Sunday, March 29, 2015

Flor de Jerez

For a fraction of a second the ice cubes went completely airborne -- having left the scoop and not yet landed in the martini shaker.  When they did land, they did so as a single mass and clattered into the bottom of the tin.   Scoop buried to the hilt in the ice bin at the same time the shaker hit the bar at the end of a line of six bottles.

"AND THEN HE STARTS CALLING ME BARBARELLA!  BARBARELLA!!!  BAR-BAR-EL-LA!" Katie smacked out each syllable on her side of the bar.  The bartender just looked at her and nodded.  The corners of his mouth tugged upward in a small polite smile that never made it to his eyes.

"You're kidding," he said.  "And were you in a bar at the time?"

"YES I WAS IN A BAR --WE WERE IN A BAR.  THASHOWISTARTED...STARTED THE STORY..."  Katie took another pull from her margarita straw.  It took her two tries to get her hands to grab the heavy glass goblet.

"You were shouting in a bar, and he called you Barbarella," shaking his head, he put both hands on the bar like a couple of buttresses and locked directly onto Katie's eyes.  The sincerity was way over the top, walking right to the line of sarcasm.  "Men can be so cruel."  Then as if someone threw a switch, he went right back to his crafting.

"I KNOW!  RIGHT?!

"Katie, dear.  You're shouting.  The room just isn't that loud."

"AUNT GIIIIINA!" Katie squealed and tumbled off her barstool.  She bounced a bit in the knees, finding the floor a moment sooner than she anticipated.  Gina grabbed Katie just above both elbows and held her at arm's length to fix her with a reprimanding look.  "SORRY!  Sorry!" she staged whispered.  "Aun' Jjjina, I love you so much.  You are susha dear, dear friend.  Najus'to mom.  But tawallavus."

"I know, dear.  Now -- " Gina put an index finger to her lips and returned to her stool on the other side of Emma.  Katie mirrored the gesture.

The bartender picked up the stained bottle of Angostura bitters and shot it twice into the iced shaker.  Next he picked up the translucent plastic bottle, pointed it into the shaker and squeezed in some cane sugar syrup -1-2-3.

Gina slid back up onto to her stool.  More stage whispering.  "Wuzzeye shouting?"

Next the large plastic juice jug.  1and-2and- of fresh lemon juice.  "A little bit."

"Who is he to be calling me Barbarella, anyway?  He wasn't so hot.  I mean, really?  Lookh at me.  I don't lookhlikea... CAVEWOMAN!"

From the tall, slender bottle the bartender dispensed a quarter ounce of apricot liqueur into the shot glass.    Then he picked up the bottle of sherry.  He preferred the higher end Amontillados for his sherry-based bevs.  A full jigger splashed over the ice.  Finally, the half ounce of reserved rum.  He put the lid on the tin and began shaking.  "You have no idea who Barbarella is, do you?"  She giggled into her margarita which meant no.  "So what's up with your mom?  Why is she so sad?"

"Tchh," Katie rolled her eyes so hard he practically heard them thunk against the back of her skull.  "She and my dad finally split.  She acts like she's entitled to lifetime happiness or something.  So now her life is over and we all gotta stop what we're doing and take care of her.  Like my life is so perfect I need to take care of hers?  Spsh!"

"How long were they married?"  He strained the shaker contents into a coup.  Instantly, the glass generated a film of condensation that perfectly aligned with the liquid in the glass.  The cocktail glowed with the ambient tea lights like an amber jewel.  Flecks of ice floated to the top and coated the surface in miniature, glistening constellations.

"Idunno.  Something likh fortyears."

Another switch was thrown in the bartender, a tightly controlled mask sliding over his face as he intentionally avoided eye contact with anyone.  "That's a lifetime with someone.  I can understand how she might have a hard time adjusting."  He slid the coup with the jewel-like amber liquid towards Katie.  "Here, take a break from the margaritas for a minute."

"What's this?"

"It's called a Flor de Jerez.  I like to pair a drink to the customer's personality."

Katie concentrated to lift the delicate glass to her lips.  A stringent flowery vapor hit her nostrils well ahead of the glass touching her lips.  She took a sip and recoiled.  A curl wrinkled her nose and pinched her eyebrows.  "Oh my god!" she sputtered.  "What is this?" Suddenly she was more sober than only a second ago.

"I told you.  It's called a Flor de Jerez."

"It's so bitter."

"Really.  Guess I nailed it."  Katie looked at him, cocked her head and blinked.  She giggled into her Flor de Jerez which meant she didn't get it.

"Men can be so cruel."  The bartender looked in the direction from which the sarcasm flew.  A smiling Emma sat with her elbows on the bar and her fingertips gently grasping the top of her Brandy Alexander.  He smiled sadly.  She gave him a wink.



