Month: May 2004

Variations on a Theme 

To the chagrin of purists the Martini has become a category of drinks

If you look at the evolutionary family tree of apes there are many branches and divergences resulting in a variety of primates, including humans. Some are extinct, such as the Neanderthal, while some are rapidly approaching extermination, like the orangutan. As the Martini evolved along its evolutionary tree, an entire branch broke off from the trunk and became the contemporary Martini. The differences were subtle at first—change the garnish, play with proportions of flavorings, but today what is called a Martini may stretch across all four flavor centers on the tongue.

I have given much thought over many a long-stemmed chalice regarding the edible garnish vs. the nonedible garnish—lemon twist vs. olives. What purpose does a garnish serve? Is it to flavor? Is it for looks? Is it to eat? These thoughts cross my mind as I nibble on my olive. Should you eat the coffee beans in your Sambuca? Should you chew up the cranberries in a properly made Cosmopolitan? It’s something to think about.

“The man who first put the olive in the Martini should be shot.”

— Esquire, 1934

For years, garnishes in Martinis had always varied between the olive and the lemon twist. For years, this was a happy disagreement among Martini purists, that they could agree to disagree with. So it is no wonder that one of the first major evolutionary changes that occurred in the Martini with the garnish—and the biggest lasting change—was the Gibson. Last week a local attorney sent me an anecdote regarding the Gibson and, coming from a lawyer, I naturally assumed he had experience drinking martinis. The creation legend goes like this. A state department officer in the 1920s named Gibson (of course) found he had a low tolerance for alcohol so he devised a plan when he was out socially to have the bartender make his drink with water, not gin. To differentiate the drink from others when serving, the bartenders put in a cocktail onion instead of an olive. His friends, astonished that Gibson’s tolerance to alcohol had miraculously increased, attributed his newfound stamina to the magical qualities of the onion. Hence the Gibson was invented.

As with other cocktails, there is not just one creation myth. There are other stories about the Gibson. Purists know that Gibsons should be served with two cocktail onions. This is because twin sisters in Chicago hated olives but loved Martinis. When they went out on the town they would ask bartenders to substitute cocktail onions for the olives. The twins’ last name? Gibson, of course. The most likely story, according to Barnaby Conrad III in his all-encompasing tome The Martini, is of the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s request to the bartender at The Players, a New York club, for a “better Martini.” The bartender, Charley Connolly, substituted a cocktail onion for an olive and presto.

Further evolutionary changes came mostly as a result of marketing and Martini competitions. A black olive substituted for a green olive has been called a Midnight Martini or Buckeye Martini among other things. Seagram’s suggested a drop of Sake for an oriental themed Martini in the 1970s. Restaurants such as Morton’s in Chicago put forth a Martini-only menu with drinks divided into the classics, the contemporaries and the new contemporaries, further dividing the newer martini concoctions from the older evolutionary descendents. Marketing of flavored vodkas and ever-improved distilling techniques such as “distilled five times” or “filtered through quartz crystals, not charcoal” are common ways to entice drinkers to order not just a Martini, but a Stoli Martini, Absolute Martini, Sapphire Martini or any of the new boutique spirits. Dessert martinis, aperitif martinis, sweet, sour, bitter—today anything served in a martini glass is labeled as a Martini on bar menus worldwide. Salut.

The Martini Mix-Off

Last year’s big winner at the May Martini Classic for food and martinis was The Red Feather Lounge. Dave Krick went over the top with not only the lounge, but with Bittercreek Ale House as well. This year, only The Red Feather Lounge entered the Martini Mix-Off and I’m relieved. Too much of a good thing can be tough. It will be difficult enough to see through the glitz and glamour Krick will throw at the judges. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, bartender Kevin Farney will be serving the Lounge Martini, the Kiss Immure and the Erotique Serenade. The martini appetizer is a terrine of foie gras and duck confit. Expect wonderful sights and sounds with an over-the-top production.

At 8 p.m. we move to Angell’s Bar & Grill, a classic downtown bar. Bartender B.J. will serve the Pilgrim Classic, the Hell Cat and the Absolut Dream along with Angell’s spring rolls. We love Angell’s big plush seats and cozy comfortable atmosphere. It’s sure to be a nice calm relief from the previous bar.

