Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Improved Whiskey Cocktail

I'm infatuated with ice.  It was that trip to New York where Andy introduced me to my favorite bar - Booker and Dax.  And my favorite bar manager, Robby Nelson.  Robby steered me to the best cocktail I've ever had, their jenny & scott.  It's Yamazaki whiskey and two bitters and it's the best, did I say that?

Part of what made the drink sublime was the fact that they serve it on the rock.  Note the use of the singular 'rock' and not the plural 'rocks.'  That's because jenny & scott is served over the largest ice cube I'd encountered.  It fits in the rocks glass, and the whiskey and bitters fit in the rocks glass, but nothing else would.  Since then?  I've thought about that rock.  A lot.  I'm not proud of it.  Not proud that my woolgathering has veered towards that impenetrable ice queen, a woman I could never have, could never replicate.

But I could be woolgathering about worse things, right?  So that's my story.

Last night Tracy and I drove to Berkeley for a book-rep presentation at our sister store on Fourth Street.  The man on KGO indicated that the 80 was a traffic mess - but it only took us 15 minutes to get there from Alameda, so we had 45 minutes to kill.

Sur la table beckoned.

Inside that store, and around the corner from the Halloween display - cookie pans shaped like witch's fingers, mummy spatulas and pumpkin-decorated kitchen towels - they had some bar items.  Whisky stones, stainless steel martini glasses, maple muddlers.

And ice trays.

I wasn't looking for ice trays, but there they were.  Teflon trays to create 6 cubes, each cube 2 inches square - just like the rocks I enjoyed in New York. 

Poets and novelists will tell you that smells are the most powerful triggers of memory.  I'm here to say that a black, Teflon ice-cube tray is a faster rocket than any Proustian madeleine has ever been.  Blastoff and I'm sitting in Booker and Dax with three other booksellers and two New York blondes as Robby sets a jenny & scott before me. 

Splashdown and it's Jerry and I sitting in PDT after midnight, boozy from the Beam and Cokes at Doc Holliday's, and I swirl another cocktail glass, just marveling at the size of the rock it holds, a rock exactly like the one that saluted me at Booker and Dax.

New York bars and their rocks.

I (almost) forget that my coworker and I were in Berkeley to hear a trio of splendid book reps talk to us about the big books of the fall, so I snatch up that Teflon tray.  I also grab a glass flask from Italy that'll be perfect for the simple syrup I need to make for Randy - then I head to the register.

Tracy's buying a monkey-shaped tea infuser for the monkey enthusiast in her life.  Don't we all need one of those?  (tea infuser or monkey enthusiast, you decide).

It's not that I'm already home, filling the tray with water - but I'm kind of already home, filling the tray with water.  Which I'll do, after another amazing night listening to some of the best champions of books that you'll find anywhere - thank you Roz and Dandy and Ron.  Thank you for talking about books with the energy and enthusiasm the Words deserve.

Now, though, now it's tonight.  Yestereve I washed the tray, filled it with hot water (so says Tracy) and thought all day about the ice that had formed, the ice that was just waiting for me.

When I got home from work, I was a bad dad.  The kids wanted to do Jungle-Gym Daddy, and I wouldn't play.  Selfish, selfish me.

So we read books.  Scaredy-Cat Splat for Kristina.  Rapunzel, the One With All the Hair for Elizabeth.  And the PDT Cocktail Book for Daddy.  I consulted PDT because it's New York and that's where I wanted to be.  I wouldn't have the taxidermy bear looking down on me like it looked down from a PDT wall on me and Jerry there in the dark of the bar - but I could have one of their drinks.  And I wanted one of their drinks that called for a single rock, big, and the book practically fell open to page 149.  The Improved Whiskey Cocktail?  There on 149?  The recipe requires that it be served over one large cube.


The measurements have been modernized in the PDT Cocktail Book, but this drink was described by Jerry Thomas in the world's first cocktail guide, his Bon Vivant's Companion.  Remember?  It's why I started Drinks With Nick in the first place.  So, here she is.

