Friday Musings: The Orbit of Ordinary Color
Just last week I was discussing spring cocktails at Recklesstown with a few customers. They’d asked me about some of the flavors in this month’s drinks that included things like fennel, dill, rhubarb, snap peas, and cherry blossoms. I confessed to them that I’d found this most recent menu to be one of the more challenging ones that I’d developed. Spring flavors, like the ones listed above, are quite delicate, which makes them far more difficult to feature in a drink than something as forthcoming as jalapeño or rosemary. My creative tendency is always to look for pairings, and so I’m accustomed to figuring out or researching what syrup or secondary spirit might complement the main flavor profile of the drink I’m working on. In the case of these cocktails, however, I had to quiet that impulse and allow this menu’s ingredients to fly almost solo, with just a gentle nudge here or there. It occurred to me that spring itself behaves in very much the same way when it begins to send its first harbingers to greet us. A bud on a tree, or a green shoot that pushes through the dirt, a new bird at the feeder, or something different in way the sun feels. I think the quality of these things is perfectly captured by the word nuance, especially in the way in which they could be so easily missed because they’re so fleeting. Before we know it, the tree is in full bloom, the perennial is two feet tall, the bird feeder has a no vacancy sign, and we’re complaining that it’s suddenly way too hot.
I have a certain fondness for the idea of nuance, as I’ve expressed a number times here on this blog. One of the easiest ways for me to understand its meaning has always been to think in terms of color. If I love one shade of blue paint more than its closest neighbor on the color chart, it’s most likely a matter of nuance. Considering these thoughts again while writing this post reminded me of something I’d read recently in After Sappho: A Novel written by Selby Wynn Schwartz, a book that fictionalizes and interweaves a number of notable women’s lives. There is a particular passage that describes the way in which Eileen Gray, the late 19th century Irish architect who founded the Modernist design movement, realizes the existence of the color midnight blue before going on to recreate it in lacquer form. “She did it by staying up all night, watching the stars illume around themselves the tiniest margin of sky. Each star silver in its firmament bled a bit of light into the darkness; thus black became almost imperceptibly a deep blue… bleu de minuit.” Similarly, Vita Sackville-West wrote a novella for Virginia Woolf called Seducers in Ecuador, an unusual tale of a man who sails “across strange seas” to arrive in a land where he dons blue-tinted spectacles that change his view of the world forever. “He leaves the orbit of ordinary color.” To get into the mental space necessary to envision this color shift, “she too ground lustrous oyster shells with a powder of lapis lazuli and silver leaf. In the end, Vita writes for Virginia the story of seeing the world change colour forever, which is one way to say you are in love.”
In the parts of the world that experience four seasons, spring often begins with this same kind of subtle yet incredibly transformative shift in color, like when the slightest hint of green appears in what was a sea of brown grass only yesterday. It is certainly not a far metaphorical jump to say that we experience that same stirring in our hearts when someone new arrives in our lives. We really do begin to see the world in beautiful colors that we never knew existed. It’s also fair to say that the constancy of spring’s return each year can be easily compared to the cyclical nature of love as well. There are moments when the colors do gently fade, but the volume turns up again unexpectedly and we are like Vita lost and found in her lapis lazuli and silver. With spring, as well as with love, both in their subtle newness, their comfortable constancy, or their riotous return, we find hope, and there is no emotion that requires more gentle coaxing or careful handling. Yet if we sit patiently and wait for the color of the sky around the stars to lighten to that shade of blue that waits to be chased by the sun, what will be our reward? We too will leave the orbit of ordinary color. It is the same with spring. If we watch for those first early signs like the pale blush of pink on the trees, and we allow ourselves to see that each blossom offers the possibility of renewal year after year without fail, we will know that the realm of extraordinary color always lies within our reach, doors thrown open, along with the love and hope that inhabit it.
For today’s cocktail, I wanted its main profile to come from the incredibly delicate and unexpected essence of cherry blossoms. To get this flavor into the drink, I used a simple syrup made from a cherry blossom tea and a cherry blossom latté powder combined with oat milk. My first thought was to use Recklesstown’s Cover Crop whiskey as the base spirit, but those pretty pink blossoms had a good laugh at my expense before they ran away and hid. Needless to say, a change in base spirit was in order. Vanilla infused vodka ended up being the answer, along with some lime juice, aquafaba to mimic the foamy head of an egg white cocktail, and some house made cherry vanilla bitters. Flavor wise, the drink was perfect as it was, but I was disappointed in the color once all the ingredients were combined. To bring up the pink, I went with just a tiny amount of dragon fruit purée, which I knew would not change the flavor profile at all, but would definitely get us to the right color. It was in this exercise of gently coaxing this drink along that I decided it would be the perfect cocktail for this post. In terms of symbolism, cherry blossoms do represent renewal and rebirth in the Asian cultures, and since dragon fruit is thought to be the gift a dying dragon leaves to the world, there was definitely an appropriate connection to the eternal cycle of spring and hope and love that I was trying to emulate. It is one of the most beautiful drinks that I’ve ever poured, and I truly hope you get an opportunity to stop by and try one. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! I wish you a spring season filled with love and hope and promise.
1.75 oz vanilla infused vodka
1 oz sakura tea simple syrup
1 oz Aquafaba
1 oz sakura oat latté
.5 oz lime juice
.5 tsp dragon fruit purée
2 dashes cherry vanilla bitters
Lime peel in shaker
Hard dry shake all ingredients for 30 seconds.
Add ice (2/3 full). Hard shake for 20 seconds.
Double strain into a coupe or N&N glass.
Garnish with a cherry blossom.
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I think you’re amazing that’s what I think