Saturday, August 30, 2008


A retired friend and active riding buddy from the upstate passed along to us a bottle of his homemade Kahlúa. Tied to the neck of the bottle was this recipe:

[Jim’s] Kahlúa
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 4 c. water
  • 1 Tbls vanilla extract
  • 2 oz. Columbian dark roast instant coffee
  • 1/5 vodka (~750 ml. or 26 oz.)
1. Combine sugar and 3 c. water in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil; turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

2. Mix coffee with 1 c. boiling water. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Thoroughly mix sugar/water, coffee/water, vanilla, and vodka. Pour into bottles and let stand 2-3 weeks.

4. Drink and enjoy.

The only step I’ve followed so far is step 4., but I’m thinking it may be time to try the other steps. Not having instant coffee, I’ll have to sort out how much 2 oz. of instant usually makes so I can do the equivalent with whole-bean dark roast. Oh, and I’ll have to come up with some vodka. I’m more of a scotch man myself (Oban, if you must know).


Update: I’m giving the thing a try today, and decided that I wanted a more molassesque flavor and so would use brown sugar instead of white/granulated. So I went down to the store to pick up another bag of dark brown sugar and to try to sort out how many servings of coffee 2 oz. of instant makes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at instant coffee. I don’t drink the stuff. Practically the only bit of modern Greek I know is a phrase that will get me Greek/Turkish style coffee at a café instead of the instant that American tourists are usually served in such places. So I was unprepared for the bewildering array of instant coffees on the shelves of my local grocer.

But I did learn two things. First, 2 oz. of instant makes 15-20 servings of coffee. Second, two purveyors of my daily-duty, pre-ground espresso (Medaglia d'Oro and Café Bustelo; nothing from illy on these shelves) sell instant espresso. Hmm. “Recipe calls for instant, I’ll use instant,” says I, grabbing a 2 oz. bottle of espresso crystals.

(As I typed the words above, my sugar & water mixture boiled over. I have to do some wiping up now.

Ah. All done. I guess I should work that interlude into my recipe.)

And when I got home, I discovered that a 32 oz. / 2 lb. bag of brown sugar presses down to four cups.

Having said all of that, here’s the procedure I followed today. I’m recording here because I’m willing to bet that I won’t remember in three weeks when the stuff is ready to try, and I know beyond certainty that I won’t remember when it’s time to make another batch.

  1. In a large saucepan, combine 32 oz. dark brown sugar (4 c.) and 3 c. boiling water.
  2. Stir until smooth and leave to simmer.
  3. Start updating a blog entry.
  4. Hear wife holler that something is boiling over on the stove.
  5. Take pan off burner and place it on a trivet.
  6. Clean up that sticky, syrupy mess.
  7. All of it.
  8. You missed a spot right over there.
  9. And under there.
  10. That’s better.
  11. Put the kettle on the newly cleaned & re-installed eye of the stovetop.
  12. Pour the syrup into a half-gallon container.
  13. In the saucepan, combine 1 c. boiling water and 2 oz. instant espresso.
  14. Stir until coffee is dissolved and a lot of that syrup mixture is off the sides of the pan.
  15. Add to the 1/2 gallon jug.
  16. Let the contents of the jug cool a bit, and then add 750 ml. vodka. and 2 Tbsp vanilla.
  17. Let stand three weeks.
I’ll know more later on.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

I’m repurposing an e-mail that I sent to a discussion list stuffed full of acerbic academics several years back. I was directly challenged to put my oar in by the man who was (at that time) the dean of the college in which I was teaching. And so I did. I look back on this post as an unpaid ad for a lively and useful grammar.


At 11:25 AM -0500 27/10/98, [Dean, The] wrote:
> It seems that no one will stand up for tradition anymore; it has
> become more important to avoid awkward sentences than to
> adhere to that which is time-honored and rooted in the Latin.
> Have you nothing to say, [Izzy]?

Ask and ye shall receive. But be warned, I am writing during a brief moment of lucidity between illness-induced naps. Any stains on the page are cheese/potato soup.

The sad fact is that most of our English sentence structure derives not from our learned Greek and Latin forbears, but from the hairy, smelly Saxons. Apparently, the winners get not only to write the history, but also to choose the language in which it will appear. Many of the tricks of clear expression that I hold dear have been artificially imposed on our beloved, syncretic language. And many of those tricks seem doomed to eventual rejection. Away they go, carried off with the bodies of native sons of a language once inflected. Alas, woe, and so be it. I may cringe a little every time I hear George Thorogood growl “who do you love?”, but there is little I can do to stop whom from being expunged from the language, or being relegated to use as a shibboleth among pedants.

My guide in such matters has for many years now been Henry Ward Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1st Edition 1926, 1st American printing 1944; Second Edition 1965; 3rd Edition... we'll come to that in a minute).

