Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Twelve Books of Christmas

Drinks With Nick?  Twelve months, twelve books, twelve drinks, all in 2015.  So those books aren't on this list - though of course they could be.  This list, then, shows the other Best Books of 2015 according to, you know, me.

It's all fiction except for one.  If I put a wonderful explanation of why these are the best - for each of the books - I'd never get it done.  So it's here, abbreviated.  Just know - if it's here, you should read it.

If you have any questions, please, just ask. 

Sellout, Paul Beatty

A Manual For Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin

Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg

Between the World and Me,  Ta-Nehisi Coates
And this one makes it a baker's dozen,

Fates and Furies, Lauren Goff

City on Fire, Garth Rish Hallberg

Fortune Smiles, Adam Johnson

The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra

Hotels of North America, Rick Moody

The Whites, Richard Price

Book of Aron, Jim Shepard

Dragonfish, Vu Tran

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Europe is mad. The world is mad.

One of the things I enjoy about drinking is the ritual of it all.  How do you make your Manhattan?  How do you craft your perfect Old Fashioned?  When you concoct your Martini, is it always stirred, never shaken?  Forever an olive, or sometimes a twist?  We each create our own process for particular drinks - and following the process lends it familiarity.  Even if you mix it up sometimes, you'd recognize it anywhere.  Hello, old friend.  You look great tonight.

I can find solace there in the comforting ritual, and it's nights like these when solace is fleeting - so if there's something I can do to create it, to conjure it out of a cupboard, I will.

First I pick which absinthe for the drink.  Tonight we'll go French - Absente, Absinthe Refined - and I hold the cool, dark bottle in my hand, then pop the stopper and breathe in its heady, anise aroma.

Sir Ernest Shackleton had set off on his Antarctic Expedition before the war broke out.  But when it did, he knew the Expedition would have to be put on hold.  His duty was to his country, to his King.  But his King surprised him by urging him to carry on.  The King's command was given in the simplest way, with a simple word - just one - in a return telegram.  Proceed, his King said.  He and his men, he and his ship, would better serve his God and his Country by going forward, ever forward.  So.  Proceed.

The Green Fairy gets poured into the beautiful absinthe glass that Josette presented to me.  My friend had just returned from two months in France, and before she had left I had asked her - oh so politely - if she could track down a pre-ban glass for me.  Absinthe was outlawed in France in 1915 during the height of the anti-absinthe hysteria that had convulsed Europe and then the world.

There was a lot convulsing the world then.

For anyone with a stemware addiction - me, for example - absinthe would naturally taste better in a glass that had slid across many a bistro table in the 19th or very early 20th Century.  So an ounce of the Green Fairy gets poured into the glass that Josette brought back for me, the glass she found in the same shop in Paris where, two years ago, she had procured an absinthe spoon - also for me.

Unfortunately for Shackleton and his crew, their ship, the Endurance, would get caught in the pack ice of the Antarctic.  Slowly, inevitably, the ice would crush their ship, leaving the explorers stranded in the most hostile place on earth.  With what supplies they had saved, they would camp on the ice, drifting on the floe until it, too, would crack and splinter under their feet, forcing them to enter their lifeboats for a journey that had never before been attempted.

The glass is beautiful, and when you place the spoon across the top you realize that though you've done this dozens of times before, it feels right for the first time.  A real absinthe spoon laying across a real absinthe glass creates the opening notes to this symphony you're going to conduct.  In your mind, you decide that this isn't the first meeting of this spoon and this glass.  They both hail from Paris, from the same antique shop - you're certain the one had lain atop the other more than a hundred years ago.

Before the First World War had started, before Ernest Shackleton would embark on his doomed voyage, this spoon and this glass had come together - clink - to begin a symphony that would end tonight.  Absinthe in glass, spoon across, sugar on the spoon - the cube placed there with the tongs Josette had brought back together with the spoon.  Oh, Josette, thank you, Josette, you beautiful enabler, you.

After five days at sea, Shackleton and his men reached Elephant Island, and though it was the first time in 500 days that any of them had stood on solid ground, Elephant Island was as inhospitable as the floes of ice that had carried them more than 300 miles from the spot where the sea had claimed the Endurance.  Shackleton decided that their only option for survival was to take one of the lifeboats on a journey for which it was ill-prepared.  700 miles away was South Georgia Island, and on the Island was a whaling station.  That station was their only hope.

There the glass stands, holding the absinthe, the spoon holding sugar, both ready to create music that can silence, for a moment at least, the voices that are strident tonight.

Voices rejoicing in the spilling of blood; other voices calling for more, blood for blood, since they cut us, we must cut them; still others blaming the madness on climate change, on poverty, on religion; on them, not us, on us, not them.

