Month: April 2004

Five Daisies for the Fifth of May 

Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May for all you Yankees) is a day that many language-impaired gringos think is Mexican Independence Day. It is nothing of the sort. It celebrates the Mexican army defeat of the French army while outnumbered two-to-one, 100 miles east of Mexico City on May 5, 1862. A real holiday celebrating a victory deserves the truth about its national cocktail. Here are five great tales of the origin of the Margarita. All of them are true.

1. Margaret Sames of San Antonio, Texas (or maybe it was Dallas, the stories differ) was entertaining during Christmas in 1962 (or perhaps it was 1948) at their seaside (or cliffside, but could be poolside) villa in Acapulco and invented a drink for her socialite friends. She took a little Cointreau (a sweet French liquor), some Tequila, lime juice and added a salt rim to a Champagne glass. Her gringo friends loved the drink and within a few weeks, the drink was named by her husband, Bill—Margarita.

2. Between Tijuana and Rosarita Beach in 1930 there was a restaurant and hotel named Rancho La Gloria run by a man named Carlos ‘Danny’ Herrera and his wife. A young movie starlet named Marjorie King for some reason could stomach no alcohol except for tequila. He invented a sweet cocktail that used tequila and named it after the Spanish version of her name.

3. A bartender in Virginia City named the drink—made of 1.5 ounces of Tequila, .5 oz. of Cointreau, the juice of one lime shaken and strained over ice in a glass rimmed with Kosher salt—for his girlfriend who died in his arms after getting in the way of a bullet during a shooting.

4. A woman entered a bar in Juarez, Mexico one day in 1942. She ordered a Magnolia and Pancho Morales, the bartender, could not remember any ingredient in the cocktail except Cointreau. So he faked it and mixed in some other stuff. It was so well liked he named his new concoction the Spanish word for daisy.

5. The Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana boasts claims to the birthplace of the Margarita in 1930. They are sure of it and they’re probably right.

BIKE COMMUTING 

What is being done to make it better?

Folks over at the Ada County Highway District were surprised when they added up costs and determined that they were spending $1.6 to $1.7 million a year on making biking on county roads easier. ACHD spokesperson Craig Quintana said beginning in the late 90s changes were made to road design including bike pathways, designated bike lanes and wider safety shoulders. In 1996 there were 57 miles of bikeways in Ada County. By October 2003 that number had doubled. ACHD’s five-year work program shows that over the next five years at least 20 more bike lane miles are in the works.

“When we make bikeways and lanes on streets we don’t just paint a stripe,” said Quintana. “We actually widen and redesign the street to make it safer for bicyclists.”

A new ACHD Bicycle Advisory Committee created earlier this year made up of community bicyclists and chaired by ACHD’s Assistant Traffic Engineer John Wasson hopes to develop public input regarding planning of additional bike lanes. They will be looking at gaps in Ada County’s BikeWay path system and trying to link bike paths for more continuous routes.

“It doesn’t make sense to add a bike lane to Fairview Avenue, it’s already congested with a high volume of automobiles,” said Wasson. “We look for parallel alternatives and focus on those.”

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) is working to increase alternative means of transportation too. “We have a goal of 25 percent of all transportation using alternative means including buses, bikes and pedestrian,” said Patricia Nilsson, COMPASS principal transportation planner. “It’s always been part of the long-range plans,” she said.

Mark McNeese, senior transportation planner and bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department is primarily concerned with state highways and interstate highways. Idaho is one of the few states that allow bicyclists on interstates. McNeese said that he gets about 300 requests a year from bicyclists hoping to travel through the state and he thinks that represents just a “tip of the iceberg.”

“More and more there are local highway jurisdictions,” McNeese said. “Local jurisdictions are getting more sidewalks built and more shoulders which is good for cyclists. I’ve fought this battle hard for 10 years and things are changing in the state as far as advocacy goes.”

Coeur d’Alene recently approved a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee and Sandpoint recently appointed a pedestrian traffic committee. A statewide cycling advocacy group, the Gem State Bicycling Alliance, was formed to look at issues affecting the state overall and helping locally based advocacy groups.

