Green Fairy Tale

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Entertainment, Food & Drink, History, Movies, Recipes, Spirits

Twenty-five years ago today, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in theaters. Being a fangirl (emphasis on “fang”), I flew out to see it, but amidst the gore and gothic romance, one scene sank its teeth into me:

Count Dracula fills a glass with green liquid, then pours water from a carafe over a sugar cube, which rests on an intricate silver spoon suspended atop the glass. He tells Mina, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the self. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.” Mina takes the sugar cube and sucks on it with a look of ecstasy on her face.

Needless to say, I swooned.

For the past decade, absinthe has been enjoying a revival, but back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of it. The public Internet was in its infancy, so I had to do some old-fashioned library research in order to learn more about this mysterious drink. I discovered that it was a popular libation in Gilded Age Paris that was purported to have psychedelic properties and had been credited with inspiring great works of impressionist art, literature, and music. It had also been illegal in the United States since 1915.

Absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink featuring a mixture of botanicals, including sweet anise, fennel, lemon balm, star anise, and peppermint. One primary ingredient is grande wormwood, an herb containing high levels of thujone, long thought to be responsible for absinthe’s mind-altering effects. Due to its transformational nature and the vivid green color of the liquid, drinking absinthe became known as “romancing the green fairy.” It was believed to be highly addictive and, in the lead-up to Prohibition, took the blame for many of the social problems of the day.

The forbidden always seems more exotic, so I plotted to get my hands on a bottle, but years passed without success. I traveled to New Orleans in the spring of 2000 and visited the site of the Old Absinthe Bar where, ironically, there was not a drop of absinthe to be had due to the continued ban on its importation, but I was not the only one who’d caught absinthe fever. That same year, a product called Absente was released in America. Marketed as the first legal absinthe in the U.S. since the ban, it was made using a process similar to the original 19th-century versions, replacing the wormwood with southernwood and adding sugar.

I immediately purchased a bottle, along with their matching absinthe-style glasses and spoons. Still infatuated with the ritual that I’d seen at the cinema and read about in my research, I reverently set up my glass and spoon, placing the sugar cube just so, then carefully poured ice-cold water over the sugar and into the glass of Absente. I watched, captivated, as they combined to create la louche—the magical alchemy that transforms clear, emerald-hued absinthe into the opaline shade of green milk glass. This was finally happening! I brought the glass to my lips and took a sip.

In the build-up to this moment, I’d never entertained the thought that anticipation of a thing is often greater than the thing itself. I had also failed to consider that absinthe contains two types of anise—a flavor I don’t favor. Further, I’d never been a fan of hard liquor. Even watered down and sweetened up, this brew was robust, to say the least. I could only choke down about half of the liquid.

Disappointed, but unbowed, I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my quest for true absinthe. Despite discovering that I didn’t dig the drink, I still yearned to experience the heady effects that had inspired artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec and authors such as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway, so the search carried on and I continued to accrue absinthe accoutrements.

Helping to keep the dream alive, absinthe was featured in two movies released in 2001. The first was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, in which several characters savor the spirit and subsequently hallucinate a green fairy in the form of Kylie Minogue. A few months later, I found myself once again in the theater staring up at a stunning bottle of absinthe in From Hell, where Johnny Depp’s character is at once chasing the dragon and romancing the green fairy.

Eventually, Kirsti—who’d caught the absinthe bug from me—convinced a friend who was traveling to the Czech Republic to smuggle a bottle of genuine absinthe back to the U.S. for us. Bottle finally in hand, we set out our paraphernalia and prepared to imbibe. This was it.

Antique silver absinthe spoons are highly collectible, but these stainless steel versions are beautiful and affordable.

I didn’t feel the same thrill I’d experienced when preparing to drink Absente for the first time, but we performed the revered ritual and drank up. I finished my entire glass and even had another, but as the evening progressed, I never felt more than a slight buzz from the alcohol—no symphonies heard, stanzas conceived, or scenes envisioned, and not a single flash of fairy wings.

The romance was officially over.

