur Pisang Ambon, and combining it with lemon-lime soda creates a nice fruity cocktail.

Green Frog

  • 1 1/2 ounces Pisang Ambon
  • 3 ounces lemon-lime soda

Pour the Pisang Ambon and soda into a highball glass with ice. Add a few drops of lime juice and stir.

Tomorrow: America’s first newspaper.

September 23: Arthur Guinness?

Arthur_GuinnessToday we honor one of the great figures in alco-history, for legendary brewer Arthur Guinness was born on this day in 1725. Wait, or is his birthday tomorrow?  Hmm, Guinness says he was born on September 28th, 1725 but there’s no proof of that. Then again, his grave says he was 78 when he died in January of 1803, so that means he was born in either 1724 or one of the first few days of 1725.

However, in 2009, Guinness held a special concert festival, Arthur’s Day, on September 23rd to celebrate Guinness’ birth and the 250th anniversary of his brewery. Alright, that’s as good enough of an excuse as any to celebrate his birthday today.

Just as we don’t know his actual date of birth, we don’t know much about Arthur Guinness. He began brewing ale in 1755 in the Irish town of Leixlip, and then set up shop in Dublin in 1759. In Dublin he signed a 9000 year lease on an abandoned brewery in Dublin’s St. James’s [sic] Gate neighborhood. It was at the St. James’s Gate Brewery that Arthur Guinness developed his eponymous stout. Today, the brewery remains the world’s largest brewer of stout, and roughly 850 million liters of Guinness are sold every year.

It’s only appropriate that we mark the possible date of Arthur Guinness’ birthday with a drink made with his beer. The Black and Tan is a simple combination of a dark stout (like Guinness) and a pale ale. The name comes from the two beers’ colors. You should know, by the way, that you should never order a Black and Tan in an Irish pub. Black and Tans was a common nickname for the Englishmen of the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force who were sent to “enforce the peace” in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. It is for this reason that a Black and Tan is more acceptably known in Ireland as a Half and Half.

Black and Tan (Half and Half)

Fill a pint glass halfway with pale ale (Bass is traditionally used, but you can use Harp if you want to keep it in the Guinness beer family). Slowly pour the Guinness in to the glass so that the two beers layer.

Tomorrow: “Hi ho, Kermit the Frog here.”

September 22: 1st Vendémiaire

French Republican CalendarDuring the French Revolution, the French Republic tried to do away with nearly everything associated with the old regime. Chief amongst these changes were a new system of weights and measures and a new calendar. The first of these ideas, the metric system, was a great success; the other, the French Republican Calendar, was a failure.

When the Calendar was first announced in 1793 it was decided that the calendar’s epoch would be September 22, 1792, or according to the Calendar’s dating system, 1st Vendémiaire of the 1st Year of the Republic. So, happy French Republican New Year, everybody!

How exactly did this calendar work? The French Republican Calendar was arranged into 12 months. Each month was divided into 30 days, and those 30 days were divided into three ten-day weeks. Simple enough. However, the French didn’t want to stick with the names of the old months and instead wanted something more distinctly French! So, new months were created, all with names representative of the season they were a part of:

Vendémiaire (from vindemia, Latin for “grape harvest”), Brumaire (from brume, French for “fog”), Frimaire (from frimas, French from “frost”), Nivôse (from nivosus, Latin for “snowy”), Pluviôse (from pluvius, Latin for “rainy”), Ventôse (from ventosus, Latin for “windy”), Germinal (from germen, Latin for “germination”), Floréal (from flos, Latin for “flower”), Prairial (from prairie, French for “pasture”), Messidor (from messis, Latin from “harvest”), Thermidor (from thermon, Greek for “summer heat”), and Fructidor (from fructus, Latin for “fruit”).

Obviously, these names were ripe for parody, and a few British satirists decided to rename the months as Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety.

