Sunday, September 25, 2016

A coyote laughs at Joe


It begins with a letter and ends with a drink.  There's some reading and mixing in between those two, but there's your Alpha, there's your Omega.

The letter would introduce me to the new novel by Joe McGinniss Jr.  That novel, Carousel Court, is bleak and powerful - if I could get away with it, I'd also say it was au courant, but I can't get away with dropping French phrases into my writing, so I'll just say it confronts issues that will resonate with you right now.


I hope that I would have found the book on my own, but there are just too many books every year, and I want to read them all but of course I can't.

Time's a cruel, limiting bastard, and we're left to make our own choices on how to use it.  Sometimes, though, that choice is made for us - and if we're lucky, the choice is a good one.  Enter People's Exhibit #1, the Letter.

Every writer wants a great editor (at least any smart writer does).  Who wouldn't want Maxwell Perkins to encourage you in dark times?  To bring out the best you have to offer.  To sing your praises if you feel uncomfortable doing that yourself - or to try and keep you from singing too loud if you're often off-key.

That's where the Letter comes in.  Jofie Ferrari-Adler is one of the best editors in New York, and yet he took the time to write me a note because he knew how good Carousel Court was.  Knew that it was so good he wrote to a bookseller 3,000 miles away just to say - maybe don't miss this one.

We're all busy, right?  But when a book's personal solicitation lands on your desk, you might take more notice than if the book came in a bundle.  Don't get me wrong.  When booksellers get a box of advance copies, we pick through them like crows picking at shiny objects on a blacktop.  But a handwritten note?  In this age of email?  It'll get my attention and should get yours, too.

It helps, of course, when the editor is correct - and in the case of Carousel Court, it was everything he promised.  In Mr. Ferrari-Adler's words, the novel is "fierce, timely, sexy and scary."

Imagine a young couple back east giving up the security of their jobs and their homes because one of them gets an offer too good to be true on the West Coast.  And then imagine that job falling through before they've even left.

That's the conundrum for Nick and Phoebe, but they decide to try and leave behind the scars they've inflicted on themselves and head west for a new start.  Part of that start is pouring every penny of their savings into buying a house in Southern California.  They'll load it up with every amenity - granite counters, an indoor rock climbing wall, an outdoor pool - so that when they flip the house, the payout will be huge.

What could go wrong?

Besides the housing bubble bursting that summer?

Mr. McGinniss Jr. uses the weather in Southern California to set the tone.  The heat's "insane."  "The sun's a beast," it's "blistering."  And in this unrelenting environment, there's smoke everywhere and the threat of wildfires everyday.

We've been prepped for this, though, because the author let us know that the second time Nick took Phoebe out, it was the hottest day of the year.  So they've been in the fire since they began.

All the heat, of course, is enough to make you thirsty, and that's when I start looking for clues, for what the cocktail's going to be.  Early in the novel, we watch as Phoebe texts her mentor, a man who's given and taken much from her.  She's fantasizing about what he's wearing, what he's eating, and what he's drinking.  A mint julep, perhaps?

There's a lot more booze in Carousel Court, from vodka, beer and wine, to martinis, mimosas and mojitos.  And the mojitos?  They come to mind when Phoebe remembers her orientation from six years before.  Phoebe will be selling drugs, to doctors, and a happy doctor, she's told as the mojitos keep getting poured, will prescribe her drugs to his patients.  And that was the lesson.  Keep your doctors happy and you'll keep your bosses happy.

So those late-night mojitos resonated.  While they were from her Past, they haunted Phoebe in her Now.  But a mojito is too refreshing, and in this novel, with threats everywhere - from fires, homicides, and home invasions - a mojito was too soft.  If ever a book demanded a stiff drink, Carousel Court was it.

I'd steal the lime out of the mojito and throw it in with - what?  Two of the threats that run throughout the novel are the fires and the suffocating heat.  From their early date, on the hottest day of the year, to the end of their current summer, where they find themselves fighting and lost during the hottest week since they arrived in California, the heat's everywhere.  Wildfires in nearby canyons, with the wind carrying that smoke - and smoke from joints and cigarettes, even from next door where their neighbor sets fire to his couch.  So I'd add the lime to some smoke, and the easiest place to find smoke is in any number of wonderful scotches.

