I haven’t read much by Dame Ngaio Marsh, the famous New Zealand mystery writer (and theater director) who was one of the Queens of Mystery during the golden age, and who wrote a fair number of books and stories featuring the well-mannered, but also slyly funny, Chief Inspector Alleyn of London’s Met police (later, Superintendent Alleyn, by the by). Not sure why I haven’t dug into her murderous oeuvre before, but hey, I make mistakes! Not too long ago, however, I came across a story by her featuring him, and liked it, and so picked up this here book, Death of a Fool. A dandy read, taking place in a small small British town, where there’s some pagen-ish annual ritual dancing, in which a dancer manages to lose their head! Literally! Which leads to the Inspector being called. Lots of fun for the mystery maven, but also the folklore lover. But be prepared for some dialect, as in the below wonderful quote.
“Fiddlededee. Let’s have some brandy. Where’s the grog-tray. Right the bell, Otters.”
The elderly parlour-maid answered the bell at once, like a servant in a fairy-tale, ready-armed with a tray, brandy-glasses and a bottle of fabulous Cognac.
“I ‘fer it at this stage,” Dame Alice said, “to havin’ it with the coffee. Papa used to say, ‘When dinner’s dead in yer and bed is still remote, ring for the brandy.’ Sound advice in my ‘pinion.”
Way, way, way, way back when (as people old-like-me say), when I first started getting into the cocktailing and the old-cocktail-booking, and cocktail-recipe-experimenting, lots and lots of bottled beauties weren’t easily available, including many now available at the click from phone, computer, TV, glasses (I suppose), all that. Partially, because I am old. But not that old, children. Also, then, because our modern booze availability explosion is just that – modern. New! But oh, so welcome!
Take, for example, Swedish Punsch. Made with a base of sugar-cane and fermented-red-rice based spirit Batavia Arrack (a rum of sorts, and itself not readily available here in the US in most spots until fairly recently), other rums, spices, and more treats (it’s rum based spice liqueur, really), it’s the national drink of Sweden, and a key component of many tiki hits and cocktails. But went through a period where in many spots, spots I inhabited, it wasn’t available. Now, easy to get in most US places. And delicious! Take Kronan Swedish Punsch, which I’m having today in The Astor cocktail. It has a spice (think allspice, clove, dried orange), toffee, molasses, and leather (in the best way!) taste with a hint of smokiness. Delicious, as mentioned! Great on its own, but also, an important component of many cocktails, like this one. It’s so so swell that it’s now available in our modern world, and that so many more once rare cocktail components are, too. Which means, even though there are many days where it doesn’t seem the happiest world, some things are worth smiling about.
While summer doesn’t officially start until, what, a month or thereabout from now, I’m always in my (very old) brain beginning to think “summer” in force on Memorial Day weekend, which is to say, right now! Summer only has a short “lease” (to bring us all together to the all together of this drink’s name), so I like to stretch it out longer than the calendar specifics. I’d say you can disagree, but, really, I doubt many would as it’s a fairly innocuous or unmemorable thought. This drink, however, is very memorable (if I may be so bold and not blush, as I created it), thanks to a double shot of rum – both white rum and the fancy Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple rum, which is a delight to nature – a splash of herbally-but-approachably-awesome Montenegro amaro (most popular amaro in Italy by-the-way), pineapple juice (the juice epitome of summer), Scrappy’s Lime bitters (which if it would have been around during the first tiki wave, that wave would have never stopped), soda (for cooling and bubbly purposes), and fresh mint. It’s a treat all summer long, no matter how many days you want to celebrate the season.
The dining room at the Banker’s Club was large and ornate, its linens crisp, and there was enough geography between table to prevent eavesdropping. Although I arrived on the dot, Lambert S. Denton was already seated and tinkering with a dry Martini. So dry, I found when he ordered one for me, it seemed as if the vermouth had been applied with an atomizer.
