Duck Duck Book

47 – jigger, beaker, & glass
07.8.2007, 8:03 am
Filed under: technology

Jigger, beaker, & glass : drinking around the world / Charles H. Baker, Jr.
Lanham, Md. : Derrydale Press : Distributed by National Book Network, [2001]
[MCL call number: 641.874 B167j 2001; one copy, no holds]

Imagine for a moment that absinthe was still available for legal sale, and you had some, and you wanted to know how to drink it.  You could ask a very old bartender, or a very old drinker, if you could find one of either; but at this point you might have more luck consulting a very old book about liquor and how to drink it.  I would recommend Charles H. Baker’s Jigger, Beaker, & Glass for this sort of project — it provides an astonishing catalog of libations and detailed instructions for making each one, together with a dictionary of cocktail ingredients and a huge amount of commentary and advice. 

Baker’s general advice, in particular, is worth attending to.  Of course the entire book is advice on how to chose liquor, what to mix it with and how to so mix, and of course how to drink your drink once you’ve mixed it.  But he sets aside particular important nuggets in numbered sections, such as this earnest injunction on page 10:

Mixing 2 cocktails in a huge, room-temperature shaker, and pouring them into room-temperature glasses, is careless business.  The ice melts rapidly, dilutes the drink, and the whole mix warms so fast that instead of being really chilled the final outcome is also not far from room temperature. . . . A warm cocktail is like half-way objects in life — neither this nor that, and often a reflection on the judgment and discretion of those present.

Further “WORDS” on the use of Jamaica rum, choosing eggs for cocktails that require them, the spicing of hot drinks, punch terminology and garnishes, a reliable method for dealing with broken cocktail glasses, and other important subjects are peppered throughout the text.

But the bulk of the book is an encyclopedia of recipes for cocktails and other drinks made with liquor.  Hot and cold, complicated and devilishly simple, familiar and exotic, it is hard to characterize the scope and content of Baker’s recipe file.  Some drinks appear on their own:

This is merely a gin highball, using dry or old Tom gin — either 1 or 1 1/2 jiggers — and filled up with chilled quinine tonic water.  All Americans, and some Britishers not so hidebound as to insist on brassy, half-warm drinks, added 2 lumps of ice, and a twist of lime peel.  We like the latter style better, but must warn all those who embrace this drink to remember it is a medicine and not primarily a stimulant only.  On more than one occasion we have temporarily showed aberration on this subject, with the result that our ears rang unmercifully and the next day we felt like Ramses II, réchauffé.  We suggest from 2 to 4 drinks of gin and tonic as being plenty for any one sitting.

And others appear in sections with their brethren — such as the “five delicious champagne opportunities” (pages 21-24), seventeen “hot helpers” (hot toddies, more or less, pages 50-60), and eight mint juleps (pages 61-69).  The drink recipes are followed by a section of serious advice (such as how “TO ALLEVIATE APPARENT DEATH from TOXIC POISONINGS, & ESPECIALLY SHOULD, in any HAPPENSTANCE, the QUALITY of the LIQUOR BE SUSPECT,” on page 171), instructions on the equipment necessary for a proper bar, a list defining the various liquors and mixers and providing recipes for many, and a very minimal index.

Truly, Jigger, Beaker, & Glass is a pleasure to read (though it does make a person thirsty) — for its careful and sometimes exotic recipes, for its attention to the details of drink-making, and for its wit.  You could pick up this book without ever intending to mix a cocktail or concoct a punch, and still find it delightful — but if you need the recipe for a Flor de Naranja, Sevillaño (also called a Spanish Orange Flower Cooler, page 35-36), or you are eager to know how to make marigold liqueur (pages 165-66); or if you need careful instruction on the differences between dry gin, Old Tom gin, Holland gin, and sloe gin (pages 185-86), you will find Baker’s book helpful as well as engaging.

 * * *

Jigger, Beaker, & Glass was originally published as volume two of:

The gentleman’s companion … By Charles H. Baker, Jr. …
New York, The Derrydale Press, 1939.
[MCL call number: R- 641 B16g: one copy reference only in two volumes]

Volume one of The Gentleman’s Companion deals with food and is subtitled The Exotic Cookery Book; or, Around the World with Knife, Fork, and Spoon; it is worth a glance as well.


47 – asmara
07.8.2007, 8:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Asmara : Africa’s secret modernist city / Edward Denison, Guang Yu Ren, Naigzy Gebremedhin.
London : Merrell, 2003.
[MCL call number: 720.9635 D396a 2003: two copies, no holds]

Asmara is the capitol of Eritrea, which is a little country on the African side of the Red Sea.  Between the 1890s and the 1940s, Eritrea was part of Italy’s colonial empire, and during that time the city of Asmara was built as a colonial capitol.  It is a smallish and very young city, in a much-ignored nation.  Even though Asmara could hardly be provincial (it is after all, the seat of government!), it seems likely that any cosmopolitan glory it might achieve is likely to forever remain unnoticed by most of the world.

