lundi, décembre 15, 2008

gone walkabout

Leo and I are headed to Southeast Asia for a spell. We'll do our best to post photos and share our adventures along the way.

samedi, décembre 13, 2008

le tour du chocolat

For future reference, includes map.
Journeys: Le Tour du Chocolat
Published: December 14, 2008

THE French have elevated many things to high art: fashion, flirting, foie gras. Chocolate is no exception. With boutiques that display truffles as rapturously as diamonds, the experience of visiting a Parisian chocolatier can be sublime.

The problem, of course, is squeezing in as many of these indulgent visits as possible while also giving the rest of the city its due. My solution: devote one full day to chocolate boutiques, and do it in style. So, on my last visit to Paris, I took to the city’s Vélib’ bike system and mastered a two-wheeled circuit of eight of the chocolatiers that had the best reputations and most glowing reviews in city guidebooks and online message boards. It was exhilarating and exhausting, not to mention decadent. It was a chocoholic’s dream ride.

The Vélib’s — industrial-looking road bikes that are already icons of Parisian-chic just a year and a half after the city initiated the program — made the moveable feast more fun. Progressing from pralines to pavés, I spun by the Eiffel Tower, zipped across the Seine and careened through the spindly streets of St.-Germain-des-Prés alongside other bikers: Parisians in summer dresses and business suits, their front baskets toting briefcases, baguettes and sometimes even Jack Russell terriers.

Practically speaking, the bikes were all but essential. How else could I cover five arrondissements in as many hours, while simultaneously countering a day of debaucherous extremes?

The hedonism began in the center of town with the oldest master on my list, Michel Cluizel (201, rue St.-Honoré; 33-1-42-44-11-66;, who has been making chocolate since 1948. A short distance from a Vélib’ station at the intersection of Rues de l’Echelle and St-Honoré, I passed luxury stores flaunting billowy gowns and four-inch Mary Janes and stepped inside what was just as divine: a store where molten chocolate spews from a fountain and the shelves are stocked with bars containing as much as 99 percent cacao.

Mr. Cluizel has a single American outpost, in Manhattan, at which I’ve indulged in hot cocoa made with a blend of five cocoa beans. At his Parisian shop, managed by his daughter Catherine, I discovered the macarolat (1.55 euros, or about $2 at $1.29 to the euro). A chocolate version of the macaroon, it has a dark chocolate shell filled with almond and hazelnut praline, the nuts ground coarsely to give a rich, grainy texture. It was two bites that combined creamy and crunchy, snap and subtlety. But it was just two bites; I wanted more.

A quick spin west landed me at the doors of Jean-Paul Hévin (231, rue St-Honoré, (33-1-55-35-35-96; A modern blend of dark wood cabinetry, slate floors and backlit wall cubbies where cobalt-accented boxes of bonbons are displayed, the space would feel intimidating if not for the shopkeepers, who are both numerous and gracious as they juggle the crowds ogling mango coriander macaroons and Pyramide cakes. After considerable debate — would it be ridiculously gluttonous to have a “choco passion,” a cocoa cake with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and praline puff pastry, so early in the day? — I settled on a caramel bûche (3.20 euros). Larger than an individual bonbon but smaller than a Hershey bar, the silky caramel enrobed in delicate dark chocolate hit the sweet spot.

With the choco-salty taste lingering on my tongue, I picked up a bike outside the Hôtel Costes, craning my neck to spy any A-listers — were Sting and Trudie in there? Beyoncé and Jay-Z? — and set out for the 16th Arrondissement.

Just beyond the Place de la Concorde I veered onto Avenue Gabriel. It is a curving street that winds past both the United States Embassy and Pierre Cardin’s showcase for young artists, Espace, before eventually turning into a narrow cafe-lined passage where you have to weave around double-parked delivery trucks. Hoping to avoid throngs of wide-eyed tourists on the parallel Champs-Élysées and cars haphazardly zigging and zagging on the rotary around the Arc de Triomphe, I took the residential backstreets to Avenue Victor Hugo.