At 9 p.m. the limo takes us around the block to LIPS (formerly Bartime), the newest incarnation in the Idanha Hotel. Bartender Dustin Taylor will serve The Silver Bullit, the Candy Apple and Sex at Sunset, coincidentally just in time for sunset through the big windows. Served up for snacking is their Shrimp Juliano.

Martini Mix-Off tickets are available at any participating restaurant and entitle you to one martini of your choice at all 12 bars and restaurants. Not only that, it gets you into the gala event on June 4 and a commemorative glass. Go to each restaurant or bar by yourself or join the judges this Thursday night. It’s all for a good cause too—proceeds go toward the Gene Harris Endowment scholarship fund. There’s fun to be had by all.

Lawn Darts of Days Gone By 

As a kid we’d throw the lawn darts up in the air to see how high they could go. Screw trying to hit the little hoop on the lawn 20 feet away, we went for altitude. Unfortunately, dexterity challenged children had the same idea and, despite debates promoting evolutionary survival of the fittest, a drive to ban lawn darts as a wholesome summertime yard game became effective December 19, 1988. Yes folks, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned lawn darts after three child deaths and 6,700 emergency room visits of children during the previous decade (1978-1988). Lawn darts and its various other commercial incarnations (Jarts, outdoor darts, yard darts and paddock darts to name a few) are not only illegal to manufacture but also to sell. This means you are breaking the law if you sell them at the annual Hyde Park Street garage sale. They are on eBay’s list of banned items which also includes handguns, organs and souls. But that’s not stopping the folks that run jarts.com. This year they host their 13th annual Jarts tournament despite pressure by the government to destroy all of their darts. Ah, the fond memories of playing shish-ka-cat with our lawn darts as kids. We always missed.

Nude Tips 

On the Greek island of Ios I spent two weeks in the summer of 1988 living on a nude beach. I slept on the beach, ate on the beach, drank Tequila slammers on the beach and despite best efforts, didn’t get lucky on the beach. But I did get a good all-over tan. I have a few life lessons learned about being nude, or almost nude, 24-7. If you are considering exploring nature au naturel then I recommend the following:

• Parts of your body have never seen the sun. Protect them.

• Applying sunscreen to parts where the sun doesn’t normally shine should be done discretely. For men, it could excite Mr. Johnson. For women, it could excite Mr. Johnson and his nearby neighbors.

• If near water, use it. It’s not only a great way to cool off while people are applying sunscreen on the beach, but a great way to wash sand from the aforementioned parts.

• Always carry a personal absorption device like a towel.

• A towel used to cover your parts will not cover your parts when squatting down in front of someone to talk to them.

• After a couple of days on the beach, parts are parts.

• Don’t bring a camera unless you want pictures of mad looking people.

• Don’t snorkel nude, especially if you are a man and especially if there are sea urchins.

• Sea urchins have a little tiny barb on the end of their spines.

• Avoid vinyl, plastic and leather on a hot day.

• Avoid bottle rockets and other fireworks.

• All hair on the body will burn equally well.

• Inspect abandoned metal objects before attempting to use them to open a beer bottle.

• Wasps nest hide in abandoned metal objects.

• A wasp sting between your eyes will blind you temporarily.

• It is scary being blind and naked with wasps flying around.

• Water encountered at high velocity will seek out places you never thought you had on your body.

• Skin lubricated with sunscreen or suntanning oil is not frictionless.

• Heed warning signs that say “Don’t slide down bannister.”

• Avoid climbing fences, especially barbed-wire ones.

• Wear an apron while grilling fatty meats.

• Hot dog jokes are funny.

ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS 

I’m a firm believer in the phrase, “It’s not the destination but the journey.” For me, it’s all about getting there in style. So here’s a checklist of items you need to consider for your trip.MUSIC

Imagine that your front windshield is a wide theater screen. You are seeing the world’s movie out your front window. So why not accompany it with your own sound track? Rather than CDs or—god help us, cassette tapes—we recommend an IPOD with a digital FM transmitter. The whole deal will set you back about $300 but consider what you’ll get. In your car you’ll have every one of your favorite songs in a container the size of a pack of cigs (once you download your entire CD collection to it via your computer, of course). Bored with music? You can purchase an audio book directly online and download it to your IPOD. How’s that for convenience?