However, since Asmara is a nearly new city, built in the twentieth century by Italian colonists who favored the Modernist tradition, it is a remarkable paradise of futuristic stylishness.  Because Asmara had to be built quickly, experiments with architectural design and ornament were allowed that would have never found favor in stodgy old Europe; and because new buildings were built on clear ground, architects and city planners did not have to work around any pesky existing infrastructure.  Everything was sparkly and new (at least in the wealthy, Italianized parts of town), and stylistic innovation was well-tolerated.

Asmara : Africa’s Secret Modernist City celebrates this Italian-built metropolis, with its clean modern lines, creative use of simple ornament, and stylish integration with the landscape.  Buildings of this tradition, but erected after the Italians lost power (from 1941 to 1991 Eritrea was controlled by Ethiopia, and saw decades of civil war) are also examined.  Unfortunately, the book’s focus doesn’t allow for a very thorough discussion of the “native quarter,” where most ethnic Eritreans lived during the Italian colonial era.  Neither is there much information about how the building of the (originally) Italian city affected Eritreans, or what the usage patterns of the different parts of the city are now. 

It is entirely reasonable for the authors to have limited their scope in this way — it is not their responsibility, after all, to provide a comprehensive history of the city and its culture — but since Asmara has not been written about as much as many other capitols, it is hard to know if readers could easily find this kind of depth elsewhere.  In any case, if you are interested in the cultural history of Asmara and how architecture has impacted life there, you may not find this book very satisfying.

Then again, if you want to see how Modernist architecture as practiced by Italian colonists melded with Eritrean culture and landscape to form the physical backbone of the nation’s principal city — especially if you want to see specific examples of buildings, their interiors, and their neighborhoods, the book may well delight you.

Asmara : Africa’s Secret Modernist City includes a terse introduction to Eritrean political history, and the history of the development of the city of Asmara from the 1890s to the present, focusing on architecture and civic planning.  This introductory section is followed by forty pages of portraits of buildings, arranged chronologically from 1889 to 1991.  The entire book is full of gorgeous photographs, with liberal use of maps, site plans, and architectural drawings to explain design concepts.  A chronology of Eritrean history, a bibliography, and an index follow the main text.

47 – cornerstones of community
07.8.2007, 8:01 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Cornerstones of community : buildings of Portland’s African American history.
Portland, Or. : Bosco-Milligan Foundation, 1995.
[MCL call number: 720.9795 C815; eight copies, no holds; four copies reference only at Central and North Portland Libraries]

Portland is one of the whitest cities in the United States, and its whiteness is a significant feature of its history.  Perhaps because Portlanders of color have always been so outnumbered by their white neighbors, over the years the city has also been very clearly segregated, with broad expanses of the city more or less off-limits to anyone but white folks.  Segregation here has taken different forms at different times, neighborhoods have changed greatly in the city’s 150 year history, and communities are fragile even in their vibrancy — so we don’t always see evidence of the past in streets, houses, and neighborhoods. 

Cornerstones of Community is an attempt to make some of the history of the buildings and neighborhoods of Portland’s African American community more accessible.   It is really more a work of social history than it is of architectural history — buildings and neighborhoods are presented as the context in which history happened, rather than examined as material artifacts in their own right.  The book’s text provides a history of black people in Portland — migration to Portland at different periods, state and local laws restricting black people’s lives, social and religious life, jobs and work opportunities, and political activism — all in light of how they affected home ownership, rental housing, business ownership, and community centers like churches, social clubs, and political organizations.  This history is presented chronologically, and each section is followed with maps showing African American population centers during the period discussed.

The book is appended with a series of maps showing locations of houses, businesses, and community organizations at different periods in Portland’s history — together with a master list of individuals, institutions, and businesses keyed to the maps.  This is perhaps the richest resource Cornerstones of Community offers, but sadly the appendix’s information design sharply limits its usefulness — looking for a person or business is easy, but there is no straightforward way to use the maps to get information about who lived or did business on a particular street at a particular time.  So, the appendix is invaluable if you want to find out some of the many places Dr. DeNorval Unthank and his wife Thelma lived in the many years they fought for fair housing practices, but not so great if you would like to know who the other African Americans noted as living along SE Tibbetts Avenue were. 

However, there is no getting around the fact that no other book — probably no other resource of any kind — tells this particular history.  And it is vital to anyone who wants to understand the history of our city to learn the story of where African American Portlanders have lived and worked, where they have worshiped and where they have spent their leisure hours, and how these places fit into the fabric of the city as a whole.