Pinnacle of Civilization: The Bloody Mary

This afternoon I was trying to think of what single thing best represented the zenith of so-called “western civilization,” a term I employ rhetorically with apologies to my Chinese and Middle-Eastern friends whose ancestors were busily cranking out one early scientific discovery after another while western barbarians were still squatting in the dust and filth, puzzling over bird entrails when they weren’t stabbing and clubbing each other over acorns and cold rabbit meat.

I considered the grand accomplishments–splitting the atom, traversing space and diving to the bottom of the sea.  Amazing stuff, but perhaps too complex–space travel still Sputnik_670beckons back to the world war 2 era Nazi rockets and that embarrassment of embarrassments, Sputnik.  I entertained life-changing breakthroughs like immunizations and vaccines, central heating, Mark Chagall.  Central heat was a big one, and so too indoor plumbing–but none of these things, with the possible exception of Chagall, are what I was The-Equestrian-by-Marc-Chagall-abstract-oil-painting-reproductions-apply-for-bedroom-handpainted-high-grade-Landscapelooking for.  I wanted something…you know…important.

I worked it down to two things: the runner up was the guy who invented hot showers.  That was truly visionary.  Warm baths, of course, were a wonderful but inevitable step forward from the time man harnessed fire, and I love a good steamy bath–and better still a soak in a hot tub (shout out to the person who invented added bubbles and invented the Jacuzzi–you deserve your own post).  It took a real visionary to come up with the idea of spraying that hot water on our heads, on our slumped shoulders, on our knotted, exhausted backs. So that’s number two.

And the number one, pinnacle achievement of western society, the creative endeavor that marks the ingenuity, inventiveness, and distinctively decadent essence of what it means to–well–civilized?

Ladies and Gentles, I give you THE BLOODY MARY.

Bloody_Maria.xlargerSkeptical? Allow me to elaborate: it is at one indulgent and nutritive, combining alcohol and the dual life-extending elixirs, tomato juice and hot sauce along with vitamin C from tomato and lemon juice, fiber from celery, and even the powerfully anti-oxidant properties of freshly ground pepper.  And did I mention it has vodka?

That brings us to the second point: it is subversive. Vodka has been perfected by Russians, but is employed in various decadent western concoctions, albeit usually for the unique and exaggerated reputation for being unobtrusive.  “You can’t smell vodka” and “you can’t really taste vodka” are recurrent mantras, and incorrect–it smells, and if you’re spending your money wisely it tastes–but it is stealthy.  Like the commies.  (you had to know I’d bring this around).  It takes a real American to take the Russian national passtime–“would-ka”–and turn it into decadent and occasionally effete drinks.  Inversely, there is something about Vodka insinuating itself into breakfast, the very core of our society, that must be more than mildly disconcerting to the insanely patriotic crowd

Not that Vodka is by nature effete. Or Russians.  And certainly not Bloodies.  Even with the celery, a Bloody Mary is about as masculine as you can get this side of rye whiskey–and rye whiskey isn’t going to pass muster with your mother in law at Sunday Brunch.  Indeed, the Bloody Mary is the crowning achievement for Vodka, which has been sullied over the years by it’s employment in all those frou frou drinks, not to mention (with apologies to The Dude) the abominations know to the world as “white russians.’  Because: blech.

Ironically (given my recent posting history), creation of the Bloody Mary is generally attributed to a Frenchman, Ferdand Petiot, who claimed in 1921 to have invented the ambrosia-like concoction in a joint called Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, a watering hole popular with Ernest Hemingway and other American expatriates in post World War 1 France–where is clearly made an impression.  Petiot would later immigrate to the USA, where he became a quasi-legendary New York City bartender–and his clientele would follow.  A more thorough history is summarized on the official wikipedia Bloody Mary page, and I won’t trouble you with it here, except to point out that the dates in the wiki don’t quite add up, but the general story is correct.  In essence, Petiot was not the first guy to dump Vodka into tomato juice, but he’s one who added to and refined it.

1033249144001_1778616318001_hhh-bloodymary2There are countless variations of the drink–if you go in for that sort of thing.  Personally, I’m a man of absolutes: I like to find what works for me and stick with it.  I find that the more you fiddle with a Bloody, the more you undermine the very nature of it’s essence.  With that in mind, I call attention to the infamous–and, I believe, definitive–Bloody Mary, as described by Ernest Hemingway in a letter to his friend Bernard Peyton in 1947.  It is 3_hemingwaysimple, authoritative, and untrammeled by trends or the instinctive, desperate attempts of johnny come latelys to associate themselves with the glory of this beverage by “distinguishing” their interpretation from countless others.