For those unfamiliar with Fowler’s, it is (was... we’ll come to that in a minute) a highly idiosyncratic, extremely funny, commonsensical analysis of the foibles of the English language as it is found on a small island across the big waters. In the first edition, the article on the split infinitive goes on for several pages, beginning thus:

Split Infinitive. The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know & condemn; (4) those who know & approve; & (5) those who know & distinguish.

1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority & are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes....

So run the first one and a half inches of about 33 column inches of informative, opinionated, and entertaining text on the split infinitive.

The second edition of Fowler’s was edited by Ernest Gowers and published the year before Sir Gowers died. He wisely left the tone of the original Fowler’s intact and restrained his work to making a number of additions to the information contained in the first edition, and a very few changes where necessary. One such addition may be found at the end of the article “Whence, whither.” The original article ended:
If whither was too antiquated, the alternative was ‘to which place’, but occasions arise now & then, as in this sentence, to which whence & whither are, even for the practical purposes of plain speech, more appropriate than any equivalent.

Aside from the mechanical changes and the deletion of the word “place,” Gowers changed this article by the addition of a sentence that gets a hearty “amen” from me. Add to the above:
They [whence & whither] should be allowed to stand on their own feet: not even the examples that can be found in the Psalms and the Apostles’ Creed justify the use today of the tautology from whence.

It was from the pen of Fowler that I finally learned the difference between Which and That when used as English relative pronouns. I read Fowler’s for fun.

Copies of the first two editions turn up with alarming regularity at second-hand book shops. (Sorry about that, my diction seems to have been influence by Fowler. I meant, of course, used book stores.) In addition, the second edition remains in print as a paperback from Oxford for ~$10. Get a copy while the getting is good.

Toward the end of 1996, Oxford brought out a third edition of Fowler’s. No longer is it A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, by H.W. Fowler. It is now, rather misleadingly, called The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, edited by R.W. Burchfield. The tone and idiosyncratic charm of the old Fowler’s has been entirely erased. But what Burchfield has brought should not be overlooked.

Fowler (and Gowers after him) drew his examples from the pages of the local papers. Burchfield, as a long-time editor of the OED, draws his examples from literature, citing sources as he goes. He is also far more careful to set out not only the state of the language, but also a history of how the language got to be in its present state. So while the article on the split infinitive is still long (and even lively in its own academic, un-curmudgeonly way) it has been completely reshaped from the five sections into which Fowler organized his own discussion. I will quote here the first and the last paragraphs:

split infinitive. No other grammatical issue has so divided the nation since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the course of the 19c. First, it is essential to clarify what is and what is not a split infinitive. A brief history of the construction then follows. Finally, a description of the present state of the split infinitive is given with numerous illustrative examples showing various types of split and unsplit infinitives.
[several columns of type snipped, including examples of split infinitives from the pens of such luminaries as Wyclif in the 14c, Byron, and Hardy in the 19c., and Amis and Keillor in the 20c.]
4 Preference. No absolute taboo should be placed on the use of simple adverbs between the particle to and the verbal part of the infinitive. ‘Avoid splitting infinitives whenever possible, but do not suffer undue remorse if a split infinitive is unavoidable for the natural and unambiguous completion of a sentence already begun.’ (Burchfield, The Spoken Word, 1981).

My advice, then? Go find an old Fowler’s and read it for illumination and entertainment. And when you need a more in-depth treatment and can stand the dryness, pick up a New Fowler’s. I understand that Modern American Usage is now out in a new edition as well (I think this year, but it may have been last), but I've never had a compelling reason to pick up a copy and see what it may be like.

to boldly go where no .... wait
boldly to go where .... hmmm, maybe
to go boldly where no ....

forget it, I'm just going back to bed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beef and Stout Pie

What Williams-Sonoma calls their “Beef and Stout Pie” is actually a Beef and Stout Stew with a Stilton Pastry top. I can’t think of anything made in a 5 1/2 qt. dutch oven that should be called a “pie.” But “Beef and Stout Cobbler” just sounds gross.

Anyway, I’m copying the recipes here onto a single entry for my own convenience. The links above will take you to the various Williams-Sonoma pages. At least, they will until the next time W-S revamps their cryptic syntax. And today, their internal search engine is down, so I had to hunt this recipe up using a generic web search engine.

Why I want a copy of this is a mystery, even to myself. It looks very tasty, but I can think of no occasion when I could try it out. I have very few carnivorous friends, and this makes a whole lot of stew. I suppose that some cold day this winter, I’ll probably take my first whack at it, but will cut the proportions down. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s the cut-n-paste (or is that, cut-n-pastry?).


Beef and Stout Pie

This hearty beef stew is slowly simmered on the stovetop, then topped with Stilton pastry and finished in a hot oven.