Have I mentioned that Carousel Court is published by Simon & Schuster?  And that one of my favorite reps just happens to be from Simon?  And that we enjoyed Laphroaig one night after an event because it's Cheri's favorite?  And that Laphroaig is good and smoky?  So I'm using that.


Years ago, in Esquire, David Wondrich wrote that the correct proportions for a scotch and lime were three ounces of blended scotch to half an ounce of lime.  Mr. Wondrich?  I'll ask that you not mind too much that I'm going with a single malt, not a blend.  I hope you'll trust me.

I'm also going to flame a lime peel because in for a penny, in for a pound - and there's just so much smoke in this book that I want more of it in the drink, too.  When Nick and Phoebe first meet, he's lamenting his apartment, his life, and he wonders if he shouldn't just burn it down and start over.  Later, while Nick's out working (for his employer - EverythingMustGo - he and his crew clear out foreclosed houses of everything inside so that the bank can clean them up and start over) someone thinks that instead of going to work on the house, they ought to burn the place down.  And finally, finding themselves underwater, Phoebe's thinking about their own home and asks Nick:  "Tell me again why we can't burn it down?"

So that's why we're flaming the peel.

That still leaves me without a name, though - but here again, Mr. McGinniss Jr. does not disappoint.  I love when an author gives me the name of their cocktail, and, late one night, he does just that when Nick walks home through a wind that's hot and electric.  When he hears coyotes, he thinks they aren't so much howling as they are laughing, and if a laughing coyote isn't a perfect name for a cocktail, well, I don't know what is.

This isn't going to be a coyote like the four that will block Phoebe's path late on another night, growling, as she holds her young son in her arms, the coyotes growling and hungry - before gunshots crack the night, gunshots from their neighbor who sleeps in a tent on his front lawn, waiting for just such a moment that allows him to make coyotes bleed under a Southern California moon.  No, that's not the kind of coyote we want.  Not outwardly menacing.

But laughing.  Which just might be worse.  I have a feeling though, that, like Nick, after he's destroyed everything he could, you'll feel satisfaction in the moment.

Granite counters aren't necessary to enjoy the drink, but they help.
LAUGHING COYOTE:

3 oz. Laphroaig Scotch Whisky
.5 oz lime juice
2 dashes lime bitters
Lime peel and lime wedge for garnish

Stir scotch, lime juice, and bitters with ice.  Strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass.  Cut a round coin of lime peel.  Hold a lit match over the cocktail.  Squeeze the peel over the match.  Rub the peel around the rim of the glass.  Garnish with the lime wedge.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11th, 2001 - Χριστὸς ἀνέστη.


This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 9th, 2001.


It was Day Three of a four-day hike across New Zealand’s Milford Track. Karen and I had just zigzagged 2,000 feet up and were resting at the Mackinnon Pass overlooking the Clinton River Valley. Think Yosemite. Think the most beautiful valley you’ve been lucky enough to see and we’ll just let that stand in for this Valley, ok?

Rearing up at the valley’s head are the Nicholas Peaks, snowcapped year-round. Everlasting Daisies and Mt. Cook Lilies, both with petals white as those peaks, lined the Pass.

Keas – green mountain parrots – pecked Karen’s lunch bag and tugged on my bootlaces while we rested for the 3,000 foot descent.

After shooing away the Keas, we started down into the valley under the grey, granite eyes of the mountains. I don’t know why Karen and I wanted to sing, but we'd been singing all week while we tramped. We didn’t talk about it. It just felt right, so sing we did.

Our first words were “Christos Anesti.” They begin a hymn that’s sung in Greek Orthodox churches just after midnight on Holy Saturday, when that Saturday becomes Easter Sunday.  It's sung right after the lights go out in the church – all at once – and the congregation stands in darkness, the smoke from incense no longer visible but the air still smelling sweet. In that darkness, there is one light left – a candle in the hands of the priest. He leaves the altar, that single flame flickering, and approaches the congregation. We wait, in the dark, holding unlit candles.

Quietly, the priest lights the candle of one of the parishioners in the front pew – then those two lights touch two wicks, then four lights touch four wicks, then eight touch eight, and in San Francisco or New York or Athens, suddenly the church is ablaze, each face lit with warm candlelight. Mary with her child and St. George with his dragon, they loom out of the dark, their icons beginning to glow gold and red, and we sing “Christos Anesti.”