Flor de Jerez
1/2 oz. reserved rum
1 1/2 oz. Amontillado sherry
1/4 oz. apricot liqueur
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. cane sugar syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Pour all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake until cold.  Strain into a coup.  No garnish.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

New Fangled-Part 3

The family was boisterous this Sunday.  One of those days when everyone is clicking, feeling connections not tensions.  No one here ever needed an excuse to whip up a pitcher of Manhattans.  Especially on Sundays, when they were a sweet accompaniment to the unctuous smells of roasting lamb wafting throughout the house.  Given the mood today, they would be most enjoyable.

A gale of laughter burst out of the kitchen and chained, feeding on itself, rolling out in waves.  Next, Alex’s grandmother and sister practically fell through the kitchen door, their faces covered in whipped cream.  Gran’s glasses were two solid disks of cream.  She had her hands on  Darcy’s shoulders, who guided her down the hallway to the bathroom where they could both rinse off.  

Papa Lou stood at the small wet bar in the dining room, stirring the pitcher.  He shook his head at the ruckus.  Alex was next to him and leaned in.  “Elles sont déjà pompette, Papa!”

“Ouais.  Tipsy on whipped cream and we haven’t even had dinner yet.  Check the rye.  Your grandmother probably spiked it.”

Shrieks of laughter poured from the other side of the bathroom door.  While Papa Lou stirred the pitcher, Alex had two rocks glasses chilling.  He dumped the icy water into the small bar sink, then dropped a sugar cube in each one and doused them with cherry bitters.  He tossed a couple ice cubes in the glasses and then poured two shots of a luxurious dark Guatemalan rum into each.  Finally, he topped each with a skewer of dark maraschino cherries.

“Ici, Papa.  I know you like your Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.  But try this.”

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“It’s called a New Fangled.”  They both smirked at the punny symmetry, mischievous twinkles in both their eyes.  “Think of it as a Caribbean Old Fashioned.”

Papa Lou put down the long bar spoon he was using to stir the silver Manhattan pitcher and took a sip.  “Fiston!  C’est si bon!”

Alex smiled and tapped his glass to Papa Lou’s.  “tchin tchin!”

“Tchin tchin, fiston!” Papa Lou smiled back.

Alex was standing in front of his apartment door.  He was out of breath.  Had he been running?  Had he paid Ray for the cut?  Yes.   Absent-mindedly he’d dropped a twenty in Ray’s hand as he gaped at the man in the chairs.  Then he bolted the barber shop.  He had no recollection of the two mile walk from Cappy’s to his building, past bus stops and el stations that would have gotten him home faster and warmer.

Alex believed in visits and signs.  Every relative and pet that he’d lost throughout his life had visited him in his dreams.  Papa Lou had already visited him twice.  Vivid, full color, high def.  There was always a message, even if words were not exchanged.  Who the dream was for was never entirely clear.  Was it a chance for the departed to say things they never had the chance to say?  Or was it for the peace of those left behind?  

But this was…something else.  It all swirled.  Cappy’s...  Papa Lou...  Ray’s condolescences...  Papa’s doppelganger...  “You look sharp...”  “Rasoir..!”  The cold air on his near naked scalp... The run home...  The hard sounds of frozen Chicago...  Jogging...  Walking...  Jogging...  His cold-burnt lungs....  This was sheer coincidence.  Had to be.  No. It was a visit too.  A message.

Alex was on the other side of his apartment door.  “Oh, I am definitely gonna need a drink before work,” he said out loud to no one.  And then he heard it.  So clearly he swung his head to look in the direction from which the sound seemed to come.

“Tchin tchin, fiston!”  

In moments Alex was on the couch looking out at the city, a New Fangled in his hand.  He hoisted it up towards the skyline.  “Tchin tchin.  Tu me manques, Papa.”



New Fangled
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of cherry bitters
2 1/2 oz. dark rum
3 maraschino cherries

Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass.  Shake the bitters onto the sugar cube.  Fill the glass with ice and stir in the rum.  Garnish with the cherries.  If you don't have cherry bitters, use Angosturas and mix in a couple drops of the maraschino juice -- that is if you're using good ones, not the neon, red dye #2 kind!


Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Fangled-Part 2

Alex stood outside the door to the barber shop, took a deep breath, and walked in.

“Alex!”

He was dreading this.  It had been four months since he’d been in.  He was beyond shaggy and hated it.  But he couldn’t bring himself to do much of anything since.…  Especially getting his hair cut. 

This was gonna be hard.  Very hard.  But tonight he promised that he’d go back to work and he needed to clean up.  They’d been more than understanding, giving him much longer leave than anyone would ever be entitled to and expect to still have a job.  So when he looked in the mirror this morning and saw a wild man staring back, he knew he couldn’t go in looking as he did.  He walked across the shop feeling outside himself, as if he were watching the scene from outside his body.

“Good to see ya, man.”