“One thing about cyclists is that when a local transportation district wants information about cycling they don’t come forward. But a local cycling advocacy group inspires and involves the cyclists in a community,” said McNeese. “Advocacy helps. When you see more people out cycling to work or for pleasure it shows people that they can do it.”

A local bike advocacy group created last fall and incorporated as a nonprofit in January is hard at work. Ryan Henbest, one of the founders of the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance advocacy group, said the group was founded to improve and secure better bike pathways, advocate bike commuting and educate the public about road use. He said they reach out through events like the Bike Swap, Earth Day and at events during National Bike Week. Several group members are also part of other committees and groups such as the ACHD Bicycle Advisory Committee.

It’s not hard to bike to work. According to the Boise Bike Week Web site (www.boisebikeweek.com) and common sense there are great reasons for it. It’s good exercise. It’s cheap. It’s good for the environment and the community. While it’s a good thing, people still find objections.

“It’s dangerous” is a common excuse. With a helmet and proper planning, routes can be found to avoid traffic. “It takes too long” is another common excuse. Some cyclist find that their commute takes even less time on a bike, but even if it takes longer, consider it part of your daily workout. If your commute is really long, consider a hybrid commute using Commuteride, which allows you to put your bike on the front of the bus.

Other excuses such as not owning a bike or that your clothes will be wrinkled when you get to work are simply that—excuses. Many local companies, city, state and federal employers offer incentives such as gift certificates and bus fares for commuters. Check to see if your employer offers incentive programs for you to bike to work. Commuteride will even conduct a free survey of your company’s commuting needs and provide options for employees. With the savings from gas, gym fees and the knowledge that you are doing your part in reduction of traffic and its associated ills such as pollution and congestion you will be happier. We promise.

THE JOY OF THE JULEP 

“They say that you may always know the grave of a Virginian as, from the quantity of julep he has drunk, mint invariably springs up where he has been buried.”

—Frederick Marryat, 1839

The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1 is perhaps the most famous horse race in modern times. This year marks the 130th running of the race but it is also famous for its mascot—the mint julep. During the build up to Saturday’s race, 80,000 mint juleps will be served, requiring 150 bushels of mint and 60 tons of crushed ice. The julep is perhaps the oldest American cocktail known, having originated in Virginia or Maryland in the late 1700s; only then, it was made with rum, whiskey or whatever alcohol was available. The julep then migrated west and found a home in Kentucky where legend has it mint was planted around the clubhouse to have available for the first race.

While you can buy pre-made julep mixes, that is cheating and dishonorable. This is a complicated drink to make properly; many who have experienced poorly concocted juleps wonder what the fuss is all about.

The making of a mint julep is truly ceremonial and requires specialized equipment. While any Yankee can make one using a tumbler, glass, or shaker, to properly make one you need a silver cup. In this silver cup are placed two cubes of sugar, several sprigs of mint and a splash of fresh water or, better yet, bourbon. It is important to crush and bruise the mint inside the cup with a wooden muddler. The sugar cubes assist in this endeavor and whence the sugar and mint are comfortably loose and syrupy, you add crushed ice and the most important ingredient—bourbon. It is critical that the ice is crushed and not cubed. You can make crushed ice by putting cubed ice in a plastic bag, covering it with a kitchen towel and giving it a few good whacks with a frying pan.

According to General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s instructions for making the perfect mint julep, the final touch before adding the mint sprig garnish is thus:

“Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.”

Tsuru 

It seems to me that ninety nine percent of visits to a Japanese restaurant in America are for sushi. What elevates a place beyond a mere sushi joint to a great restaurant is the quality of the otherJapanese dishes on the menu. For the record, I am a fan of sushi. I can put it away like a shark on a feeding frenzy. I’ve been known to consume twice as much raw fish—on little rice balls, hand rolls, inside out rolls, sashimi and strange little concoctions made by expert hands behind the bar—than anyone else at the table. I never tire of it. Usually for me it’s a tiny affair, one or two people sitting at the sushi bar, but this time I went with “the crew”—a collection of four famished (albeit hungover) adults and three spawn.

Tsuru sits in an unlikely locale in what formerly could be called Boise’s red light district. When we arrived at six o’clock, the parking lot was almost empty. For better or worse, the restaurant was ours and we selected a pair of tables, one booth for the adults and a nearby, sequestered table for the hellspawn. The booth was cozy, like a tight T-shirt one size too small; as we expanded from the food, it became a little claustrophobic.

