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 fiancĂ©’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.