Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Three Books, Three Drinks, 800 Grapes


Three soon-to-be books beget three cocktails.  Laura Dave's Eight Hundred Grapes is first because I went alphabetical (I run a bookstore, it's ingrained).

Eight Hundred Grapes (that's the number it takes to make a bottle of wine) was also the easiest of the books for which to create a drink.  I'm always looking for the hook in the book that will translate to the glass, and with Ms. Dave's novel, I was handed the wine region of Sonoma County where Georgia Ford flees after discovering her fiancé’s not-very-well-kept secret.  A secret both serious and significant.

Once back home in Sonoma, Georgia will hit the local bar where she orders whiskey - because she thinks she should - only to end up drinking wine because her father's a wine-maker and the solace of the grape has always been intoxicating.

So, for Georgia, I just put them both together.  Her favorite wine is Pinot noir, and Sonoma produces some magical Pinot, heavy on the cherry.  New Yorkers have their Manhattan, but now I have a Californian.


2 oz. Breaking and Entering Bourbon
1 oz. Acacia Pinot Noir
.5 oz. simple syrup
10 drops Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters

Combine all and stir with ice.  Strain into chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with bourbon-soaked maraschino cherry.

* * *

Then we have Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll's wicked tale of TifAni FaNelli - and if you thought Tina Fey's script for Mean Girls was the last word on that subject, wow.  Think again.

Ms. FaNelli, Tif, Finny - no matter what she's called, she always has a razor-edged riposte ready to cut.  She can be mean, yes, but the well of her venom is fed by a deep spring.

For her, I decided to create a cousin to the Martini because a vodka Martini, straight up, is her glossy editor drink.  But even while she's ordering it, she's dreaming about chocolate - these cravings for food being constant throughout her life.

Instead of vermouth, I used Cointreau, because the orange Cointreau is going to pair well with the chocolate bitters that round out the cocktail - meaning she can have her chocolate and drink it, too.  Oh, and this one comes with the biggest olive you can find - have I mentioned TifAni likes to eat?

Vodka Finny:

2 oz. vodka
.5 oz. Cointreau
2 dashes Scrappy's Chocolate Bitters 

Stir all with ice.  Strain into chilled martini glass.  Garnish with olive.

* * *

Finally, The Given World, by Marian Palaia.  Here, Ms. Palaia has provided us with a road map through one woman's grief.  When Riley’s brother goes missing in Vietnam, the loss she experiences is overwhelming.  Like an amputee who keeps reaching for a phantom limb, she must somehow learn to manage her pain when drugs, drink and sex lose their numbing qualities.  One of the saddest lines in the book is when Riley abandons her baby, leaving him in her parent's care.

And the baby, well.  I couldn't see him.  Dad could have had a mess of those boney cats in that carriage.  With their eyes closed, meowing and growling like they do.  Bye kittens.  Good night moon.

That line - Good night moon, showing that Riley had read the book to her child . . . just kills me.  So the drink would be Riley's Moon.

There was a period of time when she was fond of mescaline, but since the powers-that-be frown on that, I used mezcal instead.  A little black vodka for effect, some mint-infused simple syrup for smoothness - and a cocktail onion playing the role of the moon.  Goodnight, indeed.

Riley's Moon: 

2 oz. Blavod Black Vodka
1 oz. mezcal
.25 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
Cocktail onion for garnish

Stir all with ice.  Strain into chilled glass.  Garnish with the moon.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Blind Bear for a Christian

I first met Christian Kiefer a year ago when he came to the store for D. Foy's book signing.  D. Foy had just come out with his first novel, Made to Break, and since I'd known him for twenty years it was fitting that he read in the bookstore I manage.

His reading was fabulous.  We would sell a ton of books and members of our writing group from near and far came out to support him.  And then there was Christian - a friend of D. Foy's, a fellow author, local (kind of) - who would be interviewing D. Foy that night.  They had a terrific camaraderie - their exchanges were relaxed and funny with touches of the serious tossed in for good measure.

A great night that ended at the Hob Nob, the bar down the street from the bookstore.

Except Christian had to cut out.  He had a long drive back - past Sacramento.  But I'd see him again at the annual trade show put on by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.  He swears he kept calling my name during the mad scrum that is the author bash at the end of the show - I maintain I didn't hear him over the din.  Maybe I was distracted by the chocolate.

Christian was there promoting his not-yet-released novel, The Animals, that you can pre-order from us.