FOOD

What you eat on a road trip is as important as how you eat it. Two words: local fruit. Stop at roadside stands and get locally grown cherries, melons, peaches … anything that’s ripe. But don’t eat too many or you’ll be making other pit stops along the way. We also recommend some salty stuff, chips, nuts, sunflower seeds. It’s important to have things that keep your mouth busy and active. If you have passengers in the car we recommend not loading up on legumes (this means no Taco Bell drive-thrus) or cruciferous vegetables. Your passengers will appreciate it.

DRINKS

Drinking on the road is a delicate balance. You get thirsty, you drink, but if you drink too much you’ll have to stop. You want a symbiosis with your bladder. We have found that caffeinated drinks, while they might keep you awake, stimulate the kidneys forcing us to make more stops than we’d like. Just make sure you have a bottle of something on hand, just make sure it’s a legal bottle of something. Idaho has an open container law so you can’t even have a corked bottle of booze in the passenger portion of your car or you are breaking the law.

SMOKES

If you are of the smoking kind, have a pack of cigarettes or a cigar on hand. A good nicotine buzz is just the thing as you go over the pass. The only butts we want to see coming out your car window is the one when we pass you.

SPAWN

Kids happen. And when they’re in the car with you it’s important to keep them busy. An assortment of board games with a small number of pieces, a laptop that can play DVDs, coloring books and Gameboys will keep them busy on a long trip. Otherwise, bring a roll of duct tape. On curvy roads it’s also important to drug the queasy ones with a motion sickness pill. A nice side effect is that it usually makes them tired. How cute. They’re sleeping like babies.

Lots and Lots

We had our big exercise in civic bureaucracy this week when we had to buy land next to our house we thought was ours in the first place. It started with a letter telling us the county had “found” a strip of land between our property and the neighbor’s which nobody was paying taxes on. After learning that nobody officially “owned” the long, skinny strip (even though our air conditioning unit, water main line and gas main are located on the “unowned” property we were notified it would be put up for auction this last Monday at the Ada County courthouse.

Apparently there were 18 other such “properties” the county put up for auction because they were “found” to be delinquent in their taxes. The minimum bids for such small pieces of property, in one case a six-foot by six-foot square in somebody’s backyard next to the alley, were about $100, as was ours. They were flying through the list, selling each property for the minimums. An occasional large plot would come up with a bigger minimum amount and one particular property generated a small bidding war, we assume between neighbors. Everything was fine, until our small uncommercial plot came up for sale.

This wanker and his female friend in the back that we’d never seen before started bidding against us and what should have been $100—no contest—ended up costing us $560. Now if you’ve seen our little North End bungalow and the “lost” property in question you’d know that you couldn’t build anything on the 13-foot-wide strip. Half of it is a hill and the other half has huge trees. A good portion of it has the aforementioned household comfort appliances permanently placed on them. What if somebody else had bought it? What would have happened? Would they have forced us to pay rent?

While a public auction is public and anyone has the legal right to bid, it defies our comprehension as to why anyone except the property owners on either side would want this strip of unusable land other than extortion or harrassment.

I decided to ask the bidders a few questions. I asked what use would they have with the property and he responded, “We don’t have to tell you.” I said I was a reporter and that I’d like to ask them a few questions and he asked, “Are you threatening me?” I asked them another question and they told me to be quiet. They ran up another bid a little while later and I heard him say, “I like raising my hand.”

Some people are just jerks.

The Vodka Revolution 

How a clear, flavorless liquor from Russia became the most popular spirit in America

The dawn of vodka’s popularity in America was in the short-lived post-war glow of friendship between Russia and the United States after WW II. With a little help from marketing geniuses at Smirnoff, vodka began its rise to prominence as America’s favorite spirit but the history of its migration to American liquor cabinets began long before that.

Beginning in 1864, Pyoter Smirnov was distilling vodka in Moscow and by 1886 his was the official vodka of the Tsar of Russia. Following Pyoter’s death and the Bolsheviks assuming power, one of his sons, Vladimir, fled Russia and reestablished the business in France where he changed the name to Smirnoff. In 1934 he sold the brand name to American Rudolph Kunnett who began distilling vodka in the United States. He then sold it to John G. Martin of Hueblein Co. in 1939. While Hueblein relied on its sales of A-1 Steak Sauce as the cash-cow for the company, vodka, not selling so well, was almost abandoned. What became known as “Martin’s Folly” almost got John fired; in what may have been a last ditch effort to make the brand something people wanted to drink, he embarked on a nationwide marketing campaign. Capitalizing on the popularity of America’s new ally just after WW II by marketing the Moscow Mule, made with vodka and Cock ‘N Bull ginger beer, it took America by storm, that is, until the Soviet Union and communism became the next enemy of the state.

