Saturday, December 16, 2017

The ABC -- Autumn Bourbon Cidre, Or The Boozy Apple

And now, without further ado, our first ever guest blogger -- THE HUSBAND!!

The Husband's original creation:
The ABC -- Autumn Bourbon Cidre, Or The Boozy Apple
So... the other night, The (Other) Husband asked me to create a cocktail for our Friday night happy hour drink.  As readers know, we are avid Manhattan fans, so I wanted to do something a little different this night.  

Earlier in the day I was grocery shopping and stopped by the juice counter at the local grocery store.  I really dig good apple cider and picked up a quart.  Little did I know this was going to be the inspiration of our cocktail hour.  So as the time came to create a perfect drink for the evening, and wanting to do something new and different, I thought to my self.... HMMMMMM what if i used that apple cider in some way?  With... vodka...? No.... Tequila...? No.... Bourbon...?  YES!   What a great coooombination.

I filled our glasses with ice, added 2 oz. of bourbon and filled the glass with cider.  As this cider was a little tart, I added a 1/2 oz. of maraschino cherry juice, gave a quick stir and... presto...!  Our happy hour cocktail....  I give you the ABC -- Autumn Bourbon Cidre, Or The Boozy Apple!

(Dilettante: Ain't he great?!  I love how different his voice is.  Thanks for playing, Schnooks! ;-)

Saturday, April 29, 2017


LB makes another guest photographer appearance!
It's been a long, late winter with colds, sinus infections, ear infections and ruptured eardrums.  So there hasn't been a lot of desire to get the party on.  But Dilettante's hearing is back to about 90%, spring is springing, the Red Umbrella Rooftop has been reset for the approaching season and the shakers are chilling!

Over the years our neighbor friend, LB (of He Shot, She Shot fame!), and I have developed a bit of a tradition.  We call it a "shaker visit".  Shaker visits typically happen when one or both of us are so busy with work that we can't properly hangout together.  But we recognize the importance of a small break to be social, recharge our creative batteries, and then get back to matters at hand.  It works this way:  I go to the bar, select a cocktail, and mix it up in a shaker or mixing glass.  Then I grab two glasses and hop the elevator to her floor.  A short walk down the hall and I knock on her door.  When she opens the door I flash a smile and say, "Shaker visit!"  LB invites me in and I pour two servings from the shaker.  The visit lasts only as long as the cocktail, which is a necessary constraint if there's work to be done because we have exactly zero problem hanging out for hours and hours being silly and solving the world's problems.  Then it's back to work whether we like it or not!
LB is my inspiration for my own photography.
Here she captured "my process".

Even though last night was Date Nite, with all the sickness and end-of-winter doldrums, I've been missing my LB (& my buddy, Rocky!) and thought a shaker visit was a nice work-around.  So I snuck down to their place a bit early and squeezed one in before The Husband got home from work.  I selected something to kick Friday night off right and proper.  In the past few weeks, when I've been in the mood for hard liquor, I've been in much more of a traditional vein.  PDT and Death & Co. are great books and all.  But they can be a bit hipster fussy.  So I've been mixing from The Bible again.  The Highlander made the cut to take down to LB's place.  I must have been drinking already, because I swear the recipe said rye.  So that's what I used.  But when I got home and looked at the book again, turns out it calls for scotch.  Though the rye worked quite nicely.  The Highlander is as smooth as butter with a respectable sweetness.  The first one I made sans cherry.  La douxième avec.  Frankly, I could distinguish no difference in flavor.  Though it did add to the Highlander's already jewel-like quality.

I'm sure in some corners folks call this a rye Manhattan.  But a rose by any other name....  And speaking of roses, it was most excellent hanging out with you, my dear LB...and of course, Rocky!  xoxo

1 oz. whisky (or, as it turns out, rye makes for a tasty variation)
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with lots of ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
And with my photo, it's officially
a He Shot, She Shot shaker visit!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Flor de Jalisco

I come from a family that loves food.  We enjoy cooking and baking.  We like eating too.  But I think what it's really all about is everyone getting together around the table to laugh and enjoy each others' company.  Luckily, we have many good cooks in the family, so the eating ain't nothing to complain about!  And with a number of funny storytellers the laughter is constant and the company good company to keep!