It's a helter-skelter story about identities lost and found, about violence in Reno, about wildlife sanctuaries being shut down for no good reason, about moose being shot in the back of the head when they're too wounded to save - written by this maestro who was introduced to me by a happy coincidence.

Segue to - I had just met Mandy Aftel, herself the author of Fragrant.  If ever there was a book that could be described as redolent, this was it.

Fragrant details the wondrous history of scent, the most evocative of the senses.  I'd been lucky enough to visit Mandy at her home studio where she delighted a handful of booksellers before Fragrant was released.  Although she's a terrific writer, her real passion is creating fragrances.  (You can learn more here.)  Her perfumes bewitched one portion of her audience that day - but for me, it was her Chef's Essences that were even more intriguing.

Edible scent?  A spritz that could be added to, say, a cocktail?  Ginger, maybe?  Peach or sarsaparilla?  Now you're talking.

I was especially hooked with one of the more esoteric flavors - fir.  Mandy swore it was like keeping a forest in a bottle and the possibilities for its use in an adult beverage began tick-tocking.

But that tick-tock reminds me that this was supposed to be about Christian, and here I am waxing rhapsodic about Mandy and her wondrous craft - which is of course easy to do.  Next time you eat vanilla ice cream, hit it with a little spray of her Pink Pepper Chef's Essence and you'll know what I mean.

Still - we began with my friend D. Foy, in conversation with his friend, Christian Kiefer.  A year ago last March.

Then we jumped forward to Christian.  His novel, The Animals.  The NCIBA trade show last October.  Christian was calling to me across the crowded floor, remember?  Was he wearing his hat that day like he had for D. Foy's reading?  I think so.  We talked - he about his book, me about the show.  I asked if he'd had one of the chocolate truffles.  Melt in your mouth deliciousness.

I told him about Mandy and her perfumes, her Chef's Essences - and that I was already thinking about some concoction to celebrate The Animals.

Like what? he asked.

And I told him about Fir and how I thought it would be perfect - since so much of the book takes place in or near the forests of Idaho, where the Animals live in a sanctuary-cum-zoo.  Those Animals include one of my favorite characters in the novel - Majer, the blind bear.  An animal who maintains majesty even without sight, even while its existence depends on the solicitude of Bill Reed, Majer's problematical caretaker.

Fir? Christian said.  That sounds disgusting.

It of course was only later that I realized Christian had heard the word 'Fur,' not 'Fir.'  And yeah, who wants that in their drink?

But Fir?  Pine needles and evergreen?  That I'd like.  So, in honor of Majer, tonight we'll be drinking a Blind Bear.  We'll use a little absinthe mixed with a little soda to get that wonderful louche effect that will turn the drink cloudy white - like the snowstorm that hits at the end of the book, or like Majer's cataracted eyes.  A little gin, too, because it's clear and because it'll play nice with the Fir Essence.

You can read all about it here in our March Newsletter, or down below.  Either way, after you mix it, close your eyes and breathe it deep - the forests will be all around.  And Majer?  You might here him snuffling, too.

This version is meant to be served in a coupe - but I'm thinking next time I'm going to serve it in a Collins glass over ice.  You decide how you want it and I'll accommodate.

Blind Bear:

1.5 oz. Plymouth Gin
.75 oz. absinthe
Soda water
Aftelier Perfumes Fir Needle Chef's Essence® Spray.

Stir gin and absinthe with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Top with cold soda water and stir.  Spritz once with the Fir.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wisdom From the Bottom of the Glass: Our 16th President

While living in Illinois in the early 1830's, Abraham Lincoln and his business partner, William Berry, owned a general store.  Like any general stores, they sold a variety of items including bacon, guns, and honey.

And booze, of course.  And booze.

Any proprietor could sell liquor without being licensed as long as he sold more than a quart and as long as it was not imbibed in the establishment.  The serving of libations was reserved for those industrious souls who received a liquor license, so, in order to make the Berry-Lincoln Store more profitable, William Berry applied for and received such a license in 1833 - making our 16th President the only person to hold that office who was also a tavern-keeper.

Cheers, Honest Abe, cheers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wisdom From the Bottom of the Glass: Quinine, Morphine and Whiskey

"In one pocket I carried quinine, in the other, morphine, and whiskey in my canteen,'' Dr. Nathan Mayer wrote, describing a daylong [Civil War] march in which he trailed his regiment, examining stragglers and treating the sick and injured.