My absinthe-related supplies and books were relegated to a dusty shelf, while the bottle of contraband liquor languished in a cabinet. This would have been the end of the story if not for our friend Mika, who, in addition to being a trained opera singer and pastry chef, is a talented mixologist with a knack for dreaming up delicious drinks. She likes to rinse a glass with absinthe before constructing a cocktail, or incorporate a small measure in the mixture itself, imparting an almost floral note that I find enchanting. Like many a skilled composer, she doesn’t always transcribe her technique, but BuzzFeed compiled a convenient list of absinthe cocktails for those who don’t take their liquor neat—or too seriously.

Hidden within this vintage-inspired artwork by Robert Rodriguez are the names of Tempus Fugit’s absinthes.

If you have the heart of a true absintheur, you’re in luck! Absinthe was officially legalized in the United States in 2007, leading to a flood of options for enthusiasts. Absente was reformulated to contain actual wormwood, and even Marilyn Manson got in on the game with his acclaimed version, Mansinthe. Many are of high quality, but beware of imitations. I tried one that looked more like mouthwash than absinthe and did not form a louche when water and sugar were added. We at The Swoon Society are partial to Vieux Pontarlier, a pre-ban absinthe from Tempus Fugit Spirits, purveyors of luscious liqueurs in beautiful bottles.

Despite some conflict along the way, this green fairy tale has a happy ending, so raise a glass in cheers to a journey of 25 years, but opt for emerald and skip the silver…unless there are vampires about.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Absinthe

 

Have you caught the bug? For detailed information about the history, ingredients, and ritual of absinthe, visit Absinthe Fever.

 

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When a Costume Comes Along, You Must Whip It

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Music, Nostalgia, Pop Culture

DEVO 1I think most of us have a pivotal moment where we are living our young lives, oblivious to everything except Saturday morning cartoons and making sure your mom bought Hostess Fruit Pies for your school lunches. And then one day it happens. You realize there is something more out there, that there is a whole world filled with movies and music, art and culture (and, better yet, counter-culture). For me, music was the thing that woke me up, made me take notice and understand there was something great and magical outside of my Valley suburb. Music made me realize I was alive.

I remember the day it happened for me. The year was 1980. MTV had not launched yet. I was listening to KROQ (back when they really played alternative music) and “Whip It” by DEVO came on. I stopped what I was doing and stared at the radio, unable to move or breathe. I’d never heard music like this before. I felt crazy excitement—a buzzing inside my body that made me want to run through the streets and be wild. I felt free. I felt like I had found my tribe. I also felt a little afraid, as if, in this very moment, my life was changed forever and I could never go back to the way it was.

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The first time I actually saw what DEVO looked like, I was babysitting and they were on The Merv Griffin Show. I knew I liked their music, but when I saw them, my jaw dropped and I gasped. What was going on with the weird red hats (called Energy Domes) and the jerky dance moves? Why are they all wearing the same outfits? What are those noises they are creating that I’ve never heard before? And—holy crap!—is that guy playing a keyboard like a guitar? I was swirling with questions, but there was no Internet to ask. I was giddy with delight, but there was no Instagram to document my happiness. I was alone in a strange living room with all this excited emotion and I didn’t know a soul who would understand how wonderful and important this moment was to me.

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“Whip It” good in this DEVO costume from Atom Age Industries.

These days, I have a DEVO poster framed in my office and a DEVO action figure on my desk, and when I wear my DEVO t-shirt, I can’t help but feel happy. Recently, I found out that Atom Age Industries is making a fully licensed “Whip It Outfit and Energy Dome.” Not only can I be the uncontested darling of ANY Halloween soirée, I can look incredibly cool walking my dog and freaking out my neighbors. If they ask me what’s up with my outfit, I’ll just say, “We are DEVO. D-E-V-O.” That should put them right at ease. And the entire delicious ensemble comes in a super cool retro box that you are going to want to keep out in plain view for others to covet. At $40 for the whole shebang, I’m going to stock up. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m sure they will pass me over, because they will understand that I’m just way too awesome to gorge on, and they will probably want to come over and listen to some of my records. Atom Age Industries also has a RAD Booji Boy mask and many other trinkets and baubles to help you Devolutionize.

