De-simplifying tomatoes

You kind of knew what you were letting yourself in for in February when you started all those tomato plants.

You knew you were supposed to get Darwinian by May and cull the weaker plants, but you let yourself get attached, and yes, in retrospect, it was probably a bad idea to let the kids name them, so instead of planting the five strongest tomatoes, you got guilty about killing off Trixie and Leon, and planted all of them.

And as the summer went by, you’d invested so much into each of the plants that you fell into a sunk-cost fallacy situation and you didn’t want all that work and worry to be for nothing, so here it is September, and the upshot of all this is that you are up to your eyebrows in tomatoes.

If you really wanted a simple solution to the Tomato Situation, you’d make a lot of bloody marys. They’re simple, elegant, you know you like them, and you can make them in bulk.

So clearly, simplicity is not what you’re after.

Let’s redefine what you’re really looking for: some sort of cocktail that is new and interesting. It has to use up some of these tomatoes, yes, but it also needs to be something that you can kick back with on the deck, day-drinking, but not feeling like you’re day-drinking. Remember, if you really wanted something simple you’d be bloody mary-ing it up, so realistically, you’re willing to put up with a bit of a project and some complications.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered.

A tomato spritzer.

Yes, I know; it doesn’t sound that promising. I think you’ll be pleased with it, though. The good news is that each step gets easier.

Step 1 – Making cucumber-infused gin

Ingredients:

Cucumbers

Gin

Wash and weigh your cucumbers.

Place an equal amount, by weight, of cucumbers and gin in your blender. Don’t bother to peel the cucumbers.

Blend them on your lowest speed for a minute or two, until everything is chopped up and it looks like hot dog relish. You aren’t looking to puree it, just chop it up finely enough for the cucumbers to have a lot of surface area to interact with the gin.

Pour this slurry into a wide-mouthed jar and store it somewhere cool and dark for a week, shaking it once or twice per day. I like the laundry room in our basement, because I find myself there a couple of times per day and I can shake the jar and ask, “How ya doin’, buddy?”

After a week, strain and bottle the gin. If you’d like a very clear gin, you can run it through a coffee filter.

Step 2 – Tomato shrub

Ingredients:

128 g. roughly chopped cherry tomatoes

125 g. sugar

3½ ounces white wine vinegar

¾ ounce raspberry vinegar

1½ ounces dry vermouth

1½ ounces sweet vermouth

Over low heat, simmer the tomatoes, sugar and vinegars until the sugar is dissolved and the tomatoes have softened, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Blend with a regular blender or an immersion blender.

Add the vermouths, and chill the mixture.

Strain and jar the mixture.

Step 3 – Juicing your tomatoes

Wash as many tomatoes as you want to get rid of use up.

Cut out the stem and any suspicious-looking cracks or welts. (It should be pointed out here that the objectively uglier the tomato, the juicier it is likely to be. Just sayin’.)

Throw the tomatoes into the blender. Actually throw them, if it makes you feel better.

Blitz them at any speed you like. You’ll get more juice out of them if you really go to town, but if you use a lower speed, your final juice won’t be as thick.

Strain your tomato glop.

The glop will turn into beautiful juice.

The actual cocktail – Tomato Spritzer

Ingredients:

1 ounce cucumber gin

2 ounce dry vermouth

1½ ounces fresh tomato juice

½ ounce tomato shrub

2 ounces cold prosecco

2 ounces cold, extra bubbly club soda — I like Topo Chico

Stir all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass.

Pour into tall glasses.

This cocktail has a surprising complexity. A lot of spritzers have a watered-down sweetness to them. This one is very light, but it has a savoriness that will make you raise an eyebrow as you drink it. The key to it is the cucumber gin; the background flavor of cucumbers highlights the tomato/vinegar acidity. This drink starts out a delicate pink color but after a few minutes will separate into two layers, with the tomato layer rising to the top. It is complex and a little hard to wrap your head around, and very nice to spend time with.

Much like you.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Espresso martini

Editor’s note: Sometimes the essence of a drink can be summed up in short story. ‘Tis thus with this week’s cocktail.

Elizabeth closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, before opening them again and walking to the bar.