We started with what we always start with at a Japanese restaurant—a large hot sake and a bottle of Kirin Ichiban. I offered to play sake bombs but my hungover crew was having a hard time with the sake as it was, so I let that weapon of mass destruction evaporate. For the spawn, we ordered an assortment of things we knew that they liked—tamago (egg) sushi, edamame (blanched soybeans), age (fried aged tofu) and chicken katsu, a fried chicken cutlet served with rice and an incredible sauce.

We adults went for the whole enchilada, if you’ll pardon the mixed-cuisine cliché. As we went around the table we told Shizuko, our waitress, what we each individually wanted, knowing we’d share with the rest. We kept adding to the order and noted that she wasn’t writing anything down. We’d seen disasters result from this before. If she didn’t remember everything we were screwed, but if she did, we’d be mightily impressed.

Our sushi order consisted of a standard assortment of hamachi (yellowtail) sashimi, ika (squid) sushi, ahi (tuna) sushi, a spider roll (softshell crab), a rainbow roll (yellowtail, egg, tuna, crab and salmon), a dynamite roll (spicy tuna) and tobiko (flying fish roe). But we also ordered an assortment of other dishes. My accountant was impressed with the variety of dishes not normally seen so we had to try them. We ordered Yakisoba (a noodle dish), gyoza (steamed dumplings), a tempura assortment, BBQ squid and almost as an afterthought, a B-52 (baked scallops in mayonnaise, green onions and a spicy sauce).

As each item came out, our table became more crowded. It was a race to finish one dish to clear enough space for the next one. We managed because everything tasted so good. We went through our checklist of items we’d ordered; Shizuko wasn’t missing a single thing. As we got to the end of the meal our B-52 hadn’t arrived yet. We were impressed with her memory so far, but the true test would be 100 percent accuracy. With the last pour from our large bottle of beer and the last drop of sake drained from the vessel, she showed up with the B-52. Great Japanese restaurants in Boise can be found beyond downtown.

—Bingo Barnes squeals for eel.

Worms for Girls

For most of my youth I was a boy’s boy. I waded through creeks, caught snake and crawdads with my bare hands, killed things with BB guns, you know the drill. Down in Texas we had these lizards called horned toads. Encrusted with sharp spikes, if you pissed them off they’d shoot blood out of their eyes toward your face. They provided no end in entertainment for us. Unfortunately, now they are endangered because of pesticides and loss of habitat.

We live in the North End, a stone’s throw away from an undeveloped space between two ridges with houses sprouting from their tops. Within this ravine is a fox den. We see the fox at night sometimes right outside our window—a favorite spot for it to screech at the moon. While it wakes us up, I’d rather have that than sirens.

The other day the boy-spawn came home with fear in his eyes. He was playing up in the hills with a schoolmate and said for the rest of the afternoon he was going to play around the house. Further questioning revealed that the fox, somewhat brave by cohabitating around homes, was walking toward them and the boys were afraid they’d be eaten. What a novel idea. You’ve got to give them credit for their imagination. Fear like that continues the species.

The only thing that scared me as a kid was cottonmouths and copperheads we’d sometimes find in the creeks. Even then, we’d still try to catch them. I’m surprised I was never bitten.

I wonder when my own spawn are adults what will be left for them? What fun wild animals will be around for their kids to interact with? Maybe it will only be earthworms.

Fishing and Green Thumbs

I allocated a little “me” time this weekend and went fishing over on the Owyhee River. My friends accompanying me are all expert fishermen and I felt inferior, but attempted to put up a good front like I knew what I was doing anyway. My “old school” fly rod and reel generated taunts from my fellow flyrodders, as if I had pulled out a musket rifle to go deer hunting.

Most of the fish were caught and dealt with easily by the long-distance-release method except for one forearm-length brown trout. I didn’t get a single bite but one of our fishing crew said he’s sure you get far more nibbles than you actually realize when fishing nymphs along the bottom. I’d like to believe that. I did break the tip off my rod and gouge a hole in my waders, soaking my leg from the thigh down. All in all I’d say it was a successful fishing trip.

