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Friday Musings: Midwinter in Our Souls

Friday Musings: Midwinter in Our Souls

I have a certain affection for the word midwinter. It has always helped me to verbalize this period that comes after Christmas when we are in post-celebratory mode, and the world has become a much quieter, introverted version of the one we left behind in December. As it turns out, the term midwinter is actually synonymous with the winter solstice, so it seems as though my thinking may have been a little bit off, at least in terms of timing. Maybe not in terms of sentiment, though, if we consider the opening lines of In the Bleak Midwinter, a Christmas poem written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti and set to music by Gustav Holst:

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Friday Musings: Ignition Point

Friday Musings: Ignition Point

In last Friday’s post, I talked about a particular sense of calm that comes on Christmas Eve that presents us with the opportunity to find a moment of deep peace and joy. This year, I felt as though that moment came to me more easily, maybe because I’d shared the idea of it with all of you, or because the actual process of writing tends to make me more open to possibilities. In either case, I walked into Zachary’s house feeling very zen and ready to take on the Seven Fishes. Things were going along swimmingly (awful pun intended) until we set a baking sheet of kale on fire in the oven. Notice the calm spirit in which I write that sentence. Now, those of you who follow me know that this is not my first fiery rodeo in the kitchen. A few years ago, we had a similar mishap during which a tray of chopped pecans entered the oven as a potential cake garnish, only to emerge as a pile of ash reminiscent of the apocalypse. Needless to say, the kale suffered a similar fate. The first time around we did absolutely everything wrong in “handling” the fire; in fact, our behavior could have easily been made into a “How NOT to Act” fire safety video. What was our biggest mistake? Ah well, we opened the oven door, of course, and the fire became an inferno. This time when Zachary reached in that same direction, I stopped him. We turned off the oven, shooed everyone out of the house, and we watched the fire burn out and die.

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Friday Musings: Fulcrum

Friday Musings: Fulcrum

It would be remiss of me to just begin again without some sort of an explanation as to where I’ve been. The truth is that there’s not a satisfying answer. I paused my writing for a while, always with the intention to return. I became busy with work that included making many cocktails, and with life, and I felt time passing, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to find my way back. I always expected that the urge to write again would come as a whisper in my ear, or a gentle nudge, but when it arrived a short while ago, it came as a full-on, handprints-on-my-back shove. In other words, it was not to be ignored. And so here I am telling you that I’d love to spend Friday mornings with you once again, if you’ll have me back. I truly hope you will…

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Monday Classics: La Louisiane

Monday Classics: La Louisiane

I absolutely love anything that’s a secret. I’m always on the lookout for a new speakeasy to visit and I’m a huge fan of movies like National Treasure and the entire Indiana Jones series, so when Saveur Magazine called the La Louisiane the “secret cocktail of New Orleans,” I was pretty much smitten. I would love to say that I picture myself drinking this cocktail at the bar and hotel of the same name (where the drink was created), situated right around the corner from the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, but it closed back in the 1930s. The La Louisiane cocktail disappeared not long after that, despite the fact that its recipe appeared in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em by Stanley Clisby Arthur in 1937. It goes to show you that drinks are more than just their recipe, especially those that are born in bars. They are about the atmosphere of the bar and bartenders who work there, and the patrons that made these particular cocktails popular by sitting and drinking them long into many nights.

The first thing you’ll notice when you look at the La Louisianes recipe is just how similar it is to last Monday’s Vieux Carré. It pays the same homage to the melting pot that was New Orleans at that time, using ingredients from American, French, Italian, and Caribbean cultures. Once again we have a big, boozy cocktail with rye whiskey as the base spirit, its bite tempered by the addition of Bénédictine and sweet vermouth. There’s no cognac in the La Louisiane and it’s served up rather than on the rocks, but there are some Peychaud’s bitters and Absinthe, both of which bring distinct anise notes to the drink. Once again I was amazed by how smooth and easy this cocktail was, and I’m happy to have a drink filed away in my memory now that uses Absinthe. The La Louisiane is currently re-emerging in many bars in New Orleans itself, as well as all over the world, although I’ve yet to see one listed on a cocktail menu here in the Philadelphia area. I’m definitely keeping my eyes open! In the meantime, this is a cocktail that you can easily ask for even if you don’t see it on a drink list. The ingredients are readily available and most bartenders should know how to make one. If not, just grab your cell phone and pull up this Thirsty Camel blog post… Report back to me, please!