If you’re keeping track, you probably noticed that with 12 30-day months, the Calendar seemed to only account for 360 days. Well, an additional five days were added at the end of the year that were part of no month. They were les sans-culottides, later known as les jours complémentaires. Les jours complémentaires were a week of national holidays that celebrated the values of the Republic. The five jours complémentaires were the Celebration of  Virtue, Talent, Labor, Convictions and Honors, respectively. In Leap Years a six day, the Celebration of the Revolution, was added.

Now, you might be surprised to learn that this new dating system was never too popular. Although it was used in official documents, the Calendar never really caught on. Many people still preferred the old days and months, and in 1802 it was decided that although the Calendar’s system of 30-day months would stay, the old Sunday through Saturday names for the days of the week would return. Finally, Napoleon did away with the whole calendar on January 1, 1806. All in all, the French Republican Calendar only lasted 12 years.

So, although the French Republican Calendar hasn’t been used in over 200 years, we can still celebrate the 223rd Year of the Republic with a French Martini. What makes this drink French? Well, although it is a vodka based drink, the key ingredient to this drink is the raspberry liqueur Chambord, which was first produced in France’s Loire Valley during the late 17th century, and was a great favorite of King Louis XIV. Since the calendar was a failure, I thought it would be appropriate to sip on a cocktail which uses a liquor tied to the old regime.

French Martini

  • 1 1/2 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Chambord
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with fresh raspberries skewered on a toothpick.

Tomorrow: My Goodness, My Guinness!

September 21: Leonard Cohen

Songs of Leonard CohenPeople often point to Bob Dylan as the poet laureate of rock and roll, but for my money that title really belongs to Leonard Cohen, who was born on this day in 1934. According to several reports, Cohen is the most covered songwriter of all time, and although he does not possess a traditional “singer’s” voice, his is one of the greatest voices in popular song. Cohen’s voice is dark, deep and raspy, the kind of voice that when he sings in “The Future” that he’s “the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” you almost believe that his might in fact be the voice of God.

Cohen’s works deal with the classic themes of love, religion, sex, depression and mortality; you know the basic building blocks of the human condition. Although his subject matter is heavy, Cohen always manages to lightly pepper his songs with wit: Take for instance, his song “Famous Blue Raincoat,” which takes the form of a dispassionate letter to the man that the narrator’s wife is having an affair with. Although Cohen sings the lyrics like a threat, it also sounds as if he is fine with the affair and glad to be relieved of his wife’s troubles.

When Cohen plays the lover, sometimes he wants to “see you naked in your body and your soul” like in his song “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” or as the opening verse of “I’m Your Man” says, with just a touch of sleaze:

If you want a lover
I’ll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I’ll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I’m your man

Alternately, Cohen can sound like a prophet of doom, like in his 1986 song, “First We Take Manhattan,” in which he turns Lorenz Hart’s charming vow to “take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too” into a Cold War era threat, or his promise that “I’ve seen the future, brother: It is murder.”

Of course, most people are aware of Cohen, thanks to his 1984 song “Hallelujah,” a song which has been covered by just about everyone. Rumor has it that Cohen wrote over eighty verses to the song, but eventually narrowed it down to seven, only five of which are typically performed. Now “Hallelujah” is a beautiful, brilliant song: A complex meditation on biblical themes, loss and desire, touched with bitterness and set against a gorgeous and simple hymnal melody. What it most definitely is not, no matter what you might think otherwise, is a love song. Remember, this is a song in which Cohen writes, “Love is not a victory march/It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

In 2009, James Rodewald of Gourmet Magazine created the King Cohen as a tribute to Cohen’s 75th birthday. It’s a smokey and bitter tribute to Cohen, based on the King Cole Cocktail featured in The Savoy Cocktail Book.

King Cohen

  • 2 ounce blended Scotch
  • 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Fernet Branca

Combine with ice in a rocks glass, stir well and garnish with orange and pineapple slices.

Tomorrow: Happy French New Year! (I’ll explain.)