Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year with a Hangar Banger!


This was concocted for an event on January 19th at The Chapel in San Francisco with Armistead Maupin to commemorate the publication of his final tale in his Tales of the City.

The Harvey Wallbanger is probably the most '70's of all '70's drinks, so I went with that and tarted it up just a bit.

More on the event later, but for now, Cheers!




Hangar Banger:


1.5 oz. Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
4 oz. fresh orange juice
.5 oz. Galliano
Stir vodka and orange juice in a tall, chilled glass.  Add ice.  Float the Galliano on top.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ghosts of Christmas Past


Last night - with the wine in crystal goblets glistening in the light of the green candles running the length of our Christmas table - we remembered those who couldn't be with us.  Like my dad.  My dad and his brothers.

I was a pallbearer this year in Salt Lake City for both of those brothers, my uncles.  Two men I loved, the last direct link to my father.  The last people who could answer the questions I still have about their childhood, about growing up in the coal-mining town of Hiawatha, Utah.

Salt Lake City was beautiful both times I flew there in 2013.  Beautiful but sad.  First in early May, then in October.  And now it's already Christmas - the year nearly over.

This time of year always finds the picture rails in our front room lined with holiday cards.  One of the first we received was the Christmas card from my Aunt Ursula.  Aunt Ursula whose husband, my Uncle Pete, died in April.  Inside the card:


Dear Family Petrulakis, she wrote.

I hope all your wishes come true, she wrote.  Have a happy and healthy New Year.

She continued, of course.  How could she not?

I am missing Pete something awful, she wrote.

We spent 45 years together on Christmas, she wrote.

I put the Christmas decorations up just like he liked them, she wrote.

May his memory be eternal.

Love you all.  Ursula.
Tony in front, Dean behind him, then Pete.
Circa 1944


And the enormity of her loss almost became plain.  I knew at the funeral how much she missed her husband, my uncle.  At the next funeral, for my Uncle Dean, Ursula was beautiful in black, and missing her husband, my uncle, something awful.

So - on one very superficial level - I understood how much Aunt Ursula must miss her husband, my uncle.  The same way I know how much my mom misses my dad.  How much Judy misses her partner, my Uncle Dean.

But I still don't really understand, right?  The degree of the loss?  Of spending 45 Christmases with someone, and then not?

The love that leads you to decorate your home with Christmas decorations because he - her husband, my uncle - loved it so?


When my mom walked into our house yesterday, the first thing she saw was the grand rocking horse she bought my Elizabeth for her first Christmas in 2004.  My mom stopped short, looking at our mantle, at the horse there, and then turned, her eyes already wet.

Is that...? she said.

She'd never seen it displayed before.  The last time she saw it was when we opened it at our house, the largest package under our tree that year.  I hadn't put it out before because - though beautiful - it's full of sharp angles and so heavy that little toes under the horse's treads could be hurt so easy.  Then a few years later Kristina came along so we continued to not display the horse because of our caution, our worry.

The rocking horse stayed in its box, in our garage, Christmas after Christmas.  Until this year when we were again hosting my family on Christmas Eve and I thought, even though we'd have two visitors even more little than our own - thanks to my brother Dean and his wife, Laura - maybe I could finally display the rocking horse if I put it up high, on our mantle.

Is that...? my mom said.

It is, I said.

And with her eyes getting more wet my mom said she remembered seeing that rocking horse on display at Keller's in Modesto.  It was too dear, though, too expensive to pick up on a whim for her first grandchild.

When my dad came home from work that night she told him about the rocking horse, the rocking horse that played Silver Bells, and he asked where it was.

Oh, Andoni, she began, ready to explain why she hadn't bought it that afternoon.  But before she could get past the words, Oh, Andoni - my dad interrupted.

Anna, he said, smiling.  Just go get it for her.

My dad who had so much love for my mom.  Who adored her so much.  Who had realized so quickly how much he loved our Elizabeth.  Elizabeth named for his mom, my YiaYia.

Anna, he said, smiling.  Just go get it for her.


As we sat around the table last night, remembering those who are no longer with us, we realized, Karen and I realized, that the rocking horse would be on display every Christmas from now on.

Just like he liked them, Aunt Ursula wrote.  Just like he liked them.

Merry Christmas to everyone near and far - and to those who aren't with us.  Set out a plate, or a glass, and remember how they liked it.  How much they liked it.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kermit Lynch at the Chapel, today at 2pm

And then sometimes you get thrown a fat one right over the plate.  Gotta swing, right?  Gotta swing.


Today at two, Books Inc. presents Kermit Lynch in conversation with Rajat Parr.  Kermit Lynch, purveyor of fine wine, importer, wine maker, author - just so happens to divide his time between Berkeley and France - so those of us in the bay area are fortunate to have him so close, so often.

Have you been to his shop, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, on San Pablo in Berkeley?  It's just ridiculously wonderful to have someone with such exceptional taste so near.  I will admit that I am not an oenophile - if the definition of the word is a connoisseur.  If, though, you define it as someone who's simply a lover of wine, then I'm your guy.  I used to be a slave to the ratings-cards that wine shops provide - 87 points!  I used to be in.

Now, though, I talk to the people behind the counter.  That's what we do at ye olde bookshoppe, right?  If you have a question, I can answer it.  Same with wine.  Good shops employ knowledgeable people, and Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant is full of good people with great advice.

So there's the fact that Mr. Lynch is a recognized and influential wine expert - as this piece in the New York Times wonderfully demonstrates.  Then there's the book.  When Adventures on the Wine Route came out in 1988, critics as diverse as Roald Dahl, Hugh Johnson and the Financial Times praised it mightily.

It's idiosyncratic, funny, informative.  A wee bit different than the stodgy wine writing you might be used to.


Adventures on the Wine Route is a great pleasure to read.

It’s this idea of pleasure, I think, that separates Mr. Lynch’s book from the others, and that also illumines his taste in wine.  Wine is, he writes, above all, pleasure.  

What’s he a fan of?  Good wine.  He’s not a fan of filtration – which, though it makes more wine safe from spoiling, also makes it impossible to achieve the heights unfiltered wines can achieve.  We would not castrate all men, he writes, because some of them go haywire and commit rape.

Thank god for that.

But today - the event at the Chapel.  Not only is it Kermit Lynch, he's going to be in conversation with Rajat Parr, wine director for the Mina Group

At Parr’s restaurants - like Michael Mina - he says his concern is with showcasing the wine itself – not necessarily its reputation, but what’s in the bottle.  He says to taste with your heart, not your mind – which might give you a clue as to why they get on so well.

He also is the author of Secrets of the Sommeliers – bestseller and winner of a James Beard Cookbook Award.

Plus, he loves PDT, a speakeasy in New York which is one of my favorite bars, ever – in addition to his own Clock Bar here in the city, meaning you don’t have to travel 3,000 miles to get there.

Both men would agree that the great occasions of our life are celebrated with food and wine.  So, today, a celebration of an amazing author, a terrific book – and great wine.


Oh, and that fat one that was thrown over my plate?  It was the request to introduce both men at the Chapel - something I will gladly do.  Here's me, then, swinging away.

Join us if you can.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Introducing the Jenny Bonnet - Jenny to you.


One of the perks you get as a bookseller is being able to peek at books before they're published - we sometimes see these advance copies so that we're good and ready to tell you about them when they do come out.  Such is the case with Emma Donoghue's Frog Music.