Friggin’ Sheila O’Brien

Elizabeth had spent the better part of a week making arrangements to get one evening to herself, to spend a couple of hours alone, drinking a glass of wine and reading. She’d grabbed a book from the middle of the pile on her nightstand. She’d even remembered an umbrella.

And then Sheila had been standing by the door inside the bar.

They’d gone to high school together; Sheila had always been able to smile and cut Elizabeth down with a sentence, to crush her effortlessly. From how easily she’d done it again tonight, it was almost like she’d been practicing.

But, Elizabeth thought as she settled herself at the bar, that was over for the moment. She caught the bartender’s eye. Raven, was that her name?

She started to order a glass of the house white, but Raven was a step ahead of her and deposited an espresso martini in front of her. This is absolutely not what Elizabeth would have remotely considered ordering, but it did look good…

It was dark and deep, and skull-shrinkingly cold. The coffee was rich and a little bitter, but there was a sweetness in the background that rounded it out.

Elizabeth looked up at Raven and started to speak, to thank her for reading her situation so well, but the bartender beat her to the punch.

“You have kind eyes, but I wouldn’t mess with you.” Then she walked away.

This was not what Elizabeth was expecting, but the more she thought about it, and the more of her martini she drank, the more she liked the sound of it.

She almost hoped Sheila was still by the door when she left.

Espresso martini

Ingredients:

2 ounces coffee-infused vodka (see below). Could you make this with regular, run-of-the-mill vodka? Yes, of course, but it wouldn’t contribute to the depth of the overall flavor. Using the infused vodka will deepen the finished drink.

½ ounce Kahlua

½ ounce simple syrup

1 ounce cold-brew coffee concentrate

Combine all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir gently but thoroughly with a bar spoon.

Strain into a chilled martini glass.

If you are drinking this at a bar, make direct eye contact with yourself in the mirror.

There is a lot of reverse nostalgic snobbery associated with an espresso martini. It is often too sweet, or creamy, and it doesn’t tend to get a lot of respect. Made very strong, very black, and only a tiny bit sweet, it is a force to be reckoned with.

Speaking of snobbery — there are a lot of cocktail purists who, given the opportunity, will lecture you at great length about how you should never shake a martini. It “bruises the gin” apparently. It is incredibly galling to admit that they are right. This drink will taste noticeably different if it is made in a cocktail shaker than if it is stirred. It’s got something to do with science. It’s worth the extra minute or so to mix this gently.

Coffee-infused vodka

Ingredients

10 grams whole French-roast coffee beans

6 ounces 80-proof vodka, probably not your best vodka, but not the bottom-shelf stuff, either

Using a mortar and pestle, or cereal bowl and the bottom of a drinking glass, crush the coffee beans. You’re not trying to grind them into a powder, but break them up quite a bit.

Combine the vodka and crushed coffee beans in a small jar. Shake them together, then store somewhere cool and dark for 24 hours, shaking periodically.

Strain and label the coffee vodka.

Featured photo: Espresso martini. Photo by John Fladd.

A drink for your imaginary yacht

I understand that you’ve got a lot going on right now — a pandemic, work headaches, psychotic squirrels terrorizing your birdfeeder, etc. So it’s understandable if you’ve lost track of things and forgotten that it is Yachting Season. We’ve only got so much emotional bandwidth, and some things drop through the cracks.

Fortunately, Esquire has your back. Or at least they did in 1969.

The Esquire Drink Book from that year strikes a very particular tone. Hidden amongst the recipes for Brandy Daiseys, Black Roses and racially-insensitively-named drinks that were probably pretty good but have been ruined for us now are the cryptic instructions for an innocuous-sounding cocktail called the Connecticut Bullfrog:

“This cocktail must never be served on shore but always on a boat, provided that the boat is not over 45 feet long, and the owner is the skipper (no hired hand). The ingredients are awful but the result does have something. Here they are and you must have them on board:

4 parts gin

1 part New England rum

1 part lemon juice

1 part maple syrup

Shake these ingredients together until your arms ache. Then have someone else do the same thing with about 10 times the usual amount of ice.”

Esquire Drink Book, Frederic A. Birmingham, 1969, E.P. Dutton & Co., p. 216.

