Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review: Whistle stop : how … saved the presidency of Harry Truman

Whistle Stop book cover

Whistle stop : how 31,000 miles of train travel, 352 speeches, and a little Midwest gumption saved the presidency of Harry Truman

Harry Truman’s Whistle Stop Tour is part of American lore that I have heard about all my life but never, even while earning a degree in history, learned much about. Philip White’s book, “Whistle stop : how 31,000 miles of train travel, 352 speeches, and a little Midwest gumption saved the presidency of Harry Truman” remedied that. Philip White, who writes for the Huffington Post and several magazines, print and online, does a good job of telling the story. Truman was so far back in the polls that New York’s Governor Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate, ran a low key and low energy campaign. The Democrats were split, Truman gained the nomination at a stormy convention only after several votes. Liberal and conservatives split away from the main party to run their own candidates. Truman’s name was not even on the ballot is one southern state.
We know how the story ends, with Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the totally incorrect headline, “Dewey defeats Truman!”. How he turned it around is an important lesson in politics, he made it personal. Armed with a secret weapon, a six man research team that fed him data about every little town he would speak in and let every voter that came to hear him see that he shared their concerns. There were lucky breaks along the way, an encounter with an unruly horse that documented his farmer background as surely as his natty suits proved his history as a small businessman. There were a few gifts from the GOP that helped him win the election and prove that he belonged in the White House.
Although the book is not a scholarly work, many of the sources cited are secondary works, the book gives a good picture of the politics of the time. In fact you get the idea that, except for the technology, not much has changed. White even spends the last chapter pointing out the lessons todays parties could learn from the Truman / Dewey election. It was an interesting addition but the parallels are clear without having them pointed out to anyone that pays attention to the news. Truman and Dewey were names from history but Hubert Humphrey and Clark Clifford were names I remember, hearing about their early careers helped connect the Truman – Dewey election to my time. Over all it is a fun and informative book that offers a look at a unique and important event in the history of the United States.

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Filed under Book review, History, Politics

Review: The Curious Bartender

book cover The Curious Bartender

The Curious Bartender

I was leary of this book, The curious bartender : the artistry and alchemy of creating the perfect cocktail, when I first picked it up. The cover is elaborate, it is printed on heavy, marbled paper, I would almost call it cardstock. Every page has a full color illustration, very often a full page photograph. Overproduced was what I thought and I expected it to be more flash than bang, pretty but shallow. Then I started reading the introduction and the author, Tristan Stephenson, was talking about molecular gastronomy, rotary evaporators, “sous vide”, and other terms that were Greek to me. My expectations plummeted. When I crack open a bottle of spirits I want to find grain or fruit, yeast, heat, oak essence, and centuries of experience. When I mix a cocktail I want simplicity and tradition, fresh fruit juice, spirits, maybe a liqueur or a flavored syrup. I don’t want to have anything to do with a chemistry set. If not for the pictures of delicious looking drinks I might have not bothered to read the book but it was a gift and those pictures did look good. Then he explained that an emulsion is nothing more exotic than meringue on a pie or the foam on top of a Ramos Gin Fizz. So I carried on.
The first section covers techniques needed to make traditional and new age drinks. Stephenson writes well and does a good job explaining the techniques. The only problem is that I have no interest in using smoke or dry ice, or dehydrating something to make my guests a drink. Still the parts I was interested in, even something as simple as using ice, the difference between shaking and stirring a drink is explained so clearly that I was surprised at how much I did not know.
The second section recipes, it is divided according to type of spirit, gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila. He focuses on popular drinks that have been around the block a few times. I appreciated this, I see a book or app full of drink recipes and I have know idea which are popular and which are filler. Stephenson’s years experience behind a bar shows in his selection of drinks. He lists two recipes for each drink, the traditional way and his new age, molecular, distilled, aged, frozen alchemy. How many frozen alcoholic lollipops or daiquiri sherberts do we really need? I was skeptical and I suspect that my lip was curling up in disgust at a few of the renovated drinks.
Then we got to the rum drinks and I started to soften. He pointed out, as I have suspected, that the first Cuba Libras had a bit of cocaine in them courtesy of the coke in Coca-Cola. He gives a great “traditional” recipe then uses his wizardry to recreate the original drink. He recreates the original Coke, even concocting a basil-clove infusion to mimic the mouth numbing effects of the cocaine Coke. Then he moves on the the Flip, a century old hot rum drink that originally was made by plunging a red hot poker into the drink to heat it. He explains the evolution away from the hot poker to using an egg for the texture but then he writes, “but there’s no substitution for a hot poker in life” and proceeds to explain how and why to make it the old way.
By the time I got to the appendices, a very useful glossary, index and list of suppliers for the standard and exocit tools and ingredeants in the book, my opinion had softened. I still think the book paid too much attention to production but there is good solid information for even an unambitious home bartender like me. The modern techniques are not my style but, I have to confess that I would not turn down a chance to try some of them.

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Filed under Book review, Cocktails, Drink, Entertainment, Food