While still popular amongst some for the rebelliousness of drinking a spirit from Mother Russia, Smirnoff needed some damage control on the brand and advertised it as using 100 percent American grain and the fact that “it leaves you breathless,” marketing the fact that it takes a stronger nose to smell vodka on someone’s breath than to smell bourbon. Using celebrities like Groucho Marx, Woody Allen and Zsa Zsa Gabor to “endorse” Smirnoff in legendary ad campaigns helped make vodka, especially the Smirnoff brand even more popular.

It wasn’t until Sean Connery, in perhaps the greatest product placement success story in the history of Hollywood, said “Shaken, not stirred,” in reference to his Smirnoff Vodkatini in 1962’sDr. No, did vodka become one of the major spirit categories along with whiskey, gin and brandies. But Smirnoff’s love affair with Bond may have come to an end. Controversy erupted in the James Bond movie empire when MGM decided to have James drink Finlandia vodka in Die Another Dayinstead of his usual Smirnoff. Oh the humanity.

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s vodka, specifically the Smirnoff brand, continued to grow with increased marketing and product placement in movies. By 1978, Smirnoff had become the number one spirits brand in the country. Today, the Smirnoff brand belongs to Diageo, formerly UDV, which also owns popular brands such as Guinness, Bailey’s and Johnnie Walker. Other companies used the same popular marketing techniques to make their brands popular amongst the “in” crowds, but Smirnoff was doing it long before they came along.

Back in Russia, where the popularity of vodka never waned, new entries into the vodka market threatened the American distilled Smirnoff brand, some with ties to the original creator of Smirnoff vodka. In 1991, two great-grandsons of Pyoter Smirnov began distilling vodka again in Russia, laying claim to the original family name and coat of arms. UDV, which owned the Smirnoff brand worldwide in 1991, protested the use of the name with the Russian patent agency and in 1996, when they licensed to produce Smirnoff with a Russian distillery, the lawsuits began to fly. On April 19, 2004, the main lawsuit was dismissed in effect allowing both brands to be distributed legally in Russia. Since then, several more claims to the Smirnov name by vodka distillers in Russia have arisen bringing more confusion as to who is the “original.” Rest assured, there will be no change to the American Smirnoff.

Martini Mix-Off

Seeing how people are taking this cocktail contest quite seriously—based on the quality of the entries and having witnessed other bar owners following the judges from bar to bar eyeing the competition—has got me thinking. I could make some money off this thing being a judge. I could leverage free drinks, gifts, hookers, maybe even cash. Yes, if my own sense of morals and honest desire to find the best martini in Boise weren’t so high I could take advantage of my position as a judge. I take the job seriously, however. It is my duty, dear readers, to determine who is the best without undue influence from outside forces.

There are six more bars to go before the finals and this Thursday night the judges will visit three more. At 7 p.m., Michael Cunningham, the bartender at The Bar at the Grove Hotel, will serve The Cucumber Classic, Best in Show and Zeus & Athena with Spicy Ahi Tuna Carpaccio to nibble on.

Next up at 8 p.m., bartender Richard Moore at The Gamekeeper Lounge will sere his classic gin martini with blue cheese/jalepeno stuffed olives. Also served will be the Lady Rostov and The Owyhee Sunkeeper with Gamekeeper Prawns to satisfy our hungry bellies.

At 9 p.m. the classic martini champion from last year’s May Martini Classic, Rachel Roberts, will shake up The Mosaic Classic Martini, The Thyme Bomb and The Tangerine Dream. From the kitchen will emerge the Mosaic PicNic Plate.

Martini Mix-Off tickets are available for $75 at any participating restaurant and entitle you to one martini of your choice at all 12 bars and restaurants. You can use your coupons at any time during May, even for a two-martini lunch. Not only that, it gets you into the gala event on June 4 and gets you a commemorative glass. Go to each restaurant or bar by yourself or join the judges this Thursday night.

