Oh, maaaaan, why do they do stuff like this?

I was understandably stunned several months ago when a regional purveyor of pork enthusiastically suggested that martini drinkers should begin garnishing their cocktails with (shudder!) bacon.

As any right-thinking tippler knows (even after eight or nine refreshing cocktails), the only correct way to prepare a martini is with a generous amount of gin, a microscopic quantity of dry vermouth and, perhaps, a green olive (try to get them all in the same glass, OK?).

Not too long ago, traditionalists grudgingly gave way and allowed vodka to be substituted for gin as a concession to rabid James Bond fans and a handful of surly Soviets.

And that opened the door to worldwide cocktail chaos.

Suddenly we were deluged with cute little martini recipes that included everything from sake to smoked baby oysters.

One would think that this madness would come to a quick and certain end as the cuteness wore off and proponents of designer martinis threw themselves into the ocean like so many misguided lemmings.

Who would have guessed that a little-known vodka maker from the far away Netherlands would dare to foist upon us even more unorthodox recipes for the preparation and presentation of the Great American Martini?

(Who indeed?)

And that’s where the Netherlands-based distillers of premium VOX Vodka come in, giddily driving a stake through the hearts of traditional martini consumers everywhere.

Capitalizing on the summer sipping season, the nefarious Netherlanders at VOX recently carpet-bombed the newspaper’s food editor with a series of spectacular suggestions for smoothly sophisticated summer soirees.

When the editor stalked away in righteous indignation moments after reading the missive, I managed to pick up the scattered remnants of the vodkagram. The contents left me aghast (and possibly agog…).

This is frightening stuff.

To brighten up a garden party, for example, VOX suggests we “Embrace the new ‘anything goes’ philosophy toward cocktails this summer by being imaginative and using fresh, quality ingredients to create the ultimate summertime cocktail … trade in the typical olive garnish for seasonal fruit such as star fruit, melon or strawberries and try adding new flavors.”

Fruit? FRUIT?!

And, of course, “Pass brightly colored martinis garnished with edible flowers (try rose petals or hibiscus).”

Howsabout a “Patriotini” amigos? Our so-called friends in the Netherlands recommend you start with a healthy portion of VOX Vodka, add some Chambord liqueur, a smidgen of Grenadine and a splash of orange juice. Shake well, strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with blueberries and raspberries on flag toothpicks…

Uh-huh.

And while you’re at it, dress up as a giant pineapple and prance through the streets singing “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.” Just don’t do it on my block, sailor, and keep your hibiscus petals to yourself.

This whole thing has gone way too far and it’s got to stop. We can’t let weird martinis happen to America.

Remember these three words: Gin, vermouth, olive.

Say ’em loud and say ’em proud.

Gin, vermouth, olive!

Thank you.

Originally published June 23, 2002

Say it, er, don’t spray it …

The average person seldom gets an opportunity to take part in far-reaching scientific research. For most of us, participation in any kind of scientific research is limited to an autopsy long after we’re past caring about it.

(“Hey, doc, willya lookit the liver on this guy. He musta been on the varsity martini team …”)

Even less likely is a chance for the average person and his cat to participate in significant scientific research and, perhaps, make the world a better-smelling place to boot.

But don’t despair, because opportunity’s just around the corner.

The University of California, Davis, Feline Urine Marking Study is under way and it needs your help – and your cat’s.

Yes, the same bucolic Northern California university that brought you bulletproof tomatoes and easy-access bovine innards is looking for a way to keep your precocious kitty from marking territory by spraying kitty byproduct throughout your household.

According to a recent report from UC Davis, the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine has undertaken a clinical trial “to determine the effectiveness of a liquid medication for the treatment of urine marking in cats.”

The medication has been tested for safety in cats, UC Davis reports, and spray-happy felines who are signed up for the program get a free physical exam, blood and urine tests.

(Participating pet owners, it should be noted, needn’t undergo any of the aforementioned tests …)

This research may not seem like a big deal to most folks, but to anyone who’s ever endured the machinations of a spraying cat, it could be a godsend. Ask anyone who’s had to put up with a pathologically leaky cat and you’ll hear tales of reeking rugs, soggy sofas, putrid pillows and dank draperies.

One co-worker recently complained about how her industrious feline went so far as to liberally spray her back while she was quietly reclining in a lawn chair. Now that’s territorial.

Tired of putting up with a four-legged cropduster?

To participate in UC Davis’ clinical trial, your cat needs to be healthy, between 1 and 12 years of age and free of medication for urine spraying.

You should have no more than four cats in your household, only one of which is a convicted sprayer, engaging in the practice longer than one month and at least three times per week indoors.

There is one small catch for those of you looking for an easy fix. Although your cat will receive free treatment and advice, the research is described as “a double-blind, placebo-controlled study,” meaning some feline participants won’t actually be receiving real medication. Which means those cats will probably continue making their owners’ lives significantly soggy.

And remember, this study is for house cats only. If you’ve got a pet ocelot, Siberian tiger or mountain lion with a spraying problem, UC Davis probably can’t help you.

Instead, consider giving the big cat a sound swat across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. That should solve the problem for at least one of you …

Originally published April 21, 2002

Bacon and gin?

We live in a world of infinitely flexible standards. Just about anything is OK with just about everybody these days as long as it makes money and doesn’t result in someone’s Yorkshire terrier being crushed by a runaway Ferris wheel.