Having all these ingredients on hand, and being emotionally and intellectually at sea, I felt the need to field test the Bullfrog. I am the sole owner of my entirely imaginary yacht — which, being imaginary, is infinitely less than 45 feet long.

Not surprisingly, the Bullfrog was problematic from the get-go. I filled the large half of my cocktail shaker with ice — about 11 ounces — and added the seven ounces of liquid ingredients, at which point the smaller half of the shaker would no longer contain all the components.

(This cocktail deserves a poster: “The Connecticut Bullfrog cannot be contained.”)

So, I switched — as you will have to, if you decide to dance with the Bullfrog — to a large, one-quart jar.

I told my digital assistant to start a stopwatch, and started shaking.

The jar got uncomfortably cold very quickly — cold, as in frosty enough to bond my hands to the glass. Once I was able to pry them loose, this was solved by wrapping the jar in a tea towel.

The next problem was an unexpected one. I was pretty sure that my arms would start aching fairly quickly. I am not terribly fit in a general sense, but a regular regimen of martial arts and cocktail shaking have apparently toned me in unexpected ways. I lasted nine minutes. I know this because I asked my digital assistant how long I’d been shaking this jar.

“Over an extended period, possibly;” she told me, “then again, maybe not.” This sounds philosophically important, but was not as useful in a practical sense as I was looking for in the moment.

It took another full minute of shaking to stumble on an acceptably worded command to find out how long this exercise had been going on.

As instructed, I handed the jar off to my teenager in the next room, who lasted two minutes, five seconds before losing interest and handing it back to me.

At this point, a reasonable shaker (in a cocktail sense; I’m reasonably sure a Shaker, as in the 19th-century furniture-making religious community, would not have found themselves in this situation) could be forgiven for thinking that this project’s glitches were more or less over. Unfortunately, physics had other plans.

Air — particularly moist air — expands when it is heated and shrinks when it cools. Home canners use this fact to hermetically seal jars of compote and … stuff. Apparently, the same effect occurs when you shake an icy alcohol solution in a wide-mouthed jar for 11 minutes. It took a rubber jar-gripper and a lot of swearing to open the Bullfrog jar.

Pouring the contents into a tall glass was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy in contrast.

So, is the Connecticut Bullfrog worth all the effort? Is it actually any good?

Almost disappointingly: yeah, it is. I really wanted to sneer at a cocktail designed to be drunk by investment analysts named Scooter and Bunny, but this is one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve had in a long time. The combination of gin and dark rum — I went with Myers’s — gives an almost whiskey-like background flavor, which plays well with the acid of the lemon juice. There isn’t enough maple syrup to make this too sweet, but enough that there is some body and depth.

I do feel that more experimentation is called for — specifically, subbing out juice and syrup for other, less 1 percent-y ingredients –— and, as a friend observed to me, given the sheer amount of shaking required by this recipe, the drink really ought to be called the Kinetic Bullfrog.

Featured photo: Connecticut Bullfrog. Photo by John Fladd.

The Firecracker

I deeply distrust economics.

Yes, I acknowledge that economics provides some convenient answers, but I don’t really trust it. It’s like the character in a movie — always shot with shadowy lighting — who supplies the hero with important information. Everything seems on the up-and-up, but something about the whole exchange makes you realize that she really isn’t on the hero’s side. When things fall apart badly in the third act, you nod your head and tell your eye-rolling date, “Yup, thought so.”

Economics pretends to explain a great deal about human nature, but once you make peace with the concept that money is imaginary and economics is arbitrary, everything sort of falls apart.

“Why is such-and-such worth so much money?”

Because that’s what people agree it’s worth.

“Janitors and farm workers do work way more important than CEOs; why don’t we pay them more?”

Because we don’t want to.

Totally. Arbitrary.

And yet — OK, have you ever made an impulsive purchase or invested a lot of time and money in something that ultimately hasn’t worked out? Hobby supplies or a disappointing vacation or a boyfriend — that you kept around or stuck with long after they ceased to be rewarding?