~David Drury, Hartford Courant, December 29, 2012

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Reverend and the Archbishop

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated, please tell me you've seen the cover of Life Magazine from March 26th, 1965 - it's one of the issues commemorating the Selma to Montgomery marches.  The cover image has always been compelling and powerful since, as Life proclaimed, it was a historic turning point for the cause.  But for me it has also represented a point of pride because, as an American with strong ties to my Greek heritage, it's gratifying to recognize Archbishop Iakovos standing just to the right of Dr. King.

The Archbishop - Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America - was one of the few non-African American members of the clergy who had the courage to answer Dr. King's call and march through Alabama in support of civil rights. 

That image is the most well known, with the Archbishop looking into the camera's lens.  But another image, less famous, better captures the feeling of time, of place.

What it doesn't capture, of course, is the horror of that time and of that place.  It doesn't display the hundreds of earlier marchers who had tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge that same month and were attacked by state troopers armed with billy clubs and tear gas.  It doesn't broadcast the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, or of James Reeb, two men guilty of trying to march in the South and who paid for their guilt with their lives.

What it does reveal is the tension and sorrow of Archbishop Iakovos and of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the long line of marchers behind them.  It reveals the uneasy awareness that though their cause be just, there were men who would rather see them dead than marching under a southern sun.  Dr. King was more aware of this than anyone because the threats to his life came ugly and often.  It's that troubled awareness that strikes me in the second photograph, as if the wreath he carries in memory of the martyred Reverend James Reeb were a shield of flowers. 

And so even if it doesn't show everything, it shows that.

Years ago I happened across a copy of Life Magazine - three issues after the one that covered Selma - from April 16th, 1965.  Its Letters to the Editors were featured on page 21.  In the middle of those columns is a short missive from J. H. Sprague of Dallas, Texas, referring to the earlier edition.  It's adorable:

That cover takes the cake.  It's the best evidence of left-wing trouble makers you could ever get together.

Now, while it is true that Dr. King could be characterized as left-leaning, and while it is even more true that Walter Reuther, seen standing in back of and between the good Doctor and the Archbishop, could definitely be described as left of center (he was a Socialist in the '30's and a strong Labor Union Leader later in his life) it's funny for someone as theologically conservative as the Archbishop to be called left-wing.  But Mr. Sprague's ilk is made comfortable when they can put the Other in a derogatory box, so more power to you, Mr. Sprague, you silly, silly man.

Tonight, Karen and I talked about that to our girls, then showed them Dr. King's last speech.  Listen to his words.  Listen.  Listen and know that the threats that came to him ugly and often would turn deadly less than twenty-four hours later.  Elizabeth's eyes grew wet, as did ours, because she, unlike Dr. King, knew exactly what was going to happen to this man the next day.

Well, I don't know what will happen now.  We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place.   But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

So I'm happy tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Do you remember when I told you about the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis?  About the words that mark the resting place of the creator of Zorba the Greek?  No name, no dates, just a few simple sentences: 

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.

I'm free.

You'll have to pardon me if I've always heard these lines echo in Dr. King's words and that this hearkening to the ideas of another only strengthened the ties in my mind binding Dr. King to the Greek Archbishop, the Archbishop who marched with the Reverend to Montgomery.

I try and remember throughout the year that it's not just on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that we commemorate him - that we don't listen to his speeches with the girls today and forget about him tomorrow.  I try and remind them that powerful words alone aren't enough.  I remind them that it's when words combine with action that their power can be felt.  I remind them that glimpsing a mountaintop isn't enough because you can't see the other side until you've actually reached the summit.

For us, unfortunately, the summit is still a long way off.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th, 1929 - April 4th, 1968

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Monday, December 1, 2014

Zorba the Drink

My favorite books of all time?  That compilation changes faster than New York Times Bestsellers, but there are always a few constants, a few books so great they're always on my list with one book is so wonderful it never leaves my Top Three - Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis.

The book has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember having favorite books.  Zorba is one of those characters - created by a writer, never flesh and blood except on the page - who is more fervently real than most of the people I meet every day.  That's why he gets this month's drink in our newsletter.

"What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about.  I say:  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm sleeping.'  'Well, sleep well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm working.'  'Well, work well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm kissing a woman.'  'Well, kiss her well, Zorba!  And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her!  Get on with it!'"

Karen gave me a leather-bound journal on Valentine's Day, 1986, and that quote was one of the first I entered.  I'd read books, or articles, or attend a lecture, and if something jumped out at me - into the Journal it went.  Books usually got only one entry, and so that was the first entry from Zorba that resonated - then.  But then...