The Classic Martini 

Never watered down

These days, anything poured into a long-stemmed “V” shaped glass is labeled a Martini. To purists, this is blasphemy. “A Martini is gin and vermouth,” they say, “nothing more, nothing less.” Whatever your definition, the classic martini is just that. Or is it?

The modern definition of a classic martini is gin or vodka, a splash of dry vermouth (French-white) and a garnish such as an olive or a twist of lemon. In days of yore, however, the definition of what constituted a Martini differed greatly.

One of the earliest creation myths comes to us from San Francisco’s gold rush. Sometime during the 1870s at the Occidental Hotel, a bartender named Jerry Thomas, perhaps the Michael Jordan of mixology in his day, invented a drink for a miner who wanted something special in exchange for a gold nugget. The miner was heading back to Martinez, California, so Jerry named it for the city … Martinez. The recipe—a dash of bitters, two dashes of maraschino (a cherry liquor), a wineglass of vermouth (most likely sweet vermouth), a pony of Old Tom gin (a sweetened gin) and a quarter slice of lemon—is nowhere near the gin and vermouth of today’s definition of a Martini.

By the turn of the century some bar manuals had a listing for the Martini whose recipe was equal parts sweet vermouth and gin, sometimes with a dash of orange bitters. Again, nowhere near the modern recipe.

The Italian immigrant bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City claimed to invent the drink before World War I. His recipe contained dry gin and dry vermouth in equal parts and orange bitters. Another legend is that it was named for the Martini & Henry rifle used by the British Army for 20 years between 1870 and 1890—both the rifle and the drink delivered a strong kick.

As the years passed, the proportion of dry vermouth to gin decreased. Everyone should try a Martini made with three parts gin and one part vermouth, just for grins. This would be an extremely “wet” Martini despite the large amount of “dry” vermouth. A “dry” Martini these days has a proportion of 25 gin to one part vermouth. An extremely dry Martini may have the bottle of vermouth waved over the top of the glass.

Perhaps the popularity of the Martini has more to do with the marketing of gin by liquor companies during the 1950s, and vodka in the 1970s. Product placement in movies and celebrity endorsements played an important role. When Earnest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, David Niven and Humphrey Bogart are seen drinking martinis in public or on screen, everyone wants to drink them as well. But perhaps no real or fictional character has done as much for the classic martini as James Bond.

In Ian Flemming’s James Bond books, the agent only drank a martini variation once. In Casino Royale, a drink christened the Vesper—made of half gin and half vodka—symbolized the double agent Vesper Lynd whom Bond was in love with. After she commits suicide he never drinks another. In future books, Bond drank everything from bourbon to champagne. It was only in the movies that he imbibed the martini and made famous the line, “Shaken, not stirred.”

Stiff Martinis are not popular these days. Most bartenders are letting the delicate gin and vodkas marinate in ice for way too long, diluting the strength. “Dirty” Martinis are popular as well, another dilution of the drink with olive juice.

To some, the call of the Martini falls on deaf ears. Those who dislike them, however, may not have ever had a proper one. Oftentimes, it’s not the gin or vodka used, but the vermouth and the concentration of it. A proper French or dry vermouth should be fresh. Any opened bottle of vermouth should be used within the month and should be refrigerated upon opening. I’m always finding years-old bottles of vermouth tucked away behind the Jäegermeister in people’s home liquor cabinets. It’s a crime to use old, icky vermouth in a Martini. Do yourself a favor and buy the smallest bottles of vermouth so you can always have a fresh one on hand. It will make your homemade Martinis great. Experiment with the amount of vermouth to find your perfect balance. Write it on the bottle or inside your liquor cabinet so you’ll remember it.

MARTINI MIX OFF

The May Martini Mix-Off judging happens again this Thursday, May 13 with a power lineup of restaurants. Beginning at 7 p.m. at MilkyWay mixologist Pat Carden (a judge from last year so he should know a good drink) will be serving his famous 10 Minute Martini, the Smirnoff Twisted Chocolate Haze and La Grenade—a pomegranate Martini. From their kitchen expect the scrumptious shrimp and cracked black pepper fried taro dumplings.

