Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Perfect Gin and Tonic: Recipe

Whenever I'm on vacation at the beach, it is a personal rule of mine to drink exactly one gin and tonic every day.

It's 100 percent vegetarian, 100 percent vegan, 100 percent cruelty free. The quinine in the tonic helps to protect you from malaria, so it's also totally healthy.

One secret to making a good gin and tonic: a small glass. A gin and tonic should be a small, sipping drink in my opinion, along the lines of a martini. This may shock you, but I think it should be almost--but not quite--equal parts gin and tonic. Too much tonic and you'll feel like puking, which will defeat the purpose of feeling nice and having a good time.

I recommend having your gin and tonic at the beach at cocktail hour, 6 pm exactly if you can't wait, but if you can wait, it's really great at sunset.

After your gin and tonic, move on to something else. As I said, too much gin or too much tonic is a bad way to go. If you're a teetotaller, let it stand at that, but if you like, move on to something completely different: red wine if you're having dinner, vodka and soda, beer, bourbon and branch water or what-have-you, your one drink of choice which you should stick to throughout the actual evening.

I also recommend buying the tonic in the tiny glass bottles. It's way expensive, but worth it. Nothing's worse than flat tonic, and it's sure to go flat if it's in those cheesey giant 2-liter plastic bottles.

A high-quality gin is very important. Don't try to cut corners and save money here either. Tanqueray is my personal fave, but there are a lot of good brands out there. Top shelf, baby.

This recipe also calls for bitters. (I use Angostura bitters, which you can buy at any grocery store, even on Sunday, even in dry counties). It makes the G&T spicy rather than sweet, and turns it this really light, pretty, intriguing shade of very subtle pink.

Lime, not lemon. That's an order.

The Perfect Gin and Tonic

1 shot (1 1/2 ounces) high-quality gin

Very cold tonic water
One dash of bitters
A lot of good ice

1. Fill a small glass with ice. I mean fill it to the top. Shake it around so you can fit more ice in there. Lots of ice.

2. Pour a shot of gin into the glass.

3. Put in a dash of bitters.

4. Fill the rest of the glass with tonic.

5. Squeeze a bit of lime juice into the glass. (It's a weird pet-peeve of mine, but I don't like to drop the actual lime piece into the drink. I mean, the skin is probably covered in pesticides and horrible germs from when the rat walked on it when it was sitting in a warehouse and all. But normal people probably won't mind. It looks very pretty, too, floating in the drink, especially if you cut it into little rounds like in the picture.)

6. Fill the remainder of your (small) glass with a bit of tonic water.

7. Stir very well, but gently so as not to flatten the tonic.

8. Head to the beach/deck/porch where you can watch the sunset with lovely drink in hand.

Spanikopita: Recipe

Spanikopita is such a delicious classic: a rich, tangy spinach and feta filling tucked inside layer after crispy layer of crumbly filo dough.

It occured to me while I was making this--one of my all-time favorite vegetarian recipes--that "spaniko" is probably Greek for spinach, and "pita" means, like, bread, as in pita bread. So spanikopita is precisely 'spinach-bread' in Greek. Right? (Maybe this is something everybody else knows already.)

Anyway, this is one of the few dishes in which I usually use frozen vegetables. I just hate washing spinach; I never can get all the grit off, and I don't like that leathery stuff that comes in the pre-washed bags either.

You can use fresh spinach, of course. I sometimes do when I'm not feeling lazy. Just wash it really well, steam it, then squeeze most of the water out and proceed. And don't come cryin' to me if there's dirt in the final product.

It used to be hard to find packaged filo, but now it's in the freezer section of every grocery store.

VEGANS: Skip the eggs, use a combination of grated soy cheese and crumbled tofu to equal the amount of feta, and use olive oil instead of butter.


2 lbs. froze
n (or fresh) spinach
1 package filo dough

6 eggs
3/4 lb feta (Greek or Bulgarian sheep's feta rules)
1 onion, chopped

olive oil

salt and pepper



1. Dethaw the filo dough according to the directions on the package.

2. Dethaw the spinach and then squeeze most of the water out of it. Put it in a large mixing bowl.

3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and then throw in the chopped onion. Saute until they're very soft and picking up some brown. Mix with the spinach.

4. Beat the eggs and stir into the spinach mixture. Crumble the feta and add it as well. Season with oregano, salt and pepper.

5. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter or oil the bottom of a 9X13 baking pan.

6. Melt about 4-6 Tbsp of butter in a saucepan. Open your filo dough package and stack it on a flat surface. (Have a slightly-damp towel or plastic wrap or the like nearby to cover it when you're not working with it: if it dries out it can be hard to work with.)

7. Use a pastry brush to brush the top filo sheet with melted butter. Place it in your baking pan. Continue in this fashion--letting the edges hang over the sides--until you've used a little more than half of the filo.

8. Pour in the spinach mixture.

9. Continue to lay buttered filo sheets on top until you've used them all. Tuck the overhanging dough into the pan. (If you have LOTS of overhang, you can trim some, but not all, of it.)

10. With a knife, cut through the top layers of filo to the filling in three places, small diagonal slashes, to allow it to vent.

11. Bake for 50 minutes.

12. Cut into squares or triangles. Serve with red wine and vegetarian stuffed grape leaves.

We're off!

Jeff and I are driving down to the beach this afternoon. It's freezing in Atlanta right now. I'm hoping for warm weather on Tybee, but it may end up being cold. (I'm packing hats, gloves, sweaters, jackets, shorts, bathing suits, T-shirts and sandals, so we'll be ready, whatever. If it's cold, we'll just bundle up and walk on the beach and look for shells or something.)

We're bringing the following foods I've been preparing this week:

Disaster Granola

Roasted Vegetable Burritos

Organic oranges


Vegetable Gumbo

Flat breads

Green tea, soy milk, vodka, soda, gin, tonic, lime.

(Bridget Bardot won't be coming with us. I just liked the picture. I will be on the look-out for one of those hats, though.)

See ya!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Coconut Green Curry Eggplant and Tempeh: Recipe

This is a vegetarian recipe with a high easiness to awesomeness ratio. It only takes a few minutes of actual work, and people will be all, "You MADE this?!"

The rich, spicy, complicated flavors come from the combination of coconut and green curry, both of which come in convenient cans. I buy the Maesri brand in the vacuum packs which you see pictured. You can also buy it on-line in cans. It should run you about $1 or 2 per can, and you only use a couple tablespoons per recipe.

Canned coconut milk is available at almost every grocery store, but you'll be much better off if you can find an Asian grocery store. I buy mine at Ranch 99 on Buford Highway here in Atlanta for about $.69 a can. (Big chain grocery stores charge around $1.99 and up!)

You can use any kind of eggplant, but the little Thai green eggplants are great, and the small purple globe Indian eggplants are what Jeff and I used. I kind of like the little ones in this recipe.

The recipe also calls for lime leaves, but if you can't find them, you can make the recipe without them. They just add some really great flavor.

Oh, and I can't believe I almost forgot! There's an old folk wisdom that says that eating a spicy eggplant curry is a way to induce labor in a pregnant woman who's overdue. Last year, my sister was slightly past her due date, and I made this curry for her. She ate it, and, yep, like clockwork, next day, out plopped a kid.

I think I read somewhere that there may be something to it all: the theory is that chemicals in eggplant--including trace amounts of nicotine--may be stimulating and help induce labor.

Coconut-Green Curry Eggplant and Tempeh
or Matthew's Welcome-to-the-World Curry

2 cans (14 ounces each) coconut milk
2 or 3 Tbsp Green Curry
1 pound eggplant (cut into bite-sized pieces)
12 lime leaves, torn in half
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or miso broth
1 1/2 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 pckg (12- 16 ounces) tempeh, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. Open one can of coconut milk and pour it into a wok or large pan. Heat for a few minutes until it is close to boiling.

2. Add the curry paste and cook for a few more minutes, stirring to mix the paste into the cocnut milk. Add the remaining coconut milk and heat through.

3. Add the eggplant, the lime leaves, stock, sugar, soy sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the eggplant is very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 20-30 minutes.

4. While the eggplant is cooking, steam the tempeh for about 15 minutes. (Or you can fry it in hot oil for about five minutes if you like it crispy. I like to keep things light and easy, though.)

5.Stir the tempeh into the curry mixture. Allow to heat through. Let the curry set for about 5 minutes off the heat. Serve over rice with a sprinkling of cilantro on top.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse: DVD Review

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) was the last film made by Metropolis and M director Fritz Lang before he fled Nazi Germany.