You'll know Ms. Donoghue from her previous writing including her last novel, the bestselling Room - that desperate, claustrophobic and brilliant story about the ends one mother goes to in an attempt to shelter her son from their unthinkable crisis of circumstance.  Have you not read Room?  Go, ok?  Just go do that.

As is her wont, she has jumped from the contemporary to the historical in Frog Music.  It's the United States' Centennial and brash and dynamic San Francisco is where Blanche Beunon will be run over - literally - by Jenny Bonnet, a frog hunting, oft-arrested (for appearing in the apparel of the opposite sex), bicycle stealing twenty-seven-year-old who will spirit into your consciousness even quicker than she can snatch frogs.

More's the pity that Jenny is shotgunned on page three.  Leave it to Ms. Donoghue to introduce a woman you'll fall in love with as soon as she sings a lullaby to Blanche - leaving the rest of the novel to show how they met and why they ended up ambushed at Eight Mile House.

But all that's for next year - April of 2014 when Frog Music hits our shelves.  In the meantime, I'd like you to enjoy a drink inspired by Jenny.  I started with genever - gin before there was gin - because, yes, alliteration, but also because it's something Jenny and Blanche might've shared at the Pony Express Saloon.  It'll keep you warm through the winter - until spring when you can meet Jenny for yourself.

Another perk booksellers sometimes receive is breaking bread with authors during pre-publication tours.  I'm lucky enough to meet Ms. Donoghue tonight in San Francisco - and though we may not get to sample a Jenny, we will be able to talk about the real life Jenny Bonnet who inspired Frog Music.

The Jenny Bonnet:

 2 oz. Bols Genever
.75 oz. simple syrup
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 drops Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters

Combine all - except bitters - and stir with ice.  Strain into chilled glass.  Add bitters & garnish with maraschino cherry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mrs. Poe


First there came the book, and the book was Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen.  I was seduced by the novel because it gleamed like a diamond in gaslight, its facets glittering.  Look, there's a love story.  Over here, a tale of 19th century New York with its cobbled streets and sinister corners.  And sparking over it all, Edgar Allan Poe.  So part masterful biography, too.

But always glinting, first here, then there - the two woman that would complete Poe's triangle.  Their love story wasn't innocent, of course.  Is seduction ever innocent?  And who - there at the beginning - was I supposed to like more?  Mrs. Poe, the frail and dying wife of the poet?  Or Frances Osgood, a writer herself, laboring to support her children after her husband left her for a brighter bauble?

So the book came first.  Then came the dinner.

Booksellers are sometimes treated to pre-publication parties in celebration of an author or authors.  This dinner took place in July and Ms. Cullen was one of the authors being feted.

The gatherings are almost always a delight and this was no exception.  The hope is that you meet the author - putting the proverbial face to a name - but also, just maybe, something more.  Something that sometimes happens when you're able to talk to an author over bread and wine - about the book and how it came to be or about some interesting morsel that dropped to the floor but that's still illuminating.

I'm lucky to sometimes be included in those gatherings.  On that San Francisco night, we talked books and booze and writing.

The drink came next.

I have a bit of a thing for Poe -  and for cocktails - and so there was some mingled talk that night about both.  I was delighted, then, when I was asked by Ms. Cullen to create a drink for the book.  Mrs. Poe had been chosen by Book Movement to be their Book of the Month for October.  Book Movement is a great resource for book clubs and they requested food and drink suggestions to accompany the discussions the book would generate.

If the drink had been called Edgar, absinthe may have played a role, but for Mrs. Poe it seemed something lighter was in order.  Although, even when good cocktails taste that way, they're never really light.

Mrs. Poe would begin with St. Germain, a wonderful liqueur that's light and aromatic, made from frail elderflowers.  Perfect for her.

Maybe that and a little gin - I said cocktails are never light, right?  Some Benedictine, too, because that's something that Poe - Mr. and Mrs. - could have sipped in their New York, and I wanted to include something contemporaneous.

After some mixing and matching, Mrs. Poe became:


1.5 oz. Hendrick's Gin
.25. oz. St. Germain
1 barspoon Benedictine
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Stir all with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.



Then we decided (this had become a collaboration and Lynn is as much the author of these drinks as she is of Mrs. Poe) some punches would be fun, too - since punches were all the rage in New York society in the 1840's.  Like, for example: 

Mrs. Poe's Punch:
  
2 cups apple juice, chilled
Juice of 8 lemons, about 1.5 cups
1 cup sugar
Fresh mint
1 or 2 bottles champagne, chilled
Frozen raspberries


Lightly muddle mint leaves with apple juice and sugar.  Add lemon juice and stir until sugar dissolves.  Chill until it's time to talk about Mrs. Poe.  Pour into punch bowl.  Add champagne to taste.  Garnish with frozen raspberries and mint.


As you can imagine, this was a joy for me.  Here I was, mixing two of my passions.  Terrific, yes? 

And that would have been enough, but then the wonderful people at Gallery Books (hello Stephanie DeLuca and Simon and Schuster) created a terrific broadside with the recipes for the punches and the cocktail. 

I've been called a number of things in my time, but never a mixologist, and yet there it was - in print - so it had to be true, right? 

So we made some drinks, and others have now made some drinks, and the drinks are good but the book?  The book's marvelous. 

For me, a favor?  Please purchase Mrs. Poe - I'd prefer that you bought it from your favorite indie bookseller, but what I really want is for you to own it, to read it.  So get it.  And if you have time, stop by ye olde bookshoppe tonight because Lynn Cullen will be there and we'll be talking Mrs. Poe and sipping more of those drinks. 

Stop by, yes?  I'll save a seat for you.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dean Petrulas: August 10, 1936 - October 23, 2013


When the phone rang fifty minutes past midnight this morning, I knew my Uncle Dean had died.  Phones don't ring at that hour for other reasons.

I was supposed to be on a plane later in the morning - flying out to Salt Lake City to visit him.  We spoke briefly yesterday, the last time we would speak, and our conversation was short and heartbreaking.  Short because he didn't have the strength to talk very long, heartbreaking because his words were so labored but so soft that it was clear my uncle was passing.

Dean Petrulas, 1943
I held out arrogant hope that because I let him know I was on my way, he would be alive today, would be there waiting for me.  Would be present for one last visit.

I can be a smug, foolish man.

Dean Petrulas (yes, his name was shorter, yes) was the last member of his generation from the Petrulakis family.

My Papou and YiaYia had long since left us.  My father's sister, Sylvia, was the first of the four siblings to pass away - shortly after our own Elizabeth was born.  Elizabeth, named after my grandmother, my YiaYia.

This family, my family, was so loud - though my father was the most quiet - but so loud, so Greek.

This family, my family - and now they're gone.

My Papou, the coal miner - the man who would begin this family, my family.  George Anthony Petrulakis.  Why did he leave Crete as a teenager?  The stories vary.  There may have been a sister, avenged, and the need to flee.  There may have been a land of opportunity turned to when there were no opportunities at home.

Maybe it was just wanderlust.

My strongest memory of Papou is from my last summer with him, our last visit together.  After our annual drive - 714 miles from Sherwood Avenue in Modesto, California to Ramona Avenue in Salt Lake City, Utah - Papou met us outside his brick bungalow.  With a huge smile, he beckoned his grandchildren into his backyard, his yellow dahlias ablaze, and there, in front of the ramshackle detached garage, was a plastic tub filled with sand.

