Bashō&Bourbon

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I’ve been reading Bashō again. This time it’s been a slim volume called On love and Barley.

Having been introduced to his work by a Penguin little black classic called Lips too chilled last year I found much I recognized in this, indeed the small volume draws from this. However I did also get a good introduction which taken together with that in A narrow road to the deep North and other travels sketches has taught me more about the man behind the haikus.

Born in 1644 Bashō bridges the gap, or indeed seems to be the conduit, between a time of stagnation for Japanese poetry and the Tokugawa-era which saw the blooming of culture.

His love of nature (his pen name comes from a tree), a lifelong curiosity and adherence to Zen buddism imbues his lines with an awe of nature but also act to point our eyes to what is important. He doesn’t have to spell it all out but rather makes the reader notice his or her surroundings. Haiku was an established form of verse but it was outdated and Bashō reinvigorated it by making the most of the rules and on occasion breaking them. Haiku with it’s limited space still allows for much experimentation. In the end he was a traditionalist and respectful of the limitations but I interpret it as he sometimes found that the art had precedence over convention, and thus mixed it up so to speak.

Speaking of mixing it up (I’m stretching it when I compare haikus to Old-fashioneds but bear with); The Old-fashioned has through the reinvigorated cocktail scene in general, and the TV-series Mad men in particular, again become very popular. Like haiku it’s defined by very simple rules but it’s  hard to make an outstanding one for that very reason.

The list of ingredients is short and to the point; bourbon,sugar cube, bitters and and orange zest. Possibly a cocktail cherry; I rather like them but the trend is to skip the fruit. I don’t know why. Then there is the difficult part; the mixing of said things.

I’ve heard more than one bartender say that they judge other bartenders on how they make them, it’s a test. And there is a difference I can tell you. That said, if making them at home-lower your expectations. But it’s also a good opportunity to break the rules.

One of my most tried examples of blasphemy is using single-malt whiskey instead of bourbon. Most bourbons are too bland and sweet for me and when making bar cabinet priorities the single-malt is of the utmost importance, I use it for all manner of cocktails.

I got the idea to use it also for Old fashioned from none other then Tony Conigliario, or to be precise, a visit to 69 Colebrook row which is one of the best bars in the world according to me. Having one was an epiphany. If guests want more of a standard version I use a blended whiskey (which also is of higher importance than bourbon in my book, and easier to find a good version of to be honest). Then I’m lazy and use a syrup instead of a sugar cube which means the stirring is is kept at a minimum, and is a good opportunity to add another dimension. Last but not least; there are other bitters than Angostura. In short; by playing around with the elements there is a good opportunity to make something that is familiar and yet original.

Baseline Old fashioned; yields one drink

0.5-1 cl of syrup

5 cl bourbon, blended whiskey or single-malt

2 dashes of bitters

for serving; tumbler full of ice

orange zest (or grapefruit or lemon; whatever works from the citrus family)

  1. Pour the sugar syrup into a stirring glass full of ice and begin to stir.
  2. Add half of the spirit and continue to stir.
  3. Add the rest of it and the bitters and stir some more.
  4. Strain into at the tumbler of ice and garnish with the citrus of your choice.

With this as the format there is no reason why you shouldn’t make a drink with mezcal, elderflower syrup and Scrappy’s black lemon bitters. It’s a variation on this theme that I haven’t tried but I probably should. As always; enjoy responsibly.

-Suss

Words&wanderings

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When I decided to read more poetry last year I stumbled across Bashō and I haven’t looked back since. Of all the things I read his works was some of the ones I came back to over and over. I was happy to find some in A poem for every night of the year too but ultimately I needed to get more, and thus I bought The narrow road to the deep north and other travel sketches.

What should be noted is that it’s mix of prose and poetry( i.e. haiku) and not only his own work but also that of others; people he met and people he admired. As he undertook his travels almost as a pilgrimage it ends up being the notes from both his inner journey and his reflections of his surrounding. “Delicacy of feeling” are the words used on the back and I agree. There is a tenderness there, and insights. A very good books to read on the commute or when traveling.

I must say that I took in the introduction and footnotes with joy as this is an era(the Heian-Era) that I’m interested in. And I always read the footnotes anyways, I’m just pedantic in that un-charming way. You don’t have to, it makes a lot of sense without it, the translator has done a very good job I believe.

-Suss

My poetry year

img_4126One of the things I decided to read more of during 2016 was poetry.; it hasn’t necessarily been my Everest(that’s drama) but I rarely venture into it. Some haiku,Rumi,Brodsky,Szymborska and Tranström has long been favorites but my adventures in the lyrical has been rather random.

Not that I took the academic route this year, following a curriculum or anything, I just tried to read more and assumed the rest would follow. And I will declare success; I have read more and from very different ends of the spectrum; from narrative poetry in the form of Beowulf to much hyped spoken word artist Rupi Kaur’s collection Milk and Honey.

I don’t regret any of it; I have learned, I have understood some things and I have felt even if I everything was a revelation and a love affair.

What I found out quickly is that it suits me to read a bit everyday. The Everyman’s library pocket poets as a  well as a few of the Penguin little black classics have given me easy access to very diverse poets, with the Everyman’s library ones sometimes according to a theme, thus giving me a framework of reference. Monster verse and Echoing green were the ones I liked the best of the half dozen or so that I have read.

Another book that I have returned to more then once(partly because I bought a copy and have it at hand) is Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe. I loved the images of beauty and sorrow that Howe paints with words.

The one that stands out though is Basho(I read Lips too chilled in the Penguin little black classics-series). I have long had a fascination with haiku; when it’s good I feel it. I must read more of him. Such a great voice; funny,irreverent and deeply insightful. I like my poets with a glint in their eye.

And thus we come to Byron. He turns up everywhere and he brings drama; I keep saying it because it’s true. I make a point of mentioning it every time I run across a reference to him, which is often. I finally read the mans’ work. I like the myth more, but he can be very funny and sharp even if the context of it is somewhat lost on me. His poems hasn’t aged all that well I guess; I really needed to do research as to who he was making fun of.

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My poetry year “ended” with Hatred of poetry by Ben Lerner; not a book of poetry but about poetry. Lerner writes a great essay about the impossibility of good poetry but also makes a very good argument as to why poets have to keep on trying.

For myself I vow to keep reading poetry; now that I’ve gotten into the habit I will try to keep at it. Undoubtedly is has made my life better.

-Suss

Haiku&Home decor

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Draining the sake cask

-behold 

a gallon flower vase

-Matsuo Basho

You can learn great things from books, and meet like-minded people. In addition to his brilliant poems, Basho writes about the “sake cask”. I discovered a long time ago that a nice bottle makes an excellent vase but I was obviously  not the first to do so.

I once went to a dinner and arrived with a purple hydrangea. The host and hostess didn’t have a vase so we placed it in empty Bombay Sapphire bottle: the light blue of the bottle work so well with the flower. I often use a large Hendrick’s bottle: the label was damaged so it’s just black now. The green Tanqueray bottles are also wonderful for a single large flower.

I can also say that five pink peonies placed individually in  green beer bottles in a window was a lovely and chic set-up but due to no battery I didn’t take a photo( it was at a restaurant). However I have these small beer bottles and some chrysanthemums which looks rather good together.

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And as I was walking home from work yesterday I saw this in a window.

img_7538Old Genever bottles with stem cabbage. Very chic and minimalist. Such bottles can be found at flea markets but I will also say that I think Genever is underrated and buying it is not a bad idea. Will make a note to blog about cocktails to make with it.

-Suss