Thursday, July 25, 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.

Monday, July 22, 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.


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:

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.

Saturday, July 20, 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.


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.