You or I might call that Poor Judgment, but economists have a name for it (because of course they do): the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The idea is that we don’t want to “waste” all the money and heartache that we’ve put into something unproductive, which makes sense on an emotional level but isn’t actually terribly logical. That money and effort are gone, no matter how you feel about it. Investing more time in Bradley or shelf space on scrapbooking materials doesn’t make much sense if they aren’t going to fulfill you.

Which brings us to triple sec.

It is a sweet, low-octane, vaguely citrusy liquor that 99 percent of us have around because of that time we were going to make a pitcher of margaritas, but we forgot to buy limes, and then we had a series of hard weeks at work and ended up drinking all the tequila one slug at a time, directly from the bottle, in lieu of sending ill-advised texts.

Anyway, an economist would tell us to throw away the triple sec; it’s just taking up shelf space. Marie Kondo would ask you if it was bringing you joy, which — let’s face it — it isn’t at the moment. It’s really hard to envision a scenario where you are lying on a polar bear rug in front of a fire and purring, “Hey baby, let’s drink some triple sec.”

Let’s give Marie — and the polar bear — a break, and stare the economist in the eye and let him know that yes, in point of fact, we are using that triple sec.

The Firecracker

3 1-inch cubes (~45 grams) of fresh watermelon
1½ ounces golden rum
1 ounce triple sec
½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Muddle the watermelon thoroughly in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. It will surprise you how easily it dissolves, like it’s been waiting for an excuse to completely fall apart. Better it than you.
Add ice and the other ingredients. Shake until very cold.
Strain into a coupé glass.

Drink several of these while watching Wall Street Week in Review and shouting “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” at the TV.

Surprisingly, it is the watermelon that takes a back seat in this cocktail, providing color and a vague fruitiness. The rum is great — rum is everybody’s friend — but is there mostly to bridge the different varieties of sweetness. The stars of the drink are — again, unexpectedly — the triple sec and cayenne. Citrusy sweetness and in-your-face spiciness don’t seem like they would work together, but they do. That’s yet another mystery that economics can’t solve.

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

Rose N. Hibiscus

All flowers supposedly carry symbolic meanings, but some are more emotionally fraught than others.

When I was a child, my mother told me that our elderly neighbor was sick and that we should probably send her some flowers.

Me: “How about lilies? Those are pretty.”

Mom: “Honey, those represent Death.”

Me: “So, no?”

Even if you don’t buy into the whole symbolism of flowers thing, it still permeates our culture. If you showed up for a blind date and they brought you a dozen long-stemmed red roses, you’d start looking for escape routes.

My dad is a carnation man. Growing up, anybody, any occasion, I could pretty much expect him to give a bunch of red and white carnations. They lasted forever, smelled good and didn’t carry too many expectations. Me — I’m an alstroemeria guy. They are pretty, don’t make anybody nervous and are pretty much bullet-proof; stick them in some water, and they’ll outlast the sour cream in your refrigerator. The downside is that they don’t have much of a smell.

Why flowers smell so good is a bit of a mystery. I mean, we know why they smell good — to attract bees, hummingbirds and chorus girls — but nobody has ever been able to figure out how to breed reliably fragrant roses, for instance. The intersection of botany and human chemoreceptors is a complicated and mysterious dance.

Nowhere more so than in a cocktail.

Scientists estimate that somewhere around 80 percent of everything we eat is actually based on what it smells like. If you’re holding a shmancy party and want to serve a cheese board, experts will tell you to take the cheese out of the fridge an hour or so before you actually want to serve it, so that the volatile chemicals in the cheese loosen up and become easier to smell, and thus, taste. This is one of the reasons why so many cocktail recipes call for you to chill a cocktail so thoroughly — as your drink warms up, the flavor will evolve as the esters float up into the back of your palate.

That gets tricky, though, when you are basing your cocktail on floral smells. Rose water or lavender pull you into a dangerous standoff — too little, and your drink won’t taste like much of anything. One drop too much, and you’re dealing with the little decorative soaps in your grandmother’s bathroom.

This drink depends on that. Your first sip or two should be extremely cold. The taste should be crisp and a little gin-forward. As it warms up — and, not for nothin’ that’s why glasses have stems; to slow down the warming process — it will start to smell more perfumy and floral. The taste will match the color; it will start to taste pink.