I still feel that buzzing inside whenever I hear a DEVO song. It is a good reminder that I am alive. If you need me, I’ll be the one in the red Energy Dome running wild through the streets.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

DEVO “Whip It” Costume

 

 

A Show with Legs

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Music, Theatre

Jane Eyre Original Broadway Cast RecordingReading Jane Eyre in high school had me racing to English class each day to discuss the brooding Mr. Rochester and the mystery in his attic. I fell hard for gothic romance and subsequently saw every iteration of the story on film, which is why a notice about a pre-Broadway tryout of the musical version at the La Jolla Playhouse caught my eye in the summer of 1999. I recruited My Crazy Friend Marianne™ to drive with me from L.A. to San Diego to see the show, and was later able to catch it on Broadway in 2001 during its brief run.

Since then, I’ve followed the career of composer and lyricist Paul Gordon, but I somehow failed to hear about his production of Daddy Long Legs until mere weeks after it had finished its premiere run at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura County, just a short drive north of Los Angeles. Disappointed at this missed opportunity, I consoled myself by listening to the delightful cast recording, which presents the story in such a way that I was able to clearly envision the show.

Daddy Long Legs Original Cast RecordingUntil reading about the musical, I’d never heard of the book Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster or the 1955 film of the same name starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. The book is an epistolary novel, told through a series of letters, and the musical takes advantage of this device. Set in early 1900s New England, it tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, “The Oldest Orphan in the John Grier Home,” a trustee of which chooses to be her benefactor and send her to school for a proper education. Though she’s never met him, she sees his long shadow cast by the lights of a car as he’s leaving the home and nicknames him Daddy Long Legs. His one requirement is that she write to him regularly with updates about her progress, and it is through these letters that her intelligence, humor, and innocent wonder begin to chip away at his cynicism. While she assumes that he is an older gentlemen, he’s actually a young man who is starting to develop feelings for her.

Daddy Long Legs is one of the sweetest, most charming musicals I’ve ever heard. Sung entirely by the two main characters, the inventive score is brought to life by the expressive voices of stars Megan McGinnis and Paul Alexander Nolan (Robert Adelman Hancock in the original production). And, like a Progressive Era You’ve Got Mail (a Swoon Society favorite), the letter-writing format heightens the anticipation as it builds to the big reveal. Unfortunately, despite being nominated for three Outer Critics Circle Awards (Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, Book of a Musical, and New Score) and two Drama Desk Awards (Outstanding Musical and Score), the show will close its Off-Broadway run on June 6th after less than nine months.

Daddy Long Legs Original Off-Broadway Cast RecordingIt seems I’m always just two steps behind these Long Legs, first missing the original production in my own backyard, then neglecting to read about the livestream event this past December until shortly after it had come and gone. Now the show will close in less than a week, dashing any hope of seeing it on Broadway, but the music lives on. Perhaps, like other critical darlings that have closed after short runs (remember Side Show?), it will find new life in regional theatres and I’ll have the opportunity to see it someday.

Until then, anyone can pop in the CD or download the Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording and swoon over this lyrical love letter. Even though the current production is coming to an end, I believe this show has legs and will continue to weave its magic for a long time to come.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Daddy Long Legs

 

The Off-Broadway Cast Recording is also available for download from Amazon and Google Play. The Original Cast Recording* can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon. The Original Broadway Cast Recording of Jane Eyre can be purchased as a CD or MP3 from Amazon and is available for download from iTunes.

 

*This recording is slightly different from the Off-Broadway version and contains my favorite verse from the show, which was cut from the subsequent production:

“I see my name upon the page,
She writes of me in such detail.
Am I just fostering her education,
Or reading someone else’s mail?”

 

Idol Away an Evening

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Movies, Nostalgia

The Idolmaker 1The weekend is almost here, which for many of you means heading home to Netflix and ch…ow, so whip up some pasta marinara, break out the Chianti, and beg, borrow, or buy the DVD* of this little-known gem to idle away an evening. The Idolmaker is the story of an Italian-American from Brooklyn named Vincent Vacarri who has the musical chops and songwriting talent to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, but lacks “the look,” so he mines a couple of diamonds in the rough and sets about polishing them into teen idols. In a kind of 1950s version of Cyrano de Bergerac, they perform his songs and speak, dress, and act as he dictates so that he can live vicariously (Vacarri-ously?) through them.