2 oz. rye whiskey
.25 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
.25 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
7 drops Absinthe
Stir with ice and strain over one large cube into a chilled, Absinthe-rinsed rocks glass.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Up Against the Wall!

After Karen got the kids buckled up and after she started driving home, she heard Elizabeth say from the back seat, Well, I can ride my bike now.

-and then Elizabeth paused-

That's a relief.

This was the day after our visit to the abandoned naval base on the other end of the island.  If you're going to learn to ride your bike, a desolate tarmac is the way to go.  5,000 feet long, 500 feet wide - of flat, empty concrete?  Nothing ahead of you--

Yes, that tiny figure above and just to the left of Elizabeth's helmet is Kristina.

--nothing behind?  Seriously, describe a better locale for a lesson and I'll buy you a drink.  I mean, I'll buy you a drink anyway.  I'm just saying.

We'd entered through a gate in the chain link fence that encloses the runway, the entry leading to the Naval Air Museum that's taken over the old Air Terminal at Alameda Point.  A handful of WWII era jeeps and trucks are parked in front of the Terminal, military echoes of former base glories.

Then there's the tarmac and its wide open spaces.

While Kristina bobbed and weaved on her scooter, Elizabeth rode straight.  Up the tarmac.  And down.  With Karen holding on, then me.  More Karen than me, sure.  Elizabeth prefers Mommy in high-stress situations, and learning to ride her bike qualified.

Don't you think about letting go, Elizabeth warned.  So while neither of us did, truth be told, by the end?  Karen was no longer holding the handlebar while she barely touched Elizabeth's back.

Up the tarmac.  And down.  Up and down.  Enough times that even Elizabeth knew she was getting it.  Had gotten it.  And her smile showed pride at her achievement.

More than an hour had gone by.  What you can't see inside the flower-decorated basket attached to Elizabeth's bike are all the feathers that Kristina had collected.  Good-luck feathers, Kristina told us.  And she was certain that the Good-Luck Feathers had a lot to do with the success that came Elizabeth's way on Saturday.

Kristina had discovered that along the edge of the tarmac where concrete met water, right there is where weeds had sprouted through the concrete and that was good feather-hunting territory - with the feathers caught and tangled in those wind-blasted weeds.

During that hour of feather discovery and increasingly confident bike riding, someone at the Museum had closed up shop, and after he closed up shop he'd locked the gate through which we'd entered.

We'd had enough fun, too, and were at that point deciding how to get back to our car in the parking lot on the other side of the gate.

About then is when I saw a vehicle headed towards us from the opposite end of the runway.  As it approached, I could make out the lightbar attached to the top of the car.  So I thought it was a copcar at first, but as it got closer I realized it was too small for that.  And when it pulled up alongside, I saw the words Armada Security across the doors. 

A little punky dude rolled his window down and asked me if I had authorization to be in the area.

I loved his choice of words.  It was like the punky dude was quoting bad dialogue from one of the many cop shows he watched way too often.

Authorization? I asked.  And what would that entail?

If you were a tenant or a contractor, he said.

At this point I'm kind of hating on the little punky dude.  I glance at my girls in their ridiculous helmets, one zooming by on her scooter, a pink blur, the other alongside her mom, walking towards me - my Elizabeth with a look of worry on her face as she stares at the tiny car the little punky dude is driving.  If my brother Dean and three of his big friends were here, they could pick it up by its bumpers and flip it over, crushing the yellow lightbar on top that the director of Armada Security decided gave the vehicle a sassy, official look. 

Still studying my girls, I say, Does it look like I'm a contractor?

Sir, he says, all prissy-stiff.  If you're here without authorization, I'm going to have to ask you to leave.

The only thing - at this important juncture - that prevents me from going totally Greek is the fact that both of my daughters are close by.  But really?  Alameda?