It was on this street that I found the most eccentric chocolatier on my list: Patrick Roger (45, avenue Victor Hugo; 33-1-45-01-66-71; It’s not just the chocolate sculptures (a life-size farmer, for example), seasonal window displays (a family of penguins, also life-size) or snazzy aquamarine packaging he’s known for: his intensely flavored bonbons are as bold as they come.

“I do think Patrick Roger is outstanding since he combines new, unusual flavors,” said David Lebovitz, an American chocolate connoisseur, author of “The Great Book of Chocolate” and a Paris resident. But, he added, Mr. Rogers “isn’t doing weird flavors just to be trendy, like others tend to do in Paris nowadays.”

I sampled a few to confirm. The Jamaica has a rich coffee flavor from ground Arabica coffee beans; the Jacarepagua blends sharp lemon curd and fresh mint, and then there’s the Phantasme, made with ... oatmeal. Each costs less than 1 euro.

About 90 minutes in, I had tasted creamy, salty and tart and had traversed a good stretch of the city. I was high — on Paris and sugar — coasting beneath Avenue Kléber’s towering chestnut and plane trees toward the Place du Trocadéro in the 16th Arrondissement. Winding my way down the steep hills of the Rue Benjamin Franklin and the Boulevard Delessert, past romantic cafes and limestone edifices, alternately beige and gray depending on the light, I felt as though I was in a quaint Gallic village, not the capital city. That is until I was spit out across the river from the grandest Parisian landmark of all: the Eiffel Tower.

Digital cameras flashed, souvenirs were hawked and regiments of tour buses idled in one big mechanical whir. It was as if every foreigner had descended on the monument at that very moment. I didn’t exhale until I entered the quietly sophisticated Seventh Arrondissement.

Michel Chaudun (149, rue de l’Université, 33-1-47-53-74-40) is wildly talented as an artist and chocolate sculptor (his watercolors decorate the store along with chocolate Fabergé eggs and African statues), to say nothing of his reputation for being one of the world’s best chocolatiers. After 22 years of turning cacao into sublime bonbons, he’s responsible for influencing many of the city’s newer generation of chocolatiers.

His pavés are particularly worshipped. They’re sugar cube-size squares of cocoa-dusted ganache that you deftly spear from the box with a toothpick and then allow to melt a little on your tongue a little before biting into the rich creaminess. Fresh and luscious, they’re also hypersensitive to warm temperatures. Which meant — tant pis — if I tried to save any for later, they would wind up a choco-puddle.

Hopping on and off the Vélib’s so often courted a certain amount of trouble. Parisian cynicism reared its head when a disgusted man at a station told me that 90 percent of the bikes don’t work. I wouldn’t say the defective bicycles were that frequent, but I learned an essential checklist: Are the tires inflated? The rims, straight? Is the front basket intact? Do the gears work? Is the chain attached? With these things checked, you’re good to go, as I was after savoring the last pavé from my modest box of six (3.40 euros).

Cutting across the square fields in front of Les Invalides I glided by college students throwing Frisbees and old men playing pétanque. To my right, the gilded dome of Les Invalides; to my left, more gold crowning the ornate Alexandre III bridge. This was a decadent journey indeed.

Finally, in the Sixth Arrondissement, it seemed I could toss an M & M in any direction and hit a world-class chocolatier. There was the whimsical Jean-Charles Rochoux (16, rue d’Assas, 33-1-42-84-29-45;, where gaudy chocolate sculptures of garden gnomes belie the serious artistry of his Maker’s Mark truffles.

Christian Constant (37, rue d’Assas, 33-1-53-63-15-15), a Michelin-starred chef and award-winning chocolatier, excels at such spicy and floral notes as saffron and ylang-ylang. Pierre Marcolini (89, rue de Seine, 33-1-4407-3907;, the lone Belgian of the group, offers 75 percent dark chocolate from seven South American and African regions. Buzzing, I intended to finish the circuit in grand style.

The line snaking out of Pierre Hermé’s slim boutique (72, rue Bonaparte, 33-1-43-54-47-77; told me I was doing the right thing. When I made it inside the snapping automatic doors, it was (forgive me!) like being a kid in a candy store: pristine rows of cakes adorned with fresh berries, coffee beans and dark chocolate shavings.