It starts.  Navigating any one of several dreadful moments:  1) Keeping himself together when those who know express their sympathy; or 2) not flying off in a rage at those who know and ignore the gaping hole of loss in his life, saying nothing; or 3) that moment when he’d have to choose to share that he’d lost his grandfather and best friend when an unknowing acquaintance asks where he’s been or what he’s been up to.  An emotional lose, lose, lose anyway you cut it.  I should have gone to Kwik Kutz.

Alex just nodded with a “Hey, man,” took his phone out of his pocket and had a seat to wait for his turn in Ray’s chair.  By himself.  The silence lasted forever.  The camaraderie and silliness that he associated with this place was gone.  The missing interminable.  The hush in the shop that accompanied his entrance did nothing to help.  Alex’s pulse throbbed in his head.  He forgot to breathe.  His vision was telescoping.  He was about to leave when — 

“Alex, you’re up,” Ray slapped the back of his chair.   

He took a deep breath to clear his head and sat awkwardly in the barber’s chair.  Hold it together, he thought to himself.  Ray spun him to face the mirror, pulled the crinkles out of a neck strip, wrapped it around his neck, then smocked him with his usual flair.  Ray stood behind the chair, hands on Alex’s shoulders and spoke to him via the mirror.  “It’s been a while, Shaggy.  What’re we doing today?”

“Just do the usual.  High and tight.  Start with a zero.”

Ray nodded, gave Alex’s shoulders a tap, and reached over to his counter to pick up his clippers.  The long wavy curls fell away.  Most of the haircut proceeded in silence.  Alex always appreciated Ray’s ability to pick up on his mood and talk or not talk accordingly.  As a bartender, Alex knew this was a skill that required a keen sensitivity, an ability to read all the hundreds of nonverbal cues people throw off without even knowing it.   So really, he shouldn’t have been surprised by Ray’s reticence.  Even though he wasn’t talking, Alex was screaming.  

There was something biblical happening to his mourning.  The reflection of his shorn head in the mirror overlaid his hollowed out sadness.  He felt as flat and two-dimensional as his image. Where was the ash and sackcloth? 

Then the anger hit.  Dreaded Moment #2.  How many times had this mark cut Papa Lou’s hair?  He had nothing to say?  He negated Papa’s very existence by not acknowledging he’s gone.  How dare life go on as usual when this amazing light of a soul has left us!  Alex simmered as Ray buzzed, cut, and trimmed in silence.  The haircut nearly over, Alex was about to boil over when….

“Hey man, I’m real sorry to hear about your grandfather.”  Like taking a boiling pot off the stove, the roil of Alex’s anger collapsed, millimeters from the rim.  “You two were close.”  It was a statement.

“Best friends,” Alex squeezed out.

“That’s rough,” he said.  Ray was making this moment easier.  No questions.  No reminiscences.  No sympathetic talk about the losses in his own life.  Just a couple statements of the obvious and spaces for silence.  Because with this kind of loss there are no words.  

In respectful quiet, Ray practically caressed Alex’s face with the talc brush.  He removed the smock and neck paper and shaved his neck.  Then he gave the hand mirror to Alex and spun the chair around.  Alex looked at the back of his head in the wall mirror behind him and nodded.  

Via the mirror Ray looked Alex in the eye and said, “I’m keeping you both in my thoughts.  We all are,” as he nodded towards the other barbers. 

“Thanks.”

Alex lowered the hand mirror into Ray’s waiting hand and as his eyes focused on the waiting area, he caught his breath.  Right in front of him sat a gentleman in his mid-seventies.  Short, stocky, round, distinguished.  A head full of silver-white hair with a gentle wave through it.  The spitting image of Papa Lou, looking right at him.  He winked at Alex with the friendly wink of barber shop fellowship. 


“Looks sharp!”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

New Fangled-Part 1

“Alex!  Allons y!”

“Papa, y'ont pas ouvert!”

“Oui, y sont.  J’ai déjà téléphoné!”

Alex had been enjoying this lazy snow day, hanging out in his room.  It was Friday, but he forgot it was a second Friday when he and his grandfather would be heading for their regular trip to the barber shop.

Alex and Papa Lou were best friends, spending much of their free time together.  Both were mischievous and “full of the devil” Alex’s grandmother would always say.  Alex was the only one in his family who studied French.  This created a condition that had the rest of the family on edge when Alex and Papa Lou were in one of their impish moods.  They loved to plot their next prank at the Sunday dinner table.  “Right in front of us and we don’t even know it!” Alex’s mother would complain good naturedly.