The film is loosely based on the life of Bob Marcucci, a rock promoter who discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian, managing their careers and guiding them to stardom. Directed by Taylor Hackford (Mr. Helen Mirren) and starring Ray Sharkey in a Golden Globe-winning performance, the movie also features a young Peter Gallagher in his film debut and boasts a soundtrack of catchy original songs that will have you humming along with the musical numbers.

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This poster from the film hung on my sister’s door throughout the ’80s.

This movie holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, my middle sister and I were friends with a girl who lived across the street, and when she and my sister were in their early teens, the girl’s brother-in-law recruited the two of them to be extras in a movie he was working on called…you guessed it…The Idolmaker. They spent a day acting(?) the part of screaming audience members in a concert scene for the film, which I heard about for weeks afterwards. Forlorn at having been too young to join them, I hung on every little detail.

When the film was released in November of 1980, my sister and I saw it multiple times over the months that followed, excited about the fact that our friend could be seen during the performance of “However Dark the Night” wearing my mother’s red sweater. At home, we acted out the musical numbers and must have made our parents crazy with the constant repetition of the soundtrack LP on our turntable. I was already friends with Kirsti at the time and dragged her with me to see the movie on more than one occasion. She still has my handwritten lyrics to some of the songs, which I gave her to memorize.

The Idolmaker 3Nowadays, Kirsti and I have a group of friends who trade off meeting at each other’s homes for dinner and a movie. Whoever hosts gets to choose the film. Last month it was Kirsti’s turn and, with my encouragement, she chose The Idolmaker. Despite receiving two Golden Globe nominations (Best Picture and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy) and one win, we rarely encounter anyone who has seen the film, so we weren’t surprised that most of the group hadn’t heard of it, but one person had not only seen the movie, he’d loved it enough to purchase TWO copies of the DVD. Even Kirsti’s husband, a camera assistant and film buff, hadn’t known about the movie until he’d met her, but he became a fan after finally viewing it with the group.

Much like the St. Francis Dam disaster, The Idolmaker was an important part of my childhood that seems to have been lost to history, but it’s worth reviving. Kirsti and I agree that, after the passage of more than three decades, the film holds up. It’s still as thoroughly entertaining to us as adults as it was when we were tweens, so if you’re stuck indoors this weekend with some idle time, make time for The Idolmaker and you’ll be seeing the stars.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Idolmaker

 

The DVD of The Idolmaker can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and stores like Best Buy, Fry’s, and Wal-Mart.

 

*The Idolmaker is not available for streaming, so unless you can find it for sale at a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll have to purchase it online or order it from Netflix on DVD and idle away a few days until it’s delivered. Until then, watch the trailer.

Tie Yourself Up in Scots

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Entertainment, History, Literature, Pop Culture, Television, Travel

Outlander 1As I mentioned in our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide (that thing keeps coming up again and again and again), I went to Scotland in 1997 with Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, which has been developed into a popular television show on Starz that will begin its second season this Saturday, April 9th.

At the time of this Highland fling, I worked for an audiobook company that did business with Romantic Times magazine (now RT Book Reviews). I was already a huge fan of the Outlander books—a genre-bending series that defies categorization—when the magazine announced that it was organizing a trip to Scotland led by Diana Gabaldon in which the author would take readers to the places she’d written about in her books. So, 19 years ago today, I hopped on a plane to spend a week in the land of kilts and bagpipes with one of my favorite authors.*

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Flushed from too much Scotch whiskey with Diana at the Stakis Grosvenor Hotel in Edinburgh.

Looking back, I’m not sure why Diana agreed to do it. If I was an author, being trapped in a foreign country with a bunch of fangirls would be my worst nightmare, but she was gracious and accommodating, making herself available to sign our books and answer our endless questions about the series. Her fourth novel, Drums of Autumn, had just been released, so the trip doubled as a book tour of sorts. Walking into one store, we were amused to see Diana’s novels displayed with other “Books by Scottish Authors,” since she is an American who had never set foot in Scotland prior to writing the first book in the series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Outlander, the novel is told from the perspective of Claire Randall, a British World War II combat nurse who, while vacationing in the Highlands of Scotland with her husband after the war, is transported through a circle of standing stones to 1743. There, she encounters her husband’s ancestor—a sadistic Redcoat—and a band of Scottish clansmen that includes Jamie Fraser, a man who will force her to choose between two different lives and two distant centuries. The series is enthralling, with its combination of historical realism, eloquent prose, pulse-pounding adventure, and passionate romance.