That day on the Milford Track, with keas flying overhead, Karen and I sang, mimicking the sounds of that song, not knowing how each of the words translates, but knowing the meaning of the hymn is full of hope. And as we descended into that fern-filled valley, with some of the Japanese trampers already laughing when they heard us approaching (here come the Singers, we had become the Singers to them, and they didn’t understand the words, either, but they liked our enthusiasm, laughed with us as we passed), laughing already at the Singing Americans, we sang Christos Anesti partly because it  one of the few songs we knew complete, but also because it’s a beautiful song and the location demanded – New Zealand deserved – beauty, so we gave what we could.



September 11th. 8:40 am. A beautiful and blue New York day. In Manhattan, Vassilios Torazanos works in the tiny Church of St. Nicholas. The little building stands all of 35 feet tall in the shadows of the Twin Towers. Byzantine icons – St. John the Baptist and the Archangel Gabriel – those icons, gifts from Russia’s last Czar, are just two among many watching over Vassilios as he collects hymnals.

September 11th. 8:46 am. Vassilios looks up, thinking he hears a thunderclap, but that can’t be – thunder doesn’t burst out of blue skies. But it's happening.  The plane.  The crash.  The fire.  The smoke.

It's happening.

Vassilios never considers his car, he just runs – away from his church, away from Manhattan.  Towards the Brooklyn Bridge, towards home. Behind him, the Twin Towers plunge from the sky, crushing all that's beneath them, his Church of St. Nicholas included.

Then the endless video loop. Smoke billows, towers crumble. Over and over and over. There is a collective intake of breath around the world, and it lasts for days.



By that weekend, like a needle being dropped onto a record, interrupted routines started back up.  Karen and I had to stop talking about it.  Needed a distraction.  We drove out to the Avenues and saw Anniversary Party at the Balboa Theatre. We traded scenes of New York for scenes from Hollywood and added Popcorn and Red Vines and Diet Coke.

Baseball even started up.  Karen and I planned to go to the first game following it all, but Karen decided she wasn't up for games, so I went with my friend, Andy.

Marines in Dress Blues handed out flags and candles at the gate.  I bought a red Giants cap, the closest thing I could find to red, white, and blue.  Everybody was in ride, white, and blue.  We headed to out seats, behind the visitor's dugout.  The singing of God Bless America hadn't yet become a cliché, so as the words scrolled down the Jumbotron, as 40,000 remembered 3,000, patriotism gave way to sorrow.

Ushers walked down the aisles lighting our candles.  Wick touched wick, neighbor turning to neighbor, flame touching flame, and as Andy lit my candle, all the park's lights went out.  The Giants' announcer asked for a moment of silence.  40,000 people held 40,000 flames, in silence, as the park glowed.


Church was also an interrupted routine.

San Francisco’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral was destroyed by the 1989 earthquake.  It's only now being rebuilt.  So on that Sunday, we sat in folding chairs in a chapel taking the place of a cathedral brought down by an earthquake and watched Father Steven, and listened to Bishop Anthony, and looked through the stained glass windows salvaged from the old cathedral on Valencia.

The only items salvaged from St. Nicholas in New York would be a charred cross and a twisted brass candelabra.

After the service, after Bishop Anthony eloquently addressed what had happened in New York and began handing out the antidoron  - the blessed bread we share at the end of the service - the choir sang God Bless America (land that I love) and after accepting the antidoron, Karen and I walked slowly towards the exit (stand beside her) past little Greek ladies stuffed into black dresses. They sang along, not knowing what the words meant (and guide her) but appreciating the beauty they made. As we passed the tear-streaked faces of women born in another country but celebrating their new home in song (through the night with a light from above) Karen and I held hands and cried and became The Singers once again.

Please take a moment to remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Flowers in the Metropol


Today, Amor Towles graced us with one of the most perfect books of the year - A Gentleman in Moscow.  It's my latest pick that you'll find in our September newsletter, available in finer bookstores everywhere - as long as they're ours - or of course online here.

I didn't think it possible for Mr. Towles to improve on his first novel.  That book, Rules of Civility, became a favorite of mine when it was released five years ago and not just because Mr. Towles has one of the best author signatures going. 