These biweekly trips to the barber together were times Alex treasured.  Papa Lou would pick Alex up from wherever he as — school, a friend’s house, home — and they’d drive to Cappy’s. They’d sit in the chairs kibitzing with each other, the barbers, and other waiting patrons until it was their turn to get trimmed up.  Papa & Alex were always a show.  When they were finished they’d leave the shop and Papa would stop on the sidewalk just outside the door, look over Alex’s head and no matter the style or what he thought about it, say with gusto, “Rasoir!”  Like a razor, sharp.  Then he’d tussle Alex’s new coif.  Alex would then give his grandfather a once over.  “Rasoir!”  And when he was tall enough, he’d mess Papa Lou’s new cut as well.  The day always ended with a walk up the street to the Belgian waffle joint for something to eat and drink.

But Alex just wasn’t feeling it today.  It felt more like an obligation.  Teenage ambivalence reared it’s head and all he wanted to do was sit in his warm room on this snowy day, playing video games.

“Alex, get down here.  Your grandfather’s waiting!” his mother yelled up the stairs.

“Aaaaagh!” Alex yelled back as he grabbed his coat and stomped out of his room.



Alex stood in front of the door to Cappy’s bundled against the cold, gloved hands jammed in his pockets, wool ski cap pulled down over his mop of hair, and his collar hiked up around his neck.  He looked in through the wooden blinds on the door to this classic old barber shop.  He didn’t want to go in.  But when he looked at himself in the mirror this morning, he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer.  Of all the memories he had of he and Papa Lou, why was that one coming back now?  It wasn’t a day he was particularly proud of.  He’d been a surly teenager that day.  He especially remembered responding in English anytime Papa spoke to him in French — their secret language that no one else in the family knew.  Their bond.  One of many.  Papa was reaching out to him with affection and Alex rebuffed him each time.  A ruthless adolescent.  And this was the spot where…


“Rasoir!” 

Alex ducked so Papa Lou couldn’t muss his new ‘do.  “Pa-paa!  Non!” Papa stood for a beat looking at his grandson.  “D’accord…  Rentron.”  Ok, let's go home.  And home they went.  Papa Lou never stopped talking the whole way.  Some in French.  Some in English.  And his face always seemed to be smiling, even when he wasn’t.  There was something about the glint in his eyes and the slight upturning of the corners of his mouth that never completely went away.  

They pulled up in front of the house.  Alex turned to get out of the car after deigning to give a mumbled “Thanks, Papa” when he felt a meaty hand close around his forearm.

“Oh, uh-uh…”

“Aaah, Papa Louuu…!” Alex whined.

“I know.  But traditions are important,” Papa Lou said smiling, immune to Alex’s mood.

Alex leaned sideways towards his grandfather.  Papa Lou turned sideways, took Alex’s head between his two hands, and gently turned Alex's head until they were face to face.  He then proceeded to land six rapid-fire kisses roughly on the boy’s forehead.  No matter how hard he tried not to, Alex grinned despite his surly self.  Papa Lou released his head from his iron grip.  Alex half snorted and shook his head as he pulled the door handle.

“J’t’aime, mon fils.”


“I love you too, Papa.”  Alex begrudged, disappearing in a curtain of snow as he made his way to the front door.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gin Ricky

Scott’s eyes opened with the sunrise.  They usually did.  Each morning his first thought was to roll over and wrap around Katie as she slept.  It was always a calculation though. He longed for the response of every other girlfriend he ever had.  How they yielded to the warmth of his body.  He loved, too, when they wrapped around him in the middle of the night.  His consciousness surfaced just long enough to sense that entwining and then submerge again, feeling strong and protective as well as safe and protected.  

But Kate was not like that.  He suspected that she came to completely as his body molded to hers.  A threat response.  Her neurons firing Warning! Danger!  Rather than melting into him, she solidified.  No observer would ever see it – the imperceptible stiffening that happened on a cellular level.  But he felt it.  It humiliated him.  He felt spurned.  Undesirable.  Ego-crushed.  But then there were the occasions when she pulled his arms around her, backed up and pressed into his pelvis.  On those mornings he soared.  He felt whole.  His senses buzzed, yet he was completely relaxed.  The world was a perfect place.  In these moments Scott believed Katie did want to be with him.  Did, in fact, love him.  Desire him. 

But with so much risk, it could never be spontaneous.  Each morning it was a decision.  An unsafe moment in what ought to be a safe place.  Should he take the chance?  What is the cost-benefit ratio for his ego today?  This morning he felt strong enough to absorb likely rejection.

“Uuunnh,” she groaned, and rolled out from under his arm and as close to the edge of the bed as she could get.  She grimaced.  “Don’t….”

He laid there, looking at her back.  “What time did you get in last night?”

“I have no idea.  I think we hit every bar in the Viagra Triangle.”  

“Wow.  Cheryl and her daddy issues.”

“Tell me about it.”   Katie groaned again as she flopped her legs to the floor and hauled herself up to sit on the side of the bed.  She stood slowly and, holding her head, lurched towards bathroom.  She looked a wreck.  “We wound up at The Lodge where some fifty year old with a bad toup kept buying us gin rickies.  Round after round after round.”

“Well, I suppose you could’ve just said, ‘no’,” he called towards the john.

