Friday, March 12, 2010

It was a light and stormy night

This time, a mule by any other name is... a ginger beer rundown.

For years now, my favorite cocktail has been a "Manchester," a concoction of ginger beer, light rum (I'm a big fan of Appleton's Reserve), and a generous squeeze of lime — served on the rocks. This may sound familiar, as it's a variation on the classic Bermuda cocktail, the "Dark 'n Stormy," which is made with ginger beer, dark rum (traditionally Gosling's) and a lime squeeze. They're sort of your summer and winter clothes of rum and ginger beer cocktails.

The Manchester was my introduction to ginger beer (Barritt's Bermuda Stone to be precise), which it turns out is not alcoholic, it's more like ginger ale with personality. You drink ginger ale when you're not feeling well; you drink ginger beer when you're feeling just fine.

Turns out there are a few other ginger beer based cocktails, including something called the "Moscow Mule," which is made with vodka, lime juice and a lime wedge. Me, personally, I am no big fan of vodka, so this never really hit my radar screen.

Then my sister told me recently that she is now an avid drinker of something she called a "Jalisco Mule" — ginger beer and tequila (with a little lime). Now that's a mule I could get behind. Like everything that comes out of the kitchen or from behind the bar, a drink is only as good as its ingredients.

Would you rather belly up to the bar with Robin Williams or Tim Smothers? Bundaberg and Barritt's are the Jim Carrey and Stephen Colbert of ginger beer. They're not alone, mind you, you've also got Blenheim's, Grace, Stewart's, The Ginger People, Cock 'n Bull, and a host of others I haven't tried. To help you out — because that is, after all, my job — I found some ginger beer reviews. The Cocktail Nerd reviews a goodly number in his two part post (part one and part two). Scotte's Rum does a thorough ginger ale review, and tucks a few ginger beers in for good measure.

I'll tell you what I know for sure — Bundaberg has the coolest bottle by far. Not that I'm saying you should judge a beer by its bottle. It's not like anyone has trademarked some bottle that's shaped like an hour glass or anything.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A mule by any other name... a landmark law suit.

Betcha didn't see that coming.

I was going to talk about Bundaberg and Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer, Australian and Bermudan (?) brewed respectively.

I was going to go on about the coolness factor of the form factor of the Bundaberg beer. That bottle! That cap! From there, I was going to transition smoothly into a discussion of the authenticity of Barritt's, to which I was introduced at a sadly missed Jamaican/Southern restaurant, Maroon's, in a drink they called the "Manchester" (which the rest of us would probably call a "Light and Stormy," if there were such a thing).

But instead I'm going to discuss a law suit. It's simple, really. As I was trolling about, searching for the perfect ginger beer image, not to mention the origin of the name "Moscow Mule," a cocktail of lime juice, vodka and ginger beer (if you're interested — Moscow because vodka is mostly ascribed to Russian origin and Mule for the kick of ginger beer), I stumbled onto something far more fascinating: the role of ginger beer in what seems to be considered one of the most famous common law cases in Great Britain. No kidding.

Evidently, in 1928, in a town called Paisley (and I'm pretty sure it's that paisley, but don't let me get off-track), near Glasgow in Scotland, two friends entered a cafe. Friend One ordered and paid for both of them, including an ice cream drink with ginger beer for Friend Two. The cafe owner brought their order and poured some of the soda out of its opaque bottle over ice cream in a glass and left the pair to their own devices. A few sips later, and Friend One considerately poured more soda out of the bottle for Friend Two. Lo and behold, along with the frothy liquid, out tumbled a snail. Actually, the decomposed remains of a snail.

A diagnosed case of gastroenteritis later for Friend Two (a Ms. Donoghue) and voila, law suit. Now that doesn't sound so interesting in our day and age, where we have customers suing restaurants because the coffee is hot. But, evidently, this was a landmark case for a several reasons. One, Ms. Donoghue brought suit against, not the abjectly apologetic cafe owner, but one Mssr. David Stevenson, an aerated water (I'm guessing that's soda by any other name) manufacturer in Paisley, and the source of the, ahem, enhanced ginger beer. Two, the grounds of the suit were the manufacturer's "duty of care" to the ultimate customer, the consumer of his product. Prior to this, although the concept of duty of care existed, it was closely proscribed, and this situation was far removed from precedent.

But justice, at least in this case, prevailed, and new case law was written and manufacturers everywhere (at least in the United Kingdom) became legally accountable to their ultimate customer, regardless of the layers of distribution behind which they tried to hide.

Okay, so it's no Inherit the Wind. But the next time you find something gross in your crunchy cheetos and you want to sue, you know who you have to thank for your odds of winning. The Paisley Snail. (You don't really want me to get into the earlier case, referenced by the judges, in the US — McPherson v. Buick — do you? It's not nearly as interesting as the snail.)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sweet and salty and everything nice

Priorities. Everyone is always going on about getting your priorities straight. I have my priorities straight — my number one priority is making sure I am never more than 3 feet from good dark chocolate.