“Un Plénitude, s’il vous plait.”

I took my treasure to a nearby park and tucked into the dome-shaped cake filled with chocolate mousse and ganache, crunchy caramel and fleur de sel. I relished the fluffy whipped richness, the bite of dark chocolate and the tang of salt. Had I died and gone to heaven? No, it was just a rapturous day in the City of Light and dark chocolate.


After doubling the number bicycles since the program started last summer to 20,600, Paris’ Vélib’’ ( is now the largest free bike program in France. There are 1,451 stations in the city, or one approximately every 900 feet. Each station has about 15 to 20 bikes. The bikes are simple: three speeds, an adjustable seat, a bell and basket and a headlight.

By purchasing a one-day or weeklong pass at the kiosk located at a station, you can hop on any bicycle and drop it at your next destination. To unlock a bike, you punch in your personal access code at the kiosk.

Though it’s called a free bike program (Vélib’ is short for vélo libre, or free bike), a day pass costs 1 euro. The first half-hour on the bike is no additional charge, the second half-hour is 1 euro, and the third half-hour is 2 euros. After that, it’s 4 euros every half-hour. The shorter your trips, the lower the cost. My total cost for five hours was 12.60 euros, or about $16.15 at $1.29 to the euro.

orange-scented roasted root vegetables

Leo and I had lots of carrots, turnips, onions, and some sweet potato to use up before our vacation, so we looked for a root vegetable recipe. This one knocked our socks off tonight with chicken piccata, some roasted green beans, and viognier.
Orange-Scented Roasted Root Vegetables This no-fuss side dish roasts while you're tending to the rest of the meal.

4 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato (we had 2 cups)
3 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled rutabaga (we used 1 1/2 cups of turnips)
2 cups (1-inch) sliced parsnip (we used 2 1/2 cups of carrots)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (we used grapeseed)
2 medium onions, each cut into 8 wedges
Cooking spray (we omitted this)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade (because we were out of orange marmalade, we used the last of the Navarro vineyards cranberry pinot noir wine jelly that Diana L. sent us. We also added 1 TBSP orange zest to give it an orange aroma)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sweet honey mustard (we used organic yellow mustard and added honey)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (we forgot this)
Dash of ground nutmeg (we forgot this)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a bowl; toss. Arrange vegetables in a single layer in a shallow roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes; stir twice.

Combine sugar and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 1 minute. Pour over vegetables; toss gently. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Yield: 7 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

CALORIES 229 (11% from fat); FAT 2.8g (sat 0.5g,mono 0.7g,poly 1.1g); IRON 1.4mg; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 84mg; CARBOHYDRATE 50.7g; SODIUM 148mg; PROTEIN 3g; FIBER 4.9g

Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 1997

vendredi, décembre 12, 2008

you're the one that i want

Leo and I were enthralled as we watched this. Ruby, not so much.

And for the record, it's Canine Dancesport, not dog dancing.

Getting two dogs to do it (and different moves at that) is more than my brain can process at the moment.

jeudi, décembre 11, 2008

no more pencils, no more books. no more teacher's dirty looks.

I just crossed another item off of life's to-do list: getting a graduate degree.

Three and a half years have passed since I started, and I'm relieved to be done. Now, it's time to get back to the rest of my to-do list.

mercredi, décembre 10, 2008

just ask ruby

Research News: Dogs Understand Fairness, Get Jealous, Study Finds
by Nell Greenfieldboyce
Morning Edition, December 9, 2008 · Dogs have an intuitive understanding of fair play and become resentful if they feel that another dog is getting a better deal, a new study has found.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at how dogs react when a buddy is rewarded for the same trick in an unequal way.

Friederike Range, a researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria, and her colleagues did a series of experiments with dogs who knew how to respond to the command "give the paw," or shake. The dogs were normally happy to repeatedly give the paw, whether they got a reward or not.

But that changed if they saw that another dog was being rewarded with a piece of food, while they received nothing.

"We found that the dogs hesitated significantly longer when obeying the command to give the paw," the researchers write. The unrewarded dogs eventually stopped cooperating.