Seriously - authors?  Having a stamp - like that gorgeous red one, upper right - at hand to adorn your books when you sign them?  Genius move right there.  It of course helps when the book is brilliant, as Rules of Civility is, but the stamp doesn't hurt.

At all.


May we speak, for just a moment, about author signatures?  Some people don't care one way or the other.  I'm not some people.  I care a lot.  I have a book problem, that is actually a first edition problem, that is actually actually a signed first edition problem.  Here's the deal, scribes - if you want someone to commit hours, plural, to reading your book, then you can take a few moments to sign your book if someone asks.  If there are too many readers?  And it's going to take a while to sign each book?  Consider yourself lucky.  Very lucky.  Too often, big name writers can't be bothered to actually meet the public that has made them a Big Name Writer.  If they conduct a signing - of late they have fallen into the new habit of pre-signing their books.  This is what's known as an abomination.  Please - meet your readers.  Say hello.  Be gracious and offer them one second.  Or ten.  Remember - they're why you're a BNW.

Mr. Towles?  My apologies.  I didn't mean to interrupt the introduction of your drink with a screed.  But because you take such care when signing your books - care enough that you stamp them in addition to signing them - you put the issue in stark relief.

Anyway.  Sorry.  There's a drink coming, I promise.


Reading the novel in Russia certainly had its charms.
Where Rules of Civility was all New York highs and lows - beginning at the end, on the last day of 1937 - A Gentleman in Moscow is a different time, 1922, and of course a different place.  What both books share is an assured author who is able to put words on the page that are witty and graceful, who brings elegant characters to life but who isn't afraid to show the squalid motives we all possess. 

I propose a simple challenge:  pick up A Gentleman in Moscow.  Read the first three pages - a transcript of the Appearance Of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov Before The Emergency Committee Of The People's Commissiarat For Internal Affairs.  If, after reading those pages, you don't want to keep going, drinks are on me.

I have a feeling no drinks will be on me.

Those first few pages should be dry, right?  A transcript of a courtroom proceeding?  But I can guarantee that given those pages, you'll want to follow the Count for more than the 400 pages we're given.  You'll want to follow the Count as the years accumulate outside the Hotel Metropol - where he's been sentenced to house arrest by the Bolsheviks.  And though the Count is forced to give up his suite of rooms for a cramped garret, he discovers more in his reduced circumstances than he could have discovered in his life before the revolution. 

I was lucky enough to hear Mr. Towles discuss A Gentleman in Moscow at a gathering in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  To hear the author talk about that grand hotel as being a sister to the Metropol - spaces that were created around the turn of the century to cater to a new, moneyed clientele, spaces that shared some of the same amenities to allow those travelers to feel at home on different continents, gave the book an extra heft.  Allowed us to feel the Metropol because we could see the Palace.

Where Mr. Towles had wonderfully created an entire country within the confines of a hotel, he allowed us a glimpse into the process that led to that creation.

There were flowers all over the Palace Hotel that July night, and those flowers evoked the reminiscences of the Count as he remembered a time when there were always flowers in the Metropol, as he remembered Fatima Federova, the hotel's florist.  She would have been the one to provide the magnificent arrangements in the lobby of the Metropol, more grand than the display in the Palace's lobby. 

Those memories gave me the name of the drink, and the Count himself gave me the body.  He enjoyed brandy, so I wanted to start there.  But then the story introduced me to Konstantin Konstaninovich, an old Greek.  A lender by trade.  Summoned by the Count to turn hidden gold into money more easily spent.  And since Greeks have their own brandy - Metaxa - I'd substitute it for the Count's own.

So, if you have the time - get yourself a copy of A Gentleman.  If you're lucky, maybe you'll see and hear Mr. Towles read from the book.  If  you ask him to sign your copy, you'll be in for a treat.  He'll give you a moment or two, probably he'll thank you for coming, and then, he just might stamp the book near his signature.


Those red, Russian rooftops don't come with the book - they're placed there by an author whose attention to detail shows in the book and on the signature page.

Again, please buy a copy of this Gentleman, take a seat, and let me arrange some Flowers in the Metropol for you.


