March is a celebratory month (as is every month, I would hazard to hypothesize), and celebratory months deserve punches, as you can celebrate by your lonesome, but it’s not really the same as celebrating with a passel of pals or a flock of family. Is it? I don’t feel it is. Those sole celebrators, don’t get up in it. You can have your own stance. Anywho, following along the celebratory-and-punches track, here’s one to consider: Bombay Punch. I have to admit, I’m not sure why it’s called “Bombay,” as it doesn’t contain to my eye any ingredients from the Bombay region – though there are I believe some good brandies made in India, so you could go that route! Brandy being the base here, onto which grape-derived goodness is added nutty maraschino, orange-y Cointreau, apricot-y apricot liqueur, some tangy oj, and some bubbly bubbles. It’s a fruity, bumping, sparkling treat, one ideal for any celebration – though if it is a solo one (as we chatted about above), don’t drink this all at once by yourself.
This quote’s from another story featured in one of the British Library Crime Classics anthologies, edited as always by the indefatigable Martin Edwards (see a couple past British Library Crime Classics Cocktail Talks). This particular collection is called Guilty Creatures, and is roaming with mysteries that circle or feature or highlight or spotlight animals in some way. Being an animal-lover myself, it was an ideal mix of stories for me. Not a lot of Cocktail Talking as you might expect, and (also as you might expect in a collection featuring a range of stories from early-to-middle last century) with a few stories that don’t hit such a high mark, though many, many do. This particular story actually wasn’t one of my favs, but was fun in a way, and has the amazing title “Pit of Screams,” and has snakes playing a big part, and a warning on brandy and Champagne in the below quote that while I can’t agree with, I can certainly understand!
In Togarapore to this day they will tell you that the snakes hypnotized the Rajah so that he fell. But what do you think?
He was giddy from the drink and the sun? Yes, that’s another possible explanation. It is bad to drink brandy and Champagne at midday. But neither is correct. What really killed the Rajah was a tear running down the cheek of that girl wife.
I was a young man in those days, very strong and with hot blood. When I saw that tear I bent, unnoticed, and jerked his ankles so that he somersaulted like the rat he was into the Pit of Screams.
I’ve only (I think – but I may be still a little tired from New Year’s Eve) had one other W.R. Burnett Cocktail Talk, he being the writer whose very first book, Little Caesar, was an overnight sensation in 1928, being made into a movie that was also a sensation (and is great), after which he went on to write many novels, screenplays, and more. Including the book we’re quoting from today, Vanity Row, which is thankfully easily available in a two-books-in-one book from Stark House (the other book included is Little Men, Big World, also swell). Vanity Row takes place in an un-named middle-sized Midwestern city, and centers around the murder of one of the town’s movers-and-shakers, following along as police captain (and political chess piece) Roy Hargis tries to solve it, having his own life shaken up in the process. It’s dark and noir-y, showing political underbelly as it was (and is, at heart), moving rapidly around, and boasting a number of memorable moments and characters, including an English reporter named Wesson, highlighted below.
“What should follow perch, Lloyd?” he called to the little black-haired Welsh bartender.
“That a questions, Mr. Wesson, sir?” said Lloyd, hurrying back eagerly to talk. “A good brandy perhaps.”
“The very thing, Lloyd.”
The bartender returned with the brandy. “Didn’t you say one night you’ve never been in Cardiff, sir?” Lloyd treated Wesson with exaggerated deference which was very unusual for him. He was considered an expert bartender and for that reason was kept on, but he was a surly, fantastical character. There had been many complaints about him from patrons.
We, spooky friends, are very very very close to Halloween (a few paltry days)! While it falls on a Monday this year (which nearly seems unfair, though I feel that you can make any day of the week eerily jolly), it doesn’t mean that it’s not your scary duty to unleash a Warlock cocktail and while enjoying the delicious sips, transform into a zombie magician. Which is what everyone wants on Halloween. Spooky good! So whip up this brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters treat, my favoritest Halloween special, utilizing the handy, helpful, horrific video below!
For our final What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk (and don’t miss What Rhymes with Murder? Part I and Part II to get some more boozing, sure, but also to learn more about this Jack Iams’ 1950 mystery, where a British flirty poet gets shot, a reporter hero tries to track down the murder as he’s a suspect, and where the society page grand dame reporter might be the best shamus of the bunch!) I have what I’m thinking is one of the finest moments in the however many years I’ve been writing here: the mention of grappa in a 1950s pulp pocketbook! Really! Amazing! I love grappa, being like one of the big grappa pushers I know, and someone who brings back bottles of obscure-in-the-US grappas in my suitcase when traveling to Italy every year. So, when I saw the below, I was very, very happy. You will be, too.
I went around the corner to Frascini’s, a restaurant where a lot of newspapermen and politicians and cops hung out. It was crowded, and I had a feeling that people were staring at me, and after a bowl of minestrone, I didn’t want anything more.
