Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Which I Learn A Lot About Armenia But Relay Little

Things might appear abandoned round these parts, but fear not, while Hephaestus may be a spotty chronicler, the forge fires still burn bright. Why, you might wonder, in the face of utter indifference, continue to struggle onward? "What is it that confers the noblest delight? What is that which swells a man's breast with pride above that which any other experience can bring to him? Discovery! [...] To give birth to an idea - to discover a great thought - an intellectual nugget, right under the dust of a field that many a brain-plow had gone over before."

Sometimes, to some people, that nugget is a drink. Like all triumphs, this was born out of great suffering - namely, Margarett cooking from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem" cookbook.

While some households accumulate dust on the flat surfaces of their home, ours accumulates cookbooks. And also dust. And liquor bottles. And cat hair. The dust and cat hair are hard to divine any significance from, but the cookbooks are the tea leaves by which I read the upcoming week's meals. Some sightings, like a bookmarked page in Tadashi Ono's "Japanese Soul Cooking", can lift the heart as much as any rare bird. "The Joy Of Cooking" is as constant a presence as gravity, and doesn't provide many clues since it includes seemingly every existent and non-existent (Woodcock In Cream Sauce) human food. Others are a portent of grim times and empty bellies ahead; perhaps a vegetarian cook book left open on the bowel shredding, indigestible Sunchoke, or a dog-eared recipe for 'lentils' with a handwritten note to "Feed Andy More Punishment Food". When Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" makes an appearance on the bedside table, I know I'll need to tighten my belt another notch and starting hunting for fast-food coupons. I've come to suspect that an Ottolenghi cookbook is a mandatory inclusion in the Yuppie Gourmet Starter Kit, along with your maldon salt and 'eco-friendly' bamboo cutting board.

The bit about great suffering was actually a rare moment of hyperbole. The 'Chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom rice' was perfectly fine and choked down without issue. (Ed note - To be fair, I just flipped through "Jerusalem" and some of it looked tasty. I can't seem to find any of the pathetic grain salads Margarett served in lieu of actual dinner. Maybe I should complain less. Well, rather than try to revise the previous paragraph to fit my now altered world view, I will press on to the cocktail section.) The recipe also yielded roughly two drinks worth of barberry flavored simple syrup. Barberries are quite tart, with a somewhat similar flavor to currants. Arak (a broad array of middle eastern anise spirit) would have been a more thematic choice for liquor, but my robustly American sense of geography is poor enough to think that Armenia is pretty close. Churchill is apocryphally quoted to have said that the keys to longevity are "Cuban cigars, Armenian brandy and no sport!" something that rings quite true to my ears. It was difficult to find more information on this particular bottle, as I'm not sure how hard you have to hit the keyboard to produce that letter in the middle. AP [something foreign] AX yielded few google results. To finish, a sliver of salt-cured preserved lemon which adds a quite nice something or other to the proceedings.
This was a hit.
Purely Decorative Tajine
1.5 oz Armenian Brandy
3/4 oz Barberry Simple Syrup
Juice Of Half A Lemon
2 thin strips of Preserved (salted) Lemon Peel

Mix all ingredients except lemon peel in a shake with ice, and make a cocktail out of them. Then, once you have the cocktail, garnish it in a nice way with the preserved lemon. Maybe rub a bit on the lip of the glass, unless you have bloody lips for some reason, in which case you would find their salty acidity quite painful.

Barberry Syrup was made by simmering an ounce of barberries in a 1:1 simple syrup for ~15 min, and then straining once cooled.