Rose N. Hibiscus

2 ounces gin (For this, I used Collective Arts Rhubarb and Hibiscus Gin, which a friend who distributes gin in New Hampshire gave me, because it is gently hibiscus-y, but pretty much any gin will work, though it will add its own stamp onto the finished drink.)
1 ounce hibiscus syrup (see below)
1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 oz. amaretto
5 drops rose water

Combine all ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until very cold.
Strain into a martini glass.

Why this strange combination works so well:

The botanical backnotes in the gin play well with the rose water. Roses play well with almonds — in this case, the amaretto. Almonds and lemons go together extremely well. Lemon, in its turn, is a classic pairing with gin. The hibiscus makes it pink. If you like your drink a little crisper, pour small amounts of it into your glass at a time, and drink it extremely cold. If you want a little more of the flowers, pour it all in one go and let the perfume develop as you drink it.

Much like carnations and alstroemeria, this is delicious to share with somebody without making anything weird between you. All it says is, “I like spending time with you.”

Hibiscus Syrup

5 ounces water
5 ounces sugar
1/3 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce dried hibiscus blossoms

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring often.
Let the simple syrup boil for 10 to 15 seconds to make certain the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and hibiscus blossoms.
Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
Strain and bottle. Keep indefinitely in your refrigerator.

A Market in Manchester carries dried hibiscus and they can also be found online. Rose water is available in most supermarkets and can usually be found in the international foods aisle.

Featured photo: Rose N. Hibiscus. Photo by John Fladd.

Cucumber gimlet

My grandparents were civilized people. One of my favorite memories of them is their rigorous observance of Cocktail Hour.

Every evening, when Opa got home from work, he would change clothes, then he and my Oma would sit down for a cocktail. This was not precisely a formal ritual, but it was one thoroughly saturated with respect. For an hour or so, they would sit together without distractions and focus on each other. Opa would slip in some form of compliment for my grandmother — her name was Grace, but he called her “Dolly” — and at some point, he would usually lean back, sigh with contentment and wonder out loud, “what the poor people” were up to that night.

For me, the classiest part of the whole ceremony — because, really, that’s what this was — was that they always had a small bowl of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish with their cocktails.

I remember once asking my grandmother if I could have a sip of her cocktail. Amused, she let me have one. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted up to that point in my life (I was about 8).

“What IS that?!” I asked, overcome with feelings of betrayal and disgust.

“It’s a gimlet,” she told me serenely, and it was seared into my memory. She let me have a handful of goldfish to clear my palate, and those are there, too.

I wish I had a profound lesson to tie this story to — other than the fact that Oma and Opa have both been gone for about 40 years, and I still miss them achingly.

Anyway, here is a recipe for a take on a classic summer gimlet, with cucumber.

Cucumber Gimlet

45 grams (3 thick slices) cucumber

1/2 ounce cucumber syrup (see below)

2 ounces gin (I’m using Wiggly Bridge this week, given to me by a friend who distributes it in New Hampshire.)

3/4 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed (see below)

1. Muddle the cucumber and cucumber syrup aggressively in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Be careful not to splash yourself.

2. Add the ice, gin and lime juice. If you have a choice, go with the lime that has been sitting around your kitchen for a week or so and is looking a little tired. If you think you can see his ribs showing, he’s the one you want. His juice will taste extra-limey.

3. Shake until the condensation on the side of the shaker starts to freeze.

4. Strain into a coupé glass.

5. Drink this while giving someone your undivided attention.

Gin and lime are a classic combination. The cucumber makes this drink more summery and refreshing. It provides a framework to hang the crispness of the gin and the fruitiness of the lime.

Is there a way to make this even more cucumbery?

Yes — I would shred half of an unpeeled cucumber with a box grater, and use it to infuse an equal amount of gin for a week or so. (I say I “would”; in point of fact, I am infusing a batch of it right now, but it’s hot out and I’m feeling nostalgic. I’d like a gimlet right now, please.)

Cucumber simple syrup

I tried and compared several different methods for making this syrup. I’ll spare you the details of my testing protocols, but here is the least fiddly method that gave me the sharpest cucumber flavor:

1. Wash an English cucumber, then roughly dice it, with the skin still on. Freeze it for an hour or two; ice crystals will help break down the cell walls and persuade the cucumber to give up its juice more generously.