Scientists have long known that humans pay close attention to inequity. Even little children are quick to yell "Not fair!" But researchers always assumed that animals didn't share this trait.

"The argument was that this is a uniquely human phenomenon," says Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta and a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

That changed in 2003 when he and a colleague named Sarah Brosnan did a study on monkeys. Monkeys had to hand a small rock to researchers to get a piece of food in return. Monkeys were happy to do this to get a piece of cucumber. But the monkeys would suddenly act insulted to be offered cucumber if they saw that another monkey was getting a more delicious reward, a grape, for doing the same job.

"The one who got cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, threw out the rock that we exchanged with them, and at some point just stopped performing," says de Waal.

In that experiment, the monkeys considered the fairness of two different types of payment. But when Range and her colleagues did a similar study with their trained dogs, testing to see if dogs would become upset if they only got dark bread when other dogs received sausage, they found that dogs did not make that kind of subtle distinction. As long as the dogs got some kind of food payment, even if it wasn't the yummiest kind, the animals would play along.

Dogs, like monkeys, live in cooperative societies, so de Waal was not surprised that they would have also some sense of fairness. He expects other animals do as well. For example, he says, lions hunt cooperatively, and he "would predict that lions would be sensitive to who has done what and what do they get for it."

lundi, décembre 08, 2008

sleep with the right people

"Gay, straight, black, white ... marriage is a civil right!"

Leo and I shouted this with D and Ophy at a protest Saturday night. We walked from A-1 Storage on PCH to the Manchester Grand Hyatt. A-1's owner gave $750K to Yes on 8. Doug Manchester gave $125K to Yes on 8. (Side note: Manchester ostensibly donated the money to support marriage ... yet he and his wife are separating and getting divorced. Yes, folks. Karma can be a beeeyotch.)

Anyhow, the coalition of marchers included Latino hotel workers and white gay boys (and girls), uniting as part of Sleep With The Right I found it very encouraging that Latino hotel workers seeking to unionize and get a fair wage and fair working conditions could get behind gay rights (and vice versa). It leaves me hopeful that the gay community and African Americans can get on the same page, as well.
Op-Ed Contributors: Showdown in the Big Tent
December 7, 2008
Los Angeles

THE attitude of white, liberal Hollywood toward African- American churches has long been one of almost participatory respect. Whether it’s Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, or the Blind Boys of Alabama on the iPod, or a serious — reverential — mention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference over dinner, the understanding is clear: the black church is a foundational institution in the history of the civil rights struggle, and its music (although it makes reference to Jesus Christ as a personal savior) is smoking hot.

It was only recently that the A-list discovered that this love is unrequited. Last month, Proposition 8 passed, making gay marriage illegal in California, and the demographic that lent insult to injury was the state’s African-American voters.

They came to the polls in record numbers to support Barack Obama, and they brought with them a fiercely held and enduring antipathy toward homosexuality: 7 in 10 blacks voted in support of traditional marriage. Whether that was the game-changer or not is a question for near-constant debate. Many gay activists have begun quietly to suggest that had Hillary Clinton been the Democratic nominee, Prop 8 would not have passed.

Of the values progressives hold dear, none can be as central or as cherished as the promotion of diversity. It is a word that has become almost a term of art. When a private school champions its embrace of “diversity,” parents understand that the admissions office is not dying to enroll the son of a white evangelical minister or the daughter of a founding partner of a white-shoe law firm. Rather, we know that the school makes an intentional effort to include children of certain minority groups among its student body, and that most important among those groups are African-Americans and the children of gay families.

Left-leaning California’s horror about this newly revealed schism between two of its favorite sons is a situation that cries out for a villain, but the one that liberal white Hollywood has chosen for the role probably won’t make it all the way to the third act.

“It’s their churches,” somebody whispered to one of us not long after the election; “It’s their Christianity,” someone else hissed, rolling her eyes. Apparently the religion espoused by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now the enemy, at least among the smart set, and if this sounds like a regional issue, it’s not.

What we in California have been forced to confront, before anyone had even had the chance to sweep up the tinsel or plop the first Alka-Seltzers into the glasses of water after that heavenly night in Grant Park, is that there’s a big difference between coalition politics and rainbow party politics.