Carefully placed among the sculpted dunes?  Plastic cowboys and Indians.  Green ones and blue ones, red ones and yellow.  Attacking, retreating.  A tableau of the old west, of old time Utah, created for three boys from Modesto.  And YiaYia just stood there smiling at the love this old man showed for his young grandchildren - the only grandchildren I thought he had.

YiaYia.  YiaYia who was raised in Dawson, New Mexico.  YiaYia who, in my mom's kitchen, cooked the best Mexican feast I've ever had - homemade tortillas and enchiladas and re-fried beans.  Everything made from scratch.  Great Mexican cooking from a Greek YiaYia.

YiaYia.  YiaYia and her ridiculous affection for Kitty, her Siamese.  Kitty who hissed at everyone but YiaYia.

Well, at everyone but YiaYia and my Thea Sylvia, my dad's only sister.  Thea Sylvia who sent my brother George a silver letter opener for high school graduation, who sent me a gold tie pin.  What did she send my brother Dean?  I forget.  I forget so much.  But not her laugh.  Thea Sylvia's laugh?  Oh, Thea.  I miss you.  I'm so sorry you and YiaYia never met Elizabeth, never met Kristina.

Uncle Pete at least met Elizabeth.  Uncle Pete who passed away this year in that cruel month of April.  Uncle Pete who, one summer night, grabbed a grasshopper for me in front of his house in Sandy, Utah.  Held it in his fingers and gently pinched its head until it spit out what he said was tobacco.  And since he said it, I believed it.  Believed it and tried to replicate the pinching back home in Modesto - never successfully.

Uncle Pete who showed me the framed painting of the raccoon that he sheepishly said he spent too much money on, but that he loved.  Uncle Pete who came into my bedroom after I ran from my family, crying.  Crying because they'd just mentioned - this family, my family - they'd just mentioned, in passing, that Uncle Pete had been married before, had a daughter I never knew.  Everyone knew, it seemed, but me.  And Uncle Pete came into my room, quiet, and just talked to me.  Man to man even though I was a boy.  Talked and then explained to his brother, my dad, why it was important that we had talked.

My dad?  Ah, Dad.  Dad, I miss you.  Dad, I love you.

And Uncle Dean was the last, the last of this family, my family.  Uncle Dean who I spoke with more in the few years since my father passed away than in all the time before.  Uncle Dean, the last repository of the stories, of the knowledge, of the tales of this family, my family, the family Petrulakis.

Uncle Dean, who died at 1:52 am.  Judy called me then, right then, and we talked and we cried and I told her to tell Uncle Dean that I loved him, and she did, whispered to him my words while I apologized for not being there - I was supposed to be on a plane later this morning to visit.  My visit was going to keep Uncle Dean alive for a few more hours, I had that power, didn't I?

Didn't I?

And then, with Uncle Dean already gone, my flight would be canceled.  Oakland fog and gray, mocking skies would cancel my flight.  What power do we have?  We have no power.


Can I tell you a story about my Uncle Dean?  About the thing that comes to mind first when I think of him, of that tall, powerful man?

It must've been, what, 1975?  Was that when Glen Campbell sang about his Rhinestone Cowboy?  Uncle Dean was soon to arrive at the house, his parent's bungalow on Ramona, and when he did, the three Petrulakis boys would line up inside the front door, practically ready to salute when he came in.

And come in he did, Uncle Dean - confirmed bachelor, owner of a new car (seemingly) every year.  Did he once own a yellow Lincoln Continental with suicide doors?  Oh, he did.

So Uncle Dean walked in, and we've dutifully lined up for him, standing there in the living room of YiaYia's house, that brick house with the porch we'd jump from onto the small patch of grass, the grass where we'd drink cream soda during those Salt Lake summers - the three of us, the three brothers, in the new sneakers we'd get each year before making the trip to Utah.  And Uncle Dean walked in, and we saluted and smiled, and he looked at us, and down at our new shoes, and up at my dad - and by this time Uncle Dean was laughing.

"Tone," he said, calling my dad by one of the many nicknames he'd earned in Hiawatha - Wheels being my personal favorite - "Tone," he said, shaking his head and looking back down at our new shoes, "that is the exact reason why I'll never get married and have kids."

And that incident became shorthand for my thoughts of Uncle Dean.  I admired him for it.  Here was a man, part of this family, my family, who knew himself so well, who was so comfortable in that knowledge, that he could admit to his brother that perhaps he was selfish enough never to want children - but that he was content with the realization.  Happy to go about his life with his new cars and terrific condo on the golf course without the encumbrance of kids.

But then - a funny thing happened.  Life happened.  Life happened and Karen and I got married and then Karen got pregnant - though this took too long, the time between the one and then the other, much too long according to many of the Greeks in our life.

But after Karen became pregnant, we made our calls to share the news - and Uncle Dean was one of the first calls I made.

We talked for a minute about nothing - and then I said, "Uncle Dean, I've got some news."  And after I told him, that Karen was expecting, that we had a little girl on the way, the line got very quiet.

Very quiet.

Karen, Nick, Uncle Dean, Dean, Wheels
1989
"Nick," Uncle Dean said, "the best thing you ever did was marry Karen.  That young woman," he said, "she is so smart."

"I know," I said, "I keep trying to figure out what she sees in me."

"That's not what I'm talking about right now," he said.  "What I'm talking about right now is the fact that it's the best thing you ever did."

He became quiet again.

"But the best thing the two of you will ever do is what you just told me.  It's a blessing, Nick," he said.  "Your family is a blessing.  And you remember that, ok?  Because I made a mistake.  Never getting married was a mistake.  Family is so important and I made a mistake."

We talked more after that, but not much.  My conversations with my uncle were always short, then.  Not like they've been lately.  But his revelation was a surprise - because "Uncle Dean" was a story that I told, a story about a man - when he was younger than I am now - who admitted to his oldest brother that he knew what was right for him, for Uncle Dean, and a wife wasn't right for him and kids certainly weren't right for him.

But here he was, my Uncle Dean, this important part of this family, my family, upending the convention that I had created.  Upending and exploding it with a simple declaration that I had done right where he had done wrong.

My Uncle Dean was an amazing man.  An amazing man who was fortunate to find an amazing woman - Judy - with whom he spent the last ten years of his life.  Not married, no - but happier together than many who are.  And we were happy, too, everyone was happy that Uncle Dean had found his family with Judy.  Each of those boys that he ribbed my dad about almost forty years ago had found their own families, and Uncle Dean had found his, too.

My Uncle Dean was an amazing man.  Hardworking and proud.  The way he talked about my dad these last few years, the delight he demonstrated in displaying the pictures of his nieces and nephews - the gratitude in his voice when he talked to Judy, or about Judy.

My Uncle Dean was an amazing man, such an important part of this family, my family.

I'm sorry I wasn't there with you yesterday, Uncle Dean.  I love you.  I miss you.

Eternal be your memory.

Monday, September 30, 2013

St. George Single Malt Whiskey, Lot 13


Living on an island - Alameda - in the San Francisco Bay brings with it many things:  a great group of friends, good elementary schools, a terrific indie bookstore, a distillery.  And if we were playing that game, Which-of-These-is-Not-Like-the-Other, it might be easy to pick the distillery - but oh, how lucky we are.

