Posts tagged: cocktails
June 22, 2013

Summer Happy Hour: Bourbon Cures What Water Can’t

wagon-hay-field

The cure for anything is salt water––tears, sweat, or the sea. –Isak Dineson

Chlorine will do, too, though lake-swimming is my favorite, especially when there’s a quarter-moon of sandy beach hugging the edge of the water. It started twenty-five years ago at Margaret Lindley with plastic buckets, shovels, tadpoles, and a sign announcing a water temperature best suited to the brave, and more recently on hot Minnesota nights, where we drove out past County Road F and felt the temperature drop through the open windows and would sneak in the water after dark. There doesn’t have to be any rule-breaking for sweet relief. Just the other weekend, my sister and I pulled into a parking spot and handed a life guard $6 for two adults to wade into a flooded quarry so cold, we dunked our heads under the surface, and ran right out. Then we sat on our wet towels and ate cold turkey sandwiches on a green sloping lawn under the shade of a tree. It was the best thing we could have done that June afternoon.

She’s taking the waters, they say in 19th century books about the sick seeking cures in healing springs. But I’ve found, for everyday ailments at least, any water will do. Even the windowless, subterranean pool at the Y, where the water splashes out from the shallow end and onto the tiles, where the politics and egos of lap swim are almost enough to keep me away. Even a bath tub will do in a pinch.

My closest and most appealing waters are around the corner about a half-mile from my parents house, in the pool my brother tucked behind the L of this house. There are two orange foam noodles, floats with drink holders, and an inflatable cooler. A plastic ladder descends into the cool water. If we run around the edges, the water swirls in a lazy river effect. There’s a view over the rail of the wood fence, past the tree line, and into a field he cleared by hand. It feels secluded back there, with a view of openness too, so that it’s secluded and still there’s a sense of expansiveness. It’s easy to float there, weightless and filled with wonder.

A dip is all I need, and then I slip my dress back on and my wet feet back into my clogs and ride back to Mom’s on my bike in a soaked swimsuit to eat a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich in the quiet of the kitchen. This is summer. I always seem to forget its idyll. Out of the city, the evening air thick with honeysuckle and mown grass, the sky a pale watercolor wash of pink and blue, and some nights too warm for more than a blanket across my legs.

Someone asked me recently if my daily routine changes in the summer. For me, the change is all about the openness of those evening hours when the sun still hangs in the sky past 8. There are no more hours in the day today than there were in February, but if I can stay away from the television and ride my bike in early evening light so bright it feels like late afternoon, the day feels longer, more expansive. It can contain a little adventure, and more lazy moments, too.

I’ve been laying off the sauce lately, but late June seems to call for cocktail hour. So after the bike ride, after the evening dip, and while I’m throwing together a meal with zucchini and basil that practically cooks itself, there is a drink. Last summer it was a classic daiquiri. This summer, it’s a slight twist on that. Lemon juice instead of lime, local raw honey instead of sugar, and bourbon in place of rum. It’s my favorite kind of drink––small and strong––and if water and bike rides haven’t taken the edge off the day, one of these will do the trick. It also makes another cure, those salty tears, much more likely to spring, seemingly out of nowhere.

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August 24, 2012

Classic Daiquiri: Happy Hour at Home

classic daiquiri

During a heat wave in July, when the days were oppressively hot, all I wanted was to slip into a dark, cool bar in the middle of the day, settle into the air-conditioning on a bar stool and cry into my cocktail. Sometimes summer’s relentless cheerfulness and go-get-’em spirit is too much. You have to rebel. Bonus points for melodramatic flair.

One such hot summer day, when my high-waisted ’50s lady pants were sticking to the backs of my legs, I was on my way home from midtown when I remembered a piano bar on 47th street that I’d wanted to visit since the winter. Here was my chance to make my daydream real! So I went. I pushed through the door and sat at the short end of an L-shaped bar. A woman in her late 20s with short, finger-waved hair sat at the bar in a coral shift dress. She drank one mojito and then another. She would have been in good company in a Hopper painting. The scene was just right.

And then a thin woman, the picture of a beloved piano teacher with her spectacles, baggy, ditzy-print dress and long cardigan breezed in with a two-foot high stack of sheet music in her arms. She divided her music into two stacks, sat on one of them, and opened the cover over the ivory keys. She played heartbroken jazz songs from the ’30s and ’40s, and she sang.