La Louisiane

2 ounces Old Overholt rye whiskey
¾ ounce Bénédictine
¾ ounce sweet vermouth (half Dolin Rouge and half Punt e Mes)
3 dashes Pernot Absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (I substituted Scrappy’s Orleans bitters)

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice and stir 30 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with three brandied cherries. Enjoy!

As with any classic cocktail recipes, this one started out with equal parts of all the spirits, resulting in a drink that was too sweet and off balance. Bumping up the rye and reducing the vermouth and the Bénédictine corrects this problem.



Friday Musings: On this day…

Friday Musings: On this day…

Facebook has a feature called “On This Day” that shows you memories that you posted last year, or the previous year, or maybe even 5 years ago. Now this is a lovely thought if the memory is a happy one. We get all warm and fuzzy and maybe even shed a tear or two at what a wonderful day it was. But what happens when a picture pops up of some ex-boyfriend or girlfriend that you were just saying you were beginning to get over. Not any more. There they are smiling at you or, worse yet, there the two of you are smiling at one another. Or maybe it’s a group shot from one of those nights when Creedence Clearwater Revival was in your head telling you that you should have stayed home. Suddenly those one or two tears turn into an all out sob session. Thank you, Facebook.

When I log on today I know just what picture is going to pop up. It will be of a bottle of wine from a restaurant in New York called Ai Fiori. It was a Vosne-Romanée from Burgundy, a 1er Cru that I’d been given the task of choosing and I did so happily. I was so excited to taste this wine that I could hardly contain myself. And it was wonderful! (You have to remember that this Thirsty Camel was once a wine educator in a former life. I still get excited about these kinds of things.) It had been one of those perfect days; I’d come up on the train, it was Christmas time in New York City, I was with friends, and I was wearing red heels because I thought they were festive and fabulous. We stopped at a place on the way to Ai Fiori called The Monkey Bar on E. 54th St. It was early and very quiet, just before the happy hour rush. We ordered some appetizers and a cocktail called The Savoy Graydon that was made with vodka, green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, agave syrup, and lemon. It’s actually a very simple combination of ingredients that truly exemplifies the statement “the whole is more than just the sum of its parts.” Sometimes, and this is especially true of cocktails, the parts can be something other than just physical elements. The Savoy Graydon was magical for me because of where I was, who I was with, and the way I was feeling. (And I know those red shoes helped too.)

By the time we left the bar several cocktails later, it was packed. We all went on to have dinner and that amazing bottle of wine, stayed over, and came home the next day on the train. Two weeks later I made Savoy Graydons on Christmas Eve, and several more times throughout this past year. Every time I’ve had this cocktail, including yesterday when I photographed it for this post, I’ve been brought back to that perfect day in New York. Circumstances are very different; in fact nothing is the same, but my memory fills in the gaps and infuses the drink, if you will, with those magical components of time and place and people. Just for a moment I’m sitting back at The Monkey Bar, on a December day full of promise. And for that, I am grateful.

The Savoy Graydon (from The Monkey Bar 60 E. 54th St. NYC)

1½ oz Stateside vodka
1 oz Punt E Mes sweet vermouth
½ oz Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz agave nectar (diluted 2 parts water, 1 part agave)
¾ oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz Q club soda
Long lemon peel strip for garnishing

Add all the ingredients (except for the lemon peel strip) to the bottom half of a shaker tin. Add your ice (1 large cube and 2 small if you have them on hand). Shake for 15-20 seconds until cold. Strain using a Hawthorne strainer and then pour over ice into a Collins glass. Garnish with the lemon strip. Make a toast to your perfect day and enjoy!

Don’t forget to stop by Gorshin Trading Post in Haddonfield for some cocktails tonight!!