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With Diana at Clava Cairns near Inverness, April 14, 1997

***BOOK/SEASON TWO SPOILER AHEAD***

Back in 1997, Diana accompanied us to Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site near Inverness surrounded by stone circles that inspired Craigh na Dun, the fictional circle through which Claire travels back in time. We also visited Culloden field, site of the definitive battle between Scottish clans and British troops that, within the space of an hour, brought an end to the clan system and changed the course of Scotland’s history. There was a tangible sense of grief pervading the area, making us aware that the characters Diana wrote about in her books had flesh-and-blood counterparts who shed that blood on the very field beneath our feet.

***BOOK ONE SPOILER AHEAD***

Outlander 4During the trip, a few of us formed a group of friends, one of whom let us in on a little secret. Back in the states, she had done research on contemporary silversmiths in Scotland, trying to locate someone who could recreate the wedding ring that Jamie gives to Claire in Outlander, described as “a wide silver band, decorated in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link.”† She found a woman in Stirling who employed 18th-century techniques to fashion silver jewelry with Scottish motifs. On one of our free days, we met with this woman to discuss the ring and place our orders. Her final design was more rustic and had larger elements than the ring described in the book, but I still treasure it as a memento of the trip and an authentic piece of Scottish artistry.

***END OF SPOILERS***

Outlander 5Twenty-three years after its publication, I was thrilled to see that Outlander was being made into a series for television. Like most fans, I worried about casting and changes to the story, but everyone involved in the production did a fantastic job of bringing Diana’s first novel to life. Season One is out on DVD (in Volumes One and Two) and available for streaming, so there’s still time to tie yourself up in Scots by setting your DVR to record the new season as you catch up on the previous one.

With the series currently standing at eight full-length novels (a ninth is in progress), two novellas, one short story, a graphic novel, and a spin-off series (more of a “sub-series”), the producers should have plenty of material to keep the show going for years. And with some of the highest viewership in the history of Starz, that’s not an outlandish assumption.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Outlander – Books
Outlander – Television

 

*Technically, I hopped on a plane to New York City on April 7th in order to meet up with part of the RT group on the 8th. We flew to Iceland for a two-day pre-tour in Reykjavík before flying to Scotland on the 11th to join the rest of the group.

 

***SEASON ONE SPOILER BELOW***

†In the Starz adaptation, Jamie gives Claire a wedding ring made from the iron key to the front door of his home, Lallybroch. It may have been a sentimental choice, but it is not a particularly attractive one.

The Devil Made Me Queue It

Author: Kirsten K., Entertainment, Television

For the past few weeks, I’ve been swooning over a fiendishly fun new show on Fox called Lucifer. If you haven’t heard of it, the premise is that the angel Lucifer, bored with ruling Hell, decides to take an extended vacation in Los Angeles, where he runs a nightclub. His immortality, supernatural good looks, and ability to draw out people’s deepest desires make him one arrogant Antichrist, but events in the pilot episode throw him into the path of a pretty police detective who seems immune to his charms and is more than capable of holding her own with this silver-tongued devil.

The Devil Made Me Queue It

All the standard tropes of a police procedural-slash-romcom are here, but the demonic twist turns this into something original (like sin): a Beelzebuddy cop show. It’s like Castle set in L.A., if Richard Castle was the Angel of Darkness instead of the author of Derrick Storm, but actor Tom Ellis imbues Lucifer with so much sex appeal and devilish glee that I’d follow him into the Second Circle…and a second season. His irreverent humor and complete lack of shame remind me of Spike, only with darker hair and a sharper wardrobe. Definitely a Satan Worthy Of Our Notice.

As of this writing, the first few episodes are still available to watch online, so slither over to the Fox website and check them out, because they won’t be there for eternity. Once you’ve been subjected to this King of Babylon, you’ll want to babble on about him to all your friends like I did, gathering new minions for Lucifer. The only downside is living in limbo as we endure the infernal wait for each new episode. Hell and damnation!

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Lucifer

 

Lucifer airs Monday nights on Fox at 9:00 (8:00 Central).