2. Combine the frozen cucumber and an equal amount (by weight) of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring regularly.

3. Remove from heat, then mash the cucumber pieces with a potato masher. Don’t be gentle.

4. Cover the pot and let the cucumber steep for half an hour.

5. Strain with a fine-meshed strainer, and use a funnel to bottle it.

Featured photo: Cucumber gimlet (with accompaniments). Photo by John Fladd.

Grouse

As I left the house for my weekly outing to the flea market, the nightingale-like voice of my wife called out after me.

“Don’t buy anything stupid!”

This advice seemed misguided to me for two reasons: (1) buying something stupid is the whole point of a flea market, and (2) after 19 years of marriage, the idea that I could refrain from that kind of stupidity is optimistic to the point of fantasy.

To my credit, I kept a cool head for the first 20 minutes or so of browsing. But then I found this beauty — a tapered glass decorated with a grouse. You can tell, because it is labeled as such: “Grouse.”

In much the same way as some people talk about making eye contact with a puppy at an animal shelter and instantly bonding, the Grouse Glass and I shared an instant emotional intimacy. It fluttered its way into my heart.

Which is how Grouse Glass came home with me. Now, at this point, you are probably expecting a rambling story about my spirited defense of Grouse Glass to my wife, or a pun on the fact that “grouse” rhymes with “spouse,” but you will be disappointed, because I snuck it into the house when she was busy and hid it in with the other glassware in our dining room. Now, Grouse Glass is mine and I am its and a practical matter needs to be sorted — to wit, what to drink from it.

A brief internet search for grouse-themed cocktails was unexpectedly successful. As it turns out, there are a number of whiskeys named after grouse — Famous Grouse, Naked Grouse, etc. — largely connected to the image of tweedy aristocrats shooting them. In consequence, there have been a number of cocktails named after them.

I took a recipe that was weird as snake sneakers to begin with and started playing with it. I ended up with something that is solidly good but that no self-respecting grouse would have anything to do with.

Grouse With No Self-Respect

This is based on a drink called the Dirty Bird. I have made a great number of changes and substitutions. Clearly the Grouse is not the only one lacking in self-respect.

Ingredients:

2 ounces Doritos-infused Irish whiskey (See below. No, really. It will be OK.)

¼ ounces dry sherry — I used amontillado

1/3 ounce fig syrup (see below)

3 dashes (30 drops) cardamom or Angostura bitters

1 dash (10 drops) Tabasco sauce

Mix all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until thoroughly chilled and a little diluted.

Pour everything, including the ice, into a chilled Grouse Glass. If you do not have a grouse glass, a rocks glass will do.

Garnish and serve on a plate with Fig Newtons.

OK, you’re going to have to have a little faith on this one.

The original recipe called for infusing a grouse-named whiskey with kettle corn. I tried it — and it was fine — but it was understated, and this does not seem to be an understated drink. I got to thinking, “The corn idea is solid, but is there a way of giving it some oomph?” Hence, the Doritos.

Stay with me; we’ll get through this together.

The fig syrup is the secret star here. The whiskey hits your palate first, followed by the — believe it or not — somewhat subtle Doritos flavor, but the fig aftertaste is what makes this drink really interesting. It leads to a second sip, then a third. The bitters keep it from being too sweet, and the Tabasco adds a tiny amount of zing that keeps it from tasting a little flat.

Self-respect is overrated.

Doritos-infused whiskey

Combine one 1-ounce packet of Nacho Cheese Doritos and 6 ounces of Irish whiskey in a small jar.

Seal and store someplace cool and dark for one week, shaking it twice per day.

Strain and bottle it. (Don’t stress about how little whiskey you end up with. You like whiskey; it turns out that Doritos like whiskey. They deserve a little something for the sacrifice they have made.

Fig syrup

Combine two parts fig jam to one part water in a small saucepan over medium heat.

Boil until the jam is as dissolved as possible. Depending on what brand of jam you are using, there may or may not be chunks of fig left, after it is syruped.

Strain and bottle. Don’t worry about any tiny fig seeds — that’s what helps keep this figgy — but actual chunks of figs would probably be off-putting in the final cocktail.

