Archive for May, 2021

Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make the water of life

…and scotch whisky is introduced to history

The order from King James IV is right there in the exchequer. Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make the water of life. Though archaeological evidence does show that spirits were distilled at Lindores Abbey, we don’t know if Friar Cor was the monk doing the actual distilling. He may have been the quartermaster or the apothecary. We only know he was in charge of the malt.

In any event, I’d like to imagine there was excitement. That Friar Cor goggled his eyes and shuffled his sandalled feet along the grassy walkways of Lindores Abbey with a little excitement in his step. The man had just been involved in what would be the first written evidence of the production of scotch, after all, someone was probably going to talk about that in the future. But the exchequer records don’t let on anything to that effect, no denotation “Friar Cor amped AF” or some other indication.  

In fact, reality destroys any romantic notions we (aka: I) might have had about monks distilling a nice, warm, brown Scotch whisky. Instead, the alcohol that Friar Cor and his celibate associates would have distilled was flavored with spices and herbs and maybe honey. Lindores Abbey was known for its pear and plum orchards, so it was probably using these in its distilling process. And before the 18th century, scotch was not aged after distillation. The final product might have been more like brandy wine, a fruit spirit, or gin than what we know as whisky.  

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One for the Road

We knew it was going to be big. For at least two weeks before, there had been commercials and teasers. It was the same sort of disruption in the TV world that tipped us off to very special episodes and presidential addresses. The network was devoting three half-hour slots to one episode. It was going to be big. But unlike very special episodes and presidential addresses, we actually cared about seeing this one. Cheers was ending after an eleven-year run. We buckled our seatbelts and we waited until Thursday night.

It’s hard to explain the all-encompassing phenomenon of network TV to someone who didn’t live through it. If you were born before 1990, doing just that will be your World War II or your Great Depression. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, in the days before a trillion shows existed on one website, we TV-watchers were forced to watch something called “a television.” Television networks organized their TV programming into schedules, and if we wanted to watch one of those programs, we had to be in front of our TV at the allotted time. Once in front of that TV, there were more agonies yet to navigate. These TV programs were riddled with commercials which viewers had no ability to pause or fast forward. Instead, they were forced to time their bladder evacuations and snack creations into those 2.2-minute slots. This is why people over 40 have very good bladder control and can make a ham and cheddar sandwich on rye (with two condiments) in under 50 seconds.

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Dirty Dozen Saturday

When my mom and dad used to tell us stories about kid life in the 1950s, I was baffled. So you listened to the radio all the time? What do you mean you didn’t have 1100 sugary breakfast cereals from which to slurp diabetes? You didn’t have a TV until the 60s? And that only had, like, four channels?

What? Insanity.  

For a middle-class kid of the 1980s, some of these things carried over. Every room in our house had a radio in it. My sister Amanda and I sat listening to the radio for hours so she could hit record and to bootleg her favorite song (Eternal Flame). Otherwise, we listened to cassettes until they were worn down to threadbare strips of magnetic tape that would loosen up and which required a combat ravel with a pencil. We rented movies at the video store. Sometimes we had to deal with the dreaded line of static running up the middle of Vietnam, or Oz, or Lando Calrissian. Our TV (even with cable) had about 12 channels and we became obsessive about “flipping around” to see what else was on, because there was no rewind button. You don’t know the tragedy of watching 70 minutes of a movie you don’t like just to realize that Major League was on another channel the whole time.  

If you were born after 1985, this might sound like a nightmare. But it had a lot of good sides too.

When your favorite song comes on the radio when you didn’t play it, it’s as if the universe has gifted your soul a shot of espresso. Young people don’t understand what it’s like to buy and listen to and fall in love with an album. I asked some students a few years ago “What’s your favorite album?” and, once I explained what an album was, they looked at me as though I had asked what wagon they were planning on taking across the Oregon Trail. There’s also a great understated pleasure in listening to a baseball game on the radio. My dad still listens to the radio announcers while watching the Phillies’ games on mute. My mom does the same for football games.     

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On May 8, 1962 Sean Connery Appeared in American Theaters as James Bond …

…and gin said “uh oh.”

“I admire your luck, Mr. …?”