Dr Mabuse was a character that Lang returned to throughout his career: first in 1922 with the silent serial Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, then with the black and white talkie Testament in 1933 just before he left Germany for Hollywood, and finally in 1960 with the color horror film The 1000 eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Lang's last film as director.

Mabuse is a character who shows to the world the face of a respectable doctor, but beneath the surface is a sociopathic crime lord. One part Hannibal Lecter, one part Don Corleone, and one part Count Dracula with his supernatural powers of hypnosis and mind control, Mabuse is emblematic for Lang of the corruption and the greed, the potential for violence and fear to tyrranize the individual, the "Will to Power," that lay beneath the surface of post World War I Germany. (For Lang fans, the film contains another familiar character: Lohmann the detective, also seen in M.) Once Lang had washed his hands of the series, the character of Mabuse spawned a number of lesser sequels by other directors in the 1960s (such as Harald Reinl's Invisible Dr. Mabuse).

At the beginning of Testament, Mabuse has been institutionalized following the events of Gambler. He sits in his padded cell, madly scribbling manifestos, predictions and orders
(the Testament of the title) which are mysteriously carried out by members of the crime underworld in Berlin--and more strangely--continue to be carried out even after Mabuse's sudden death. (His rule-by-fear manifestos show a more-than-passing resemblance to Nazi doctrine which may be why the film was banned in Germany.)

All the elements of Lang's cinematic genius that make M such a canonical part of film history are also on display here. While most film-makers were still just plopping the camera down and filming talkies as if they were filming scenes in a play, Lang uses brilliant intercutting, layers of sound, cool interweaving of scenes and themes, and fantastic framing and tracking shots to tell his story.

The film, in its narative style, doesn't feel old. Surprisingly, it straddles several genres: crime film, gangster film, horror and detective stories. Lang uses the very modern technique of piecing together the story as if it's a jigsaw puzzle that only slowly comes together for the viewer. We often enter a scene without knowing exactly who the characters are or how they relate to the narrative as a whole. And unlike a lot of old horror movies which often lose their creepiness as film technology changes and cultural fears and anxieties move on to other things, Dr. Mabuse has some genuinely creepy moments. The Criterion edition/ restoration of the film looks fantastic.

FilmStocker Rating: B+

Monday, January 23, 2006

JT Leroy Disaster Granola: Recipe

Jeff and I are going to Tybee Island this weekend. As usual when we travel anywhere, we're bringing all our food with us. Every meal, every snack, all our booze, coffee and tea will be served right by us in our hotel room. Both of us kind of dislike restaurants, plus I'm really cheap.

I decided this morning to make the granola, which is our typical "on the road" breakfast. I wish the story ended there. "I made granola." But sadly, no. There's more.

I mixed the granola--the raw oats and nuts and coconut and oat bran and all the rest--in a bowl and then turned on the oven to preheat it for the extra special roasting I give it.

While I was waiting for the oven to preheat, I decided I'd write an email to Jeff at work about JT Leroy. I'd sent Jeff an article about JT earlier, and we'd been discussing it.

For those of you who don't know the story, JT Leroy is (was?) the author of several very succesful "autobiographical" novels. His work told the story of his wretched childhood in West Virginia: terrible sexual, physical and emotional abuse, a truck-stop prostitute mother, teenage hustling, AIDS. The books were enormously succesful, attracting fans like Winona Ryder, (pictured with "JT" above) Madonna, Courtney Love, Carrie Fisher, Billy Corigan, Gus Van Sant, who all also became his friends. He was a media darling, the works getting rave reviews and he became sort of a mini-celebrity himself... and who wouldn't be moved by his story? Young writer triumphs over the most horrid adversity through his art.

Only one small problem: the books themselves--it was revealed in a recent NYT article--were written by a 40-year-old woman named Laura Albert from her comfy apartment in San Francisco. No one named JT Leroy (or resembling the JT Leroy of the works) ever existed. JT Leroy, during his rare public appearances--he claimed to be painfully shy (while partying with rock stars and celebrities, no less)--was played by none other than Laura Albert's sister-in-law.

It goes without saying that everyone who had given JT Leroy a hand during his rise to fame (and there were a LOT of celebs and famous writers who were taken in) felt totally duped.

(Note to the security department at Saks: Check to make sure the cameras are working. I think Winona's had a rough week and may be headed for a relapse).

Anyway, I sent Jeff an article about the debacle, and he thought the whole thing was a kind of cool elaborate art-prank. Celebs and lit journalists and the whole PR machine got their come-uppance for embracing a fake.

