Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A group of Miata owners prepare to drive the Chereohala Parkway in close proximity at high speeds. The red car closest to the camera is mine. Fortunately, alcohol was not involved.

I'm a member of the Peachtree Miata Club, which consists of mostly retired men and women with a passion for the little two-seater roadster. It's an active group that sponsors all sorts of drives and get-togethers.

When I told my girlfriend Heather I was sad I wouldn't be able to make the planned Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour in October, she started laughing. "What could possibly go wrong with that?" she said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Think about it," she said. "A bunch of senior citizens already half high on prescription medications will be stopping at five distilleries where they'll be given free drinks.They'll buy highly flammable alcohol, which they'll cram into the tiny little trunks of their Miatas before zoom-zooming off to the next distillery on the curviest roads they can find, going as fast as possible while following one another closely. It's a recipe for disaster! And you wish you could go?"

AJC:75-Year-Old Woman Drives Miata Through Front of Liquor Store-- Again. Read it here

"I visited the Jack Daniels distillery once," I said, "and nothing bad happened."

"You weren't in a Miata," she said.

"No," I said, "but I was in a 1963 Fiat Cabriolet that looked and drove an awful lot like a Miata."

When I was in college I bought this beautiful 1963 Fiat Cabriolet roadster for $450. It was in mint condition, with only 33,000 miles. The body was designed by Pininfarina; the mechanics included a four-cylinder 1500cc engine featured a Weber downdraft two-barrel carburetor; rack-and-pinion steering, front disk brakes, and radial tyres. People at gas stations had no idea the car was ten years old and many thought it was a Ferrari. Best. Car. Ever.

"Isn't the Jack Daniels distillery in a dry county?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "It's in Moore, the smallest county in Tennessee, and it's dry, which means they couldn't give us a complimentary dr--

"I did get a great woodcut of the Moore County jail," I finished lamely.

"I rest my case," she said.

In the 1970s visitors to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg were mailed a complimentary signed and numbered woodcut by Dan Quest, a local artist. This woodcut from my visit in 1972 or 1973 hangs in my bedroom.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Making Pure Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is the world's second most expensive spice (saffron being the highest-priced), which, I suppose, is why I always find it in tiny little bottles at the grocery store. I use vanilla liberally in baking, so those 1- and 2-oz. bottles of McCormick's or Watson's don't last long.

A bottle lasts a while, but the price always makes me wince. What's that you say? Use imitation vanilla? Do you know what's IN THAT STUFF? Snopes doesn't lie!

"Castrorium, baby!"

This time last year I learned how absurdly easy it is to make vanilla extract-- and for that matter lemon, orange, almond, mint, maple or any other extract one can think of. Of course I had to try it.

I had long seen television chefs scraping vanilla beans when making desserts, but I never actually saw one of the critters until a packet of six arrived from a seller on eBay. The beans seemed a bit decomposed, which is due to the processes of killing, sweating, drying, and conditioning in their processing.

The only other ingredient I needed was liquor at 70-80 proof (35-40% alcohol ABV).