Imbibing miracle fruit

The new issue of Imbibe arrived today and one of the features is all about this blog’s second favorite fruit, the miracle berry. Bartender Lance Mayhew describes a brief history of the fruit and offers three cocktail recipes to go along with it, including one from Jeffrey Morgenthaler that intriguingly incorporates miraculin into an egg foam. It’s not online, but should be on newsstands soon.

Miracle fruit paternalism
Miracle fruit in the WSJ
Miracle fruit — I’m a believer!


If it’s Sunday…

… it’s Meet the Press. And tomorrow morning the show will be compensating for its previous omission with a one-on-one interview with Ron Paul. Should be interesting. If you’re in DC, catch it tomorrow at 10:30 am.

Update 12/23/07: That was underwhelming. Paul avoided all the major pitfalls, but he was too easily flustered. Russert’s questions were difficult but entirely predictable. Is there no one on Paul’s campaign staff who’s job it is to rehearse these things with him, preparing him to answer clearly and concisely? Rambling and bringing everything back to abolishing the Department of Education is not the road to broader appeal.


Raw milk R[evol]ution

Ron Paul supports raw milk!

Paul never outshines his message, which is unchanging: Let adults make their own choices; liberty works. For a unified theory of everything, it’s pretty simple. And Paul sincerely believes it.

Most Republicans, of course, profess to believe it too. But only Paul has introduced a bill to legalize unpasteurized milk. Give yourself five minutes and see if you can think of a more countercultural idea than that. Most people assume that the whole reason we have a government is to make sure the milk gets pasteurized. It takes some stones to argue otherwise, especially if nobody’s paying you to do it. (The raw-milk lobby basically consists of about eight goat-cheese enthusiasts in Manhattan, and possibly the Amish.) Paul is pro-choice on pasteurization entirely for reasons of principle. “I support the right of people to drink whatever they want,” he says. He mocks the idea that “only government can make sure we’re safe, so we need the government to protect us. I don’t think we’d all die of unsafe food if we didn’t have the FDA. Someone else would do it.”

I don’t see Mike Huckabee, government fat warrior, being quite so supportive of adventurous eating. From a New York Times profile:

Six weeks ago, I met Huckabee for lunch at an Olive Garden restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. (I had offered to take him anywhere he wanted and then vetoed his first choice, T.G.I. Friday’s.)

The foodie and the libertarian in me are in agreement. Ron Paul’s my guy.

[Via Hit and Run and Kids Prefer Cheese.]


Bad server! Really, really bad server!

Yeah, I know, the downtime and page load times have been awful this week. That will hopefully change soon. It turns out that the Google web crawler has been hogging resources on the site. To stop it, I’ve got to sign up with Google webmaster tools and tell it not to visit so often. This would be easier to do if my laptop AC adaptor had not also broken this weekend. Technology is conspiring against me.

I’m also now on the waiting list for DreamHost’s virtual private server option. Within a few weeks I should be transerred to it, and if all goes well I’ll be able to adjust settings to make this site load as quickly as it should.

Until then, subscribing to the RSS feed would be a good idea if you haven’t already.


Gift ideas for coffee and cocktail lovers

Stuff I’ve enjoyed this year…

PUG! Muddler — Your friend probably doesn’t need a muddler this big, but damn, it’s cool. Also good for beating down that unruly house guest who’s had a few too many mojitos.

Eva Solo brewer — Brews like a French press, but with style. This is what I use every day at my “desktop coffee shop” now that I’m in a think tank instead of working as a barista. The advantages over a traditional press are the modern design, insulating jacket, and drip-free pour spout. It’s questionable whether these marginal improvements are worth the hefty price tag, but it’s a great coffee maker.

The Joy of Mixology — The book I used to learn the basics of bartending and one I still constantly reference. A major virtue is that instead of just throwing together a list of random recipes (though there are plenty), author Gary Regan groups them into families so that, say, it’s easy to see how a margarita and a sidecar are variations on the same theme. This is a perfect resource for learning the essentials of mixing drinks.

Starbucked –The definitive history of the green giant. Author Taylor Clark pulls no punches lamenting Starbucks’ fall from serious coffee outfit to purveyor of sugary milk drinks while giving due praise to the company’s branding genius and credit for promoting American cafe culture. A fun, informative read in or out of a giant purple plush lounge chair.

Baratza Virtuoso grinder — Forget overpriced coffee makers that make a crappy brew from pods of pre-ground beans. Give a good burr grinder instead. There are others on the market, but this one has been working wonderfully for me.