“Bond,” says the sexiest man of the (last) century (he has a plaque from People Magazine). He lights a cigarette, snaps the lighter closed to show certainty and confidence. Cue the Bond theme in background. 2.29 seconds later, he adds: “James Bond.” It’s later in the movie (Dr. No) that Bond gets what would become the classic Bond martini. A medium dry vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Though the moment doesn’t ring with any significance, womankind said: “Whoa,” mankind said: “I want to be like that guy,” and gin said: “uh oh.”    

James Bond is the ideal of calm under pressure, worldliness, and British sophistication. He wears the best suits and drives the best cars. He handles the world’s most specific gadgets. That Sean Connery played this character is something of a jab at that ideal when bearing in mind that he is the posterchild for the working-class Scotsman. He had a growly brogue and a tattoo that read Scotland Forever (and another one for Mum and Dad). This all flies in the face of Britishness, as do the facts that he hates tea and, perhaps more disconcerting, that he damaged gin’s standing.  

Bond is a drinker. He downs 45 different drinks throughout his adventures. Gin, cocktails, vodka (with black pepper because it evidently makes the impurities sink), scotch, claret, and champagne. He then engages in post-drinking activities like driving, fighting, flying helicopters, having sex, gambling, fighting crocodiles, parachuting off cliffs, and scuba diving. He only has four beers throughout the series, which makes sense because beer makes one sluggish, and fighting crocodiles and shooting someone while skiing takes a clear head that only several shots of hard alcohol can provide.

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Chlebíčky Day

There have been a number of language additions since the Coronavirus hit more than a year ago. If someone were to time travel from December 2019 to May of 2021 they would probably not understand half of the conversations being had. They’d wonder what a covidiot was or what the rona is. They’d be baffled by why people were being dubbed anti-maskers and they’d wonder why zoom was all of a sudden an active verb. And let’s be honest, they’d deserve to be a little confused because they chose to time travel 14 months into the future. How boring.

People have talked about gaining “the Corona 15.” This isn’t the first time I’ve been faced with a predicted weight gain of 15 pounds. When I started college, they said I would gain the “freshman 15” and, I’m happy to report, I blew that number out of the water just like I did the Corona 15. I went the extra mile – or didn’t, as logic would present – and put on a Solid Corona 20+ish.

How, you ask? It wasn’t hard. I stopped walking and I started eating lots of comfort food. I kept up a 4X a week workout routine, but it was fighting an uphill battle. Very. Very. Slowly. And in between servings of pate and potato salad. Also, it’s remarkably easy to gain weight without noticing when you don’t wear outside pants for 7 months. In September I put on a pair of khakis, nearly shot out the cat’s eye with the bursting button. A change was needed.

We made a pact in our household. Lunch is two rice cakes with hummus and a slice of tomato, a cheese stick, and fruit. Our weekday dinners are chicken twice, salmon once, lean pork once, and almost every day is accompanied with broccoli or carrots. We sneak in beets and sauerkraut for filler and I have found that after four months of careful eating it’s remarkably easy to fool myself into believing that a pile of beets is a pile of candied pizza rolls. Each night dinner is followed by a low calorie míša bar. Sometimes a small bowl of popcorn with olive oil and a little salt. And then it’s nothing until noon the next day. Saturday is Cheat Day – when we eat whatever we want.

It’s become our own kind of language. We talk about Cheat Day as if it’s a religious holiday. He speak about dinner in half syllabic utterances. Chick and Broc tonight? Míš? Pop? Chicken is spoken about around here as if she’s been bullying our grandmothers.

One can tell what kind of week it has been by how soon before Saturday we begin talking about Cheat Day. Sometimes it’s by Wednesday. In particularly rough weeks it can be by Tuesday. Sometimes we shamelessly discuss next Cheat Day on this Cheat Day, blowing out of the water everything the Buddhists have tried to allow us to learn about being mindful and present. Well to them I say “don’t be a covidiot.”

Perhaps better than Cheat Day is the day before Cheat Day, known and spoken about with love in my house as Chlebíčky Day. If you have never had chlebíčky, they are a Czech delicacy that are sort of an open-faced sandwich. They have potato salad, cream, butter, ham, hardboiled eggs, and, just for the health conscious, a sprig of parsley and a strip of pepper. On Friday morning at about 7 am, I walk up to our local bakery and get six chlebíčky, on rough weeks, I’ll get 8. The woman who runs the bakery reaches for a box as I walk in now and asks “Six or eight?” I think she’s being polite.

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