It’s the 19th of May, do you know what that means? It means summer is right around the corner, pals, and that we are in the thick and warming part of spring, both of which combine to mean that you’d better start stocking up on your cooling drinks, your lighter liquid assistants that make the warmer and sunshine-y-er days hum hummingly. Drinks like Lillet Rouge and Tonic. Lovely in flavor, lighter in alcohol than those winter warmers being currently shed like so many woolly sweaters, this treat utilizes here Lillet Rouge, the orange-berry-and-spice member of the Lillet family, though both Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rose would be absolutely smashing, too. You might want to adjust the amount of tonic syrup, if you went one of the latter two routes. That’s right, we’re going tonic syrup here, specifically &Tonic tonic syrup (made in WA, dontcha know). For one, it’s bursting with flavor. For two, and this is the joy of tonic syrup, you can maintain control the amount of it and soda, changing easily to taste and occasion. You can find the right balance of it and whichever Lillet you’re using, the right balance for your taste, or the day, or the occasion. Neat, right? Right! And now you have one more (or multiple more, really), slings in your summer drink quiver.
1. Fill a brandy snifter or tumbler (I really like my whathaveyou-and-tonic drinks in a snifter, cause it looks cool and maybe helps the scents flow into your nose, and helps the poor dusty snifter glasses come out year round) halfway with ice cubes. Add the syrup and Lillet. Stir briefly.
2. Add the soda, stir to combine, and garnish with the twist.
Harold Q. Masur (also pubbed as Harold Masur, Hal Masur, Hal Q. Masur, and perhaps some other variations on his name) has made a fair number of appearances on the old Spiked Punch. Heck, just check out the past Harold Masur Cocktail Talks for evidence. Funny to mention evidence, as his protagonist (his only one as far as I’ve read) is a lawyer named Scott Jordan, who is on the straight and narrow when it comes to lawyering in court, but isn’t opposed to a little breaking and entering if needed, and especially isn’t opposed to the drinks and nightlife and ladies. And he solves murders and stuff, too. In The Mourning After, the affairs are around art, which adds a nice cultured touch – how many mysteries mention or revolve around lesser-known (at least in relation to Matisse) fauve-ist artist Maurice de Vlaminck? Not too many! It’s not all art, however, as Jordan finds times for drinks, too. And one of them is Campari! Seeing that in a mystery makes my day. And near the word “agog,” a word I love and one not used as much modernly? Amazing.
At the Carlyle, seated at a small table, sipping a Campari and soda, Angela was still agog at the thought of a one-man show at the Maxim Gallery for Carl Baum.
“Never heard of the chap,” I said. “Tell me about him.”
This is a spring drink to me (taste it, and then you can see if it is for you, too), though it does have a hearty Cognac base, in case the temperature is still getting chilly where you are – it certainly still can on some spring nights over here in the 206. There’s a little extra work involved in this one, too, as this is the extra-work time of year for many, spring that is, as one plants plants so they deliver veg and flowers and such later in summer, but don’t, one hopes, freeze in a late spring cold night (as mentioned above – maybe give them some Cognac if it gets too cold. That’s a joke! Plants like water, not booze.) For this drink, no planting, but you will have to make a raspberry vinegar syrup (check the recipe on that link for this syrup recipe), which isn’t too tough, and which is tasty, in this drink and others, as well as just in soda (that’s a swell springtime drink if you need a night off the hard stuff).
Thought I’d have another, another Cocktail Talk, that is, from this book by A.A. Fair, aka, Erle Stanley Gardner. I just can’t resist a good Benedictine quote! If you missed the Beware the Curves Cocktail Talk Part I, well, don’t miss it any longer (and you might as well catch all the A.A. Fair Cocktail Talks while you’re at it).
“I’m a hell cat,” she said.
She got up to pour more liquor. She was wearing some kind of a filmy white thing. The bottle was getting empty. She had another bottle in the kitchen. She opened the kitchen door to go get the bottle.
Bright lights were on in the kitchen. The lights flooded through the doorway and silhouetted every curve of her figure against the white gossamer.
Halfway through the doorway, she thought of something, turned, and said, “Would you prefer brandy and Benedictine to crème de menthe, Donald?”
I took a little time debating the matter. “You’ve got both?” I asked.
“Yes.” She shifted her position slightly.
The light behind her did its stuff.
“Brandy and Benedictine,” I said. “But just one, Stella.”
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More