Can you believe it – it’s December, 2021, already. Holy time-moves-quickly! Though, even if we didn’t have calendars and suchlike to alert us to the fact, the weather outside might cause one (in the northern hemisphere, and suchlike) to think through chattering teeth, “I believe it’s December, because the cold has infested my bones.” Or, suchlike. What to do, as time machines are out of the question, currently? I mean, you can’t go back in time to escape the cold, and while putting layers of blanketing devices on your person will perhaps reduce the chill, it certainly isn’t as jolly as a good warm (or hot, even) drink. May I suggest, in this warming manner, Aunt Betsy’ Favorite? It’s a wine-based treat, one fortified as the season demands with port and brandy, and well-spiced (the season also seems to demand this – just look at holiday desserts). It also serves, depending on temperature, temperament, and suchlike, somewhere between 5 and 8 people – and, as well all know, a crowd of pals is a warming thing. So, this is doubly-warming! Take the edge off of December with it, and stay cozy, and suchlike!
24 ounces red wine (I suggest a Cabernet Sauvignon)
16 ounces tawny port
8 ounces brandy
4 ounces simple syrup
1 orange peel
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
1. Add all of the ingredients to a medium-size saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes. You want it to get good and hot, but not start boiling, or even simmering. Reduce the heat midway through the cooking time if needed.
2. Once the 10 minutes have passed and the room smells wonderful, ladle the mix into heavy mugs. Avoid serving the orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon stick if your pals are worried about clunking up their smiles.
I’m back into another George Simenon yarn starring Parisian Inspector Maigret (there have been many Maigret Cocktail Talks you can browse at will), an ideal read for a rainy November day, as during a fair part of Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard Paris is engulfed in heavy rains. And our stolid, stoic, Chief Inspector (to give him his full due) moves along through the wet and dry and cloudy days in his own particular way: slow at times, thoughtful at times, dreamy (can I say that? I did!) at times, but always pushing forward. His case this time involves the murder of a man who had a second-life of sorts, pointed out first by the fact that he was murdered wearing light brown shoes, shoes which his wife swears he didn’t own, and which Maigret calls “goose-dung” shoes, due to the color. That’s amazing! Maigret follows the various threads, spooling them up one-by-one, while stopping for various sips along the way: wine, Calvados, aperitives, more, maybe even more than usual (one of the many reasons I love Maigret so much is his love of bars, bistros, brasseries, and other eating-and-watering holes. Even when they are around-the-corner, as in the below).
“Where to now chief?”
It was just eleven o’clock.
“Stop at the first bistro you come to.”
“There’s one next door to the shop.”
Somehow, he felt shy of going in there, under Leone’s watchful eye.
“We’ll find one round the corner.”
He wanted to ring Monsieur Kaplan, and to consult the street guide, to find Monsieur Saimbron’s exact address on the Quai de la Megisserie.
While he was there, having started the day with a Calvados, he thought he might as well have another, and drank it standing at the bar counter.
–George Simenon, Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard
Well, what I can I say about the Henry Kane hard-boiled pocket-sized slurper Martinis and Murder which hasn’t been said in the Martinis and Murder Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV? Well, nothing really (and, really, the cover says it all!), so let’s just get to the below quote – you can catch up on the rest by reviewing the past posts while you sip something nice and potent.
We danced all through it, comfortably and close. We drank brandy from big Napoleon glasses. The music got hot. The place filled up, got warm and noisy.
“Peter,” she said, inhaling smoke through a long holder with a finger loop, “I’m beginning not to like it here. Can’t we go somewhere else where it is quieter?”
“Do you like Sibelius?”
“I adore Sibelius.”
“I have Sibelius in quantities on wax discs and I have a lovely fireplace and I have oil paintings that cost me much, and I have a book of pornographic studies dating back to the fifteenth century. No etchings. But I have Pernod.”
Can you believe it – it’s nearly Halloween! It’s Halloween weekend, with the day itself just hours away, and all the ghouls, goblins, witches, skellingtons, and whatever the kids are wearing these days, are about to arise (thinking safety-first, of course). And (even more important) the Warlock cocktails are about to flow, as they do this time every year, changing spooky drinkers into happy zombie magicians, thanks to the sorcerous combination of brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters. You’ll see the process (and learn how to make the drink if you’ve somehow missed it on past Halloweens) in the video below.