A coalition is composed of groups that may dislike — or even hate — one another, but who understand the shared political expediency of standing together. Rainbow party politics involve bringing together masses of people who are identified by being burdened by a particular grievance. Soon enough — in groups forged of such friable bonds, and almost always when matters of morality and lifestyle come into play — you will discover that one oppressed group does not necessarily support the goals of another oppressed group.

Hollywood, of course, is a city full of statesmen and moral authorities, and many of them ran to their pulpits and Web sites to get on the right side of this issue, but there was no way to hold both truths together in a position that was both acceptably liberal and coherent. “At some point in our lifetime,” said George Clooney, “gay marriage won’t be an issue, and everyone who stood against this civil right will look as outdated as George Wallace standing on the school steps keeping James Hood from entering the University of Alabama because he was black.”

To the opponents of Proposition 8, this kind of analogy is a rallying cry; but as white Hollywood has recently discovered, to the blacks who voted for the measure, it’s galling. Comparing the infringement on civil rights that gays are experiencing to that suffered by black Americans is to begin a game of “top my oppression” that you’re not going to win. The struggle for equality — beginning with freedom from human bondage (see: references to the book of Exodus at the Gospel Brunch) — has been so central to African-American identity that many blacks find homosexual claims of a commensurate level of injustice frivolous, and even offensive.

Furthermore — and perhaps even more painfully for those of us who support gay marriage and all that it represents — Christian teaching on marriage is not the only reason so many blacks supported Proposition 8. Although it has come as a shocking realization to many in this community, a host of sociological studies confirm that many blacks feel a significant aversion to homosexuality itself, finding it morally and sexually repugnant. And here in essence is the problem with the Democrats’ big tent, as well as the grounds for a wholly new kind of culture war that is probably going to make us long for the clear lines and simple enmities of the old one. The New Deal coalition was a mass movement based on building a more just economic and political order, embracing Protestant evangelicals and Catholic immigrants, segregationists and integrationists, radical left-wingers and unionized working men from the steel belt, all holding their noses with one hand and pulling the lever with the other. Many of us who voted for Mr. Obama want the same things that the New Dealers wanted; we aren’t trying to advance a cause as much as we want to regain so much lost ground.

“This is our moment,” the president-elect has told us, stirringly. This is our time to stand shoulder to shoulder, the hipsters of Washington Square and the minivan moms of Minnetonka. Our nation is seeing huge numbers of its citizens slide into actual — and virtually intractable, if we keep hold of President Bush’s policies — poverty. We can stand together on these big issues, or we can balkanize ourselves with the help of good old-fashioned identity politics, which didn’t serve too well the last time around.

As anyone who ever had to sit through a lecture on “the paradox of tolerance” can tell you, it’s possible to create a vast utopian society forged of many previously disenfranchised groups — but you don’t want to ask too many questions.

Caitlin Flanagan is the author of “To Hell With All That.” Benjamin Schwarz is the national and literary editor of The Atlantic.

beyond gay and straight: mexico's muxe

I thought this article (and the accompanying slideshow) were fascinating.
A Lifestyle Distinct: The Muxe of Mexico
Published: December 6, 2008

Mexico City — Mexico can be intolerant of homosexuality; it can also be quite liberal. Gay-bashing incidents are not uncommon in the countryside, where many Mexicans consider homosexuality a sin. In Mexico City, meanwhile, same-sex domestic partnerships are legally recognized — and often celebrated lavishly in government offices as if they were marriages.

But nowhere are attitudes toward sex and gender quite as elastic as in the far reaches of the southern state of Oaxaca. There, in the indigenous communities around the town of Juchitán, the world is not divided simply into gay and straight. The local Zapotec people have made room for a third category, which they call “muxes” (pronounced MOO-shays) — men who consider themselves women and live in a socially sanctioned netherworld between the two genders.

“Muxe” is a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish “mujer,” or woman; it is reserved for males who, from boyhood, have felt themselves drawn to living as a woman, anticipating roles set out for them by the community.