Featured photo: Grouse. Photo by John Fladd.

A drink for young groundlings

With the approach of Midsummer’s Eve, my teenager has some thoughts about what we should be drinking.

Harvest: I’d like to briefly discuss Titania, the fairy queen of William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

She is strong-willed, powerful and, most of all, beautiful. In my opinion Titania is one of the only female characters that Shakespeare paints as equal to their male or masculine counterparts. He made her free-spirited; this is remarkable because women in Shakespeare’s work are often portrayed as subservient and weak. When Oberon, Titania’s jealous lover, decides to make her look like a fool, we see her true self. Titania, having been intoxicated by a mysterious purple flower by Oberon’s servant Robin (Puck), falls in love with a man cursed to have a donkey’s head. Instead of treating Bottom (the aforementioned donkey-man) as less than her, she treats him as her equal, showering him in luxuries and attending to his needs. This in my opinion shows who Titania is and why she is one of the best female characters the bard ever wrote.

This nonalcoholic cocktail is inspired by “Love-In-Idleness,” the purple flower in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There is a mysterious, almost magical change that happens as the ingredients are mixed together.

Love-In-Idleness

Ingredients:
4-6 ice cubes
2 ounces butterfly syrup (see below)
6 ounces cold butterfly tea (see below)
2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
12 drops rose water

In a tall glass, combine the ice, syrup and tea. It will be a beautiful midnight blue.
Add the lemon juice. It will change dramatically to a rich, violet color.
Add the rose water and stir.
Think magical thoughts while you drink this.

Normally, 12 drops of rose water would be about seven drops too many. Rose water is tricky stuff and you are always running the risk of making something taste like soap. In this case — given the backdrop of Midsummer’s Eve — too much is just about right. Making this blue cousin of lemonade extremely floral is what you wanted but didn’t know that you wanted. The sweetness of the butterfly syrup plays off the sharp, acid sourness of the lemon juice well, and you are left with an aftertaste of roses — a little like a mostly forgotten dream.

A father’s notes:

First of all — and let’s get this out of the way immediately — this drink is delicious as is, but would be arguably enhanced by the addition of two ounces of a floral gin, Hendrick’s for example.

Secondly, some observations on butterfly pea blossoms:

Butterfly peas (clitoria ternatea) (Yes, I know. Stop it.), or blue sweet peas, come from Asia and make a beautiful, subtly flavored tea. When exposed to acid, the deep blue color of the tea (and, in this case, the syrup) changes to a rather splendid purple color. The blossoms themselves (which I purchased via Amazon) have a very mild flavor and are really here for their color.

Butterfly tea – Combine 10 grams of dried butterfly pea blossoms with 4 cups of almost but not quite boiling water. (Boil the water, then take it off the heat for a minute, before adding it to the pea blossoms.) Let the blossoms steep for 3½ minutes, then strain and chill the tea.

Following up on the Midsummer Night’s Dream theme, this tea has a very background-flavory character. This is not a Titania or Oberon tea. This is a Philostrate tea — maybe a Background Fairy No. 2 tea. Imagine a jasmine tea, but not as floral; maybe jasmine tea’s personal assistant.

Butterfly syrup – Combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil for another 10 to 15 seconds, to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, then add three grams of dried butterfly pea blossoms and let them steep for half an hour. Strain and bottle. Store in your refrigerator indefinitely.

Featured photo: Before (left) and after (right) the lemon juice is added. Photos by John Fladd.

Steve and the boozy ice cream

My blender died last summer.

I’m not sure what I asked it to do — scramble a couple of eggs, maybe? — but it made a sound like a dying frog, and slowly ground to a halt.

Oddly, I took this as a good omen. I had been dropping 25-pound hints to my wife about how great it would be to have an upscale, professional-grade blender. I’m not 100 percent sure if these thoughtless, insulting references to ambitious blending are what broke my old blender’s will to live, but I feel guilty about it anyway.

But not too guilty — I had that particularly dangerous gleam in my eyes that only 16-year-old boys and middle-aged men get. I really, really wanted a new blender, which my wife was fine with.

Until she found out how much it would cost.