“If I wanted a father, I’d bar hop with Cheryl more,” she half yelled back.  “Besides, they went down way too easy.”

Scott got out of bed, pulled on his pajama bottoms, and followed her.  “I thought you don’t like gin,” he said, leaning against the doorframe.

“I don’t.  But this didn’t taste like gin, exactly.”

“Rickies are good.  Very bright and citrusy.  We should make it this year’s summer cocktail.”

“Do you mind terribly if we don’t talk about booze right now?”  Katie pleaded, head hanging, elbows on either side of the sink.  Her hair fell every which way to completely hide her face.  She grabbed her temples.  “I just need to get through this day so I can come home and collapse after work.”

“Ok,” Scott lilted as he turned around and headed off towards the kitchen.  “But remember,” he called back, “you have that intervention tonight with your mom & Aunt Gina.”

He couldn’t contain the smirk as he heard the words oh god slide into the sounds of a night’s overindulgence coming to its rightful conclusion in the sink.

Schadenfreude.


Gin Ricky
2 oz. gin
1oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
club soda

Short shake all ingredients except the soda with a few ice cubes -- just enough to put a chill to the ingredients.  Pour into ice-filled highball glass.  Top with soda and garnish with a lime wedge.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mulled White Wine

“Look kiddo, we love that you want to hang out with us and that you’re comfortable enough to just drop by.  But you really need to get out more.”

“I am out.  I’m not home, I’m here.”

Mickey smirked, raised an amusedly irked eyebrow, and looked over the tops of his readers at his son on the other side of the kitchen.  “You’re handsome, young, and single.  So, when you show up on your parents’ doorstep on a Friday night with a thermos of mulled white wine, yeah, we gotta think there are better places for you to be.”

“What?  Where else do I have to be?  Besides, I feel so English and lord-of-the-medieval-manor when I drink mulled wine.  It’s a payoff of your investment in my MA.  Plus, you have the best goblets to drink it from.”  He clinked is father’s chalice and sipped.  “What do you think about the pear in it?”  

“Ok, let’s quit dancing around this elephant here, shall we?  So it didn’t work out with Theo.  That was Theo —“

“Here we go!”

 “ — You have tons of talent and love to give someone —“

“— ‘And we know there’s a guy out there who will connect with you and you with him.’”  
                                                      
“That’s right.  But you’re not going to find him hanging out with your folks on prime club nights.  Get your ass out of here and out on Halsted!” 

“Really, dad?  Get my ass out on Halsted?”

“Yeah," he winked, "get your ass out on Halsted.”

“Boundaries.”

“Oh, look who’s here.”  Gina came into the kitchen adjusting a bangle earring and kissed Christopher on the cheek.  “Is it Friday already?”

“Perfect.  Take your son with you.” 

“Nope.  It’s girls’ night with a mission.  I can only handle one broken-hearted depressive at a time."

“Nice,” said Chris, and raised his glass in a sarcastic air toast to his mother.  “Besides, I do not want to spend an evening with that Trixie bitch, Katie.”

“A master’s in English, the entire language at your command, and that’s the word you choose to describe a woman.  What did we get for our investment?”

“Mulled wine on a cold night delivered right to our door,” Mickey retorted, pouring her one.  "Served in goblets!"

Gina pinched Chris’s scruffy chin affectionately.  “Sweety, get your ass out on Halsted.”  


Mulled White Wine
2 t. black pepper corns
2 t. whole cloves
1 bottle pinot grigio
1/8 c. granulated sugar
1 small bunch sage
1 small bunch thyme
Rind and 2 T. juice from 1 lemon
1 c. pear eau de vie or brandy
1 firm, ripe pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Place the peppercorns and cloves in a  medium saucepan.  Stir over a medium heat until fragrant, approx. 2 minutes.  

Add wine, sugar sage, thyme, and lemon rind and juice.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.  Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard solids.  Return mixture to saucepan and stir in eau de vie or brandy and pear slices.  Simmer over medium low heat until pears are fork-tender but still retain their shape, about 8-10 minutes.  Serve placing several slices of pear in each glass as garnish.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Brandy Alexander

“Evening, Ladies.  What’ll it be?”

Emma sat down on the bar stool.  The winter cold had set into the hardwood seat and seeped right through her skirt to the back of her thighs.  It made her shiver on this frigid night.  It didn’t help that the bar was directly across from the door and this place was so damned popular.  She just knew it would never be closed long enough for her to warm up before another blast of January slithered along the floor and coiled up her legs.  

“A Brandy Alexander.”

“A what?”

“Jesus,” Katie whispered, rolling her eyes as only a twentysomething can do when her parent does something so unbelievably stupid.  “I’ll have a gold margarita, please.”  She said it to the bartender, but was looking at Emma with a passive aggressive smile.  A mean girl.

This was a mistake, Emma thought.  And not for the first time since leaving the house.