The Art of the Bar — I came across the restaurant Absinthe by chance in San Francisco a few years ago and didn’t get a cocktail. Big mistake! This book, written by a couple of the restaurants’ bartenders, offers up lush photos, sound advice on crafting drinks, and intriguing recipes. Many of the drinks require obscure ingredients, but anyone who likes to explore will find this a fun book to delve into.

Counter Culture Coffee — Durham-based Counter Culture is taking over the East Coast with its wonderful single origin coffees. You can’t go wrong ordering from them, but this trio of differently processed microlots from Aida Batlle in El Salvador sounds particularly appealing.

Imbibe magazine subscription –The only magazine I read cover to cover as soon as a new issue comes in. Great cocktail recipes and informative articles related to beverages of all kinds.

Zyliss citrus zester — Having the right tools is everything. I had a channel knife and struggled to get a decent twist with it. After reading the review of this one in Imbibe, I ordered it as a replacement. What an improvement! Cutting long twists should be easy. With this knife, it is.

[Cross-posted at Smelling the Coffee.]


The morning after

Just in time for my office holiday party in half an hour and a week too late for Repeal Day, the ably-livered staff at The Morning News offer their favorite hangover cures. Matthew Baldwin truthfully advises that water and time is the only tested cure. My own favorite recovery food, a big bowl of pho, doesn’t make the list.

What’s your favorite hangover cure?

Update 12/17: Megan McArdle coincidentally posts her own remedy recipe.


Taking on Starbucks

It’s a familiar tale. Starbucks comes into a neighborhood with plans to open right next to the local coffee shop. Locals decry the new store. They sign petitions to keep it out of the neighborhood. The owner of the original shop appeals to the planning board to block the opening, all to no avail. Then, years later, the shop gives up and shutters its windows. But which shop?

Hometown favorite Broadway Cafe has been going head-to-head against multibillion-dollar next-door neighbor Starbucks in midtown for nine years.

But not for much longer.

Starbucks on Tuesday confirmed that it would close its store at 401 Westport Road in late winter. The Seattle-based chain, which has thousands of locations worldwide, hopes to place the coffee shop’s employees at other area Starbucks.

I love this story. Starbucks’ real estate genius is legendary, so it’s rare that they have to close a location. It’s nice to see local taste and talent winning out.

A comment at Starbucks Gossip reveals another interesting tidbit. Six months after the Starbucks opened, the competing Broadway Cafe changed its smoking policy to become smokefree.

Both these trends have been covered here before. I wrote about the persistent overestimation of the Starbucks evil empire last year at Smelling the Coffee and about Starbucks’ success at promoting smokefree coffee shops here.


Mormons more popular than atheists

Everyone’s standing up for Romney’s plea for tolerance of his odd religion. Unfortunately, he didn’t grant any time in his speech to include non-believers. According to Gallup, we’ve got the bigger problem. The most recent polling puts the number of Americans who’d be willing to vote for a qualified atheist for president at just 46%, a number that has plateaued over the past decade. A qualified Mormon, in contrast, would draw support from 80% of the population.

Women, racial, and religious minorities have seen a very positive trend in voter acceptance. Perhaps an electable atheist politician could boost these numbers beyond the hypothetical response rate, but it seems that despite the success of atheists writers in the media, secular society is losing ground to the evangelical impulse and traditional morality in politics.

[Hat tip: Unqualified Offerings.]

Update 12/12: See also The Economist and The NYT.

Trust me, I’m an atheist


DC cart watch: On the Fly tacos

A few months ago I wrote about how the DC government has finally lifted restrictions on new food cart licenses, opening up competition and bringing in newcomers who can do better than steamy hot dogs. The newest addition is On the Fly, a Latin cart located at 8th and H NW.

I’d been craving tacos this week, so I stopped in for one each of pork and chicken. The pork was tasty, but the chicken estofado seasoned with apples, cinnamon, chiles, and thyme was the real standout. Company chef Jordan Lichman comes from the Inn at Little Washington, so it’s no surprise that these tacos are cut above the rest. It’s really good food and a fantastic value at just $2 a piece.

Aside from taking street food to a higher level, On the Fly’s other goal is to do it sustainably. The food is served out of electric smart carts, seling local products when possible, avoiding foil, and using compostable corn bags made from corn starch instead of plastic. This has its downsides, including less insulation when you’re carrying your hot tacos down the street on a wintry day, but it’s a noble effort.

Lots more carts are on the way, including a barbecue cart serving Rocklands and an Asian cart partnered with Teaism.

Update 12/11/07: Went back today for more great tacos and saw that they’re still tinkering with the packaging, coming up with better ways to insulate the food. Still delicious!

