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.”
A second Cocktail Talk from the Oxford Book of Ghost Stories (see “The Empty House” Cocktail Talk for a bit more background there), here from a story called “The Taipan,” by the legendary W. Somerset Maugham. An author who has many books I’ve liked, by the by, though this story wasn’t the strongest in the book by a ways, and might not even be a ghost story. Folks can quibble about that. What you can’t quibble about is that the main character can put down a lot, a whole lot, of booze with lunch. I had to include the below, just cause I was so impressed with his ability to walk after the liquid consumed below.
But he smiled, for he felt in an excellent humour. He was walking back to his office from a capital luncheon at the Hong-Kong and Shanghai Bank. They did you very well there. The food was first-rate and there was plenty of liquor. He had started with a couple of cocktails, then he had some excellent Sauterne, and he had finished up with two glasses of port and some fine old brandy. He felt good. And when he left he did a thing that was rare with him; he walked.
I’ve been reading some classic-y ghost stories recently (though spring doesn’t seem the season, my fairly-recent-in-the-scheme-of-things love for M. R. James has driven it) especially those written by English writers – meaning, from England, not writing in English. Not that I haven’t read a few U.S. writers of yore, too (especially Manly Wade Wellman, who is not always, but often, groovy), but leaning British. A lean which led me to picking up the Oxford Book of Ghost Stories. Not a bad collection, in the whole. A few stories that weren’t to my thought ghost stories at all, and a few stories not to my taste, but anthologies are tricky things to put together! Anywho, one of the stories read was “The Empty House,” by Algernon Blackwood, who did all kinds of things, though perhaps is known more for his ghost stories than anything else, today at least. And this was a good story, perhaps one of his best known so I won’t prattle on about it, except to say that the below Cocktail Talk contains a phrase I was – and remain – instantly fond of, “stiff enough to help anybody over anything.” Sometimes, ghosts or not, that’s exactly what’s needed.
He took the brandy flask and poured out a glass of neat spirit, stiff enough to help anybody over anything. She swallowed it with a little shiver. His only idea now was to get out of the house before her collapse became inevitable.
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.
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