At 8 p.m. the judges, still not quite staggering yet, will venture into Happy Fish Sushi & Martini Bar where bartender Jeff Kempthorne will serve up his version of the classic Martini, a half-gin/half-vodka concoction with a special ingredient we know about but are not revealing. Judges will also contrast and compare the Smirnoff Mango Martini and the Snicker Doodle. From the sushi bar we will be served Hamachi Kama.

Next judges will enjoy their limo ride to Mai Thai, which replaced Manhattan Grill on the line-up after their recent closing. A newcomer to the downtown Boise lounge lizard scene, Mai Thai’s Paul Rodriquez will serve the Smirnoff Classic Martini, the Lemon Twist and Coconut Dreams along with summer rolls.

Martini Mix-Off tickets are available for $75 at any participating restaurant. A ticket entitles you to one martini of your choice at all twelve bars and restaurants. Not only that, it gets you into the gala event on June 4 and gets you a commemorative glass. Go to each restaurant or bar by yourself or join the judges this Thursday night. There’s fun to be had by all.

EMPTY STRINGERS 

My grandfather taught me how to catch a grasshopper with a baseball cap and where to pierce it along its back with a hook. We would fish in a little “crick” on the back 400. Calling it a creek would have been too gracious. The only reason little perch were in there managing to survive was because of the constant influx from a leaky windmill well. The “crick” was only about 300 yards long and the channel mainly served as a flood control for his prickly pear-infused South Texas ranch. Those memories of fishing in that “crick” and his stock tanks for catfish are some of my fondest. After taking my own spawn plus the nephew-spawn fishing last weekend, I have newfound respect for my granddad’s attempts to take his five grandchildren down to the “crick.” I wonder if he had the same thoughts of throwing us in the water too.

Out near Star on the Boise River there’s a pull off with slow moving water and easy access to the river. I’ve fished there before with moderate success and it’s a popular spot because the river isn’t running too fast. Three kids excited about fish is a sight to behold—contained fusion energy—but it’s a delicate orchestration to keep their attention focused on the objective.

With no grasshoppers to catch we relied on the old standby using worms bought from Megalo-Mart. I’ve known for years that taking kids fishing doesn’t qualify by any definition as what grown adults consider fishing. It is an exercise in patience. Each spawn had their own short rod and closed-face reel to avoid tangles. Each was equipped with it’s own bobber, shot-weight and single hook. Each had the attention span of a monkey.

For kids, catching a fish is frosting on the cake. What interested my crew more was poking at the dead rotting fish on the riverbank, seeing how many worms they could hold in their hands before one fell off, and throwing rocks in the river were much more exciting. I did manage to get the older two spawn to hold their rods and watch the bobber float slowly down the river … for all of 60 seconds or so. In the end, we caught four sticks, snapped our lines six times, and managed to bother at least three other anglers.

Their inability to resist reeling in the line and wanting to cast over other lines, tree limbs and each other, I remembered a trick my own father used with me. I retied their lines with only a weight and told them to cast on land. The mere action of just casting and reeling was enough of an experience for them and on the positive side I didn’t get any hooks in my ear or back of my head. Other than teaching the spawn the meaning of fishing is not always catching fish, they practiced their casting and it got us out of the house for an afternoon. I felt lucky. A day spent fishing, even with the spawn, is a day well spent. And I didn’t have to clean any fish that afternoon either.

Send your fishing tips and tall tales to bingo@boiseweekly.com. Suggest where the fish are biting or where to try someplace new.

Expired

Expiration dates are a feared thing in our household. One nanosecond past the listed expiration date on milk, food, drinks, medicine—anything with a date on it—is thrown away. I don’t necessarily agree with the policy. I choose my battles and this isn’t one of them. It’s not a lauging matter but I joke about it quite a bit.

This morning I was gathering ingredients for the spawns’ lunches and found some small remnant bags of bread. I didn’t bother checking the expiration date, but I inspected the bread for signs of mold or discoloration and found none. It smelled alright. I would have eaten it myself. To make a couple sandwiches you had to creatively use a few heels. I figure the kids will eat what they get, otherwise they’ll go hungry, but certainly won’t starve. While in the shower I overheard the discussion between the others in the house that my bread certainly wouldn’t do. Not even past the expiration date, the last few pieces of bread in the bag now qualified for being too “old” to eat. Because they were the last?