St. George Spirits has been craft-distilling for more than thirty years.  When they began, in 1982, I was in high school and Olivia Newton John was screaming about getting Physical.  I didn't really know what she meant - let me hear your body talk? Really? - and like most Americans, I had no idea that craft distilling was even a thing.

We drank Metaxa in my house.  Still do.  But now I supplement that with whiskey.

Unfortunately, the luxury of a distiller in your back yard doesn't mean that you get to sample their wares all the time, more's the pity.  St. George just released this years' iteration of their whiskey, the 13th Lot of this beauty of a single malt, but it's a difficult bottle to score.

Having been hailed as one of the whiskies you must try before you die, having been called phenomenal, unlike any other U.S. single malt - these well-earned words of praise ensure they never have a surplus.  St. George distills, bottles, and ships it - then it's gone for another year.

This season I went all proactive and called two of my favorite spirits shops in San Francisco - Blackwell's and Cask.  Cask already had a waiting-list and added my name to it.  Blackwell's didn't have a list going, so they started one for me.

The following week, the shipments began arriving - I got a call from Blackwell's first.  By that time they had lots of people interested in the bottles they had and they wanted to know if I wanted mine.

Yes.

A few days passed, however, before I had the time to head across the new Bay Bridge - and on my first attempt, there was gridlock on the approach.  As I fumed in my car, I received a phone call.  Since I wasn't actually moving, even though I was on a freeway, I answered.


New Bay Bridge in front, old Bay Bridge behind.


It was Blackwell's, tactfully inquiring if I still wanted my bottle of the St. George because many other people had expressed interest in it.

I explained the irony of my being in my car and that I was - in theory - on my way there right then, but that the traffic was making forward progress negligible.  The next step, of course, to secure the Lot 13 under my name was simply to purchase it over the phone.  And again, since I wasn't moving, I dug in my pocket for the little plastic card that would keep the St. George on hand for me.

When, finally, I got to the halfway point on the bridge - the old connecting with the new - I took the exit for Treasure Island and just turned around and went home with the knowledge that when I was actually able to drive to San Francisco, my bottle would be waiting.

The next day, I talked to my friend Nick - yes, we travel in packs - and since he's fond of mash and what it can become, he expressed interest in a bottle of the whiskey if another became available.  Which is about when I got the call from Cask saying that they had a few extra bottles that hadn't been picked up and if I was interested I should call.

Right away.

Except when I returned their call ten minutes later they were closed.

I began dialing thirty minutes before they opened the next morning.  They didn't answer until one minute past the hour, but they finally did answer and I was able to add Nick's bottle to my bounty.  But then I called Nick and told him to call Cask and see if they had any other bottles available.

You know, just in case.

I didn't see Nick until Saturday night when a group of friends met at the Punchline in San Francisco in celebration of his wife's birthday.  I had just dropped off his bottle the day before - left it on his doorstep like a milkman delivering bottles, clink clink.

At the comedy club Nick told me that when he called Cask asking about the whiskey, they politely told him no, they didn't have any in reserve.  Nick gently toiled ahead, saying that perhaps he had heard through the grapevine that there might be a few bottles that weren't spoken for...maybe?

The woman at Cask laughed and said, By 'the grapevine,' do you mean Nick Petrulakis?

And then they both laughed.

Turns out there were a few other Nicks already on the list so she may not at first have believed my Nick when he asked to add that moniker to the growing queue, but she obliged him the addition of his name, without, alas, being able to follow through any more than that.

But he has his bottle, I have mine.  And the whiskey?

This version of St. George's Single Malt?  Lot 13?  It's splendid.  It's a fruit-first whiskey that lets you discover chocolate and cinnamon as you enjoy your glass, then it finishes smooth.  She's lovely to look at - light in the glass and bright on the tongue.  Sip her - unless you want to make a helluva great cocktail.

I had my first taste from a pre-Prohibition shot glass because, yes, it does go down better that way.  I like to imagine the San Francisco hands who slid this shot glass across bar tops more than a century ago.  I like to imagine the people who accepted the shot, tasted the whiskey, set the glass down and twirled their finger in the air as they called for another round.

And another.

With this St. George, that's an easy thing to do.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Savory Cocktails


Fall's coming, and your drinks should reflect that.  I mean, go right ahead and enjoy your Gin and Tonics in October, but when the leaves outside begin to turn and the flames inside your fireplace start popping, savory cocktails will respond perfectly to those autumnal clues.

Thankfully, Greg Henry has arrived with his new book, Savory Cocktails.

Henry is the author of Savory Pies - and now he's brought his palate and eye (his photographs in the books are stunning) to the bar.

Savory Cocktails is perfect for the novice drink mixer - with brief introductions to glassware, tools and techniques, but more experienced drink wizards will revel in his delectable recipes.

Don't think an heirloom tomato belongs in a cocktail? Just wait until you taste his Salad Bowl Gin and Tonic.  Horseradish and cucumber?  Try out his Breeder's Cup.

The drinks are grouped in categories like Herbal, Umami, and Smoky.  I went with Smoky.

My first selection was the Autumn Ash.  I hadn't had Scotch in a while - bourbon and rye have taken over my bar - but the smoky notes to the Ash caught my eye.  And while Henry calls for a blended scotch in this drink, I went with Glenfiddich because I had a bottle (and incurred the wrath of a friend who intoned that I had sullied the Glenfiddich and where did I get off thinking this type of heresy should be allowed?)

Ouch.

Still, it made for a delightful drink, so there's that.

 
Henry's photos are lovelier.
AUTUMN ASH
 
2 oz. Glenfiddich (or a blended scotch whiskey to keep my friend Al off your back)
1 oz. Laird's Applejack
.25 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
 
Combine the scotch, apple brandy, liqueur and bitters with ice.  Stir.
 
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Squeeze a lemon twist over the drink, rub it on the glass' rim, and use as garnish.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Shave and a Haircut


Bad hair day doesn't begin to cut it, so I had to cut it.  I had Shirley-Temple curls, Alfalfa sprouts - I was a mess.  So much so, that when I picked up the kids for their first Daddy Day of the new school year, Daughter #1 said, from the backseat...

Daddy, you need a haircut.

...and simultaneously, from Daughter #2:

You need a haircut, Daddy.

Which is unanimous and so off we went to a Barber Shop of My Own.

The Temescal Alley Barber Shop is old-school in the ridiculously hipster way people use the term.  No sinks for washing scalps - you come in clean.  A barber-pole outside.  Hex tile floors inside.

The one major change is that among the gents cutting hair there's usually one gal.  So this isn't your grandfather's barbershop, but he'd approve.

Trust me, he'd approve.

So we park right across the street, on 49th, and then I put my name on the barber-shop's chalkboard.

Lots of hair on the floor, Daddy, Kristina says - and I say, Yes.  That happens in Barber Shops.  She just shakes her head.

While waiting, we check out the offerings in the Alley's other shops - super-expensive pants, hot hot coffee, succulents and dried sage.

Elizabeth picks up a bundle of that dried sage inside Homestead Apothecary and breathes in its earthy smell.  Ooh, I like that, she says.

A young customer inside has tats - everyone's got tats, or piercings, or both, and as I'm feeling especially like a citizen of Squares Ville, I hear my name called out by the young man who wrote it on the chalkboard earlier.

The girls decide to sit outside, in the shade (which is a relief on this hot August afternoon), and pet the dog stretched out under their bench. 