Hemingway Bloody Mary Recipe
To a large pitcher (anything smaller is “worthless”) add:
1 chunk of ice (the biggest that will fit)
1 pint of vodka
1 pint chilled tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 jigger fresh lime juice
Pinch celery salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch black pepper
Several drops of Tabasco”

“Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”

  • Hemingway’s recipe will kick your ass–at 50/50 it is strong, even for me.
  • The Bloody Mary is a drink that is neither pretentious or suitable for hipster-style sentimentalism for Vodka you drank mixed with Hawaiian Punch and canned Pineapple at the drive-in movie theater back when you were a cheese-eating high school boy.  Very cheap Vodka will ruin your drink–no $6 bottles of Nikolai here, please–with it’s caustic, chemical fire, but the subtlties of expensive Vodka will be lost to the spices in the drink.  Look to spend around $20– Tito’s and Luksusowa are recommended.  Note: Neither is Russian.  Tito’s is distilled in Austin, TX and Luksusowa is Polish.
  • Lemon juice will do in a pinch, and some find it preferable.
  • The drink can easily be adapted to make individual servings…I start with two shots of skull_cocktail_shakervodka from the freezer, about 8 ounces of cold tomato juice, appropriately smaller pinches of spice (the easiest thing to do is mix a teaspoon each of celery salt, cayenne, and black pepper and then add a hearty pink of that mix), along with “a dash and a splash” of Tabasco and Worcestershire respectively.  Next, cut a thick slice of lime, then halve it to make two wedges.  Squeeze the juice from one half into a drink shaker, add all the other ingredients except the ice, and shake gently (not stir) to mix.  Pour over large ice cubes crammed into a 14- or 16oz tumbler and add the over lime wedge to the lip of the glass, where is can be squeezed onto the top of the drink then thrown in on top.
  • Avoid shaking the drink with the ice in the shaker and, even more importantly, never ever make this drink with crushed ice, which melts too quickly and alters the proportions of the drink to its detriment.
  • Always sip the Bloody Mary–some bars will give you a straw, but regard that as a test of character and avoid it at all costs.
  • Finally, some folks salt the rim of the glass as one would a Margarita–while tasty, I find it excessive.
Funny and/or Strange Photo I Like

My Pancake Fetish Rears Its Ugly Head

Hi, My name is Chuck and I have a Pancake Fetish.

Hi, Chuck!

I’ve eaten pancakes all my life, for breakfast, for brunch, and for that most decadent pancake delight, the all-too-rare “breakfast for supper.”  Buttermilk pancakes, whole-wheat pancakes, corn-meal pancakes, buckwheat pancakes…fat pancakes, thin pancakes, pancakes with blueberries, 10 grains, 7 grains, strawberries on top, millet pancakes, even potato pancakes.  I’ve idealized the pancakes of my youth and spend an inordinate portion of my life trying to re-discover that soft-focused flapjack bliss.  I’m largely (proudly) responsible for this:

Wetherspoons American Breakfast - Tuesday 10th-May-2022

Keeping that in mind, you must understand why I was utterly devastated when this picture was brought to my attention, just 5 days too late to post for Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!).  The word “forlorn” comes to mind, followed closely by “heartbroken” and “shattered.”  Nevertheless:


I’m not an advocate of LSD–nor a passionate critic, when it comes down to it–but this has had me chortling all day.  I assume it’s clear why I couldn’t wait another 360 days until next year’s Shrove Tuesday to post it?


A Note About Typographical Errors

I was just reading down through these posts and noticed a number of typos–wrong words, mostly, wrong tense here and there, dropped words, a few misspellings and grammar sins.  I may take the time, someday, to sort down through this page and edit, but it’s just as likely that I won’t.  Most of what is here is either new or very old.  The new is written off the cuff, first-draft style, and the old is transposed, usually in a hurry. I rarely waste energy in exhaustive proofing, especially with prose, and I’ve found that auto-correct programs generally sow as many problems as they harvest.

Even as I say that, I’m reminded of a time my wife and I once stopped for breakfast at a funky little cafe on Central Avenue in Whitefish, Montana, after a couple of hard, hungry, mosquito-blighted days in the back country, burning up our calf muscles by day and listening to the predatory hum of bugs outside our tent, waiting for the Grizzlies to gnaw our bones each night  We sought coffee and calories, in that order.  As we entered the restaurant, we noticed a little sign on the door that said something cute and quaint along the lines of “we do things at a different pace here in the mountains, so maybe you need to lighten up and relax if it seems like we’re moving too slow.”  Having worked in resorts, I saw the logic.  An hour doesn’t pass without some hurried soul desperate to cram a year’s worth of living into 11 vacation days, or to see “the west” in two weeks.  Others just seemed to function at that pace as a default, and that was before smart phones and wifi.  (If anyone knows the name of this restaurant, and whether or not it’s still there, I’d love to hear it).