Thanks for the shawarma tip, anon, I’ll check it out. Why so anonymous? The love between a man and halal meats is nothing to be ashamed of.


The death of the French hookah bar?

I knew France’s upcoming smoking ban was strict, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. Most bans include some kind of exemption for places that cater specifically to smokers, often by allowing smoking in businesses that get a certain percentage of their revenue from tobacco sales. France instead has a bizarre square footage requirement:

In a few weeks’ time, however, places such as L’Elies will have no choice but to follow the rules: provide a completely closed off and ventilated space for smokers only, which must not cover more than a fifth of the establishment’s total area, or become non-smoking.

It seems an impossible requirement for most shisha bars, visited by people intent on smoking, but come the New Year other places will face the same dilemma. The bar-tabacs, of which France has at least 27,000, are also having to adapt.

Most ban proponents concede that segregating smokers into their own dedicated businesses is a good thing, so requiring instead that tobacco-oriented businesses limit a smoking area to just one-fifth of their space is a nutty regulation. It will also be terribly destructive for business owners, thousands of whom recently protested in the streets of Paris, and destroy a rich tradition of social gathering.


Seamus, that’s the dog, was outside

Ron Paul says that Mitt Romney’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in the race. How about the way the guy treats his dog? Socks and Barney cartoonist Steve says:

Romney didn’t really tie his dog to the roof of his car for a twelve-hour road trip only stopping to check on the pooch when his kids noticed poop streaming down the back of the car?!?!

Ummm. Yes. He did! And spinning that crazy, gross and damned disturbing story like it was on a lathe, his campaign claims it’s a sign of Mitt’s strong character.

The dog was in a carrier with and something to break the wind, but still… and why the hell would the campaign choose that incident to lead a story about what a great family man he is?


Repeal Day link fest

Repeal Day is hitting it big on the internet this year. Here’s a collection of links:

First up, I’ve been remiss in not yet linking to Dewar’s promotional site. It’s pretty awesome.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is celebrating in NYC courtesy of Dewar’s. Well done!

My colleague Brandon Arnold is in the Baltimore Examiner with a piece about the regulatory burdens that still afflict alcohol markets and appears in the Cato Daily Podcast “Free to Booze.”

At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux offers a public choice perspective on why Prohibition was repealed.

My own Repeal Day manifesto makes the case for celebration.

Paul at Cocktail Chronicles explains how Carrie Nation is responsible for the alco-pop.

Pint Pundit Pearson offers up some links.

With impeccable timing, The New York Times examines the regulatory hurdles to getting new absinthe approved.

At Hit & Run, Katherine Mangu-Ward considers a world without repeal.

Update 12/5/07: How could I forget to mention our own Repeal Day party? 6:30 tonight at Ragtime in Arlington. Details here, all are welcome.

David Harsanyi writes about the return of Prohibition in Reason.

At A Dash of Bitters (makes everything better!), Michael Dietsch asks us to take a look at groups who seek to stigmatize social drinking.

DCist recommends a few places to drink in DC.


Raise a glass on Repeal Day

December 5th is here at last — Repeal Day, the 74th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment and the end of the United States’ failed experiment with alcohol Prohibition.

Repeal Day has languished in obscurity since its celebrated first occurrence, but a movement is afoot among the nation’s bartenders and liquor promoters to turn it into a grand annual celebration. As Oregon bartender and the day’s prime advocate Jeffrey Morgenthaler has noted, it makes an ideal drinking holiday. It falls conveniently between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are no costumes to buy, and you don’t have to be Irish. It’s open to everyone who enjoys freedom and good drink and celebrating is as simple as heading to a bar or popping open a beer at home.

There’s yet another reason to celebrate Repeal Day: though we are now mostly free to imbibe, the spirit of the Anti-Saloon League lives on in the continued growth of the nanny state. Just as the teetotalers of the previous century held governments in thrall, so today do various do-gooders persuade city councils and state legislators to interfere with our chosen indulgences. In cities and states across the country, we can longer enjoy tobacco with our drinks. Outdoor bans are increasingly common and some city councils extend their noses even into our own apartments and balconies. Cigars, in the few places where they can still be savored, had better not be Cuban. New York has famously forbidden foods cooked with trans-fats; Chicago, foie gras. Cheese lovers lament the restrictions on young raw milk cheeses, readily available in Europe but blocked domestically by risk-averse regulators who wouldn’t know Camembert from Kraft.

Where products aren’t explicitly banned, “sin taxes” abound to punish the pleasure-seeking. Cigarettes remain the favorite target. Though already taxed beyond reasonable calculations of the externalities they impose, few can resist the double lure of punishing smokers and raising revenue for the state. Congress remains poised to strike once again with proposals to expand SCHIP, aiming to force smokers alone to bear the costs of children’s health coverage. Taxes on unhealthy foods have so far failed to achieve such popularity, but the “Twinkie tax” remains a favorite of the public health lobby.