After finally giving in to the Dark Side and signing up on Facebook a year ago, I've come to regret that decision more often than not.  But the one way FB has been a pleasure is the group to which my sister signed me up.  It's our Cousins Cooking Club.  We cousins are spread all across the country and the globe.  From out ancestral New York & New Jersey all the way to New Zealand, with stops in Pennsylvania, Chicago, Denver, and Seattle.  (Holler, because I'm sure I missed some!)  A virtual schmear across the planet.  Sadly, geography separates us.  But food and the joy of cooking maintain the connections.  And as much as I'm loathe to admit it, Facebook has facilitated some fun connections among a bunch of people who are related but spread way too far apart.

Since Dilettante has resurfaced yet again, I've been posting on Facebook and on the Cousin's Cooking Club.  Last week's post caused a cuz to speak up.  So this week's featured spec is courtesy of cousin Mary Anne who generously suggested another use for our new coupes.  Y aquí está: Flor de Jalisco.

In a word, num!  In The Husband's words, "It's a margarita!"  (Ok, kinda.  But flor de jalisco sounds more... elevated.)  Since we don't like sweet drinks I initially thought I'd try it without the agave.  But I believe in a baseline, so I always start with a recipe as it's written before I go monkeying with it. But as it turns out, no monkeying required.

Delish.  Make this, like, now.  Thanks, Mary Anne!  I'm thinking "Mary Anne's Flor de Jalisco" could be the featured loopy juice on the 2017 Red Umbrella Rooftop!

Flor de Jalisco
2 oz. blanco tequila
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. agave
1 t. orange marmalade

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.  Add all the ingredients and shake well.  Strain into chilled coup and garnish with an orange twist.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Seems there's always something that gets in the way of a return to blogging.  This time it was the fact that the electoral college is about to put an authoritarian Cheeto with the expressive capacity of a 9 year-old, tiny hands, and a bad comb-over in the White House.  After waking up on November 9th to find we'd slipped into an alternate quantum reality, I simply didn't feel like doing frivolous things, like blogging about booze.  Drinking to escape seemed about all I could muster.  But a month on in this new bizzaro world and we're starting to find respite in the quotidian...for as long as that lasts.

So, on to it....

As the second snowfall of the season came down last night, I booted up Netflix on the ol' 60-inch to settle in and watch a movie.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed The Husband rummaging through the growing pile of UPS boxes collecting around the front door.  Next thing, he's standing in front of me holding one out.

"What's this?"

"Merry Christmas, a little early.  I figured you should open this now so you can enjoy it."

I've been saying how much I love coups -- which are all the rage lately on the trendy bar scene.  So I was totally stoked when I opened up the box to find a black Waterford box inside.  And inside that were two huge lead crystal coups.  Strong, deep cuts form a ring of diamonds and rays around the bottom of a massive bowl so big you could serve soup in them.  With a smooth base and stem this vessel sits nice and heavy in the hand.  All very masculine for cut crystal.

I passed them off to The Husband to rinse out while I sprinted to the bar to leaf through PDT.  The only requirement on this bev were the words "serve in a chilled coup glass".  The first one I landed on was Southside.

I didn't expect to like this at all.  I am not a gin fan and there were not enough other ingredients to mask it.  And we all know how The Husband feels about too much citrus in his tipple.  But hey, it was all about the coup, so we were prepared to suffer through it.  Yet on the first sip we both looked at each other, eyes wide and said in unison, "Wow!  This is good!!"

A perfect, smooth, balance of all the ingredients.  Truly, liquid satin in a glass.

Then the three ultimate raves from The Husband:  "Oh, you're definitely doing this one again.  I could drink these all night!  Put it on the blog!"

Et voilà!  Un autre retour....

2 oz. gin
.75 oz. lemon juice
.75 oz. simple syrup
4 mint leaves

Muddle the syrup with the mint.  Then add the rest of the ingredients and shake.  Serve with no garnish in chilled coup glass!  (PDT suggests double straining, but I like the flecks of mint confetti in the finished product!)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Ain't Afraid of No Goat! Black Me Stout

Black Me Stout by Champion Brewing Co.
"Bryant...  The Cubs... WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!!! Bryant makes the play!  It's over!  And the Cubs have finally won it all in 7 and 10!"

The Dilettante's been a little wrought and preoccupied the last few weeks -- what with the post-season and THE CUBS WINNING THE WORLD SERIES and all!!!!  Yeah, that's a cup from Wrigley with both the Cubs & World Series logos on it!  Uh-huh!  Now that Wrigley's serving Goose Island products, maybe now they can add a stout.  Like this "Black Me Stout" from Champion Brewing Company of Virginia.  This is total speculation, but I think they named the brewery for the WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS!!!!  (Does Virginia have a baseball team?  Nope.  Gotta pick either the Nats or the O's, I guess.)