In the next few weeks we’ll be organizing and preparing our summertime fishing column. If you have a “fish tale” to talk about, fishing tips or just good old folklore regarding Idaho fishing, then I’d like to know about it. I’ll be personally overseeing the column as an excuse to get out and fish a little. “No, really honey, I have to go work,” as I sneak out the door with my fly rod. E-mail me atbingo@boiseweekly.com with your fish tales.

In another work-related endeavor, I have been getting dirty in the yard digging the beds and preparing them for the last snow on the mountain, when local folklore says I should plant my tomatoes. My bamboo is growing nicely and at this stage on the back hill it’s hard to tell what is a wildflower or weed so I just let them all grow together. I’ve pre-empted the spawn this year with a lecture regarding the difference between golf balls and tulip or iris flowers so I’m hoping to have a beautiful display. Our Green Listings (on page 42) is also expanded for the season so you’ll want to make sure you hit all the plant sales and workshops. If you have a gardening tip or news item e-mail bingo@boiseweekly.com.

Harry’s Of Hyde Park 

A Saturday night in Hyde Park can be a scene from a creepy movie. Every city, it seems, has a Hyde Park and there’s always a rapist forever known in the city’s history as the “Hyde Park Rapist” or the “Hyde Park Killer” or the “Hyde Park Creepy Guy.” I’ve never heard of the former two in Boise but I’ve had discussions about potential nominees for the last. Just off the busy street, in any direction, you find dark alleys and strange houses with imaginary ghosts peeking past the curtains—prime prowling grounds for a creepy lurker. I had been working in the yard all day and was dehydrated and slightly psychotic from the fertilizer and chemicals I had used. Plus there was a full moon, sneaking peeks from behind low clouds.

Pushing 9 p.m. on the dimly lit 13th Street (another creepy coincidence) you have pockets of activity—beer guzzlers at Lucky 13, protected patrons hiding inside Little Richards, a smattering of yung ‘uns at Goodies and a busy, packed house at Harry’s—our destination.

We secured prime patio places on this Final Four weekend. Inside were the basketball fans, drinking beer and cheering. Our large party commandeered three tables. One for the fearsome four hellspawn of varying genetic strands and two tables for the four females and myself.

Stress can add up in a waitress’ evening—culminating in a dropped and shattered glass of beer. Four hellspawn (so wound up from hours-old candy procured from Hollywood Market you’d think their heads would shake back and forth and fire erupt from their asses) can sour this same stressed waitperson’s mood. We were compassionate. She was moving as fast as she could, pleasing everyone. We, being of the club that put in our dues waiting tables when younger, were sympathetic.

We were there for beer and burgers, fried things and finger treats and for dessert, another beer. Texas Toothpicks, fried onions and jalapeno strips cooled in a small cup of ranch dressing helped the first glass from the pitcher of beer go down. Jalapenos come in a variety of strengths—unleaded, premium and ultra-premium. While we wanted the sweat-on-your-scalp, lip-stinging variety we got unleaded, still tasty as a treat on a sweet Saturday evening.

The typical hot dog and chicken strip kid items were split between the boys and the girls; when the food arrived, it shut them up while they stuffed their cake-holes with food. But the silence was short-lived. At some point, muffled high-octave voices began escaping from behind wads of French fries stuffed in their cheeks.

Then, our order arrived—a variety of sandwiches, burgers and specialties. An onion-allergic female from our four freaked on the onions, but with speed and courtesy the waitress fixed the food faux pas. A Philly steak across the table caught my eye and I found a taste of it to be tantalizing. (Note to self: Next time get the Philly when I’m with my filly.) My Elwood, a Mexican-themed, jalapeno-infused grilled chicken sandwich was warm, filled with flavor and good. Baskets, nay nests, of fries accompanied every order and fulfilled our oral fetish long past the gobbling up of the buns.

Dogs filtered through the porch, some with their owners, some not. The spawn attempted to sneak a snack to the pooches on the porch but the iron fist of control from the one man at the table (me) suppressed the riots before they became an uncontrollable mob.

When we finished, we escaped into the night, past the staring eyes of the Hyde Park Creepy Guy.

—Bingo Barnes has been known to adorn his toes with onion rings.