(Hey, it could happen – and it’s just not right.)

During the past two decades everything from acceptable air pollution levels to minimum health care standards have been “relaxed” to make it a little easier for all of us to get along.

Somehow “I’m OK, you’re OK” has grown to encompass petroleum price gouging, political pork barreling and the occasional armed robbery.

Last week, however, a popular national bacon producer stepped over my personal line of righteous indignation and roused my ire.

When you hear what these pork-fancying Philistines proposed, I’m sure you’ll share my wrath.

Trouble started last week when the folks at Farmer John pork products sent me “Everything’s Better Wrapped in Bacon – 103 Sizzlin’ Recipes from Bacon Lovers Just Like You,” a flavorful compendium of unique bacon recipes from across the nation.

They were justifiably proud of such concoctions as “Grandma’s Goop Gop” and “Bacon Banana Bites,” but they should have stopped when they were ahead.

Instead they trampled tradition and tossed in a recipe for (shudder!) bacon martinis.

Provided by Mary Keir of San Francisco, the recipe calls for a cup o’ gin, a tablespoon of vermouth and four large pimento olives garnished with strips of bacon.

Farmer John – and for that matter, Mary Keir – how could you?

Bacon martinis?!

BACON martinis?!

Perhaps I should rephrase that:

BACON MARTINIS?!

Here is a unique cocktail native to California (most likely invented in Martinez or San Francisco) that has carried generations of drinkers into benign befuddlement for more than a century. It’s made with gin and a teensy, tiny bit of dry vermouth and is frequently garnished with an olive.

No onions – that’s not a martini, that’s a Gibson.

No pickled baby octopus – they’re for a relatively new outrage known as a saketini which is made with sake.

No vodka – that’s an aberration favored by fans of James Bond and natives of Zheleznodorozhny who have difficulty pronouncing complex English nouns like “gin.”

And, most emphatically, NO PORK!

That means no bacon, no ham hocks, no head cheese and no pickled pigs feet in your martini glass. Not ever.

There’s nothing wrong with nibbling on a bite-sized Vienna sausage or a smoked pork chop while you’re sipping a delightful blend of gin and vermouth. Once you start actually garnishing your martini with bacon strips, though, you’re trampling on a time-honored California tradition and that’s just not right.

Have faith. Stand firm and believe. And if you absolutely must mix pork with alcohol, try floating a hot link in a snifter of Courvoisier.

You’ll be glad you did…

Originally published June 24, 2001

Better living through squeeze bottles?

The 20th century is fading fast, but it left all of us with one enduring legacy – a single-minded pursuit of that elusive quality of life that’s known as “convenience.”

In our never-ending search for convenience, we almost perfected the automatic headlight dimmer that works most of the time (provided you have your headlights turned on) and the usually painless electric nose hair trimmer (provided you have nose hairs).

We revel in electric pencil sharpeners, microwave ovens and cell phones – the latter device allowing many of us to conveniently call almost anyone nearly anywhere and sound exactly like an electric pencil sharpener being operated in a microwave oven.

Convenient? You bet.

Perhaps the greatest stride forward in the American pursuit of convenience, however, occurred on a more mundane level with the nationwide proliferation of the handy plastic squeeze bottle for everything from pickle relish to engine lubricant.

(Those of you who occasionally indulge in a half-dozen martinis before working on the car or garnishing hot dogs should always remember to store the pickle relish and engine lubricant far, far away from each other – really.)

Much like automatic headlight dimmers and nose hair clippers, though, the convenience of squeeze bottles can have some drawbacks, particularly for those of us who think of good hand-eye coordination as not sticking our thumbs in our eyes while shaving.

Sure, squeeze bottles may seem convenient, but I’ve found they can turn on you faster than a Republican senator facing a grand jury indictment.

Because squeeze bottles are the epitome of convenience, one automatically reaches for them when one is in a hurry. Throw the cheeseburger components together on a picnic plate or relatively clean hubcap and give ’em a quick squeeze from the old mayo, mustard or ketchup bottle. You’re ready to roll, right?

Unless, of course, you forgot to remove the little seal inside the convenient plastic squeeze bottle. Then one of two things will happen: nothing, which causes you to get all sweaty and red in the face; or an unexpected explosion which causes you to get all sweaty and mustard in the face.

Admittedly, squeezing a perfectly measured stream of rich, red ketchup onto your hot dog is infinitely preferable to pounding globs of the stuff out of a stubborn old glass bottle.

If you’re not careful, though, that easily squeezed stream of ketchup can turn into a semi-automatic fusillade of misdirected tomato byproduct guaranteed to make you the least popular barbecue guest in the neighborhood.

Believe me, all bets are off once you’ve squirted a curious 5-year-old in the face with a half-pint of warm ketchup.

“Mooooommmmmm, uncle Walt’s trying to maaaarrrrrinate me!”

Squeeze relish is perhaps the most insidious of these convenient condiments. Chunky, sticky and susceptible to hidden air pockets, it’ll play hide-and-squeeze with you until the kitchen ceiling is dripping with colorful globs of sweet, green shrapnel and your family has taken shelter under the dining room table.

Convenient? Like a tidal wave.

I’ll take my canned goods, you take your chances …

Originally published July 30, 2000