Although the cafe was only about half full, it took about ten minutes to be seated, and another ten until the waitress got around to us.  She gave us menus, we asked for coffee, and she disappeared.  About twenty minutes later, over 40 minutes after entering, the coffee arrived and she took out orders.  As you might imagine, we were pretty agitated, not the least of which because we felt cornered by that sign, which was beginning to feel just a little–I don’t know–passive aggressive?  Our waitress disappeared.  Other people who had entered after us were served.  Half an hour after ordering we convinced the another waitress to bring us more coffee.  That took ten minutes.  We were famished, but tempted to leave, yet we lingered because we’d already invested so much time–surely it would take longer to find another place to eat, get seated, order, and get served there.

Forty-five minutes after ordering, one hour and 40 minutes after entering, the original waitress walked to our table with two plates–mine was to be pancakes, potatoes, and sausage links.  My wife got the same sides, with french toast–pretty standard fare.  My wife was served first, and everything was in order, then the waitress looked at me and said, “We’re out of links, so you get patties.” She turned on her heel and walked away.  What could be do but laugh.  The pancakes were dry, the sausage patties greasy and clearly from a box.  It is the only time, since I began paying tabs, that I have ever refused to tip, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that woman still remembers the terrible couple who stiffed her a decade ago.  Driving out of town, my wife and I talked about how that sign hushed and flustered us, how brilliant it was to put the onus of bad service on the customer.  Brilliant!  If that happened now, I would never have waited so long, but that damned sign….

And that’s what I didn’t want this post to be–a statement that someone excludes me from building reasonably functional sentences, or implies that because I don’t really prioritize grammar and punctuation in drafts, I’m somehow excused from doing my job–the way the Teabagger Congressmen think that because they don’t like some legislation they’re justified in refusing to  govern.  So, let’s put it this way:  I KNOW that I make mistakes, due to haste and distraction as well as the thrill of the chase, and I’m sorry.  I’ll get ’em fixed as time and energy permits.  I promise.


Ewing’s Mill Cornmeal Pancakes

Ewing’s Mill was a working, historic water-powered grist mill in our county when I was young.  At some point it closed, and remained so for several years.  Before plans to revive it could be brought to fruition an idiot drove his coal truck into the structure, doing considerable damage, and it again sat idle.  Finally, as final insult, a wealthy texan bought it, tore it down, and hauled the timbers away, leaving very little indication that it ever existed.  The recipe below does not quite match the delicious pancakes of my youth–most commercial cornmeal is not milled to as fine a texture as Ewing’s did, and vegetable shortening has changed over the years to accommodate new fears and understanding saturated fats.  Still, this recipe is better than most.  Real butter and quality maple syrup (not the stuff made from corn syrup) bring this breakfast to life.  Add some cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla for a change of pace.

Ewings Mill Corn Meal Pancakes

1½ C. flour
1 tsp. Salt
2 C. milk
¾ C. corn meal
2 T. sugar
½ C. melted shortening–we like butter flavored Crisco
4 ½ tsp. Baking powder
1 egg

Sift flour, measure and mix with other dry indgredients into a 3 qt. Mixing bowl.  Beat egg, add milk and pour all at once into dry ingredients.  Beat until smooth then add melted shortening.   Let sit about 10 minutes, heat a griddle until a drop of water dances on the surface.  Cook on medium heat until edges begin to dry, then flip.  Ready when golden.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.


My Poetry Poetry

Breakfast at the Bunnery, 9/90


Breakfast at the Bunnery, 9/90

A half dozen dirtbags
Crept from the red hills
Tie dyed and ragg-sweatered
Dusty Synthetic-fleeced
Muddied boots and sandals
And thick woolen socks;
Drowned rat-nested hurricane-haired,
Wood-smoked, marinated, saturated
Wormy, squirmy,
Smudged and smitten,
Hungry for stacks of pancakes,
Tanks of coffee, egg avalanches
Lakes of sweet, cool juice
And more more more of it all.
Oh, how eyes narrowed and
Darted, but they knew, they
Knew the boys were beautiful and
The girls—ah, the girls—more
Beautiful still.