You know what's really important in life?  Tone.  And this guy's tone?  Is just stupid.  How about, Gosh, I'm so sorry.  I can see you're here with your family but no one is supposed to be here.

How about, Gee, I can see that the girls are having a grand time, but this whole area is technically off-limits.  Sorry!

And Alameda?  What's the worry, just exactly?  Do you have a security concern?  Fearful that tricycle-roving bands of pre-adolescents are going to take over the base?  The base that you've proven entirely incapable of shepherding out of its Naval phase and into its next public iteration?

So you're going to bust my chops because my wife and I are teaching my daughter to ride her bike in the most ideal location for such an enterprise to go down?

Hey, Armada Security, bite me.

But I don't say that.  Did I mention that the girls are right there?  Or that the little punky dude has rolled up his window and has beat himself a hasty retreat?  Maybe to get reinforcements.  Maybe there's a whole fleet of little gray cars with their stupid little lightbars on top, all screaming Armada Security on their stupid little doors.

Maybe he's off collecting them to mount a counterstrike on the two girls - one in a green floral print, the other in pink.  A counterstrike against the older one with the flowers on her bike basket as she learns to ride that freaking bike in the freaking city that she calls home.  Except - except!  These acres and acres of public space aren't actually home because some freaking bureaucrat in City Hall has decreed them off-limits.

Hey, freaking city bureaucrat?  Bite me.  You want to know why?  Because now Karen and I have to soothe Elizabeth.  We'd gone from I want to ride my bicycle to up against the wall! in the time it took Armada Security to show up.  Elizabeth?  She's certain the Police are going to come back and throw us all into the brig.

And if the response of the two girls doesn't describe their personalities perfectly, I don't know what does.

Elizabeth?  Elizabeth is crying.  Kristina?  She's just mad.  What a dumbo, she says.  Why didn't he unlock the gate so we could get to our car?

God, I love those kids.  Those oh so different, oh so wonderful kids.

Eventually, we get out.  We have to take the long way.  5,000 feet down the runway there's another open gate.  So we walk there and back again.

We'd driven both cars - one to transport the kids, the other to ferry the bike and scooter.  It's getting late in the afternoon by now, and we're supposed to be leaving for Los Gatos in less than an hour to see Connie and Gordon - but I'm so close to St. George's Spirits

that I ask Karen if she thinks I have time to pop over while she takes the kids home.

St. George?  It's only the coolest distillery on the planet and it just so happens to be one of the few going concerns at our abandoned naval base.  And if you're only gonna to have a few going concerns, well - a distillery is high on my list.

I headed over, knowing that I didn't really have time, but more in need of a drink, or the promise of a drink, than I'd been in a while.  Little punky dudes scooting around in tiny little Armada Security toy cars will do that.

I pulled up to the hangar

wondering if they had any Make Booze Not War bumper stickers that I could buy and then stick on the backs of, oh, I don't know...maybe an armada of Armada Security vehicles?

They didn't.  But they did have booze.  I quickly settled on a bottle of bourbon, because the bourbon that St. George distills is called Breaking and Entering.  There isn't a more aptly named bourbon that I could have gotten my hands on, anywhere, so I got my hands on one of those.

Also a three-pack of their Gins because I was thirsty.

By the time I got home, the girls had gotten baths and gotten dressed.  That Karen, she's a quick one.  Me?  I threw mixing gear into a travel bag:  cherries, bitters, shaker, flask of simple syrup - and of course, that fine bottle of Breaking and Entering Bourbon.  In case Connie and Gordon were interested in sharing an Old Fashioned before dinner.

The Old Fashioned?  I hoped it would drive all memories of the little punky dude far away.


Old Fashioned

2 oz. Breaking and Entering Bourbon
.5 oz simple syrup
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Old Time Aromatic Bitters

Combine ingredients and shake until your shaker is frosted or until it's too cold to hold.  Pour over and enjoy - after you garnish with a Luxardo cherry.