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food & drink

Check out this olde-skool candybar commercial. Aside from being a mildly amusing document displaying 70s advertising aesthetics, it's evidence for new findings in food history. Many people are familiar with the concept of 'calorie creep.' Since the 1930s, food has gotten progressively cheaper in the United States, and portions have gotten larger. Much larger. The calorie count of the 'typical' dish has increased 40%, and often more. A recent comparative study of cookbooks has shown that, even at home, Americans are consuming waaaaay more calories per meal than they did Back in the Day. The change is due both to ingredients and portion size. Here's a blog entry on the phenomenon:

http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/health/2009/march/Portion-Distortion-Makes-its-Way-into-Cookbooks.html

So, look at the Snickers bar at the end of that retro commercial. It's like, Halloween-miniature size by today's standards. If I ever find myself besieged by a marketing-induced craving for a crappy American chocolate bar, I'll split it with someone. Like, two someones. Hopefully then I won't be sluggish and gargantuan when it comes time to run from (or at) the Forces of Evil.

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Torrential downpours, searing drought, rampant desertification, the apocalyptic transformation of EuroAmerican lifeways…we can live with that, right? But global climate change just got a whole lot nastier: our beer is in jeopardy.

Edible Geography (an all-around fascinating site) reports on the declining quality of hops.

 

Something about Budapest encourages a level of generalized intoxication that I’ve never quite experienced in another city. I don’t know if it’s the Central European drinking culture, or the utterly debased lifestyle of the graduate student, or some interaction between my American upbringing and the unprecedentd freedom to LEGALLY walk the streets with an open container, but there’s something in the air in this place. The drinking is near-constant. Sometimes heavy, sometimes just a drop over long hours of reading, but continous and unrelenting. I’m not usually a person who drinks to the point of debilitation. My sense of personal dignity precludes it. Usually. But somehow, in Budapest, that fragile dignity is utterly disrupted. I end up staggering joyfully through the witching hour in multinational gangs of dissolute historians, singing unfamiliar anthems and staging ritualized confrontations with our skinhead counterparts. Friday started at 6pm and didn’t end until 8am on Saturday. And then Saturday started at noon. You get the picture.

Anyway, there are some features of the Budapest booze culture that seem noteworthy to my foreigner’s sensibiltiy. These photos are illustrations.

1. Fernet menthe. It’s wonderful. Bracing, refreshing, complex. And I really like the practice of serving a fernet-and-szoda with the soda in a separate pitcher so that one can perfectly calibrate the proportions. It’s far from universal here, but I’ve never seen it done in the States. I vote that anything ordered “with soda” be served this way. From now on.

2. Selection. Light on the craft whiskies, the bitters, and the rum. Heavy on the apertifs, digestifs, liqueurs, and brandies. Especially brandies. Hungary is serious about the palinka, which is avaliable in many grades, strengths, and flavors, even in the humblest sorozo (apologies for the lack of proper accents, haven’t figured out how to do it on this site – it’s basically a beer hall, often in the cellar.) Palinka can be divine or harsh and ugly. Like a lot of Hungarian things. Here’s a primer:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palinka

3. Set and setting. This snap was taken at Szimplakert, the best-known and most established of the semi-outdoor bars that spring up in the courtyards of underused buildings during the summer. Dark, but warmly lit, full of comfortably creaking mismatched furniture, open to the elements (at least part-time) and inhabited by various artisty-types, internationals, students, and bicycle mechanics. The collection of photos at their website has the advantages of daylight and a panoramic lens (they have a silly website, so I can’t link directly – click “KERT” on the left sidebar, then “Fotok a szimpla kertrol” at the bottom:

http://www.szimpla.hu/index3.htm

4. Result. I think this photo, taken around 7am on Saturday morning by the bemused Piotr, is a fairly accurate representation of the moment’s mood: sprawling on the grass in a courtyard as the sun rises, laughing but past conversation, feeling giddy and free and ridiculous.

 

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Budapest is fantastic for apertifs and liqueurs. But. If you’re not careful, you will be served red wine that is sec or demi-sec. And it will be cold. And, well, the mixology isn’t quite what I’ve grown accustomed to, while spending 4-ish evenings a week at a world-class cocktail bar. I’ll be celebrating my return to the homeland with one of these: a Stone Fruit Sour. Thanks, Serious Eats.

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Vessel (and a pile of other places, I imagine) will be hosting a grand soiree on December 5th, to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition. They will be cracking a gen-yoo-wine bottle of 1917 bourbon, and encouraging guests to dress in period costume from the 1930s. I am acutely aware of my late-stage capitalist decadence when I say I will DEFINITELY be there.

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Getting very excited to try Tavern Law when I get back to Seattle. I heard a rumor that the man who concocts my favorite fancy bitters tends the bar there. Maybe I can convince him to come up off a bottle of those exquisite lavender bitters that I drink by the liter at Zig Zag, in the form of Impalers by Erik. (A collaborative invention and my favorite cocktail all summer. Request the recipe in a comment and I’ll be happy to oblige.)

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