“Emma, this is a Mexican place.”  Gina was Emma’s closest friend.  They met only one month after Emma moved to Chicago.  They had been through hookups, boyfriends, marriages, child birth, death, and now, divorce together.  There was no one Emma was closer to.  They cherished each other.  Closer than sisters.  But sometimes Gina could be utterly clueless.

“What’s in it?  Maybe I can make it for you.”

“No, you can’t,” snapped Katie.  “It’s a classic cocktail from, like nineteen-fifty-whatever, that she and my father used to drink like all the time.  And if you make one for her she’ll just wallow in it.”  She turned to Emma.  “We’ve come here - on a Friday night - with you - to get you out of the house and have a fucking good time.  You’re having a margarita like everyone else.”  

The bartender escaped awkwardly into his phone and slowly withdrew from the scene, wandering toward the refuge of the kitchen pickup window.  “Great!  Now you scared off the bartender!” Katie exclaimed and spun on her stool to pout at the packed dining room.  A moment later he was back.  Gina asked for a gold margarita as well and he started mixing.  

Emma sat, hands in her lap, staring blankly at the back bar, mirrored and up-lighted, bejeweled with glowing bottles of all shapes and colors.  Gina placed her hands on Emma’s and gently spun her stool so they faced each other.  “Em, it’s been five months since the paperwork was final.  You have to get out of the house.”

Emma sighed.  “Please, Gina.”  A divorce after 42 years of marriage.  She shouldn’t have to explain the grief and devastation to her closest friend.  So they sat holding hands, staring past each other.

“Ok, ladies, here you go.”  Katie jerked back around.  “Two gold margaritas and a Brandy Alexander.”  Katie grabbed her straw and rolled her eyes as she sucked.  He leaned in to Emma.  “I looked it up.  We just don’t have any nutmeg for the top.”  She looked at him.  She felt her lips catching his smirk.  “But we’ll call it a Brandy Alejandro so we don’t piss off la princesa over here," he said, nodding towards Katie.  He winked. His smirk nearly broke into a full blown smile as he walked down the bar to another customer.

Gina looked at Emma.  What almost broke on the bartender had on Emma.  A smile spread gently across her face.  Tears brimmed but did not fall.  Her heart warmed so, that she didn’t even notice another winter gust blowing in the open door.


Brandy Alexander
3 oz cognac or brandy
2 oz dark creme de cacao
4 oz half and half
1 cup crushed ice
Nutmeg to garnish

Combine the cognac or brandy, creme de cacao, half and half and ice in a shaker.  Shake well and strain into 2 chilled highball glasses.  Sprinkle with nutmeg to serve.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hot Buttered Rum


Christmas came down Friday.  Saturday we awoke to snow and freezing rain.  Thus begins the dreary slide that is Chicago between New Year's and  Memorial Day.  So we are definitely in need of something to cozify.  Having a new bar text specifically dedicated to winter cocktails is just what we need to warm our happy hour cockles!

Hot Buttered Rum.  It sounds so rich and comforting, doesn't it?  Honestly, it's just this side of gruel.   The specs for this was a starting place.  Tweaking was done.  

This bev is an exercise in delayed gratification.  It gets better as you get closer to the bottom and in the end, it's all about the last mouthful -- rich, fatty, and full of winter flavors. The trick is to get each sip to taste this way.




Hot Buttered Rum

The Butter
4 T. butter
1 vanilla bean
1.5 T. dark brown sugar

Using a knife tip, slice the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds from the pod into the butter.  Add the sugar.  Stir it all together until the vanilla seeds and sugar are well mixed throughout the butter.

The Rum
Hot Buttered Rum is all about the butter.
Additions like vanilla bean and brown sugar make it special.

6 oz. dark rum
3 cups hot water

Divide (room temperature) butter mixture between 4 toddy glasses.  Add the rum mixture.  Enjoy*

* : Ok, so here's the tweaking.  To start, give the drink a few swirls with a spoon to break up  and dissolve the butter mixture throughout the drink.  It's not a bad idea to keep one handy and do it a couple times as you sip, as the butter fat will both float to the surface and settle to the bottom of glass.  In this state, the drink will be more gruel-like when first sipping and become richer as you get to the bottom of the glass.  

The first round I made with Mount Gay rum.  It's dark, but not as dark as Myers -- which I used in the second round.  Additionally, I only used about 2.5 cups of hot water to the 6 ounces of rum.  In the future, I'd try only 2 cups, all in an effort to get a richer experience from each sip and not just towards the bottom.  