I’m sometimes the tiniest bit sad when re-reading The Murder at the Vicarage, knowing that it will never again be like the first time (though some say nothing is the like a first time, I’m not sure that’s as true a cliché as one might think, in general, by the way). Just cause, it’s the first book featuring Agatha Christie’s incomparable Miss Marple (I believe there was a story with her published before this book, funny enough, but for so many, this book was her introduction), and so when reading it without knowing much about her, she seems at the beginning a minor character, a charmingly (maybe this is hindsight) gossipy, watchful, inquisitive small village older lady (or old maid, in a non-pejorative way). And then as the book unfolds, you – dear reader – slowly become aware that she’s the stuff, the one with the insights, and the sharpest tool the St. Mary Mead (the village in question) shed. Now, while that feeling can’t return on subsequent readings, I still enjoy the re-read. It’s jolly good fun to see how Agatha C plays against the preconceived notions around the elderly, and how she unveils Miss Marple being Marple. And you see clues you may have missed, pick up on characterizations that might have seemed less important, and of course get to revel in the language again. Heck, now I sort-of want to read it once more (I’m sure I will, if life allows). And, there’s cherry brandy! What a book.
I agreed, and at that moment the door opened and Miss Marple made her appearance.
“Very sorry to bother you, Miss Marple,” said the Colonel when I had introduced him, putting on his bluff, military manner, which he had an idea was attractive to elderly ladies. “Got to do my duty, you know?”
“Of course, of course,” said Miss Marple. “I quite understand. Won’t you sit down? And might I offer you a little glass of cherry brandy? My own making. A recipe of my grandmother’s.”
It was recently my anniversary (thank you to my wife for marrying me!), which seemed the perfect time to re-read the 1944 mystery by George Harmon Coxe (a fairly well-known mystery writer from mid-last-century) called The Groom Lay Dead! It’s a nicely-paced (not breath-takingly-paced like Day Keene, but it keeps things moving) mystery around the death of a somewhat asshole-ish rich guy, with our protagonist being a slightly shell-shocked (this the WW II era) play director. So, there’s glamorous folks, an interesting upstate New York Finger Lakes setting, a few potentially shady (or moreso!) potential murderers, as well as a sort-of cult-ish health farm run by a hypnotic man – always a good addition. Worth checking out, especially if you can get the cover pictured here. I had a The Groom Lay Dead Cocktail Talk on here after the first time I read it, many years in the past (do, don’t miss that, ya’hear?), but I’d forgotten about this minor character I liked, and felt he (George Vernon, vaguely trapped up the health farm/cult) and his night out deserved a second Cocktail Talk quote.
Apparently it had been quite a while since George Vernon had been out and he’d made up his mind to enjoy himself. He had four drinks at the bar in addition to the two he’d had at Yager’s house: he had another Scotch and soda with his dinner and called for brandy with his coffee. Parks was doing all right, too. He got a lot of laughs of Vernon, who long ago had insisted that we call him George.
This, friends, is a solemn time here on the Spiked Punch. I’ve just now this moment realized that I’ve never had a Cocktail Talk (unless I’ve lost it over the years, which is possible as my mind is old and there are many posts on there) from the immortal Anthony Trollope novel Phineas Finn. Or, from the also immortal Phineas Redux. What in the world? Y’all know I love me some Anthony Trollope (you know this from reading the many Trollope Cocktail Talks), and of all the Trollopian fictional gems, the two Phineas books – which are the second and fourth I believe in the Palliser series of novels by Trollope, books which revolve around politics, and how those taking part in them acted and talked and such, of his time in the main, while still being fiction – may well be my favorite. Not saying they are the best or making any canonical pronouncements. But they may be my favorites. I’m not even sure I can type out why! But I have a soft spot perhaps for the hero (Phineas), an Irish-born fella who makes his way into the London political world and has adventures and mis-adventures and romances and at least one duel and fox hunts and trials and ups and downs and brandy and all kinds of things. Perhaps I just love the scope and insights into the time period? Or how the characters mingle through the books, some coming and some going until there’s this whole feeling of being a part of the world Trollope is creating, or how the motivations seem to mirror modern ones (with different trapping of course)? Or his “complete appreciation of the usual” as they say? All of that? The one thing I know for sure is that I can’t believe I haven’t had a quote in the form of a Cocktail Talk from either Phineas book! Well, let’s remedy that with the below, shall we? This particular one doesn’t actually feature said hero, but one of the other fairly important, let’s call them sub-main characters, Lord Chiltern.
He told nothing to Captain Clutterbuck of his sorrow, but Captain Clutterbuck could see that he was unhappy.
“Let’s have another bottle of ‘cham,’” said Captain Clutterbuck, when their dinner was nearly over. “‘Cham’ is the only thing to screw one up when one is down a peg.”
“You can have what you like,” said Lord Chiltern; “but I shall have some brandy-and-water.”
“The worst of brandy-and-water is, that one gets tired of it before the night is over,” said Captain Clutterbuck.
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