Can we not for one day simply mourn?  Can we not feel sorrow for those massacred before we start scoring points for our side?  And that's why I'll turn to the music in the glass.  The beautiful music in the glass.  The glass rescued from Paris, where today bombs detonate and bullets are fired and innocents are slaughtered.

For what?  For idiocy.  Animal idiocy.

Doing everything they could to make the sturdiest of the lifeboats more seaworthy - adding height to its sides, sealing the new work with a mixture of paint and seal blood - Shackleton and five set sail with provisions enough only for a few weeks.  Shackleton knew that if they were adrift for any longer, the mission would have failed and they would be lost at sea.  So they set sail and for more than two weeks these six fought the stormy Southern Ocean until sighting South Georgia Island.  The whaling station.  Rescue.

The glass holds its ounce of absinthe, so now you pour cold cold water over the sugar, over the spoon, and the absinthe immediately begins to louche, turning milky, but tinted fairy green.  It happens in an instant, and the music in the glass swells as you add more water, an ounce, then two, as the sugar-cube begins to dissolve, three ounces of cold water, now four--

--and the music stops.  The symphony ends.  A century on, and it's done.

One last trek awaited Shackleton.  They had been forced ashore on the uninhabited side of South Georgia Island.  More than thirty miles of rough, mountainous ground separated him from the rescue he had sought for more than a year, so three left three behind and scrambled for a day and a half until arriving at the station.  Unwashed, matted of hair, wearing the clothes they had each worn for a year without change, the men must have presented a terrifying sight for those they first encountered.  The manager of the station looked warily at the three until Shackleton asked if he did not remember him from their previous meeting years before.  The manager thrust out his hand, "I remember your voice.  Come in, come in!"  The men of course had had no news of the world for more than a year, and scant news of the war for the six months before that, and because God and Country would be foremost in his mind, the next thing Shackleton said to the manager concerned the troubles that had just been starting when his voyage began.  "When was the war over?" he asked.  The manager was aghast.  "The war is not over," he said.  "Millions are being killed.  Europe is mad.  The world is mad."

Europe is mad.  The world is mad.  And so I take communion with the drink, use the ritual it provides, the music it makes, to silence the madness for a while.  If the mixing of the drink is the symphony, the coda, naturally, is the drinking.  You'd silenced the madness with the music you created in the glass, so you revel in that silence in the time it takes to sip, and sip.  For the time it takes to swirl the spoon inside the glass, making the rest of the sugar melt into the drink - clink clink - for the time it takes to finish the cold cocktail, with another sip, and another.

For that time, at least, you can hold the madness at bay.  Can not listen to the cacophonous voices adding to the din.  Can put off seeing if any of the people you know in France have marked themselves safe from the terror.  For that time, at least.

At least for that time.

Absinthe Drip Cocktail
(from The Savoy Cocktail Book, by Harry Craddock, 1930)

1 Liqueur Glass Absinthe 

Dissolve 1 lump of Sugar, using the French drip spoon, and fill glass with cold water. 

Image from The Savoy Cocktail Book

Monday, September 14, 2015

Twain's End for Lynn Cullen

I do these things, right?  I read and I drink.  I do other stuff, obviously, but for our purposes today it's the reading and the drinking; specifically, the creation of an individual cocktail for an individual novel.

You may have heard of San Francisco's reading program, One City One Book?  For me it's One Book One Drink.

The cocktail for Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe was hatched during a dinner in San Francisco held for the author.  Imagine my delight when Lynn inquired if her new book, Twain's End, might also inspire its own drink.

Three guesses what my answer was.

First things first.  A month from now, when Twain's End is published?  Get yourself to an Indie bookseller and buy yourself a copy.  Lynn breathes life into the relationship between that greatest of American greats, Mark Twain, and his young secretary, Isabel Lyon.  No spoilers here - just know that Lynn has done it again and you deserve to read a good book so do that.  Buy Twain's End on October 13th.

So, the drink.

If you exclude the words - which of course is ridiculous because this is the definitive example of the words making the man - but if you do put the words aside for just a moment, the thing people remember most about Twain is what he looked like.  The white suit.  The stern look.  Those eyebrows, that hair.  That simply wonderful hair.

I wanted to make a drink that was as recognizable as the author.  When someone said - You're drinking Twain's End - I wanted you to look at the cocktail in your hand and say - Of course I am.

So what I came up with was this.

Bascially, it's a Whiskey Cocktail with a great head on its shoulders.  A Whiskey Cocktail because that's one of the oldest cocktails we know about (thank you Jerry Thomas).  It's a drink that our Mr. Twain would have consumed, often.  It's just whiskey, bitters, and a little sugar.  If you think it sounds like an Old Fashioned, that's because it is. 