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Winter Cocktails


The weeks after Christmas are such fun as we actually get to play with our gifts.  In the Dilettante's case, it's delving into a bar book from The Partner -- Winter Cocktails: Mulled Ciders, Hot Toddies, Punches, Pitchers, and Cocktail Pary Snacks, by María Del Mar Sacasa.  I guess I'll just have to do more planning over morning coffee :-)

I've always wanted to do more seasonal mixology.  This tends to be much easier in the summer months.  Tipples like Margaritas, Moscow Mules, Pimm's Cups, Caipirinhas, Corpse Revivers clearly refresh.  But what warms and cozies during the frigid winter months?  Most cocktail books don't organize themselves seasonally.  So winter sippers like hot toddies and mulls aren't typically included.  But I'm very excited to delve into the latest addition to the bar literature! 

Last week we did a traditional hot toddy after a walk on a raw, lakeside New Jersey day.  So, why not stick with tradition on a freezing, rainy day, here in Chicago?  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hot Toddy-Or, The Siblinghood of the Traveling Mug

"After a strenuous six months of travel all over these great and glorious United States, I've finally returned home.  And what perfect way to celebrate that homecoming than with a walk to the end of the lake on a damp winter's day and a hot toddy?  Traditional?  Yes.  Easy?  You bet.  But then again, what should the holidays be?  Especially when sipping with family!"

(This post goes out to The Dilettante's sister, C. of One Kiss Creations fame!  *SMOOCHES!*)

Hot Toddy
2 T. honey
1 c. hot water
6 T. bourbon
2 cinnamon sticks

Bring water just to a boil.  Mix with the honey.  Place 3 tablespoons of bourbon and a cinnamon stick in two toddy glasses (or in this case, a traveling mug and another of wintry spirit) and pour half the hot water and honey mixture in each.  Stir and garnish with a strip of lemon peel.  If you'd like a bit more lemon zing, squeeze just a couple drops from the lemon.

Enjoy one or two with someone you love -- and who needs their cockles warmed! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Drinking Chocolate

Drinking chocolate- spiked or not,
the perfect sippable winter dessert
It's been a busy week in the run-up to Christmas.  While our annual Solstice celebration was pared
down to just a few family and friends, there was a lot of cooking and baking to do.  So no cocktails Friday night.  Yet the Dilettante needs to post something during the fragile opening stages of a return from hiatus.

At this time of year we always tend to think big when it comes to desserts.  Cakes, cookies, pies, and brownies are all just delivery vehicles for over the top gooey, creamy, buttery, sugary.   And I'll admit, I was no exception to this extravagance.  In 6 desserts on the buffet I used 1 1/2 gallons of whole milk, a gallon of heavy cream, 2 pounds of butter, about 2 pounds of sugar, and 2 dozen eggs.  My lord.  Double your Crestor dosage.

But here's an idea.  Instead -- or in addition to fewer of the gooey, creamy, etc.-- why not make dessert drinkable?

As part of the solstice dessert buffet, I included a pot of drinking chocolate along with decanters of cognac and Irish whiskey.  Revelers had a choice of straight chocolate or to spike it according to their tastes.  Simple.  Elegant.  Classy.

Happy solstice, everyone!  There will be one more minute of daylight Monday!  Long live the Oak King!

Drinking Chocolate*
1 vanilla bean
4 1/2 c. milk
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 T. sugar


Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise, put in a saucepan with the milk and bring to a boil.  Course-chop the chocolate into small pieces and put in another saucepan with some of the warm milk to melt.  Remove the bean and scrape the vanilla seeds that are left in the pod with the tip of a knife and add back to the milk.  Stir the chocolate mixture into the hot milk along with the sugar.

At this point you could serve it as is.  But if you want a super silky drink, strain it once or twice.  Drinking chocolate is not very sweet, but it is rich with intense cocoa flavor.

Serve in shooter glasses as is or with cognac to make Russian drinking chocolate or with Irish whiskey for Irish drinking chocolate.

*: Recipe courtesy of The Chocolate Bible, by Christian Teubner, et al.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Coffey Park Swizzle

The pic captures my mood this season.
Ambivalent and washed out when it comes to the holidays.
But the Coffey Park Swizzle is a bright spot of warmth and color.
The Holidays.  Or, the Holla-daze.  I'm finding myself a bit ambivalent about the season of light and gifting now that Thanksgiving is over.  So, I thought a cocktail that tasted like a North American Christmas would help me rally.  Isn't it funny how the flavors of a northern winter are downright Caribbean?  All those warm spices like nutmeg and clove and allspice and ginger.  I don't know whether I want to build an edible house, bake cookies shaped like amorphous little men, or make jerk chicken.

The Dilettante sat down with Death & Co. over morning coffee to cruise the text looking for just the right sipper to suit the mood.  (At this point I'm feeling the need to reassure that even though he was looking at a mixology text while enjoying his morning cuppa, the Dilettante does not have a problem.  Well, let's qualify that.  The Dilettante does not have a problem with booze.  Several other categories are up for grabs!)  Leafing through the pages I came across a whole section of swizzles.  Interesting, but not necessarily what one thinks about as a winter beverage since swizzles are typically served in pilsners filled with crushed ice.  Think adult snow cone.  That's summer rooftop, right?  But then Coffey Park Swizzle caught my eye and the taste buds began to imagine.  This could be just the cocktail to jump start my mood for the winter season.  But first I needed to do some shopping and then just a bit of advance prep before Happy Hour!

