October 25, 2022
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Magdalen Nabb, too long, it seems, as I’d forgotten how enjoyable they are. But, I was recently in Florence, where her (detective and mystery-y books, not the kids books as far as I know) books take place in the main, and felt I should revisit one of them in honor of the Florence revisit. Did that make sense? Blame the jet lag if not! Anyway, I went with Death of the Englishman, the first of her Florentine mysteries, featuring Marshal Guarnaccia (along with other reoccurring characters, some of whom get more time than he in some books. It’s neat, and incredibly well-done, how she balances out the various narratives. Very skilled without being showy). There’s a murder and a mystery and some thieves, too, all goods stuff, but the best stuff is the detailed look at Florence, the streets, the smells, the food, the sights, and especially the people and the routines and experiences they go through. If you love Florence, Italy, or mysteries well-written that transport you, then you should be in on these. Especially if you also like wine, grappa, or vin santo (like me).
“Well, try and get some rest, anyway, and drink plenty of fluids.” Both of them noticed at the same time the almost empty whiskey bottle standing by the parchment lamp. “Not that stuff.”
“I’ve never tasted it.” The Marshal drank half a litre of red every day with his evening meal, never more nor less, and a drop of vin santo on Sundays.
“And no wine, either, while you’re on this.” The professor was reading the Marshal’s mind as he wrote.
–Magdalen Nabb, Death of an Englishman
April 17, 2020
If you didn’t know (and hey, why would you, unless you’re stalking me – you aren’t are you? Cause I’m really boring and feel for you if so), I recently, due to current events you know about, had an Italian vacation cut short by coronavirus. Said cutting short involved some radically fast packing (I mean, I’m a good suitcase arranger usually, but this was a mad dash), and that means quick choices about what to bring back, what you can fit, all that. One of the things I did bring back was a little bottle of Mazzetti Bitter, a deep red flavorfully-bitter aperitif with hints of rhubarb and lemon from the well-known grappa makers. Just like a week before the packing I purchased said bottle at my favorite north-Umbrian shop, Enoteca Lo Sfizio, which is a combination beautiful booze store, gift store, wine store, condiment-y store. It’s not huge (which is great cause huge stores scare me), but dreamy. So, ingredient one packed. One of the few other bottles I managed to squirrel away in said suitcases was a lean bottle of Donini Grappa (Donini being the finest winery in probably all of Umbria, owned by the nicest folks around), a monovitigno (one varietal that is, here being Sangiovese) grappa, very crisp and fragrant, that doesn’t forget that cozy grappa kick. Ingredient two packed. For ingredient three, I had to go out of suitcase – cause a rushed packing job sometimes has gaps. Luckily, on a past trip to Italy, I had packed in a smoother manner, cool-like, and managed to fit a bottle of Donini’s delicious Dono Di Dio, a vino liquoroso, or aged dessert wine that’s rich, lush, and needs to be tasted to be believed. If you’ve been Tuscany and had Vin Santo at a restaurant, think of that but like 10,000 times better. Yummy stuff. While I was sad to leave the Italian vacation, due to the wackiness of the travel (and cause once a trip is started, it’s always nice to be coming home), I was also very happy to make it back to Seattle. Which leads to: ingredient four in this here drink, Scrappy’s Seville Orange bitters. If your dream vacation is cut short unexpectedly by a world pandemic, a drink featuring the always-spot-on Scrappy’s and some ingredients reminding you of the vacation, well, it’s not going to get you over the experience, but sure makes thinking about it easier.
Forty Minutes Ago on the Balcony
1 ounce Mazzetti Bitter
1-1/2 ounces Donini Grappa
1/2 ounce Donini Dono Di Dio
Two dashes Scrappy’s Seville Orange bitters
Orange slice, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass three-quarters full with cracked ice. Add everything but the orange. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass or something that helps your day travel easier. Garnish with the orange.
September 1, 2017
I recently was lucky enough to have a day where I could make the claim to luckiest person around (admittedly, I haven’t checked with every single person worldwide to test this particular proclamation, but hey, I still believe). On that day I was able to share the stage with my pal, genius novelist Andrew Sean Greer, and talk to him about his latest book LESS, while making him a few cocktails. LESS, if you don’t know, is the book of 2017, gaining raves from near and far – with people like Christopher Buckley saying in the NY Times, “Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is excellent company. It’s no less than bedazzling, bewitching and be-wonderful.” And they’re all well-deserved, because the book is charming, creative, funny, touching, and detailed in locations around the world with so much pizzazz that it’s a wonder Andy isn’t being hired by every city to write about their city. If that makes sense! Buy it now! Anyway, I’m rambling, as one does about great books, but to get back to the booze, for said lucky-day-for-A.J. I made up two drinks for Andy and I to sip while talking, naming both after characters in LESS. This first is named after the Italian translator of Less’ (oh, Arthur Less is the main character in the book, a novelist) latest book, and in honor of her and the Italian section of the book, contains all Italian ingredients.
The Translation of Giuliana Monti
1-1/2 ounces Purus organic Italian vodka
1 ounce Donini Dono di Dio aged vin santo
3/4 ounce Campari
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full of cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist. Drink while reading LESS.
A Note: Donini Dono di Dio aged vin santo (vin santo being the “holy wine” of Italy, a lush dessert wine) is made by the fine folks at Donini winery, one of the finest in the universe, located in Verna, Italy, in my favorite area of Italy. If you can’t get it, I feel it’s time for you to take a vacation. Or, sub in another vin santo.