  • 7 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. white button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 1/2 lb. beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups Irish stout
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb. carrots, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • One 16-inch round Stilton pastry (see related recipe at left)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water


In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour, shaking off the excess. In the Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add one-third of the beef and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a separate bowl. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Pour the liquid into a separate bowl. Repeat the process 2 more times, using 2 Tbs. oil to brown each batch of beef and deglazing the pot with 1/2 cup water after each batch.

Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the beef, stout, broth and reserved liquid, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef and vegetables are tender, about 3 hours.

While that’s simmering, make the:

Stilton Pastry

A sprinkling of creamy Stilton cheese sets this pastry dough apart....


  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks/250g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water
  • 4 oz. Stilton cheese, crumbled


In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar and pulse until blended, about 5 pulses. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Add 1/3 cup of the ice water and pulse 2 or 3 times. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers but should not be sticky. If it is crumbly, add more water 1 Tbs. at a time, pulsing twice after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour, place on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper and roll out into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. Sprinkle the cheese over half of the dough, then fold the other half over the cheese. Roll out the dough into a 16 1/2-inch square. Using a paring knife, trim the dough into a 16-inch round.

Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 10 minutes, then lay the dough on top of the beef and stout pie and bake as directed in that recipe. Makes enough dough for a 16-inch round.

Preheat an oven to 400°F.

Brush the rim of the pot with water. Lay the pastry round on top, allowing it to droop onto the filling. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and crimp to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture, then cut 4 slits in the top of the dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Let the potpie rest for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Creation & Art

“True art is made as if God were a lot of little cottage industries. Artists take up shapeless raw material -- paint or clay, or a blank sheet of paper -- and transform it into something wonderful that never existed before. This is such a joyous activity that I am at a loss to understand how an artist could ever be unhappy, and yet so many are. Perhaps, like God, they grieve when man ignores their handiwork.”

-- Roger Ebert, in his review of Robert Altman’s Vincent & Theo

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.

But if you are sick, and are lying down and watching something, then may you eat in the living room.

And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke. Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk, and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck; for you will be sent away.

When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister has done the same to you. Eat your food only; do not eat that which is not food; neither seize the table between your jaws, nor use the raiment of the table to wipe your lips. I say again to you, do not touch it, but leave it as it is. And though your stick of carrot does indeed resemble a marker, draw not with it upon the table, even in pretend, for we do not do that, that is why. And though the pieces of broccoli are very like small trees, do not stand them upright to make a forest, because we do not do that, that is why. Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.

Laws Pertaining to Dessert
For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

On Screaming
Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.

Concerning Face and Hands
Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say. Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.

Various Other Laws, Statutes, and Ordinances
Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.

Complaints and Lamentations
O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick. Yes, and even sometimes do you spit, and shout "stupid-head" and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the molding thereof when you are sent to the corner. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has years of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger. But upon being sent to the corner you ask straightaway, "Can I come out?" and I reply, "No, you may not come out." And again you ask, and again I give the same reply. But when you ask again a third time, then you may come out.

Hear me, O my children, for the bills they kill me. I pay and pay again, even to the twelfth time in a year, and yet again they mount higher than before. For our health, that we may be covered, I give six hundred and twenty talents twelve times in a year; but even this covers not the fifteen hundred deductible for each member of the family within a calendar year. And yet for ordinary visits we still are not covered, nor for many medicines, nor for the teeth within our mouths. Guess not at what rage is in my mind, for surely you cannot know.

For I will come to you at the first of the month and at the fifteenth of the month with the bills and a great whining and moan. And when the month of taxes comes, I will decry the wrong and unfairness of it, and mourn with wine and ashtrays, and rend my receipts. And you shall remember that I am that I am: before, after, and until you are twenty-one. Hear me then, and avoid me in my wrath, O children of me.


This lovely little essay is copywritten:
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1997; Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father; Volume 279, No. 2; pages 89 - 90.

The link in the title will take you to a page at The Atlantic Monthly where you can also hear sound files of Frazier reading sections. (I also once heard him read it on a Prairie Home Companion. RA file linked at that page.) There is also another format for the essay at The Atlantic Monthly that I find easier on my eyes, but with no sound file links. The essay is also available in a collection by that name. And don’t miss Frazier’s brilliant Coyote -v- Acme.

So with so much available, why am I copying the thing here? Because several times I have wanted to trot out this marvelous pastiche and it has been unavailable. For a while, The Atlantic even wanted one to pay to get access to their archives. Who knows when they’ll decide to do that again, and then I won’t have ready access when I want to trot this out for a class.

But do go to The Atlantic’s page and listen to Frazier reading this. And think what else you could be missing by not reading The Atlantic. And go read some more Ian Frazier, too; he’s a hoot.