I'm using two types of bitters - Abbott's Original Bitters, sourced out of Canada by Darcy O'Neil.  Mr. O'Neil tried to recreate some of the oldest and most popular bitters there ever were - Abbott's have sadly been defunct for decades.  These were the bitters, though, that Mr. Twain would have enjoyed with his tipples, so kudos to Mr. O'Neil.  I also added Sarsaparilla Dry Bitters by Bad Dog Bar Craft because sarsparilla smells like the 19th Century (so says me).

But it's the foam that makes the Twain's End its own - and I added the sarspailla bitters to this, too, because, when you raise that glass up, the fragrance of the sarparilla is going to wash over you.  It's a lovely experience (if he says so himself).

Will you like it?  If you don't, you're un-American and probably don't like Mr. Twain anyway so off with you.  Find yourself another barstool.

One last thing - normally, you wouldn't shake a whiskey drink like this one, you'd stir it.  But because we don't have a nice cube of ice to set in the middle of the drink, to mellow the whiskey as it melts, we're going to shake it to release ice chips into the drink - and we'll mellow it that way.

Now, go read some Mark Twain to help pass the time beween now and next month.  Seriously.

Twain's End:

2 oz Bourbon
.25 oz simple syrup
1 dash Abbott's Original Bitters
1 dash Sarsaparilla bitters

Shake all vigorously with ice.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Top with Twain's Foam.

For Twain's Foam:

1 egg white
.5 oz lemon juice
2-3 teaspoons sugar
1 bar spoon Bad Dog Sarsaparilla Dry Bitters

Beat the egg white on low speed until the air bubbles decrease in size and turn white.  Add lemon juice.  Increase speed to medium and slowly add the sugar.  Continue whipping until everything is fluffy, glossy, and firm.  Add the bitters and whip just a bit more.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hot Dudes Reading Sara Nović

First, happy birthday to me.  I just wanted to get that out of the way.  Yes, it was yesterday, and yes, this was supposed to have been posted then - but celebrations interrupted.  Forgive me?


Second, and more importantly - Sara Nović and her debut, Girl at War.  It's May's selection for Drinks With Nick.  You can see that here and buy the book there.

And trust me, you will want to buy the book.  It's harrowing and beautiful and shows the Yugoslav Wars first through the eyes of 10-year-old Ana and then the repercussions of that tragedy - again through Ana's eyes once she has become a young woman.

The book - and the drink - came to me in the most ridiculous of online ways.  It began with David Ebershoff, the acclaimed author and editor.

I've had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions and am friends with him online.  It was there that he introduced me - through one of his posts - to the hilarious Instagram feed Hot Dudes Reading.  It's exactly what it says - with randy captions.  Like the one posted yesterday - on my birthday.  Did I mention my birthday?

That post was par for the course.  Imagine a young man - gorgeous - sitting on the subway, reading.  He's wearing a cashmere scarf and the caption reads - this perfectly groomed gentleman is made just for me. That cashmere scarf has me thinking he appreciates the finer things in life. Weekly hot razor shaves at the Barber Shop, a 5 pm scotch, and if I were to take a gamble - I’d bet his sheets are at least 1,300 thread count. Can’t wait to take them for a test drive.

I don't just love HDR because one of their hashtags is #NoKindles.  I don't just love it because they mention a 5 pm scotch.  I don't just love it because it's an irreverent celebration of reading - books - when reading books is under fire by Kanye and Amazon and any number of other misguided souls or soulless entities.  I love it for all those reasons and because it's fun.  

We.  Need.  More.  Fun.

So David brought it to my attention, and to have a bit of fun - see sentence above - I finagled a colleague to snap some pictures of me, reading, that I would then post on David's wall.  The intention being that I would look ridiculous and David might laugh because #WNMF.

The result was stupid.  Try as he might, my coworker, Tom, who was doing the photography - poor guy, he had me to work with.  This was the result:

Stupid.  Not funny.  I should have been wearing boxers and long socks.  But it was the middle of the workday, ok?  Perhaps if we had it captioned by one of the people captioning Hot Dudes Reading it would have been funny.  Alas, it's just me, being uncomfortable, looking like an uptight white guy in Alameda (there are many of us).  

At least David had a sense of humor about it.  He commented that I should call Vogue - so maybe my attempt at the ridiculous wasn't a total failure.

The book, though.  Girl at War.  We're talking about Girl at War.  I had asked David for a copy because he'd written so highly of it.  The novel's author, Sara Nović, had been tagged in that first post of David's.  Are you following all this?  There's going to be a test.

So David secured me a copy of the book and it arrived right when I was reading possibilities for this month's Drinks With Nick - and Girl at War immediately became my selection.  Did I mention that you'll want to buy this when it's available in a few weeks?  Because you will.  Often, our histories aren't written by our historians, but by our novelists.  I know more about WWI and WWII because of Erich Maria Remarque and Dalton Trumbo and James Jones and Norman Mailer than I do from the histories I've read.  And while I was aware of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia - I'm Greek Orthodox, so the fighting resonated because of the battles between Orthodox Christians and Muslims - the war never took root in my mind.

