Saturday, November 28, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Thanksgiving has ended. We here at Liquid Ether hope you had an excellent holiday.

Regular posting will resume next week, as all of our staff is celebrating with their respective families until at least that time.

We have not forgotten you, our loyal readers. Remain with us, and enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend.

The following posts are due in the next few weeks.

Chess puzzle from Kingsford
Another book review from Lee Strong
The return of the Governess
A cigar review from our esteemed Editor

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Prisoner of Zenda

Original publication 1894
Written by Anthony Hope (Anthony Hope Hawkins)
Reviewed by Lee Strong, the Librarian of St. Gilda’s

This book has been rightfully acclaimed as one of the best action adventures of all time.

The story begins with the hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, being nagged by his sister-in-law to stop moping about the old family scandal and to get out and do something with his life. To please her, he does, by taking a trip to the obscure European kingdom of Ruritania, where, it turns out, the old scandal jumps up and slaps him in the face. It seems that Rassendyll is an exact physical match for Rudolf Elphberg, the King of Ruritania. It’s all jolly fun until the King’s traitorous brother, Black Michael, kidnaps him and imprisons him in the remote Castle of Zenda. What will the loyal Ruritanians do? Their answer is to temporarily (?) place Rassendyll on his distant cousin’s throne while they try to rescue their King. Complications multiply rapidly as our hero must not only play the chief of state but also woo the King’s intended bride, Princess Flavia, fend off assassins and fight his way to the rescue of the rightful monarch! But wait! What if he fails? And what if he wants to fail – for golden crowns and sweet lips await the man who holds the throne, be he Elphberg or Rassendyll!!!

This is a delightful story of daring do set in the fairytale kingdom of Ruritania. While the basic plot is somewhat implausible, Hope carries it off well. He peoples his story with strong characters both fair and foul living lives of glorious excitement. While Rudolf Rassendyll is the hero, his co-conspirators, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, are stalwart men in their own right. The charming knave Rupert of Hentzau steals every scene he’s in and Princess Flavia is tormented by the conflicting demands of love and honor. Black Michael is decidedly two dimensional but his girlfriend Antoinette de Maubin more than compensates emotionally. I considered the visual descriptions to be somewhat weak but the bold adventure and swashbuckling conflict carry the day. Who wouldn’t be tempted by fame and fortune, and who wouldn’t think herself or himself capable of rising to the challenges of throne and rescue? Truly, this is a tale for the young of heart of all ages.

The novel’s concept of a hero switching places with a king is not original with Hope. Mark Twain used it previously in The Prince and the Pauper. However, once Hope popularized the idea, numerous authors including Edgar Rice Burroughs (The Mad King), Edmund Hamilton (The Star Kings) and Robert A. Heinlein (Double Star) used it to great effect in other realms.

I rate The Prisoner of Zenda as 4.0 stars on the 5 star scale because it’s a classic romantic story of daring do. – LS

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Budgey Snobbery 3: American Whites

Hello again and welcome friends! It has been quite a while since we heard from the Budget Snob, but with the current economic down-turn, scrapping together the good life has been a bit more difficult. But never fret my friends, I have come through the thick of it with some new tips, strategies and products to make you feel like a million dollars, or with current inflation rates, one-hundred million dollars.

Last time I spoke of wine, it was in regards to American Reds. The next step, American Whites, I must admit is a bit harder to find on the cheap. Why you might inquire? It is a twofold problem. First of all, white wine is more popular in America than reds; there are over a hundred different brands for Chardonnay from California alone. Another is that, unlike reds which have a long shelf-life due to high levels of tannins, whites are more delicate and have a shorter shelf life. So the combination of the short shelf life and popularity, good whites are a difficult flower to find. Nonetheless fellow snobs, follow this old truffle hound and you shall find riches!