I agreed it was kind of fun seeing Courtney Love and the rest looking like asses, but the whole thing stank of rip-off to me. Very cold and calculating and cynical, telling everyone that this fake person had AIDS, selling books by claiming these experiences were real. It just seems totally conniving, a Grifter-style huckster con rip-off in the world of literature that I (idealistically, I admit) try to imagine as free of such crass commercial egotistical manipulations. Plus I thought the books were bad.

If you're interested in learning more about the Leroy story (and it's a doozey... I've given the barest outline) check here and here to start.

Anyway as I was writing all this to Jeff. I smelled something funny. "I hope that's not coming from my apartment," I thought and kept writing. A few moments later I caught the whiff again. "Hey," I thought, "that smells like smoke. Let me finish this important pense about JT Leroy and then I'll go check it out." A few moments later and I was all: "Holy phony literary wunderkind! That IS coming from my apartment!"

I ran into the kitchen just as I remembered that Jeff had left a starter dough for his famous ciabatta to ferment in the oven. Oops. And as I ran toward the oven I totally remembered Jeff's favorite method of fermenting his ciabatta dough: putting an electric blanket in the oven to keep things at just the right temperature. Oops.

Add "stinking up my kitchen with toxic smoke and gunking up my oven" to JT Leroy's list of crimes.

I finally cleaned up the kitchen and the oven and got the smoke out of our place, but my lungs still hurt, Miss Albert.
And you owe me and Jeff an electric blanket.

I hereby name this "JT Leroy's Disaster Granola." The granola is very amenable to experimentation with different fruits and nuts and grains. Just keep the basic proportions the same.

JT Leroy's Disaster Granola

6 cups oats
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 sesame seeds
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup unsalted soynuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup diced dried prunes
1/4 cup diced dried figs
1/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Open the oven door to check to see if anything's in there. If something is in there, take it out. Proceed.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, think about JT Leroy.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

4. In a very large bowl, mix the oats, nuts, oat bran, wheat germ, cinnamon, salt, coconut, oil and honey.

5. Bake for forty minutes, stirring every ten minutes so it roasts evenly.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Stir in the raisins and dried fruit.

7. Serve with milk or soymilk. Enjoy... and keep it real.

Stir-Fried Soba Noodles with Miso, Rutabaga and Broccoli: Recipe

This is a great dish, really tasty, fresh and colorful. Jeff didn't want to put rutabaga in it at first. But we were both surprised by how good it was. It's a natural with the buckwheat noodles.

Synopsis: Cut and roast the rutabaga in the oven. Boil the noodles and blanche the broccoli. Stir-fry everything together.

Serves 2

1 medium rutabga root

6-8 ounces soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
1 bunch broccoli

1 Tbsp minced ginger

2 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp minced fresh chili pepper or dried red chili flakes (or to taste)

oil (preferably peanut oil)

1 Tbsp dark Miso paste
1 Tbsp soy sa
1 Tbsp Brown sugar

1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 425. Peel and cut the rutabaga into small dice (about 1/2 inch square pieces). Put in a roasting pan and stir in a generous amount of oil. Roast the rutabaga in the oven until tender and done. (This could take more than an hour. Stir and check every 15 minutes. If it starts to dry out or brown too much, cover with aluminum foil).

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the noodles for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

3. Cut the broccoli into florets. Peel the stem and cut it into small pieces. Blanch the broccoli in boiling salted water for 45 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water. Dry thoroughly (use a salad spinner if you have it) and set aside.

4. Mix together the Miso paste, soy sauce and brown sugar with 1/2 cup of water.

5. Heat a wok over highest possible heat until it's very hot. Swirl in one Tbsp of peanut oil. When it's hot throw in the garlic, ginger and chilis. Cook and stir for about 20 seconds.

6. Throw in the broccoli and stir-fry until it is tender crisp. Add the rutabaga (you may have more than you need. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.)

7. Throw in the noodles and then stir in the miso paste mixture. Stir-fry until everything is heated through and the noodles have absorbed the liquid. (Don't worry if you can't quite mix the vegetables evenly into the noodles. You can fix this when you serve it by spooning the veggies on top of the noodles). Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil

8. Use tongs to lift the noodles on to plates or into bowls, topping each plate with a few extra vegetables. Sprinkle each serving with the cilantro.