Monday, December 31, 2007

Monopoly Sights: Oriental Avenue, 2007





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Monday, December 17, 2007

Of Martinis, "Bradfords" and "Teslas"


My apologies to regular readers who may have been showing up at this space every morning hoping for a new "parlour trick." It is has been a busy season, full of deals, machinations and pre-holiday chores -- but I hope to see my way clear to writing more when 2008 begins.

One thing, however, has inspired me to put pen to paper once again ... I was out with my wife, Kerstin, the other day, trailing behind her as she rummaged through the holiday sales at a local Sur la Table, when I stumbled upon a most disconcerting item: the Waring Pro WM007 Professional Electric Martini Maker.

First of all, we all know about Waring and his blender, and also about his Pennsylvanians. More power to the fellow, I guess, for the laser-like focus of his life and imagination upon things that rotate (phonograph turntables, blending blades, etc.). I know that, after soda fountains, taverns and bars were among Waring's first customers, but Waring was no doubt hawking his blender to poor fellows who were forced, by the preferences of their clientele, to make frozen cocktails of one type or another, such as a Frozen Daquiri or a Margarita. The venerable David Embury says as much. "Frozen cocktails require the use of a Waring Blendor or similar electric mixer of the type used at soda fountains," Embury writes in deadpan manner in his book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. "The egg-beater type of electric mixer cannot be used." Implicit in his observation that a "Waring Blendor" is something that is normally seen at a soda fountain is the opinion, no doubt, that frozen cocktails are for grown-ups who still have adolescent tastes. In his chapter on "Glassware, Gimmicks, and Gadgets," Embury remains pointedly silent on the necessity of keeping a "Waring Blendor" around a well-equipped bar.

Now the people who own Waring's name have unleashed this strange little device on the American consumer market, the Electric Martini Maker -- an appliance whose essential mechanism is not simply rotation (as in the machine's "Stir" mode), but also vigorous shaking (as in its "Shake" mode). Yes, that's right, the Waring 007 can give you a Martini that's either "shaken" or "stirred" at your command.

Notwithstanding James Bond's request for a "shaken, not stirred" Martini, first uttered by Sean Connery in Goldfinger and used ad infinitum ever since, David Embury is very clear on the matter. Martinis are, strictly speaking, always stirred. "If you shake the Martini," Embury maintains, "it becomes a Bradford."

Embury continues: "The real distinction between the two methods is simple. Shaking produces a colder cocktail quicker than stirring. Therefore, since frigidity is highly desirable in all cocktails, shaking is normally the preferable method. However, with some cocktails another consideration enters into the picture, and that is 'eye appeal.' A substantial part of the charm of certain cocktails such as the Martini and the Manhattan is their clear, almost scintillating translucence. A stirred cocktail will remain clear; a shaken cocktail will be cloudy or even muddy in appearance. This result is particularly noticeable where vermouth or any other wine is an ingredient. Therefore, you should never shake a cocktail containing wine unless you want a muddy looking drink. This cloudiness will clear somewhat as the drink stands, but it will never have quite the limpid appeal of the drink that is stirred. ... Incidentally, there are very few cocktails that can be made with the beautiful translucence of the Martini and the Manhattan. This is because more cocktails are made with citrus juices than with vermouths, and the citrus juices themselves are not translucent."

(Why a Bradford? I have no idea, although it does call to mind one hopelessly foggy, early morning airplane flight I took from the airfield at Bradford, Pennsylvania that forced me to admit to myself, then and there, that I was taking the worst calculated risk of my life. I'd be willing to bet, though, that Embury himself never experienced such a thing.)

Embury's distinctions seem quaint and almost archaic now, in a world of filled with muddy Mocha Fudge Latte Martinis and Apple Cinnamon Vanilla Martinis. It does, however, prompt me to wonder what the appropriate name should be for a Martini that is neither shaken nor stirred by human hands, but rather, jerked around by a Waring Pro WM007 Professional Electric Martini Maker. One is tempted to call it a "Waring," but I refuse to cast aspersions on Fred Waring without more evidence of his posthumous complicity. Perhaps we can call it a "Tesla," in honor of the unfairly maligned inventor of the AC current transmission system. Then again, I wouldn't want to further sully his memory, either.

Call it what you like -- the Waring Electric Martini Maker will not be under my Christmas tree this year or any other. I'm not a Luddite, even if I do prefer to chop my own vegetables, when making Salsa, instead of using an electric food processor. It's all about aesthetics. Give me the manually crafted beauty of a dry, translucent Martini (made with Gin, as all Martini aficionados agree), and keep the electricity out of my aperitif.

And if that isn't reason enough not to be experimenting with electricity and cocktails, try this review of the Waring Electric Martini Maker by Dave Wells:

Let's recap. You pay $99.95 (plus tax/shipping) for the machine. You measure the ingredients. You pour the ingredients. You add the ice. The machine wiggles the shaker - either up and down ('shaken') or in a circular motion ('stirred') probably for much longer than necessary. You pour the martini. You wash the jigger and the shaker. You find a place to store the bulky unitasking device. Wow, aren't modern conveniences wonderful?
Indeed.


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