Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Rose Gold

Stephanie Wrobel's Darling Rose Gold is dishy and delicious.  Unreliable narrators of course existed well before 1961 when the term was coined - The Canterbury Tales and the Arabian Nights having their fare share - but in Wrobel's novel, we're faced with not one but two narrators who tell us one thing while possibly meaning something else.  Sometimes, the deception is intentional, sometimes not.

Our narrators are mother and daughter, Patty and Rose Gold.  The story begins with the mother's imminent release from prison where Patty has been behind bars for half a decade after being found guilty of trying to poison Rose Gold in a, we're told, bizarre occurrence of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.  There's a wonderfully unhinged quality  ("That's what separates the sane from the not:  knowing madness is an option but declining to choose it.")  that arises as the reader tries to suss out which way is up.  And I use unhinged deliberately but with care:  the story is complicated and the narrators add a sense of disorder, but I never for a moment believed that anything was included by chance.  Darling Rose Gold has been written by someone with great intention.  Nothing you find here was included by accident.

Especially the fact that Patty, when released, is picked up outside the prison by her daughter. It was Rose Gold's testimony that ensured her mother's conviction.  Why would this happen?  And why then does Rose Gold offer her mother a place to stay?

There are so many more questions - and I'm not providing any answers.  You need to read this one yourself.  It arrives on St. Patrick's Day, 2020.

Now, the cocktail.  Before Patty is released from prison, while her daughter is trying to find her way for the first time without the complete domination of her mother, Rose Gold travels to Chicago and finds herself at a bar with her only friend.  One of the other woman in the bar is drinking a Vodka Cranberry, and thank you, Ms. Wrobel, for giving me a cocktail nudge.  Of course, now that I live in New England, I have to call it a Cape Codder.  Coddah?

There were other elements I could have played with - some blueberries here, chocolate and coffee over there, but the Vodka Cranberry stuck out, and then -

 - and then we find, about one hundred pages into the story, a description of the reasoning behind Rose Gold's name.  Patty wanted to name her daughter Rose, but thought just "Rose" was too ordinary.
"Rose Gold, on the other hand--wasn't that just the perfect hue?  'It reminded me of blushing cheeks.  Or a pale, pink sunset.  It's the name of a little girl you can't help but love.'"
That description echoed the Vodka Cranberry - if modified.  And we'd have to modify it because, like "Rose," a Vodka Cranberry was maybe a tad too ordinary for this book.  For the addition of Gold, I added gold tequila.  That and a little cranberry might just create the blush that would be appropriate.  Top if off with some soda, and the Rose Gold suddenly becomes an easy sipper.


2 oz. Gold Tequila
2 oz. cranberry juice
Cranberry for garnish

Stir tequila and juice with ice.  Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass.  Top with soda. Garnish with cranberry. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Dutch House Deserves a Dutch Coffee

Taft was the first novel of Ann Patchett's that I read.  This must have been 1994 or 1995.  I wasn't a bookseller, not quite yet, but did work near a Books Inc. in Union Square.  That store was terrific but - quirky?  Could they have had a section on Russian Military Strategy in the 18th Century?  Just maybe.  But they also had Taft and I devoured it.  It's a scary story about Memphis, about bars, about dead fathers and how they continue to impact lives even in death.  When I handed it to Ms. Patchett after her event here in Brookline for her latest, The Dutch House, she laughed.  "Taft," she said.  "No one read Taft."  I assured her that was not quite true, and she smoothly signed it, and Bel Canto, and The Dutch House.

Ms. Patchett draws a crowd, and we had hundreds line up for her latest offering.  The Dutch House is brilliant - it's about family and jealousies and evil stepmothers and also questions whether or not familial bonds can ever be too strong.  For me, with Patchett, story sometimes is overshadowed by character - because, oh, her characters.  John Nickel, from Taft.  Roxane Coss from Bel CantoState of Wonder's Dr. Marina Singh.  These are all people I'm interested in and want to spend time with after their stories end.  And The Dutch House is no different.  Siblings Maeve and Danny are charismatic, beguiling, infuriating and that hardest of all qualities - compelling.  How do you know that a bookseller - in addition to one of our best novelists - wrote their story?  When you read that the brother and sister, over coffee and cookies, are coming up with the worst attributes of the aforementioned evil-stepmother, and one of her sins is that she "gave no evidence of ever having read a book."  Bookseller shade can be the best shade.  So - did they deserve their own drink?

We wouldn't be here if they didn't.

I think I knew even before reading the novel that genever would be an important ingredient.  Sometimes I get blindsided by a title, and The Dutch House did just that.  There isn't an alcoholic beverage that is more Dutch than genever - the precursor to gin - and when I come across a title that telegraphs an ingredient, I usually follow its lead.  So I did.