I learned this direct from my fairy god-mother who also believed that your bag shouldn't weigh more than a small car (I haven't quite got that hang of that one). The chocolate thing, though, I got that. She never went anywhere without a stash of dark chocolate secreted away, usually in a ziploc bag that looked about 100 years old. Except that they didn't have ziploc bags 100 years ago. Still.

So you can usually find some portion of a dark chocolate bar floating around in my bag somewhere, usually wrapped haphazardly in its foil and paper wrapper. The ziploc thing is one step too deliberate for me. Without it, I can still discover the chocolate in my bag as an unexpected and welcome surprise. Hey! Look! I found this chocolate tucked away. How did that get here? Yum.

Recently, however, I discovered Trader Joe's mini dark chocolate covered pretzels, not to be confused, by the way, with their pretzel slims, which are $1 more for half as many. Don't ask me, I didn't price them, I just eat them.

They are the perfect chocolate craving pacifier. The chocolate is ridiculously good, not to mention that the chocolate to pretzel ratio, which is of vital importance and often woefully miscalculated, is perfect. Three of these little babies and all food yens are happily met— chocolate, snack, chewing, salt. The major food groups all in one tiny loop de loop.

Which means that I had to give in to the ziploc chocolate container methodology. When I labeled the bag (if you're going to be deliberate, you might as well go all the way, right?), I wrote "Toni's chocolate" in big letters. xo.

Monday, March 01, 2010

So right... and then so wrong

It's sad when something that starts so right goes so terribly wrong. Ted Bundy, AOL/Time Warner, the Segue, "Leverage."

I believe it's season 3 of Leverage that just ended — truthfully the second and third seasons blended together in my mind in a mix of bored-out-of-my-skull and "huh?" — I'm not really sure if it's 2, 3 or maybe even 4 that just shuddered to a halt. Which is a real shame, because the first season was great. Really. Like, can't wait for next week's episode good. Like, what will they think of next? good. And then came some major sophomore slump. Screech to a halt, slam on the brakes, make an emergency brake 180, what in blazes happened? slump-eroo.

In the spirit of cloud/silver lining, I'm going to say that Leverage Season 1 v. Leverage Seasons 2 & 3 provides great lessons in what makes for good episodic TV and what doesn't (and some other things thrown in for extra credit). Like all rules, these rules can be broken, if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, rules are rules for a reason. Like cliches.

What's the first rule? Underlying story arcs make better episodic television. Think about the first season of Veronica Mars. Think about any season of Friday Night Lights (talk about a built-in underlying story arc). Think Burn Notice. Think The Mentalist. When there aren't story arcs, there are character arcs. Bones. NCIS. And don't talk to me about Law & Order because it's a law unto itself. I did say that rules can be broken.

Are we all on the same page? To sum up: Leverage is about a motley crew (ha!) of thief, grifter, muscle, hacker and ex-insurance investigator/mastermind (Thomas Crown Affair, anyone?) that bands together for a little revenge on behalf of one of the crew and a big pay-off for all of the crew (the story arc). As they pursue the big prize, they help the little guy they encounter along the way who is being unfairly pressured or treated (the episodes).

By the season 1 finale of Leverage, revenge has been served, nicely chilled. Along comes season 2 and things get hinky. Why are they still working together? What happened to — ah, next rule. Keep your facts straight. There's nothing more annoying then plot fundamentals that change on a whim. By the end of Season 1, this crew each had raked in some 8 or 9 figure pay-day and were working out of some awesome, fully loaded space in a Chicago high-rise (one stone, two birds: 1) these guys didn't need their "clients" money and 2) they had some very cool toys). Come season 2, and our hero is living in and working out of some nice but surely not spectacular apartment over a bar in Boston and apparently no one is fabulously rich any more. Huh?

Here's what I find so sad. How easy it would have been to fix. Re the story arc, I'm no professional, but, hello? there are five main characters. Give another one of them a past, present or future they can all connive and scheme about. Seriously. How hard would that be — take the thief. Her biggest score was stolen and she needs to get it back or there will be dire consequences (How to Steal a Million, To Catch a Thief come to mind). You've got a hacker, you're telling me you can't come up with some nefarious past or future thingymabob that's got to be resolved? You know, an ex-partner genius computer geek who's now scheming to take down the world (Remember Die Hard 4? or Sneakers?)? What about the grifter, a grifter for crying out loud. One of movies' easiest characters. One of her old marks isn't hunting her down for revenge? Another grifter isn't trying to muscle in (Matchstick Men? The Grifters? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?)? As for the muscle — don't even get me started on the possibilities there.

Final verdict. Season 1 — yes. Season 2 and following — no. And that's all she wrote.