Ah the lovely, sweet and dry Riesling. This is probably my favorite white wine grape for its lovely mixture of subtle fruity textures and flowery aromas. This grape comes originally from the temperate hills of Germany and shows that there are more things than beer and industrial determination that make Germany great. The best, and cheapest, adaptation of this German classic is Johannesburg Riesling by Robert Mondavi in the range of at 8.00-10.00 dollars. This wine is a great accompaniment to fish, chicken (grilled or baked), fruit and cheese. Drinking this wine will not only make you feel like you are on the banks of the Rhine during a cool spring day but also thankful for following Germanic conservatism. Wonderbar!

Now here we come to the most popular of the whites. Unlike Pino Gris or Riesling, Chardonnay is as subtle and varied as any wine out there. This is due to its sensitivity to not only climate but the type of barrels that the wine is fermented in. This has resulted in two distinct flavors that have become the most prominent in American Chardonnays. One is the wines that are put into steel casks. This removes the organic qualities of wood and creates a smooth, subtle, slight vanilla flavor to the wine. The other is wine in oak casks which can lead to a rather earthy, sometimes overpowering taste of oak. Depending on the oak barrel, this can impart other qualities, such as cherries or smoky flavors becoming prevalent. Due to this amassed diversity I have narrowed this delicate flower to two vineyards for your textual pleasure.

Smoking Loon: This fine wine from California is a good example of oak casting done right. At a lovely 6-8 dollar range, this wine speaks volumes in its richness and complexity. With slight mixtures of citrus and herbs, this wine has a very mild smoky taste which allows it to be paired with richer meals as well as something you can enjoy after a hard day’s work and be satisfied. Don’t let this loon pass you by because this bird is defiantly worth getting in hand.

Pepperwood: I would go through a dangerous wood to get this wine for one distinct reason, it’s so smooth, it’s like silk. This wine shows why steel casking is a worthy means of getting something wonderful and break with tradition. Vanilla and flowers are the first sensations one would have with this wine, but Pepperwood has a sneaky means of adding a slight tang of herbal richness to make this wine as flavorful as one could hope for. A bottle usually runs from 8-10 dollars, a bit high on the cheap-o-graph but quality demands it.

Pino Grigio:
Pino Grigio, also known as Pino Gris in the states, is a quirky little grape. More accentuated with a stronger citrus and fruity taste than most wines, Pino Gris tends to taste very similar to others, only varying in level of citrus and dryness according to climate of the grape. Some of the best Pinos, in my humble opinion, come from Washington state. A nice temperate climate with good seasonal rains makes it ideal for some prime Pinos that have a rich fruity blend with a dry to semi-sweet texture. The best in my opinion is Jeckel Vineyards. This one is hard to come by this part of the country, I have only seen it at Total Wine and Harris Teeter, but if you find it, get it! This wine is sunshine in a bottle, for lack of a better word. The citrus is delicious, like eating a ripe orange, but not overpowering thanks to the dry texture of the wine. I would recommend this wine for any meal with chicken, tropical or temperate fish, Italian meals that have an alfrado or other white sauces. This wine could also be used to cook with, gaining a Budget Snob recommendation for All-Around wine. So if one needs a citrus burst to make your tilapia special, at 8-11 dollars a bottle, grab Heckle Vineyards and enjoy!

Misc. Wines:
Now there are other varieties that I have not touched on, due to some, like Chablis, being cheaper out of the country for a better wine. One thing I must stress though is that blushes are not considered nor should they be white wines. Perfect example is White Zinfandel. The Zinfandel is a red grape, period, and white Zinfandel is simply a blush and therefore not included in this list. There are also desert wines, like Muscat a very sweet, almost sugary wine, which can also be on the cheap. If you must have this wine, the Sutter Home or Iron Star variety is actually not bad. I tend to avoid this wine due to a bottle tends to shoot up into the mid to high teens and twenties.

Well that is it for now my fellow snobs. I hope enjoyed yet another jaunt through the wine country and learned something new.