I went down a large Cornell Woolrich hole at one point in my life, and in some ways never came out (perhaps I’m not in as deep as I once was, which isn’t to say my liking of books by said author is less, but maybe to say I’ve read such a fair amount of those available that there aren’t that many more readily available) – heck, check out the past Cornell Woolrich Cocktail Talks for evidence. There are a fair few of them! You’ll get lots of background on this, the noir-y-est (in many ways – I mean, no mystery writer uses the word “black” in more titles for a start, but also he’s such a master of psychological dark moods and mental, as well as action-driven, thrillers that seem going down a dark path) of the pulp writers, perhaps. He also wrote under a couple pseudonyms, the best-known being William Irish, under-which name he became famous enough that I have a copy of The Best of William Irish which I was recently re-reading. Featuring two full-length reads and a handful of stories, the book’s highlight may well be “Rear Window” (from which the legendary movie was made, which you should re-watch right now), which, funny enough, I think was pub’d under Cornell’s own name originally (and originally called “It Had to be Murder”). But if you have a story which a famous movie is based on, you work it in. The whole collection starts with perhaps the most famous William Irish-monikered tale (though that could be debated), the novel Phantom Lady, which I am also lucky enough to have as a standalone book, and which was also made into a movie in 1944, a movie I haven’t seen, but would love to! The book’s chapters all countdown to an execution (28 Days Before the Execution, etc.), which gives an insight into the plot: a man is accused – falsely, we know – of the murder of his wife, with only one possible way to convince the police he’s innocent, finding of a missing woman who can place him at a bar at a particular time. It’s a good read and then some, keeping you moving and twisting around this way and that way, with a few more murders and lots of surprises. Having a bar with a key role doesn’t hurt, either, and neither does the mention of Jack Rose cocktails, among others, in the below Cocktail Talk quote.
He said, “I had a Scotch and water. I always have that, never anything else. Give me just a minute now, to see if I can get hers. It was all the way down near the bottom –“
The barman came back with a large tin box.
Henderson said, rubbing his forehead, “There was a cherry left in the bottom of the glass and – “
“That could be any one of six drinks. I’ll get it for you. Was the bottom stemmed or flat? And what color was the dregs? If it was a Manhattan the glass was stemmed and dregs, brown.”
Henderson said, “It was a stem-glass, she was fiddling with it. But the dregs weren’t brown, now, they were pink, like.”
“Jack Rose,” said the barman briskly. “I can get it for you easy, now.”
–Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), Phantom Lady
It’s a smidgen odd that I haven’t had more Peter Lovesey Cocktail Talks here on the ol’ Spiked Punch, just as I read and re-read his books (especially his Peter Diamond mysteries) as much as nearly any written words. Though, on the flip side, he doesn’t dwell in the bars and boozes as much as some, so maybe not so strange? Anyway, before I ramble so far we end up lost in the English countryside, today we are having a Lovesey Cocktail Talk, with a quote from the story “Bullets,” which I recently re-read when I was re-reading his killer (hahaha) collection, Murder on the Short List, a collection full of mysteries and mysterious deaths, some featuring a couple of his classic characters and some not. While I may shade my favoritism towards the longer works, many like his stories best, and he is a master – all of which is to say, pick this book up if you see it. This particular short story starts with an inspector getting ready to talk to the relatives of man found dead in his study, supposedly (!) by suicide.
They were sitting at the kitchen table in 7, Albert Street, their small suburban house in Teddington. They had a bottle of brandy between them.
The inspector accepted a drink and knocked it back in one swig. When talking to the recently bereaved he needed all the lubrication he could get.
You may have thought it couldn’t be done, but we’re back to Orley Farm after our cinematic sidestep last week, and I’m going to have one more Mr. Moulder Cocktail Talk from the Trollope novel (I may have more Cocktail Talks from the book that don’t feature him, too. Only time will tell pals, and even it might not know!). But we’ve had a few of him in his higher moments, and so I only felt it was right to have one when he’s snoozing away after a long day shilling for Hubbles and Grease and swilling brandy and water (and perhaps other potent potables, too). However, it’s the description of his waking in the below quote that does the most for me. Oh, before I forget! Don’t miss the Orley Farm Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III for more about the book itself, and all the Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks (there are a few!) for more Trollopean fun.
Soon after that Mr. Kenneby saw Mrs. Smiley home in a cab, and poor Mrs. Moulder sat by her lord till he roused himself from his sleep. Let us hope that her troubles with him were as little vexatious as possible; and console ourselves with the reflection that at twelve o’clock the next morning, after the second bottle of soda and brandy, he was ‘as sweet as sweet.’
Our third Orley Farm Cocktail Talk revisits a character introduced in Part II (for more on the overall book, see Part I, and for more Trollopean fun, see all past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks), traveling salesman for Hubbles and Grease, Mr. Moulder. In this quote, we find our rotund commercial traveler at home for Christmas celebrations, where he and his missus are hosting a few others for a big feast, and where Mr. Moulder is talking of the liquid possibilities for the day, specifically brandy and a special whiskey,
And then, as for drink, —”tipple,” as Mr. Moulder sportively was accustomed to name it among his friends, he opined that he was not altogether behind the mark in that respect. “He had got some brandy—he didn’t care what anybody might say about Cognac and eau de vie; but the brandy which he had got from Betts’ private establishment seventeen years ago, for richness of flavour and fullness of strength, would beat any French article that anybody in the city could show. That at least was his idea. If anybody didn’t like it, they needn’t take it. There was whisky that would make your hair stand on end.” So said Mr. Moulder, and I can believe him; for it has made my hair stand on end merely to see other people drinking it.
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