...but then, in 1989, I went to Greece for the first time.  And took Zorba with me.  And we traveled through Greece together, Zorba and I.  But reading Zorba?  In Greece?  It was no longer a passage that resonated - pages resonated.  I was overwhelmed.

Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.


'The idea's everything,' he said.


Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.


It is a great pleasure to enter a Cretan peasant's home....The house appears empty, but it contains everything needful, so few in reality are the true necessities of man.

My Journal, for a time, was taken over by Zorba the Greek.  So many of the passages weren't merely a mirror held up to life - they were Life.  My Life.  That entry about a Cretan peasant's home?  My cousin, Geó̱rgios, living in a horio (village) in Crete, owned so few things - but I've not met many men who were happier than he.

My memories of Geó̱rgios:  the glee with which he showed me the baby owl nesting in the small courtyard outside his house.  He spread its wings wide before returning it to safety.


Katina, his wife, bringing out the tray of Ouzo for the men to share.  I dutifully took the shot glass she offered and - having learned during those summer months that the easiest way to drink the Ouzo thus offered was to shoot it, quick - I shot it, quick.

But - when the liquor hit the back of my throat I knew this wasn't Ouzo.  It was a strong home brew, Raki, or Cretan Tsikoudia - the Greek version of White Lightning.  And Geó̱rgios and the rest of the men gathered there in Kaina, that village in Crete, looked at the crazy young American as he swallowed the undiluted drink - while they merely wet their upper lip with the booze before tossing the rest of the shot onto a dead bush crinkled brown near where the owl nested.

Geó̱rgios would give me a flask of my own when I left - with the admonition that even though I liked it so much, I had to promise to cut it with water.  To cut it with a lot of water. 

He leaped into the air and his feet and arms seemed to sprout wings.  As he threw himself straight in the air against that background of sea and sky, he looked like an old archangel in rebellion.  For Zorba's dance was full of defiance and obstinacy.  He seemed to be shouting to the sky:  "What can you do to me, Almighty?  You can do nothing to me except kill me.  Well, kill me, I don't care!  I've vented my spleen, I've said all I want to say, I've had time to dance....and I don't need you anymore!


Faces change, crumble, return to earth; but others rise to take their place.  There is only one dancer, but he has a thousand masks.  He is always twenty.  He is immortal.

I was about twenty, then, immortal then.  Dancing then - lots of dancing, then, with my Theo Niko.  My Theo Niko singing - drinking and singing and dancing.

My Theo Yanni - knocking on my door at five in the morning after I left my cousins at three, knocking because I said I'd go with him and milk his goats and check on his olives and water the few crops he had growing all over the island.  Little patches of land, some not much bigger than your living room, enough to keep one goat tethered - and so we drove and fed them and milked them and he'd make cheese, later, with this fresh milk.

Or he'd turn on a spigot, in a different area, above a different patch of ground, and the water would run down the small rows where he'd grow feed for his goats, and we'd talk in the cool of the morning and then Theo Yanni would kick a few pebbles with his scuffed boot and the water would change course.  The few rocks he dislodged would change the course of this trickle we were following and it would feed another row, and he'd do that - as the water wet the earth - he'd kick a few more rocks, taking his time.  There's no rushing in Greece.  Everyone takes their time - at least they do on the islands.

And later as the sun rose we came across one goat, just a kid - a runt - and it had been attacked by a billy goat and Theo Yanni knew the kid was in trouble so he threw it into the back of his truck with me, and after we finished our rounds he put it in the cool shed where the milk would ferment.  Soon after, though, his son - my cousin, Taki - went in to see how the kid was doing...

And then Taki shot out of the shed screaming, Afto pethane!  It's died!  It's died!

Theo Yanni ran in and grabbed the kid and tied its back legs together and threw the rope over a beam and hung that goat high, by its legs, before slitting its throat - because, he explained to me while the blade sliced the goat's neck, he had to bleed the goat out.  The meat would be useless to him unless he did this - and a waste like that couldn't easily be borne.

Except the goat had died and so its heart had stopped pumping - so no blood pulsed from its slit neck.  So my Theo cut the goat down, fast - here was a time to rush, finally a time to rush on the island of Skyros - and Theo Yanni grabbed a bicycle pump from somewhere close, and he stuck the business end of the pump into the main artery of the goat's thigh and looked up at me and at his son, Taki, and at my cousin, Peter - Peter, like me, from California.  Taki just screamed some more - Oxi!  No!  No! - and I looked at my Theo, confused, and so it was left to Peter who understood what needed doing.