Just soaking it all in while waiting for the start of the victory parade.
Not too sure about that name, but the beer is good.  It is, in fact, black.  Even casts a shadow in direct afternoon sunlight.  Just like the can -- which had to be just out of focus so we could see the beer in the pint and THE CUBS WORLD SERIES SOUVENIR CUP!!!!  Not too heavy, not too light.  The beer that is.  Not the fact that THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!!  That's totally heavy!  And exquisitely light!  Magic, in fact!  More bitter than sweet.  The beer that is.  Not that THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!!  'Cuz that's totally sweet!  There are some chocolate notes -- but more cacao than cocoa.  Overall, it has more of the  dark sweetness that tips into bitterness characteristic of molasses, which makes it easy to enjoy multiples.  You know, kinda like getting used to THE CUBS WINNING THE WORLD SERIES!!!!

(And just because it's the sweetest thing to watch...)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Beer & Mussels at Corridor Brewery & Provisions

Lake Michigan, Chicago, October, 23
After a last minute trip to Michigan to help with some family matters, we slid back into Chicago on a glorious Sunday afternoon to find Indian summer in full effect.  As we drove along Lake Shore Drive, The Husband suggested we do dinner at a new brewery in the 'hood.  We walked in the door, tossed the rollerboards in the bedroom, and splashed some water on our faces.  We watered the plants and headed right back out to Corridor Brewery & Provisions to water ourselves.  We have at thing for mussels and they have 3 flavors on their menu -- Belgian Style with beer broth, cream buttered leek & fresh herbs; Red Curry with coconut milk, cilantro and lime; and Saffron with white wine, chicken stock, roasted potatoes, and Spanish chorizo.  We decided to work our way through them, ordering one of each.  But we stopped with the second.  The Red Curry was so good we knew that anything to follow would be a disappointment.

A day that makes ya wanna put
on a skirt, get on your cycle,  
and ride along the lake.
To drink, all I really wanted was an ice-cold vodka martini with half-a-dozen olives, but you don't go to a new brew pub and not order beer.  So Freaky Deaky Belgian Breakfast Stout it was.  Three of them, by the time we paid the bill!  And it totally tasted like breakfast.  Bitter, like charred bacon.  Sweet, like oatmeal; with a touch of brown sugar unifying all of it.  Three went down super easy.  The Husband had Doubledore Double IPA.  I'm kinda one-and-done with IPA's.  He took a sip and gave a wow-it's-very-citrusy holler.  In a cocktail that's usually a turn-off for him.  But in a beer, it seems to be the opposite.  It was citrusy, and hoppy, and coriander with that slight pininess that is intriguing for the first round, but after that turns somewhat soapy and I'm out.
Upshot: Freaky Deaky Breakfast Belgian Stout

(After the mussels we both had the pulled pork sandwich.  Decent.  It could've used more sauce.   Coleslaw came on it which I usually like.  This slaw was just ok...until I figured out those weird, sweet things were bits-o-pineapple in it.  [*All 4 AGT judges hit their buzzers simultaneously...*]  The fries, however, were excellent!  The stout complimented the pork very well.)

All-in-all, a gorgeous night.  Even after the sun went down and the sky turned inky black above the street lights, the air was beautiful.  Can't believe we're down to 10 hours, 40 minutes of daylight and the steady slide into winter....

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dark & Limey

summer turns autumn
still rum lime soda want friends 
turmeric makes fall

Dark & Limey
1 T. grated fresh turmeric
2 t. granulated sugar
Dash of salt
1/4 t. lime zest
1 1/2 oz. dark rum
1 1/2 T. fresh lime juice
3 ice cubes
4 oz. seltzer
Dash of bitters

Muddle turmeric, sugar, salt, lime zest and bitters in a mixing glass.  Add rum, juice, and 3 cubes.  Stir until chilled.  Strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with seltzer.  Garnish with twist of lime rind.

The Dark & Limey is a wonderfully light, bright fall bev I found in the October 2016 issue of Cooking Light.  Dare I call it an autumn mojito?  If you can't find fresh turmeric root you can swap a teaspoon of ground which seemed like a lot; so I used a scant teaspoon to avoid grittiness.  I've made it now with both the fresh and ground.  The ground did have, let's say, "mouthfeel".  But on the whole, I think it was richer, which makes sense.  The fresh version had a much lighter quality that made the drink seem a bit more watery.  But on the whole, this is a nice cocktail for hanging out with friends and can go a couple rounds with it!

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.


"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.


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. 


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…


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.


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.”


“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.