I go inside and take a belt of the Bulleit they have on a high shelf.  It goes down all spicy, orangey, and sweet.  Since I was last here, the shop's front door got moved - but more importantly, the bourbon and rye got moved, too, from the low bottom shelf of a cabinet to this high shelf on the wall.


Different location, same good taste.

I sit and my barber just looks at the unruly mop I offer once I take off my Giants' cap.

A trim? he says.

No, no, I say.  A proper cut.

Really? he says.

Really, I say.

Ok, he says, smiling.  Let's get you good and cleaned up.



The reading material is period appropriate.
We start talking.  He's got three kids - three, two and ten months.  A brave man, certainly.

My guy tells me that his #1 son is a big reader, like his mom.  Began by eating pulpy board books, as good readers should, and lit off from there.

Then he tells the young man at the door that he's ready for a drink.  A Shebang? the young man offers.  No, my guy says, the Whole Shebang.

Another of the barbers looks at the clock - a few minutes before three - and says that's it's also time for him to have a Whole Shebang.

What's a Whole Shebang? I say.

My guy pauses as he clips.  You're probably hoping it's got something inside that's high-octane, he says and laughs.

I was hoping that, yes.

You've had a shot yourself, right? and he points to the high shelf.  Magazines up there, too, he says.

What they were reading in August, 1971
I nod.

A Shebang, he says, will disappoint you then.  It's just Gatorade--

Original, I say?  Not purple or blue?

Original, yes, he says.  Yellow.  But a Whole Shebang is the Gatorade and Red Bull.  It's a good boost late in the afternoon.  Especially a hot afternoon like today.

So the young man leaves, and as he closes the door some of the hair on the tile floor does a little breeze-shift.  Lot of hair down there, I say.  My daughter thought it was funny, all the hair.

One of the other barbers, the guy who's in on the Whole-Shebang - his apron is leather, smooth like the skin on his scalp - shakes his head.  That would be the Apprentice's fault, he says.  There isn't supposed to be any hair on the floor.

Actually, my guy says, it's not supposed to even touch the floor.  He should catch it as it falls.

Fat chance, says the young barber - pretty and tattooed - who's just to our left.  But she's laughing as she says it.  Lots of laughs from this crew.

The bald barber looks my way.  First week of school for your kids? he says.  What grades?

Fourth and First, I say.

First grade, he says, and he scowls.  I fucking hated First Grade.  I got suspended on the first day of First Grade.

I didn't even know that was possible, my guy says.

What'd you do? I say.

I threw a chair at a kid, he says as he runs his fingers through the hair of the guy he's cutting on - checking to see if the ends are straight.  He deserved it, though, he says.

Lots of laughs at that.

And I went through all the steps to prevent it, he says.  I told the teacher three times that this kid was bugging me--

So you're a snitch in addition to being a truant? the pretty barber says without pausing as she combs through her customer's hair.

--I'm telling you, I tried letting the teacher know what was going on, but she just kept telling me to sit down, so I finally took matters into my own hands.  Taught him a lesson, too.

What was the provocation? I say.

He looks at me and says, all sotto voce, I didn't want to say this out loud - it's because I was crying.  I missed my mom, bad, and I'd been crying all day and this kid, man.  He just kept going at me, you know?  Just kept going at me.

Wow, the pretty barber says, you've got a lot going on, huh?  Terrible student, violent, and mommy issues, too.

Lots more laughter.

It's about this time that my guy drapes a hot towel around my neck - I always thought that getting my hair washed when I got it cut was the best feeling, but let me tell you, that hot towel?  As a prelude to getting the back of your neck shaved with a straight razor?  That's pretty great.

So he shaves me, and brushes me off, then whips the smock off like a matador.  How's that look? he asks as he swivels my chair around so I can get a look in the mirror.

Like a new man, the pretty barber says, and I smile at that because, yes - the curls are gone, the sprouts have been sheared, and I've got a shot of Bulleit in me and another story to tell.

Looks great, I say, and I tip my guy and go.

The girls are ready to head out, so we load up in the car and put Alameda in our sights.

Temescal Alley Barber Shop.  I'm just saying.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Drink From the 18th Century


Pauline's.  Have you been to Pauline's?  It's on Park Street, just up from ye olde bookshoppe.  It's many thousands of square feet on two floors - jam packed with treasures.  It's where I found the perfect Tiki glasses for the Bad Monkey cocktail.  You'll always find something, even when you're not looking for anything.

Especially then.

They have a sale right now - 45% off everything in the store.  It's a thank-you to their customers for recently being voted the best Antique Store in the East Bay.

I went in looking to buy an incredible Mason jar I've been coveting - and don't give me heartache about what I covet, ok?  She was still there, beautiful and big.  Bigger than any Mason jar you've ever seen, lid and all - which was impressive considering she was more than a century old.  We have a few of her cousins, and outside, on a summer day, full of flowers?  They're delightful, I think.




Pauline asked after the girls, wondered how things were going at the shoppe - and then was intrigued when my eye was drawn to the seven glasses behind two Mason jars - neither as large as the beauty who had siren-called me into the store today.  I'd been allowed behind the counter and past the brass chain, close to some of those treasures I told you Pauline carries.

But those glasses?  In the display crowded with trinkets and baubles?  Ooh, that little toy gun, like the one Uncle Dean gave to my brother Dean.  Or the double daguerreotypes in the wood and copper frame?

And again, behind the Mason jars, those seven glasses?

Those are from the 1700's, Pauline said.  I bought them from Muriel Johansen - she lived over on Grand?  She was the biggest glass dealer in Northern California.  I must've bought them from her forty years ago, and at the time she didn't own anything less than a hundred years old.  The family she bought them from had been using them for water glasses.  I had them appraised after picking them up - the appraiser was beside herself.  Couldn't believe what I'd brought her.

I couldn't quite believe it either.  The glasses were simple, but gorgeous - the bases thick, full of constellations of tiny air bubbles.  The glasses were tall, with straight sides sloping to a smaller base.  Pilsner shaped, though Pilsner beer hadn't been invented yet, wouldn't be for another hundred years.

I just imagined the number of drinks that each glass had carried, alcoholic and non.  The number of lips that had tasted some frothy concoction.  The different people from different generations.  From the time of our Revolution to now - with the forty year break that they had spent behind glass in Pauline's display case.

This was a Dusty Hunt of a special kind.

I put my beauty of a Mason jar back with a sigh, spectacular though she is.  Did I mention how large she was?  But these glasses - these wonderful glasses...

I took my time choosing two.  I always take my time - sometimes too much, of course.  But a few had some nicks taken out of the rims, and while I'd love to have them all, you can't have everything, so I took my time and chose two.  Besides, when I find lovely cocktail glasses, I pick up singles, always singles, so our set is blessedly mismatched.  But these glasses sang out for two - at least.

How could I separate sisters who are 250 years old?

So I picked out my two and told Pauline I'd be filling them that night with something a bit stronger than the water they last held.  She wrapped them with care in brown paper torn from the huge roll behind her - then I went back to work and shared my find with my coworkers.

Those who would listen.

On my home I stopped by Du Vin Fine Wine - even though Dan, the owner, is in Santorini right now sampling Greek vintages, that bastard.