Well, of course I had to cry, but I needed my cocktail first.

This bar is called The Rum House, so though I am usually apt to drink gin or whiskey, I ordered a classic daiquiri: just rum, sugar, and lime juice, shaken madly into an icy froth and served up. It was a revelation: shiveringly cold, sweet-tart, and as swiftly effective as a Dorothy Parker barb. I’ve been ordering daiquiris every since––and only once has someone asked me if I wanted it frozen.

But one night I came home, after a particularly long and trying day and thought it was time I made one for myself, since it is a dead simple three-ingredient cocktail. I don’t keep silver rum on hand, so my drink is always a bit more golden-hued than it was that hot day in midtown when I needed to slip in among the late-afternoon barflies and feel subsumed by their alcohol-hazy heartbreak and loneliness.

Now that I’ve gotten that bit of melodrama out of my system and am on the eve of my vacation as I write this very sentence (!!), the imbibing looks less like a page from Miss Lonelyhearts. I drink these in the early evening sun on the patio while reading the silly book I can’t put down or while dancing around the apartment listening to the hits-filled Hall & Oates station on Pandora. Totally different scene, still delicious.

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June 7, 2012

Rhubarb Simple Syrup Cocktails

I can’t wait another moment to tell you about this rhubarb. It had already been on my mind for weeks, and then one morning, during a week bereft of delight and inspiration, where everything I saw, everything I read, everything I tried and wrote and wore seemed pale and uninspired, I decided a trip to the farmer’s market was just what I needed.

It worked, in a gentle, subtle kind of way. Just doing something out of the ordinary was the trick. I woke up a little earlier than usual and walked up to the park before work to poke around the stalls. I saw other early risers: spring onions, radishes, tender leaves of lettuce. Rhubarb outshone them all. But I wasn’t thinking about a ruby red pie with a flaky, buttery crust. I was thinking about a drink.

At home, I chopped a few stalks of rhubarb and cooked it with equal parts sugar and water. The color was enough to shake off off any lingering cloak of ennui. That vibrant, saturated pink! Have you ever seen something so unabashedly, outrageously lovely?

That evening, as soon as the clock struck five, I made a fake rosé spritzer: white wine and a spoonful of rhubarb syrup topped with seltzer. Over the weekend, when we had a Saturday night steak dinner at home, I made myself a Manhattan-ish cocktail with it in lieu of sweet vermouth. I’ve been thinking about how to describe the flavor to you and have fallen short. It tastes pink. Brightly feminine, sweet. I want to say it even tastes optimistic, but that might sound a little nuts. In any case, it’s perfect for a season of bridal showers, baby showers, and any old day that needs a shot of radiance.

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July 29, 2011

Happy Hour at Home: Simplest Gin and St. Germain Cocktail

The first time I had St. Germain was on a renegade vacation. We were due to stay in our vintage-y Napa motor lodge another night, but at the last moment we decided to check out. We threw our bags in the car, and drove on a steep, winding rode through dense wooks to Glen Ellen. There, we ate a greasy spoon breakfast, a prelude to the main event: I spied M.F.K. Fisher’s Last House from across a two-lane highway and at the little memorial to her in town, had my picture snapped next to a portrait of her at a typewriter. My ultimate fan girl moment.

Then we drove on to Sonoma, where the midday sun was beating down hot in the town square. Down a side street, I fell in love with a charming, busting airy restaurant, sat at the bar and ordered a drink. It contained St. Germain, a delicate elderflower liqueur, poured from the most glamorously tall, art deco bottle. There was also some gin, a cucumber spear, and maybe a splash of Lillet or champagne, though the specifics are hazy now. I just remember being so happy there, surrounded by dapper, quick-footed waiters, air-conditioning, the spirit of adventure that came from casting our plans to the wind, and, oh, the smell of cheese.

This is my bare bones attempt to recreate what I think is one of the most cool, crisp, refreshing and ladylike of summer cocktails. Drink this in your garden, when the gals come over to knock croquet balls in their spectator heels and talk about the rakish men they adore. I didn’t really drink this garnished with edible flowers as illustrated in the picture, though wouldn’t that be grand?

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