Thanks to Sara Nović, the war has now taken root.

There's a scene near the end of the first part of the book that is so devastating, so breathtakingly horrible and at the same time life-affirming that I had to stop and put the book down.  I had to stop and put the book down and sneak upstairs where my daughters were sleeping - and while they slept I had to put my hands on them, I had to put my hands on my daughters and wait for the gentle rise and fall of their bodies while they breathed, safe and quiet, and while they slept I wept, me standing over one and then the other.

After I was certain all was well I went back downstairs and poured myself a shot of bourbon and sipped.

Just sipped quiet there in the night.

Buy Girl at War.  Ok?  Just do that when you have the chance.

To commemorate the work and to celebrate the rich history of Croatia, I updated a classic cocktail, the Flip.  These drinks that I make, though, they always rise out of the novel.  There wasn't much I knew about alcohol in that part of the Balkans other than that slivovitz - plum brandy - was popular.

I hoped Ms. Nović would mention it - and she did when Ana journeyed home and much rakia (slivovitz) was poured   So I had my start.

Flips usually are made of a spirit, egg, sugar and spice.  The spirit is often rum, brandy or whiskey - I'd substitute the slivovitz for that.  What I really wanted was to add bitters to the cocktail in addition to the spice, and plum bitters would really make the drink sing - but my usual suspects for supplying bitters came up dry when I asked for plum bitters.  That's when Facebook came into play again.

I sent out a plea for plum bitters in the East Bay and soon after I made the request my coworker Josette texted me that the Alchemy Bottle Shop in Oakland had what I needed.

Sometimes I really love the web.

Using an entire raw egg made the drink too heavy - the slivovitz couldn't stand up to it.  So I improvised and made a sliver flip using just egg white.  Živjeli!

Ana’s Silver Flip 

2 oz. Slivovitz
1 oz. simple syrup
White of one egg
3 dashes plum bitters

Shake the first four ingredients without ice.  Add ice and shake again to ensure the egg-white is emulsified.  Strain into a chilled flip glass.  Dust with nutmeg.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Riley's Moon for Marian Palaia and The Given World

April isn't the cruelest month, not when you can look forward to Marian Palaia's The Given World.

Since you have to wait two more weeks for the novel - The Given World comes out on April 14th - you can bide your time with this cocktail.  Feel free to read about it in our newsletter or just stop by the store (give me a heads-up and I'll be sure to have the fixin's on hand).

I wrote last month about three wonderful authors that I met in Berkeley and their three wonderful soon-to-be-published books.  Although, actually, I guess I didn't mention that I had met the authors because I hadn't - not yet.  That was still to come.  But I had read the books and mixed the drinks.  Then came the introductions, at Revival Bar & Kitchen.

One of our terrific book reps was throwing the party, and since Cheri Hickman knows how to do that, and knows a thing or two about selling books, she always makes us - the booksellers - feel welcomed and comfortable.  Joining her from New York was Richard Rhorer, Simon and Schuster's Vice President and Associate Publisher - but he was so charming I kept forgetting how important he was and so I'm sure I spoke out of turn any number of times and embarrassed myself mightily.

Such is life.

They both introduced us to this trio of authors - and to paraphrase Frankie Valli, oh what a night.

(Did you know that song was originally called December 5th, 1933?  And that it was about the repeal of Prohibition?  No?  Well, you're welcome.)

While we drank wine, Laura Dave talked to us about her intoxicating wine-country novel, Eight Hundred Grapes; Jessica Knoll assured us that she has a very active imagination and that we shouldn't confuse authors with narrators, especially not her narrator in Luckiest Girl Alive; and Marian Palaia gave us The Given World.

I wrote then that Ms. Palaia had provided us with a road map through one woman's grief - so to help that woman out, fictional though she was, I wanted to make sure that Riley always had the moon shining above.  To do that, I first needed to provide her with the cover of night, so I started with a little black vodka.  I couldn't add mescaline to it - one of her intoxicants of choice - but I had access to mezcal.  Then I'd smooth any rough edges with a little mint, a little sugar.

And of course I wanted to give her the moon, I said that, right?  So I did: 

Riley's Moon: 

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

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Three Books, Three Drinks, 800 Grapes


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

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

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

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


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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Vodka Finny:

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Riley's Moon: 

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Blind Bear for a Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like what? he asked.

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

Fir? Christian said.  That sounds disgusting.

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

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

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

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

Blind Bear:

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

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

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

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

And booze, of course.  And booze.

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

Cheers, Honest Abe, cheers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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

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

~David Drury, Hartford Courant, December 29, 2012

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Reverend and the Archbishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't mind.

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

So I'm happy tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man.

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

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

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.

I'm free.

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

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

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

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th, 1929 - April 4th, 1968