Flowers in the Metropol 
 
1.5 oz Metaxa
.5 oz rose water
.25 oz simple syrup
.25 oz lemon juice
1 drop Aftelier Perfumes Rose Chef’s Essence
Rose-petal ice sphere

Stir all - except the sphere - with ice.  Strain over the sphere.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Jay McInerney, Rudyard Kipling, & Carrie Starr



When Jay McInerney's Bright, Precious Days was released this month, my only regret was that I wasn't creating cocktails for novels as earnestly in 2006 as I am now.  In '06, I was lucky enough to host Mr. McInerney in my store, but I didn't have a cocktail to toast him with, a cocktail to celebrate the release of The Good Life.

Regrets?  I've had a few, and like I said, that's one.

While I wasn't able to have the privilege of Mr. McInerney's presence in the store this go around, I do have a cocktail, the Carrie Starr. The drink's genesis was a scene in the book where two couples find themselves in a secret restaurant in New York - secret like speakeasies were when they first came back on the scene; think New York's PDT or San Francisco's Bourbon and Branch.

So, Russell and Corrine (last seen in The Good Life) are on a double date, and some of the foursome are more adventurous eaters than others.  It is, after all, New York, and shirako is on the menu, so if you're the one feeling adventurous and if you've ever had a hankering for fish sperm, then you simply have to find yourself a secret restaurant that'll prepare it for you.

One of the cocktails on the menu that night was the Rudyard Kipling.  This is an East meets West drink - bourbon mixed with Umeshu, a Japanese plum liqueur.  Kipling, in The Ballad of East and West, wrote that the two would never meet (as they do in this drink).  His poem begins and ends with:

0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!


I'm not often presented with a cocktail to play with inside the pages of the books I'm reading, so I jumped at the chance to twiddle with this one.  I don't know Mr. McInerney personally (if you do, please ask!), and wasn't able to determine if the drink is one he concocted or if it came from some fabulous New York joint - so I'll just say the inspiration was his and I messed with it, absolving Mr. McInerney of all blame.

Messing with it meant leaving out the bourbon and using gin.  Kipling, born in British India, was quite the Englishman and what finer English liquor is there than gin?  Gin, though, seems in this setting to make the drink more feminine than it was with the bourbon, so I thought it was better to name it not for Kipling, but for his wife, Carrie Starr.

So, please, go get the book, mix yourself a drink, and enjoy.


Carrie Starr

 2 oz. gin
.5 oz Umeshu
2 dashes plum bitters
Ume (Asian Plum) peel for garnish

Line a chilled cocktail glass with the ume peel.  Stir the gin and Umeshu with ice.  Strain into the glass.  Dash with the bitters.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Chris Cleave's Everyone Brave is Forgiven


Because this post is more self-serving than most, I must first implore you - if time is of the essence, skip this and just go and purchase Everyone Brave is Forgiven, the new novel by Chris Cleave that was released today.

I'm not joking - just go.  These words will be here when you get back.

Ok - this then is for those who already have the book in their hands.  Good on you.


Every vocation has its perks.  Bookselling is no different.  Each day, new books come in the door.  Each day, new authors and old are vying for attention - which, of course, if you're a reader, would be heard as a little shout from heaven.

The only potential problem is the sheer weight of the words.  Was it Coleridge who was supposed to have been the last person to have read every book available to him?  Impossible now, of course - and during any week in a bookstore one can feel - sometimes - the burden.  There simply aren't enough hours.  It's like having the barkeep from The Waste Land interrupt your day with HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME.

I know it's time.  And I know there's never enough of it.  I know there are thousands of books I'll never get to - so deciding what to read can itself become burdensome.

Ok, ok, if you're not a reader, you don't understand.  But if you're not a reader the only reason you're here is for the booze, and I'll get to that, I promise.

Because so much constantly vies for our attention - family, friends, work, music, movies, status updates - publishers sometimes go out of their way to grab you by the lapels.  Buttons will arrive with books.  We're sent pens, flashlights, sunglasses (hint to publishers - chocolate always works).

We've gotten a pie.  That was a good one.  Heck, once I was sent some booze.  God bless Michael Chabon's PR team.

We're always receiving letters.  Testimonials from the editor who picked up a book that arrived over the transom and was then up until three in the morning because the submission was so good.  The brief notes explaining that even though we might not usually pick up a book in a particular genre, we should crack open this one because it's so special.