Then there’s the legislative legacy of Prohibition itself. Though the 21st Amendment ended the national ban on alcohol consumption, the regulatory power it left to states remains an impediment to truly free markets. The ubiquitous three-tier system of wholesalers, distributors, and retailers has spawned a bevy of laws that benefit middlemen at the expense of consumers. Outdated constraints on direct sales increase the costs of alcohol, while bans on direct shipping often make it impossible to order boutique spirits, wines, and beers. Even as the internet has granted consumers access to the abundant long tail of countless goods, drink lovers remain trapped in a 1930s model of distribution.

Finally, we must acknowledge our contemporary struggle with prohibition: the cruel and costly War on Drugs. As Prohibition did in the 1920s, the Drug War has led to a boom in organized crime, corruption of the police, and violations of our civil liberties. Federalism has been trampled in the fight against medical marijuana, doctors face prosecution for prescribing painkillers to their patients, and ordinary adults are forced to show their ID just to buy cold medicine. Most distressingly, the United States now claims the highest prison population rate in the world, with more than 300,000 people incarcerated for drug offenses.

The ratification process of the 21st Amendment holds a notable lesson for today. All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. Fearing that rural lawmakers would be reluctant to bear the ire of the temperance movement, Congress sent this one directly to the people to ratify in specially assembled state conventions. Given the similarly powerful hold various busybodies have over contemporary governments, defeating the modern nanny state will depend on individuals taking a consistent stand against those who would tell them what they can and cannot consume.

So on this Repeal Day, raise a glass to freedom regained and to freedoms still to fight for. Cheers to the 21st Amendment!


The most decadent night of my life

I’ve just returned from Texas de Brazil, a churrascaria in Fairfax. You know the kind of place: giant salad bar, lots of cheese, potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms, and, of course, endless rounds of delicious meat carried to the table by skewer-bearing gauchos. A night at this kind of restaurant is decadent on any occasion, but tonight was especially so. Hosted by John B. Hayes Tobacco and Ashton Cigars, this evening was about more than just tasty meat. Three hand-made cigars, a caipirinha, two glasses of wine, and key lime pie were all part of the package. I’d never matched cigars with food before, but the pairings went together wonderfully. Does life get any better? Not much. And definitely not a few miles to the east in Washington, where such a gathering would have been forbidden by law.

It’s nights like this that really stoke my dislike for people who are so intolerant of smokers that they would legally ban such gatherings from occurring. I’m not just complaining about losing the right to consume seared steak paired with a maduro cigar. I’m talking about the company. Aside from being decidedly male, we had a diverse, interesting group assembled. Across the table from me was a real, honest-to-Mao communist. Two seats to my left, an old school conservative Republican running for Congress. Most places we wouldn’t get along. But brought together by our love of fermented leaf products, we hit things off fine and enjoyed three hours of decadent food and lively debate. Sure, this kind of thing can also happen over coffee or beers, but it’s not quite the same. Coffee can be abandoned, a drink can be guzzled, but there’s nothing like committing to a cigar until it burns down to a stub. It’s a way of surrendering to nature, a time to sit back, lower your guard, and let the experience wash over you.

Tonight’s event is not what I’d recommend as a regular diet. Not long ago I would have thought being stuck in a room with cigar smokers a disgusting experience. If I ate and smoked like this all the time I’d be a wheezing fat man unable to make the bike ride from my apartment to the coffee shop. Yet over the past two years I’ve overcome my bias. I’ve been rewarded with an appreciation for tobacco and, even more importantly, friendships deepened over long hours with our cheroots of choice. I’m grateful to have attended tonight’s dinner while I can, before Virginia joins the trend of banning such activity in all establishments.

I sympathize with those of you who wish fewer bars and restaurants allowed smoking. I don’t like to be around smoke all the time either. Tax such places if you must. Make them install air filters. But don’t ban them. The dinner we had tonight is not for everyone and not for all the time, but damn it, it shouldn’t be illegal.


Contemporary Prohibition

Rolling Stone has your long pre-Repeal Day reading about how the Drug War has failed:

All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs – with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes – a twelvefold increase since 1980 – with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana – and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible. In the course of fighting this war, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of ­human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now ­repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes.

The cruel War on Drugs has lasted years longer and wreaked more havoc abroad than Prohibition ever did. A second Repeal Day, unfortunately, seems a long time coming.

[Hat tip: Radley Balko.]