I don’t agree with most parents’ policies of catering to the spawn’s tastes by cutting crust off and making seperate meals or dishes so that they will eat it. Giving kids choices between two kinds of food—an exciting, enriching and tasteful dish or a bland, plain and “safe” one—children will inevitably choose the bland one. I believe that children shouldn’t be given too many choices. As the girl-spawn said one day after school, “You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.”

It’s a parent’s job to expand the horizons of their spawn. Our spawn eat sushi, frogs legs, salsa and salad. Why? Because they didn’t have a choice the first time we put it in front of them. Nine out of 10 times they’ll grimace, but later agree that it tastes good.

I did have one bad experience in my college days with some brautwurst that was a week or so beyond the expiration date. I should have been more wary of the strange fur growing on the wurst before I grilled it. Needless to say, now with meat, I won’t let it go more than a few days past the listed date, especially if it has things growing on it. If it were up to me, I’d use my nose, eyes and judgment to determine if something has gone “bad,” not an arbitrary date. Over time, judgment will adjust to play it on the safer side, but in the meantime, what doesn’t kill you will make you tougher.

Prepare To Be Served 

May’s Martini Mix-Off is a martini lover’s paradise

May is becoming cocktail month in Boise with the second annual martini contest. Dubbed the May Martini Mix-Off, this year’s event runs four Thursdays beginning with First Thursday, May 6 and ending with a final gala on June 4 at the Grove Hotel. At the final gala, judges will choose the champion from the finalists, people’s choice awards will be announced, the best martinis will be served, commemorative glasses will be handed out to guests and jazz will serenade you from Seattle’s Jessica Lurie’s Shaken Not Stirred. While the ticket price is more this year than last ($75), a ticket entitles you to one martini at each of the dozen bars in the contest during the month of May and entrance to the gala on June 4. When you do the math, that’s $6.25 per cocktail but it’s all for a good cause this year—proceeds go to the Gene Harris Jazz Festival scholarship endowment.

Yours truly is a returning judge along with two other returning judges from last year. While the old joke of it being a hard job but somebody’s got to do it is funny to say, I must say, based on experience, it really is true. Testing three martinis at three bars means nine martinis per night, every Thursday night for four weeks in a row plus a big blowout at the end. Pacing is key. Last year it took until Independence Day for me to recover from the slog. This year, I have promised myself I will not attempt to imbibe every drop as I did last year—I will only do that for the good ones. But from what I recall, judging last year was difficult as all the martinis were excellent.

While there were two categories last year, the classic and modern, this year there are three—the Classic Martini, the Original Martini and, due to a big sponsor, the Smirnoff Specialty Martini. Copious amounts of research have gone into the choices for this year’s selections with extreme detail and attention to very traditional recipes. Recipes are being guarded like the formula for Coca-Cola or KFC’s secret spices.

For those less informed martini connoisseurs, the classic will be made with vodka or gin, vermouth and olives or some other classic garnish. For the martini purist, you can experience the true variety of the classic most fail to understand. The Original Martini category is much broader in definition. Just about any cocktail served “martini” style in a proper glass qualifies for entry. Alcohol used varies from whiskey to gin, rum to ouzo. A Cosmo with its sweeter flavor would fall into this category. The Smirnoff Specialty Martini has one rule, mixologists must use Smirnoff product in the cocktail.

Beginning at 7 p.m. this Thursday at Piper Pub and Grill (150 N. 8th St.), Ryan Caufield and Amy Fuller will be serving The Desert Flower, Starry Night and the Piper Pub Almond Joy. Their appetizer for the food category will be their Jumbo Prawn Crustinis. At 8 p.m. the judges will move to Bardenay where 11-year mixologist veteran and bar manager Michael Rowe will serve the Bardenay Bond, the Insomniac and the Desert Rose. The judges will get to nibble on the Mediterranean Plate. At 9 p.m. the final stop of the evening will be next door at Pie where Cameron “Louisianna” Dorsey will serve the Wet Dream, the Russian Punch and Channel No. 13. For nibblers, the judges will bite into When Pigs Fly, a marinated pork wing with a “special blend of spices.”

Tickets can purchased at all participating bars or by phone at 440-8455. Look here for future previews on the coming week’s round and more information to help you appreciate the king of the cocktails—the Martini.