The only problem with the letters again has something to do with volume.  I would love - love - to be able to read each book where an editor or publisher took the time to write a pitch.

*cue the violins*

It's just that there are so many.  Books and letters.

So many.

*let music fade*

Publishers try their tricks.  We get letters with our names at the top - as if they're written to us, like something from Publishers Clearing House.  They're not, of course, how could they be?  Like last September when I received a package from Marysue Rucci.  She happens to be Vice President and Editor-In-Chief of Simon & Schuster.  It was an advance copy of Chris Cleave's Not-Yet-Released novel.  Lucky me, he happens to be a favorite author of mine.  Have you read Little Bee?  Incendiary?  Gold?

Go do that.  I'll be right here.

So - I saw the "Dear Nick" at the top of her letter, poking out of the book, just under the S & S logo, and I thought, Wouldn't that be nice!

But then I saw other pages - a long author's note and something handwritten on Chris Cleave letterhead.  That second note - I thought it was done up like some junk mail companies do, using faux handwriting to make you think that a person wrote the letter, when of course they didn't - haven't I already said, How could they?

At this point I'm thinking - what an extravagant ruse, especially since no arm-twisting is necessary when it comes to a new novel by Mr. Cleave.  But then I saw a mention of my blog in the fake letter, and that's when I turned the letter over and noticed some of the ink had bled through the page.  I felt the bumps on the underside where the pen had made indentations...

I went back to the letter from Ms. Rucci, and it wasn't quite what I thought it was.  She explained that she could wax on about the powerful novel she had sent me, but instead she was passing on a note from Mr. Cleave.  And then she signed off with her thanks.

This was, to quote Monty Python, something completely different.

Mr. Cleave's note was warm and funny.  He let me know that his first novel was titled Tequila Mockingbird and that he was honoring me by not including it.  He hoped I might have time to read his latest and he too signed off.

Cheers.

I do not often receive letters from Editors-In-Chief or from authors I admire, and I'm easily flattered, so to receive both in the same package...

I immediately set to reading.  One worry I had was, What if I didn't like it?  To quote my nine-year-old, Awkward.

But did I mention that the author was Chris Cleave? And that I shouldn't have worried?

When I began reading, it was like I was in a movie theater and someone dimmed the lights.  All distractions went away, hidden by the dark that descended, and suddenly I was on Mont-Choisi, skiing down the slope with Mary North, finally given a good reason to be rid of finishing school.  It's September of 1939, and Ms. North and I will soon be rushing to London.  Lovely Mary North who signed up via telegraph with the War Office 45 minutes after hostilities were declared.

Then I would meet Tom Shaw, mouth full of blackberries, commanding the little people of London to learn - but this commandment would be given to an empty room because the schoolchildren of the great city had all but abandoned it.  Then on to his flatmate, Alistair Heath, stuffing Julius Caesar full of newspaper.

Caesar, the poor bloke, was their dearly departed - and formerly randy - cat.  They had hoped to have him stuffed so that he would still be inside their hallowed halls.  With the outbreak of war, though, he had been returned, unfilled, from the taxidermist

While thinking about where those newspapers were going, could I smell the tobacco from Alistair's pipe?  Or the blackberries that Tom set to simmering in a pot to make jam?  Later, when Mary went out into London after the first bombs had been dropped, and she described the bejeweled streets covered in the broken glass from building after building - could I see the sparkling shards?  Feel them underfoot?

Yes to all that.

Yes because Mr. Cleave is a masterful storyteller who takes you by the hand and leads you on an adventure - a grim, funny, harrowing and thoughtful adventure.  Please - go buy it, because that's all you're getting from me.  You need to experience it yourself.

The trick, then, was to create a drink for the book.  If you've been here before you know that I like to find the cocktail inside the novel.  The ingredients are there, just waiting to be chosen.  But in his letter Mr. Cleave had pointed out one problem - drinks were hard to come by during the Blitz.

Still, if you knew people, or knew where to go (hello, Ritz), even this could be dealt with.  I also wanted to have the drink reflect some of those amazing characters that Mr. Cleave brought to life.  Mary - though she fought it - was decidedly upper-crust.  Tom, not so much.  This wasn't Pygmalion, though, not Eliza Doolittle vs. 'enry 'iggins, so gin just might be induced to play nicely with some champagne.