Anthropologists trace the acceptance of people of mixed gender to pre-Colombian Mexico, pointing to accounts of cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who were male and female at the same time. Spanish colonizers wiped out most of those attitudes in the 1500s by forcing conversion to Catholicism. But mixed-gender identities managed to survive in the area around Juchitán, a place so traditional that many people speak ancient Zapotec instead of Spanish.

Not all muxes express their identities the same way. Some dress as women and take hormones to change their bodies. Others favor male clothes. What they share is that the community accepts them; many in it believe that muxes have special intellectual and artistic gifts.

Every November, muxes inundate the town for a grand ball that attracts local men, women and children as well as outsiders. A queen is selected; the mayor crowns her. “I don’t care what people say,” said Sebastian Sarmienta, the boyfriend of a muxe, Ninel Castillejo García. “There are some people who get uncomfortable. I don’t see a problem. What is so bad about it?”

Muxes are found in all walks of life in Juchitán, but most take on traditional female roles — selling in the market, embroidering traditional garments, cooking at home. Some also become sex workers, selling their services to men. .

Acceptance of a child who feels he is a muxe is not unanimous; some parents force such children to fend for themselves. But the far more common sentiment appears to be that of a woman who takes care of her grandson, Carmelo, 13.

“It is how God sent him,” she said.

Katie Orlinsky contributed reporting from Juchitán, Mexico.

mercredi, décembre 03, 2008

caucasian anyone?

The WT Russian scares me.
White Russians Arise, This Time at a Bowling Alley
Published: December 2, 2008

AMONG the significant dates in the history of Kahlúa, the Mexican coffee liqueur, surely March 6, 1998, rates a mention.

That was the release date of “The Big Lebowski,” the Coen Brothers movie about an aging slacker who calls himself the Dude, and who, after a thug urinates on his prized rug, becomes caught up in a Chandleresque mystery.

Played with slouchy brio by Jeff Bridges, the Dude’s chief pursuits involve bowling, avoiding work and drinking White Russians, the sweet cocktail made with vodka, Kahlúa and cream or milk.

The movie was a flop when it was released, but in the decade since, “The Big Lebowski” has attracted a cult following, and as the film’s renown has grown, so has the renown of the White Russian, or, as the Dude calls them, “Caucasians.” The drink is the subject of experimentation at cutting-edge bars like Tailor, in SoHo, which serves a crunchy dehydrated version — a sort of White Russian cereal. The British electro-pop band Hot Chip, meanwhile, recently invented a variation named the Black Tarantula. Not long ago, the cocktail was considered passé and often likened, in its original formula, to an alcoholic milkshake.

“When I first encountered it in the 1970s, the White Russian was something real alcoholics drank, or beginners,” said David Wondrich, the drinks correspondent for Esquire. Now, ordering the drink is “the mark of the hipster,” he said.

Americans’ renewed appreciation for coffee, spurred by Starbucks, which now markets its own coffee liqueur, may have also contributed to the White Russian’s comeback.

To see the White Russian renaissance in full bloom, it is instructive to attend a Lebowski Fest, the semiannual gatherings where fans of the movie revel in the Dude’s deeply casual approach to life. There, the White Russian is consumed in oil-tanker quantities.

This was much in evidence at a fest held last month in New York, where 1,000 or so “achievers,” as the movie’s buffs call themselves, took over Lucky Strike Lanes, a bowling alley in Manhattan. The White Russian demand was such that, in addition to two bars, a White Russian satellite station had been set up and bartenders were in back mixing vats of reinforcements.

It turned out that management was following a directive from the event’s organizers. “When we line up a venue, we always have the White Russian talk,” said Will Russell, a founder of the Lebowski Fest.

Mr. Russell has learned from experience to lay in provisions. He recalled an incident at an early festival in his hometown of Louisville, Ky.

“Milk sold out within a one-mile radius of the bowling alley” where the event was held, he said. “We had to go to every local mini-market and gas station to satisfy the requirements of the achievers.”

At Lucky Strike Lanes, the line at the White Russian station was often 10 deep, and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to sidle up to the counter and say, “I’ll take four.” The bartender would lift a 12-quart plastic tub, straining to hold it steady as the mud-colored liquid sloshed.

