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
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.