Do me a favor - don't knock it until you've tried it.  Because what I wanted to do was also give it a taste of something thrown together.  'Fancy a drink?'  What do you have?  'Let's see...'   The gin and champagne fit that bill nicely, but those two might need a wee something to round it out - which is when I remembered the blackberries.

And in the same way that Ms. North saw the beautifully bejeweled streets of a bombed London, in the same way that Mr. Cleave created a gorgeous testament to the lives lost and the loves won from the remains of that awful war, I wanted to mix up something a little English, something a little bit lovely.

Cheers.

Bejeweled Street 

1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin
.5 tsp. Blackberry jam
Champagne

Add gin and jam to an ice-filled shaker. Shake. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with the bubbly. Garnish with a dollop of jam. Silver spoon optional.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Hour of Glamour - The Summer Before the War



Did you love Major Pettigrew's Last Stand?  You did if you read it - so if you haven't, just go.  Go do that.  When you come back, I'll have a drink waiting for you in celebration of Helen Simonson's followup to that lovely novel.

Hour of Glamour
 
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz. Madeira
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz tonic
Cherry for garnish

Rinse a chilled rocks glass with the Maraschino Liquer.  Discard any excess.  Add ice.  Stir the gin, Madeira, and tonic with ice until cold.  Strain into the glass.  Garnish with cherry.


Ms. Simonson's next book, due in little more than a month, is another gorgeous tale set in England - this time just before the Great War.  When you're making a cocktail for a book - because you do that, too, right?  I mustn't be the only one?  But when you do, you hope that the author conveniently gives you a name for the drink within the book's pages.  


The Summer Before the War doesn't disappoint on this, or any, score.  In response to one cousin wanting to take another cousin down a peg, their Aunt Agatha is patient, explaining that the inflated sense of self that Daniel has developed since he'd been spending time with a friend from the aristocracy will soon be punctured because that's the way of things.  Why not, she insists, let him have his hour of glamour?  And if that isn't a perfect name for a cocktail, I don't know what is.  

Because Aunt Agatha usually enjoys a glass of Madeira in the evening, I began there.  It would be a compliment to gin, naturally, because there isn't a drink that says England more than gin.  Everything else adds to a cool sipper that's floral, earthy and herbaceous.  Cheers!
 

The Opposite of Death? This Too Shall Pass

When I picked up Milena Busquets' novel, This Too Shall Pass, I was charmed immediately.  Charmed by our narrator, Blanca.  Blanca who's struggling with an age in her life that she's never been able to imagine.

Thirty she had envisioned.  Sixty, too.  Even eighty.  At eighty she had pictured herself drinking whisky with her friends.  But forty?  Fifty?  Those ages had been shrouded, full of mystery - and suddenly she finds herself there with no sense of how she arrived.

I don't feel that way about fifty.  No, of course not.  Not at all. 

(cue the Talking Heads)

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house

With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself

Well...How did I get here?

So I was immediately smitten by Blanca.  But then?  Then things got a little steamy.  Actually, things got quite a little bit hot.  Blanca has - voracious appetites.  The only thing to do in that situation is to make a drink.

She named this one herself when she mused that the opposite of death is life, is sex.  Great - so I had the name.  Then I just had to wait for the drink - and in Blanca's world, Gin & Tonics soon arrived.

Many of them.

That was too easy, just a G&T, but then I was handed a conversation that Blanca has with one of her ex's (she only has two, it's not like she's Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Blanca and Guillem are talking about apples, and she says that the only kind she likes are the ones Snow White eats - Guillem's organic apples are home to too many worms and there's nothing sexy about a worm in your apple.

So for Blanca, I made a G&T, but I replaced the Gin with Applejack.  I also added some Burlesque Bitters because, well, I thought she'd like them.  She'd laugh at the company's description of their bitters as a spicy little tart who likes to flirt.  If she likes anything, Blanca likes to flirt.


The Opposite of Death

1.5 oz Laird's Applejack
4 oz tonic
1 stopper Bittermens Burlesque Bitters
Apple for garnish

Stir all with ice.  Strain into an ice-filled collins glass.  Garnish with apple slice.