Several people were dressed in character, including four men who showed up as white Russians: white painter pants, white T-shirts, brown fuzzy hats. Each drank their namesake, except one guy, who nursed a bottle of Miller Lite. “I’m lactose intolerant,” he said.

The White Russian is not for the faint of stomach. “The cream is going to build up,” said Ted Haigh, the author of “Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails.” “If you’re drinking these all night, the sugar will build, too, and you’ll have a hell of a hangover.”

If not an expanded waistline. A popular deviation is the Slim Russian, made with either soy or low-fat milk.

Still, some prefer the drink precisely because it is so rich. “I’m one of those fat guys that guzzle milk by the gallon,” said Steve Barber, 28, an antique motorcycle restorer from Saugerties, N.Y., who was attending his first Lebowski Fest and came dressed in a flak vest like the Dude’s Vietnam veteran buddy, Walter. Unlike a lot of Lebowski fans, Mr. Barber has a taste for the drink that predates his viewing of the movie. Several years ago, he said, he used to mix himself a White Russian every day for breakfast: “I called it the ‘Big Boy Milkshake.’ “

Lebowski viewers often develop a taste for White Russians that carries beyond the film or the festivals.

“I’d had them before, but not regularly,” said Don Plehn, 39, a district court clerk from Baltimore. “I drink a lot more of them now.” Mr. Plehn took a sip of his third White Russian of the night and said, “It’s a slow-sippin’ drink.”

Lebowski adherents may have vaulted the White Russian to icon status, but serious cocktail enthusiasts still deride it for being simplistic and overly sweet — a confection designed to appeal to unserious drinkers.

“It’s hard to think of a more boring drink, except, perhaps, when it’s spraying from the Dude’s mouth,” said Martin Doudoroff, a historian for

Skeptics like Mr. Doudoroff would probably blanch at a variation called the White Trash Russian. “You take a bottle of Yoo-hoo,” Mr. Russell said, “drink half, then fill it with vodka and enjoy.”

Believed to date to the 1950s or early 1960s, the White Russian has no great origin story; its culinary precursor is the Alexander. Having been popular in the disco ’70s, the cocktail is, in the words of Mr. Doudoroff, “a relic of an era that was the absolute nadir of the American bar.”

As it happens, this was the period when Jeff Dowd was living in Seattle, driving a taxi and doing a lot of “heavy hanging,” as he put it. Mr. Dowd, 59, an independent film producer and producers representative, is the inspiration for the Dude — a character Joel and Ethan Coen created by taking what Mr. Dowd was like back then and exaggerating a bit, although the White Russians preference is spot on.

“There was a woman I lived with named Connie,” Mr. Dowd said, by phone from his office in Santa Monica, Calif., beginning a rambling oration that was highly Dude-like. “She and her boyfriend, Jamie, were mixologists. We were hanging out and drinking at that time. We went from White Russians to Dirty Mothers, a darker version of a White Russian. It was a very hedonistic period.”

Mr. Dowd moved on from White Russians years ago, but has started drinking them again, mainly so as not to disappoint fans. “When I first met Cheech at the Sundance Film Festival,” he said, referring to Cheech Marin of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, “the first thing we all wanted to do is smoke a joint with him so we could tell our grandchildren, ‘Hey, I smoked a joint with Cheech.’ Well, people want to say they had a White Russian with the Dude. I don’t want to turn them down, which has added a little extra tonnage to me.”

It has become customary for achievers to scrutinize “The Big Lebowski,” parsing the film’s most trivial details for deep meaning. Which begs the question: Why is the White Russian the Dude’s chosen beverage, beyond the fact that Mr. Dowd briefly drank the cocktail years ago? Theories abound.

“The Dude is very laid-back and the White Russian has a laid-back element,” Mr. Russell said. “You can’t just grab it and go. There’s a ritual to it.”

Mr. Barber said: “The Dude almost holds himself to a higher class than he’s in, which could explain the White Russian. It requires more thought than just popping a top.”

Then again, the reason could be even simpler.

“When I do drink a White Russian, it does go down easy,” Mr. Dowd said. “It actually is a good drink. It’s essentially a liquefied ice cream cone that you can buy in a bar.”