He now carries a few good beers, terrific additions to his curated wine selection, and I scored a six-pack of Drake's Blonde Ale because it's brewed with Pilsner and I thought that'd look good in the glass.  Also, who doesn't like drinking with a blonde?  And Drake's is local, did I mention that?  So if you want to drink it, you have to come visit me.

So come visit me.

Karen had crocked up some ribs for the kids tonight, and if you don't think that Blonde Ale was going to go wonderfully with ribs slathered in Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce - well, then you don't like beer and ribs.

But the beer.  The beer?  In that glass?

It was beautiful - beautiful just because, sitting there against the wood of our buffet, but beautiful again because of all the drinks that had gone before.

All the people who had drunk from it before.

The languages spoken over its rim, the jokes told behind its back.

The romances begun.

The fights that ended with those glasses clutched in hand.  Their contents forgotten - and then looked at, and then remembered, and then the clinking of glasses, truces called.  Kisses sought.

And then I smiled at the notion of a beer brewed in San Leandro in 2013 almost perfectly fitting its twelve ounces into a glass blown by a forgotten craftsman in 1750.

So I drank from the 18th Century, the 19th, and then the 20th.  Drank from those centuries and then introduced my glass to the 21st.

Hello, 21st.

Oh, and the after, of course.  The lacing left on the inside of the glass after the blonde had gone.  That was beautiful, too.


So come visit.  We'll pick up some more of the Drakes while those glasses chill, and then we'll clink to happy times.

Happy, happy times.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ernest Hemingway, 21 July 1899 - 2 July 1961


In my office at ye olde bookshoppe there's a poster above the desk.  Ernest Hemingway looks down, impossibly young.  Not the bearded Hemingway that comes to mind when you think of him - not The Old Man and the Sea.  It's his passport photo from when he lived in Paris in 1923.  It's before the Sun Also Rises, before Fitzgerald, before everything, really.



So very young.


The only words on the poster, besides his name, comprise one line from A Moveable Feast:

All you have to do is write one true sentence.

I look at those words, at that face - that face that had so much living ahead of it.  His sentiment sounds so simple and of course that means it's going to be so very hard.


Today - his birthday - and I'm thinking about Hemingway.  Trying not to think too much about the end - about that other July day in Ketchum, Idaho.  But of course I do think about it, and thinking about it brings to mind one of his brilliant, late stories:  Get a Seeing-Eyed Dog.

Hemingway has already been on the Safari in Africa where he was hurt so badly, was already in the pain that would be with him the rest of his life.  In the story, a man - Philip - has suffered an accident and lost his sight.

Philip can now only see himself as a burden, less than he was, and so tries to distance himself from his unnamed companion - obviously a lover.  Not so obviously a wife, and Hemingway doesn't say.  What Hemingway does do is describe her trying to provide relief even though they both know she's ill-suited to the role of babysitter.

She'll say:

"Can I make you a drink?....You know how worthless a nurse I am.  I wasn't trained for it and I haven't any talent.  But I can make drinks."

Later, he'll think:

She has been so good and she was not built to be good.

But her simple question?  Can I make you a drink?  Sometimes, there's nothing prettier.  If you ever have need to get into my good graces, that's the question to ask.  And for Philip, a drink is just the tonic for the rainy day he finds himself trapped in.

Then comes a string of Hemingway sentences.  Not the choppy mockeries people use to ridicule his writing, but a paragraph of his own:


   He heard her coming up the stairs and noticed the difference in her tread when she was carrying two glasses and when she had walked down barehanded.  He heard the rain on the windowpane and he smelled the beech logs burning in the fireplace.  As she came into the room he put his hand out for the drink and closed his hand on it and felt her touch the glass with her own.
   "It's our old drink for out here," she said.  "Campari and Gordon's with ice."


There's so much I love about those images.  Without sight, we're given a glimpse of Philip's heightened senses - of hearing her coming up with two glasses, then the rain on the window.  We reach out into the dark, his dark, for the glass he knows will be there.

Then?  Then she touches his.

Clink.

Oh - and the drink?  Splendid and easy.

In his book, To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, a different Philip, Philip Greene, describes the loveliness of Campari in cocktails, from the Americano to the Negroni to this, the most simple of all:
 
 

CAMPARI & GIN:
 
1-2 oz. Gordon's London dry gin
1 oz. Campari

Pour over ice in a highball glass, stir.


Tonight, I'll be reading a little Hemingway, sipping a damn fine drink, and will continue looking for that one true sentence.

Friday, July 19, 2013

National Daiquiri Day - 19 July 2013


Today was National Daiquiri Day, but you knew that.  Did you also know that daiquiri's don't have to come out of a Slushy machine?  That all you need is rum, lime juice, and a sweetener?  I know, I know - simple.

Unless you don't have a lime, which I didn't, so I made a plea via social media - pick your poison, Twitter, Facebook - it's a great big world out there with friends available to help.  You just need to ask, even though asking for help can be hard for some people.  Not for me, but for some.  I need so much help it would be a shame not to ask.

I got plenty of responses, but the closest available limes were in Napa, which is a bit of a drive on a Friday night - so I did things the old-fashioned way.  I knocked on our neighbor's door.

John maintains he loves it when we knock because he never knows what we'll be asking for - Chairs? Cheap labor? Vodka?  It's a crap shoot with us.

Tonight he had what I needed - the Anderson's always have what we need.  In addition to the lime, John also had a glass which I borrowed in case there was extra daiquiri juice.  I took it just to be safe.

You never know.

Imbibe Magazine had tipped me off that it was the special Day, and they had conveniently included six daiquiri recipes.

I went for the Brooklynite because it used Jamaican rum, which I had, and honey syrup, which I had, and it was courtesy of the Bartender's Guide by Trader Vic - and I have a soft spot in my heart for the Trader since his first bar was here in the East Bay, in Oakland.

So, with lime in hand, I had enough for two.  Coulda made three but John's wife Beth is in Tahoe.


BROOKLYNITE

2 oz. Jamaican rum
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
.5 oz. honey syrup

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Fine-strain into a chilled glass and garnish.



I didn't have any lime left over for a garnish, so I skipped that.

John didn't mind, not at all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dusty Hunting in Modesto Reveals Lolita - Peanut Lolita


Driving through the hot streets of my hometown and I have just a few minutes for a quick Dusty Hunt.  To recap, Dusty Hunting is hitting old-school liquor stores for bottles of booze that have collected dust because they were purchased, set out on display, but never found a home - often just getting shuffled to lower and lower shelves, sometimes for decades.

Fine bourbon can be found - not by yours truly, not yet, no butterscotchy Old Forester from the '70's for me.  For me so far it's been other finds - other, well, oddities.

In Jason Wilson's book, Boozehound, he describes Dusty Hunting, but he calls it Liquor Store Archaeology.  For him, it was a game he played with his brother - each trying to unearth something as singular as a Schliemann discovery.

He finally declared his brother the victor in their games when Tyler dug up Peanut Lolita - the dancing harem girl on its label enticing him to buy this bourbon-based peanut-flavored liqueur.

That's gritty on the tongue.

And that was last bottled when James Earl Carter, Jr. was President.

Winner?  Winner.

So I'm motoring down Tully when I see the sign for a store I've seen my whole life--


--but now?  With Dusty Hunting on my mind?  Tully Liquors takes on a whole new meaning.  I pull into the lot and hustle inside.  Did I say the clock was ticking?  The clock's ticking.  I'm supposed to be somewhere so I read the shelves like a bad summer book - fast but fascinated.