And what needed doing was pumping the pump.  The pump with its needle stuck into the artery of the dead goat at his feet.  Pump pump pump - and suddenly the dirt next to my Theo's patio was awash with blood, the blood rhythmically pumping out of the goat as if by its own beating heart, when instead it gushed because of the maniacal up and down pumping being done by a man from Stockton.

Did Peter smile for the camera, for his cousin, Nick?  He did.  Was the meat of the goat wasted?  It was not - it became souvlaki that night.

Back home?  In the States?  The story is met with horror, revulsion.  But in Greece?  On the island?  On Skyros it made perfect sense.

To Zorba it would have made perfect sense.

After visiting my family on Crete - the General and his brother, Giorgios, their brother, Andoni - the only other thing I needed to do was visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis.  He's buried on the outskirts of Heraklion because the Greek Orthodox Church wouldn't let him be buried in holy ground.

No cemetery, then, for Nikos Kazantzakis - for the author of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Anyone would be struck by the simplicity of his resting place.  There's no name - no stone that reads—

Nikos Kazantzakis
Born 18 February 1883
Died 26 October 1957

—but there is a cross, wooden and tall.  And a headstone, yes, but instead of his name and when he was born, when he died, it has three lines from his work, The Saviors of God.  Just those lines, and nothing more.

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα.  (I hope for nothing.)
Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα.  (I fear nothing.)
Είμαι λέφτερος.  (I'm free.)

I sat there, warm in the Cretan sun, and thought about those words, and Zorba.  And my family, near and far.  I thought about my mom, who traveled to Greece with me - the first time she'd been back since she left Skyros in 1961.  I thought about her reunion with her own mother.  Joyous.  Thought about the fact that I'd purchased a ring for Karen in Thessaloniki because I was having a wonderful time in Greece - but it would have been infinitely better with her, and so I would ask her when I returned to Berkeley from Greece, I would ask her to marry me.

So could I, too, say that I hoped for nothing when I hoped for so much?

Once more there sounded within me....the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here.  In eternity no other chance will be given to us.
A mind hearing this pitiless warning - a warning which, at the same time, is so compassionate - would decide to conquer its weakness and meanness, its laziness and vain hopes and cling with all its power to every second which flies away forever.

Funny thing about Zorba the Greek - the book.  The book that I love.  When Simon & Schuster published it in the United States for the first time, they didn't actually publish a translation of the Greek.  They instead published a French translation of the Greek into English.

Greek to French to English.

I'm sure it made sense - but, the problem with that is this:  Kazantzakis is a son of his country, and as a son of Greece he reveled in the idiosyncrasies of the Greek language.  And Cretan Greek is different from Skyrian Greek is different from Athenian Greek.  I can't imagine getting the sort of wonderful detail down on the page that Kazantzakis strove for by doing the Greek/French/English thing.

Thankfully, this month, Simon & Schuster is remedying that by publishing a new translation of Zorba the Greek - their first since the book came out in 1953.  I found out about it because Wendy Sheanin looks out for me - she's the Director of Marketing for Simon & Schuster, and yes, it's good to have friends in high places.  So there's Wendy in New York, there's their amazing rep, Cheri Hickman, keeping me up to speed on this coast - Book People, we take care of each other.

To say thanks, I mixed up a little something I originally called the Hot Zorba.  I wanted it to have rum, because that's the drink the young Greek intellectual shares with Alexis Zorba at the beginning of the novel.  Our smart friend wanted to drink sage tea, but Zorba scoffed at that.

"Sage?" he uttered with contempt.  "Over here, waiter!  Rum!"

In addition to Zorba's preference - the rum - I would have liked to add Tsikoudia.  Ouzo, though, is more readily available and I want you to try this - so Ouzo.

At first I called this a Hot Zorba because it's very close to a Toddy.  But after tasting it I realized that what I had in my hands was, of course, Zorba the Drink.  Please, read the book, drink the drink - and then we'll talk about it.

Yia sou!

Zorba the Drink:

.5 oz dark rum
.5 oz ouzo
.5 oz lemon juice

.5 oz honey
3 - 5 oz tea

Mix all ingredients - except tea - in a warm mug.  Top off with tea.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick, lemon peel and a sage leaf.