Such an interesting mix of ingredients -- both familiar and new.  Even as we were taking our first sip, I really didn't know if this was gonna play out.  All the ingredients -- sherry (recalling that classic short story, "The Cask of Amontillado"), French Caribbean rum, lime juice, ginger syrup, the exotic new Falernum, bitters -- each on its own was so good.  But mixed incorrectly, this could easily wind up being a tall cold glass of soap.

There is a lot to sort out in that first sip.  The words "interesting" and "I don't know" immediately followed it.  The Partner and I stood in front of the tree, warily eyeing each other.  We couldn't even sit down, locked in place by that first sip, impish smirks on our faces as we processed what our taste buds were telling us.  I wanted to like it, so, the next sip.  Processing.  By the third, we knew we had a winner.  Cold, wintery, refreshing and spicy.  A little ginger syrup goes a long way.  So much so that our lips were still tingling in the cab on the way to dinner after only one round.  And one round is really all an imbiber should attempt.  A tall, cold aperitif that morphs as the crushed ice melts and nuances the drink's complexity.  In fact, the Coffey Park Swizzle put us very much in mind of the Bourbon Squash which has become one of our summer go-tos.  So summer swizzle, winter swizzle. Coffey Park could be the featured cocktail on the bar until spring.

Coffey Park Swizzle
1 oz. rhum*
1 oz. sherry
1/4 oz. Falernum
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. ginger syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a shaker with only a few pieces of crushed ice and shake just until cool.  Strain into a pilsner filled with crushed ice and swizzle**.  Add the bitters and blend it down through the drink, swizzling and stirring to do so.  Garnish with mint sprig.



*: Rhum or rhum agricole is the French Antilles version of rum, made from cane sugar as opposed to cane molasses.  If you can't find the former, feel confident substituting the latter.

**: The verb swizzle means to stir by spinning a stirring stick between both hands while drawing it up and down in the glass.  The noun swizzle or swizzle stick is not what we think of today as a stir stick.  It's more like a muddler with a set of short spines coming perpendicularly off the bottom.  So when it spins it creates a bit of a vortex to mix.  A regular stir stick will not do this effectively.  If you can't find a swizzle stick, you can get the job done pretty well with a long bar spoon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Book Haul

Lillet rouge, Falernum, rhum agricole, ginger syrup,
  and a new strainer, just cuz.
I love getting a new cocktail book.  There's always something in it that's new to me.  New information, new history, or a new spirit -- which means a field trip to Binny's!  Here's a little preview of today's haul and anticipation of the evening's cocktail.

I took advantage of seeing rhum agricole mentioned more than a few times in Death & Co. to pick some up.  It's not part of tonight's cocktail, but now it's on the bar.  Just from the French, I've been assuming it's a more, shall we say, "rustic" version of rum.  In fact, it's rum made from cane juice instead of molasses -- the way they do it in les Antilles (ou, the French West Indies).

I finally picked up some Lillet rouge.  If you're a fan of the Corpse Reviver #2 or the Vesper, then you're already familiar with the blanc variety.  Not in the specs tonight, but can't wait to give it a whirl too!

Falernum will be in tonight's tipple.  It's an Caribbean liqueur infused with island spices.  The ingredients include lime juice, sugar, almond and clove essences and white rum.  Tonight's cocktail also calls for ginger syrup, so I whipped up a batch this afternoon.  This is going to be my new favorite thing on the bar, however it will need to be used sparingly.  It is smoooooth, but spi-cy!  I have a sneaking suspicion The Partner might not take to this.  It is hot.

On to the mixin' 'n' shakin'!

Ginger Syrup

The hardest part of making this amazing syrup is grating the ginger by hand.  I suppose it could be done in a food processor too and it wouldn't be such a workout (note to self!).

Here's how:
  1. Finely grate about 16-24 oz. of fresh ginger root.
  2. Wrap the grated root in cheese cloth or a clean kitchen towel and squeeze all the juice out of it.  Strain it 2-3 times to get all the little root and peel bits out.
  3. Place 1 cup super fine sugar* in a blender with 1/2 cup of the ginger juice.
  4. Run the blender until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth** (about 2 minutes)
Makes about 1.5 cups.

*: Super fine sugar is not confectioners sugar.  It's finely ground sugar -- the kind we all buy by the 5 lb. bag.  If you can't find it in the store, just throw some regular sugar in a food processor and let it spin for about 2-3 minutes.  Voilá!  Super fine sugar.

**: Taste gingerly (***groan***...but I had ta!) for smoothness.  It'll be sweet, but hot!