Sometimes authors throw a lot of boozy ingredients at you.  With The Dutch House, that wasn't the case.  There's some wine; the father retires to the library with "his drink."  But Patchett doesn't hit you over the head with alcohol.  Coffee?  That's another matter.  There's plenty of coffee drinking happening - so that would be ingredient #2.  We're lucky to have a number of distilleries that have been exploring coffee liqueurs, and Saxtons in Vermont has created Perc, which is nothing short of delightful.  It's not syrupy and its flavor of coffee is exquisite.

In The Dutch House, there's a moment when Maeve has a fight - reserved, quiet, but a fight nonetheless - presaging the permanent arrival of her not-yet stepmother.  (That eventual wedding is wickedly described:  "The ceremony was performed by a judge that none of us knew, a man my father had paid to come to the house to do the job, the way you'd pay an electrician.")  After Maeve leaves the dinner table without asking to be excused (and even that seemingly slight impropriety reads positively indecent) Danny is left in silence with his father.  Finally, after his father decamps for the library, Danny grabs a lemon bar for himself and an orange for Maeve.  He takes it upstairs in their Dutch House and sees her sitting in her window seat - with the light catching her just so she looks like a painting.  Maeve takes the orange and "[digs] in her nails to open it up.  She bent her knees so I could sit down in front of her.  'This doesn't bode well for us, Danny,' she said.  'You might as well know that.'"

Such a wonderful orange spell deserved its addition to the drink, and I thought it would be Cointreau, but after playing around with the ingredients, good old triple sec mingled with the other ingredients better, so the orange would be added that way.  And that's how a Dutch Coffee for Ann Patchett's The Dutch House came to be.


1 oz. Genever
1 oz. Coffee Liqueur
1 oz. Triple Sec
Orange peel for garnish

Combine all with ice.  Strain into a chilled glass.  Garnish with the orange peel. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Three Sisters for TaraShea

Beheld will be coming to you next Spring, but I have a delightful little something you can partake of right now - a taste of Colonial America to celebrate this novel from TaraShea Nesbit.

It's 1630, and the survivors from the Mayflower's voyage are trying to endure- a decade on - in this harsh new world.  In this depiction of the colony, Ms. Nesbit upends the usual telling and focuses much of her narrative on the firsthand experiences of the women in New Plymouth.  Bitter jealousies and clashes between the Puritans on one side and the hired hands and indentured servants on the other blend a potent brew.

Thanks to alcohol historians consulting the journals and diaries of our forebears, we not only know that the colonists drank - a lot - we know what they drank.  Beer, ale, rum and whiskey were all high on the list, so I started there because I wanted to pay homage with a drink that would have been coeval with the events in Beheld - something like the magnificently named Rattle Skull, which may have rattled many a patron at many a tavern within the colonies.  But there are more than a handful of ingredients in that drink.  Colonial Spirits, by Steven Grasse, describes it this way:


1.25 cups brown ale
1 oz. gold rum
1 oz. brandy
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. brown sugar syrup
.5 oz. nutmeg syrup
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of salt
Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish

And while that sounds beautiful we need to remember that in New Plymouth, in 1630, Alice Bradford, the wife of the Governor of the Colony, will tell us in Beheld that "beauty is a vanity," and I wouldn't want to offend her sensibilities, so I sought something a little less ostentatious and settled on the Flip.  A Hot Flip would probably be more true to the time, but I wasn't about to let Alice direct me too strongly from her grave, so I played around with a cold Flip.

Besides, there's a moment when Alice, at the instigation of her husband, is being particularly odious to her neighbor, Eleanor Billington, and has the arrogance to toss a precious egg to the floor inside Eleanor's home.  So for that, Alice, I wanted to make sure that I'd be throwing an egg into your drink, and Flips call for eggs.

The main part of the drink had to be ale, because there's a lot of ale-drinking going on in these pages.  Instead of rum, which is usual in a Flip, I decided to use pear brandy.  Before she would travel to Plymouth, Alice and her best friend, Dorothy, would go searching for a boy, a particular boy that Dorothy wanted, and they would finally find him while Dorothy's mother stood in the market nearby, testing pears for ripeness.  So that moment gave me my brandy.

Maple trees are abundant on the Colony's land, so I'd sweeten things up with a maple simple syrup.  I'd finish up with a bit of salt, a bit of pepper, and a drop sassafras, sassafras being one of the things the Colony sent to London to pay off their debt.

For the name of the drink, I'd borrow a phrase from the Wampanoag, the indigenous people who showed the colonists how to grow the three sisters - corn, squash and beans (though they would receive little credit for the knowledge they shared) - but for our purposes, the Sisters would be ale, brandy, and syrup.

All that, then, is what goes into your glass.  So take a sip, get through the winter, and come Spring, you'll be ready to behold what Ms. Nesbit has created.


1 cup brown ale
2 oz. pear brandy
.5 oz. maple simple syrup
1 raw egg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
2 dashes sassafras bitters

Dry shake all the ingredients - except the ale - until emulsified.  Shake some more.  Add ice and shake even harder, even longer.  Strain into a chilled pint glass already holding the ale.  It helps to have a glass from the 1700s, but any pint glass will do.