Curiously, in this Modesto liquor store, I come across a bottle of St. Germain, a gorgeous, elegant liqueur - which is a little like finding Grace Kelly in a whore house.  But why is the spirit inside the splendid bottle colored dark brown?  The elderflower liqueur should be delicate and light - this is anything but.

They've also got 1.75 liter plastic bottles of Wild Turkey - old?  Old enough that the bottles are collapsing in on themselves.  Old, yes - appetizing?  Not really, no.

But there, on the bottom shelf, my eye spies five (!) bottles of Peanut Lolita.

It's hard to make out the name on the label - it's faded, practically white.  But the girl swaying her harem hips on the front of the bottle guarantees that it's Peanut Lolita.  I try and take a quick picture of the bottles on the shelf, only to be yelled at by the guy behind the counter.

No pictures!  No pictures!

Trying to placate him, I show that I've got one of the bottles in hand - I'm a customer, I'm buying - but he still doesn't like it.

I pay for the bottle and head to my car where I'll send Mr. Wilson a quick message - just, you know, shooting a query off to a man I've never met but who might receive it because all the world's connected and all the men and women tweeters:


Just found 5 bottles of Peanut Lolita in a liquor store in Modesto, CA.


Then I head off into the Modesto afternoon wondering what the heck I'm going to do with Lolita there in my backseat.  I'll be able to mix her into something, right?  I'm sure of it.  I just don't know what.

Later, as the July sun finally sets, I receive a reply from Mr. Wilson:


Whaaaaaat?!!!!!! Buy. Buy two and I will buy the other from you.


So I'll do just that - grab another bottle of Lolita on my way out of town.  I'm thinking, there's no need to rush.  The bottles have been there for more than three decades - they'll still be there in a few hours.

And that's one of the things I love about this kind of Hunt.  That the bottles have been there - from Carter to Reagan to now.

Just waiting.


Back home and I send off Mr. Wilson's bottle with a note I typed on my dad's old Remington.  I hope Lolita arrives safe and sound - I hope the Federales don't intercept her.  It's probably not legal, right?  Shipping booze to the Boozehound?  

Oh well.

With my own bottle, I've decided to beat the heat with a Sundae - a Bourbon Sundae.  Come on over, bring friends.  You scoop, I'll mix and we'll both drink to the general joy of the whole table.


Bourbon Sundae:

1.75 oz. Four Roses bourbon
.25 oz. Peanut Lolita Liqueur
.25 oz. simple syrup
3 dashes Scrappy's Chocolate Bitters
1-2 small scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine bourbon, liqueur, syrup and bitters with ice.  Stir.  Strain into a chilled glass.  Using a melon baller, scoop once (or twice) and add the vanilla ice cream.
 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Voula Saris, April 15, 1926 - July 8, 2013


I visited Voula in the hospital last Saturday.

My mom was sitting in a chair, one of her feet propped up on the end of Voula's bed.  They were both resting, both so very tired.


Hearing me walk in, my mom opened her eyes.  We talked, quietly, while nurses came in and out.  One took Voula's blood pressure - wrapping the sleeve around Voula's arm, pumping that sleeve up, recording the reading in pencil.  Finished up by taking her temperature, all without Voula waking.

All while Voula slept.

Voula?  Officially her name was Paraskevi, but all called her Voula.  Voula was one of my mom's closest friends.  Both of them helping at the church so often.  If I think of Voula I see her in the kitchen, at the Greek Orthodox Church on Tokay, with her hair net on and hands buttering phyllo for baklava or stirring rice as it bubbled in one of the church's huge pots, tossing salad.  Cooking, so often cooking.

Voula was one of the people you could take for granted - like so many of the women and men who donate their time to the church.  So much happens under the guidance of Father Jon, but it wouldn't happen - couldn't happen - without Voula or Paul or Des or Greg.

Working, always working - cooking with my mom, cleaning, boxing pastries.  Ah, Voula.

You and my mom.  Ah, Voula.  Wrapping grape leaves for dolmathes, you and my mom.  Twisting koulourakia, you and my mom.  Frying kalitsounia, you and my mom.

You and my mom.

My earliest memory of Voula is from one of our many visits when I was a kid - she lived in South Modesto, over on Marshall.  Little house on a big plot - big at least to me, then.  On this occasion, Voula greeted us outside her house, now painted bright yellow.  Her smile could've stopped a truck as she pointed to herself and said in Greek:

I did this.

So happy to have accomplished this thing by herself since no one else was going to.  So happy.  Such a bright yellow over the dark, weathered wood.

Voula had a wonderful garden there behind her little yellow house - her grapes?  Her white grapes?  Her tomatoes?  One year she planted pumpkins for me and my brothers.  I don't know if any other kids received this wonderful present from her - probably they did.  When it came to kids, Voula was shameless.  The gleam she'd get in her eye if a kid came into the room? Twinkle twinkle.


But on Saturday Voula slept - tired from life, right?  Looking to rest.  I stood up after the nurse left and leaned over.  I can't say much in Greek, but I can say I love you.  So I told Voula that.  Told her we all loved her.

Voula opened her eyes - and while the twinkle wasn't as bright as it has been, it was still there.  I love you too, Voula said.  All of you.  Especially the children.


This is what I want my daughters to remember about Voula - that the last thing she said to me was how much she loved the children.  Mine, certainly - but their cousins, too.  And all the children lucky enough to have met Voula.

Especially the children, Voula said.


When I left her hospital room after Voula fell back asleep, my mom said Voula woke back up.  Kristina was just here, Voula said - Kristina my daughter - but I think she left because I don't see her.

My mom stood up and walked closer.  What's that, Voula? my mom said.  What are you saying?

The children, Voula said.  The children.  The children.  And then nothing after that.

Voula ate dinner that night - fed to her by Mary Zak, on the Saturday.  Ate with an appetite she hadn't shown in a long time.  Ate everything on her plate and then raised her hand.  Raised her hand firmly, indicating - I'm done.

I'm done.


Voula Saris passed away around the midnight hour on Monday morning.  Passed away in the comfort of the Hospice House in Hughson.  We love you, Voula.  We love you a lot.  And we'll miss you.  My mom especially.  My mom and the kids, especially.  Eternal be your memory, Voula.  Eternal.

Elizabeth and Kristina will remember.  With sadness now - but not later, hopefully.  They didn't take the news well.  What child would?  They were sad, bereft - and mad they hadn't visited more.  But mainly sad and bereft.  And what I want them to know is, what I want them to remember is--

I love you, too, Voula said.  Especially the children.

The children.  The children.  The children.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

National Martini Day and the Cali Martini


Today is National Martini Day (I wish I knew who determined these things - certainly, I would buy them a drink), and in its honor, I wanted to whip up something a little regional.  Something good.  I went first to St. George - the bay area spirits producer, not the George of dragon fame.

They've created a trio of gins, and you should try them all.  For tonight's martini, I went with #3, their Dry Rye Gin.  Yes indeed, it's all rye and wickedly good.  Is the juniper still there?  Of course - with hints of pepper.  Deliciously dry.

I don't believe a martini is a martini without vermouth - otherwise, you're drinking gin, neat.  And that's fine, but it ain't a martini.  To continue the California theme, I added my favorite vermouth, Vya - bottled in California's Central Valley.

I then went north but stayed west for the bitters - Scrappy's Aromatic Bitters from Washington state.  Put those together, add your lemon twist, and you've got a martini worthy of the Golden State - bold, crisp, but with the strong charm of a Hollywood character actor.

So celebrate National Martini Day, June 19th, 2013 - and enjoy the...

MARTINI CALI:

2 oz. St. George Dry Rye Gin
.5 oz. Vya Extra Dry Vermouth
1 dash Scrappy's Aromatic Bitters


Stir with ice.  Strain into chilled martini glass.  Add bitters and garnish with a lemon twist. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Spending Father's Day with a Bad Monkey


I woke up today thinking about my dad - naturally, right?  But I was also thinking about the Bad Monkey.

You know, the Bad Monkey cocktail.  And - if you would - please don't confuse the Bad Monkey cocktail with Bad Monkey, the new book by Carl Hiaasen.  Although, since the Bad Monkey was named for Bad Monkey, I can understand getting them mixed up.

None of this is clear.  I'm sensing that absolutely none of this is clear.

Ok - Carl Hiaasen has a new book out - I said that, right?  Bad Monkey.  If you like your capers fast-paced, if you like your voodoo sorceresses to be sex-crazed, and, of course, if you like your monkeys bad, then get yourself to a bookstore and buy the book.

Are we clear?  Go buy the book.

And - if you live in the bay area, you can see Mr. Hiaasen next Sunday, June 23rd, at the Chapel in San Francisco.  Ye olde bookshoppe is hosting the event and it's going to be a humdinger.  Mr. Hiaasen will be in conversation with Christopher Moore - and since these two are responsible for the funniest novels written in the past twenty years, and since they're going to be under one roof in San Francisco - seriously, just buy the book now and get yourself a ticket for this Sunday.

To commemorate the event, and because the Chapel has a bar - I know, I know, only in San Francisco would a Chapel have an open bar on Sunday - I thought it would be a good idea to offer a special cocktail.  Hence, the Bad Monkey.

And since I get to put on a suit and introduce the authors and pimp the drink, I wanted it to be a tasty one - so I kept it simple and good.  I had to start with rum.  If Florida had a state alcohol, that's what it would be.  And since - if you've read even one of Mr. Hiaasen's novels - you know that Florida is as much a character as the characters, you're with me.

Are you with me?  Florida = rum, so we begin with rum.  And to make it go down as easy as the book, I sweetened it up, just a skosh, with a dram of banana liqueur.

Because it's a Bad Monkey, I threw in some mole bitters because a bad monkey might want his banana dipped in chocolate.

Usually, when I'm mixing drinks at home, I snap a quick pic and throw it online.  And so I did this with the Bad Monkey.


The Bad Monkey
 2 oz. rum
.5 oz banana liqueur
20 drops (1 full dropper) Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Stir with ice.  Strain into ice-filled glass.  Add your monkey.


But then, since it's kind of a big deal, what with these two heavy-hitting authors coming to town, I thought maybe I should stage the picture a little more than I usually do.  And that's why I woke up today thinking about my dad - it being Father's Day and all - and the Bad Monkey.

You thought I forgot about that connection, didn't you? 

Since time's a wastin, I needed to figure out how the staged picture would differ from the snap - and that meant a different glass.  Different because the drink, we decided (we being the crew at the store), needed to be served over, not neat.  Over, because the ice would mellow the cocktail a little.

I thought a heavy rocks glass would do.  Something with a '60's feel because that's what the drink tastes like - a nostalgic Florida with a little Beach Boys thrown in.

But then I thought - Tiki.  Something Tiki would be tailor-made.  And then I thought of my dad.

Specifically, I thought of my dad and my mom and the Tiki bar set he bought for her while they honeymooned in Hawaii in 1962.  It's beautiful and bamboo - highball glasses, shot glasses, an ice bucket, all with that wonderful Tiki vibe.  I've had two of the bamboo glasses on my desk in my bedroom in my parent's house for forever.  I don't remember when I first took them and filled them with pens, not booze, but I did.

My fondness for the drinking culture was obviously instilled early.

So those glasses would be ideal - actually, Collins glasses of bamboo would've been dead-on, but they didn't come with the set, just the highballs.

Still - woulda been perfect.

Except the set is in Modesto, not Alameda (though I really should have it here - it's just I need to convince my mom and my brothers that I deserve it the most), and I didn't have time to drive home to borrow it and did I mention the event is a week from today?


Today was Father's Day.  I mentioned that, I know I did.  And my day began with my daughters making me breakfast.  You might not appreciate peanut-butter toast with a Diet Coke chaser as much as I do, but my girls made it for me without assistance so it tasted better than room service at the St. Francis.

Then?  Then Elizabeth suggested that I should take her and her little sister antique shopping.  Wouldn't that be a great way to spend the morning?  Wouldn't it, Daddy?

If you knew me, you'd know the answer was yes.  Antiquing is something Karen and I used to do all the time, and the bug has infected the girls - so away we went. 

They would be searching for vintage handkerchiefs - their passion - and I would be looking for that old-school rocks glass.

We visited three new-to-us shops in Oakland - and except for one shot glass decorated with cartoon monkeys - I didn't see anything on the money.  The girls?  The girls were also without hankies, so we went back to Alameda and hit two shops that always provided.  Always.

Elizabeth found a boxed '50's dolly at Park Street Antiques - and at Pauline's, Kristina hit handkerchief pay dirt.  Pauline always has hankies - many of her bins overflow with them - and she smiled as she saw Kristina sitting on the carpet carefully looking at each one.

I told the girls to hold down the fort on the ground floor and I'd check out the downstairs, that pastiche of treasures just waiting to be picked over.  Like Abu, Aladdin's monkey in the Cave of Wonders, it's hard not to grab at all the beckoning, shiny objects.

Sure enough, a rocks glass practically leaped into my hands - with exactly the right sixties feel to it, what with its outside pattern of gold leaf squares.

I'd found what I was looking for - I thought - but instead of hurrying upstairs, something held me back and I decided to take one more spin down one more aisle.  That's when I saw, by itself on a small table - and this itself is a miracle because nothing is ever by itself at Pauline's, everything's in a wonderful jumble.  But there - on a small table by itself - was a Tiki bar set.  An exact match to the set my parents bought in Hawaii more than 51 years ago, except instead of highball glasses, the six glasses in this set were taller and skinnier.

Collins glasses, just like the ones I had imagined this morning.


Bamboo Collins glasses, absolute mates of the set that sits tucked away in my parent's garage in Modesto.  The perfect thing.

I grabbed everything:  the six glasses, the ice bucket, the tongs.  And headed upstairs with that set and my rocks glass (why the heck not, it was just a buck) and Kristina's handkerchief.

Pauline gave me a deal - she always does, if I ask, and I asked - and then we set off for home.  Then I headed into work - Father's Day can be busy at the store.  But all day all I could think about was - how the heck did that happen?  What magic occurred in the basement of Pauline's Antiques?

Did I manifest those glasses?  Or had they always been there?  Just waiting for me to see them?

Sometimes it's best not to question things too much - so I won't.  But I will think of my dad today - and I will mix a Bad Monkey and raise it high to him.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.  Can I please have the Tiki set you bought in Hawaii?  It'll match a set I picked up today - perfectly.

Now the rest of you - go buy your Bad Monkey.  It'll go down smooth, I promise.