At which point she gave me an ice-cold, steel-spined glare that the above-mentioned 16-year-old boys and middle-aged men are extremely familiar with.

A little more research on my part revealed that there is such a thing as reconditioned, high-end, professional blenders, that are slightly cheaper.

This revelation relaxed my wife’s glare by about 12 percent.

I suggested that I could put a little bit of cash aside each week and save up for one of these almost-new über-blenders, and got cautious, provisional permission to move ahead with this plan. Frankly, I’m pretty sure she thought that I didn’t have the attention span to follow through with it and would forget about it eventually.

Except that I found a loophole.

I had been throwing all my spare change in a large jar on my bedroom dresser for the past year or two — by definition saving up money, bit by bit. I made an appointment, then went to our bank to get the change counted.

When I got back, my wife asked, “How’d it go?”

I responded that unfortunately we’d need to go to the post office and get a change-of-address form.

Another confused but cautious look. “And why is that?” she asked.

“Because we’re moving to BLENDER TOWN, BABY!,” I responded, fluttering a handful of cash in her face.

Which is how I got Steve.

Steve is not a patient appliance. Every time I blend something, he urges me to use his highest setting — “C’mon, boss! Let me loose!” I quickly learned that while I could probably use Steve to grind a broomstick into sawdust, that much power isn’t all that useful for many of the things I actually want to blend. He is so powerful that on the highest settings, cavitation from the blades will lead to an air pocket that keeps the food from getting as blended as you’d think.

All of which is more or less beside the point, except to say that your blender — OK, my blender — is your (my) new best friend when you make this week’s recipe: boozy ice cream.

Rum Cheesecake Ice Cream

Put the canister of your blender on a kitchen scale and zero it out.

Add the following ingredients to the blender jar, taring the weight each time:

• 1 block / 8 ounces / 230 grams cream cheese

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 1 cup / 8 fl. ounces / 240 grams sour cream

• ½ cup / 125 ml sugar

• Pinch of salt

• 3 Tablespoons / 1½ ounces dark rum – I like Myers’

Blend. (At this point Steve chuckled evilly, and I indulged him. I turned the dial up to 8. Steve had a Very Good Afternoon.)

Put the blender jar in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.

Blend again, briefly, then pour into your ice cream maker and turn it into ice cream.

Harden in your freezer.

So, here’s the thing about using alcohol in ice cream:

Sugar and alcohol have very important roles in ice cream, apart from tasting good. They affect the freezing/melting point and texture of the finished product in extremely weird ways. You are extremely limited in how much you can or cannot use. Do not try adding more rum to this recipe. Don’t try to find a loophole (yes, I’m aware of the irony here) and use a higher-proof rum – the amount of alcohol will seriously mess up your texture, and possibly your ability to make ice cream at all. Even the fairly modest amount of rum in this recipe dramatically altered my ice cream maker’s ability to freeze it. Normally it takes me about 20 minutes to freeze a batch of ice cream. This took close to an hour. (Steve did not help the situation by shouting disrespectful comments to the ice cream maker, across the kitchen, implying that if it was better at its job, it would have a name.)

This cheesecake ice cream is really delicious — it tastes spot-on like actual cheesecake — but the rum is definitely a subtle, background flavor.

That’s where the topping comes in.

A Possibly Misguidedly Boozy Blueberry Topping

Ingredients:

• 2 cups frozen wild blueberries

• 1/2 cup water

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 Tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

• 2 Tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 2 Tablespoons cold water

• 8 Tablespoons / 4 ounces Golden Rum

• Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon), optional

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, stir the blueberries, water, sugar and lemon juice, until it comes to a gentle boil. Let it boil for another 10-15 seconds, to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved.

Stir in the cornstarch/water slurry, and keep stirring, until the mixture thickens noticeably – about three minutes.

Remove from heat, then add the rum and lemon zest. Let the mixture cool slightly before topping your ice cream.

Blueberries and lemon go together extremely well. This is a fantastic topping. Yes, you can make it without the rum for the kids – sub in a tablespoon of vanilla for the alcohol – but this is a really, really good Thursday night, bracing-yourself-for-one more-day, grownup sundae. The rum is deceptive. You’ll taste a spoonful by itself – this is inevitable – and say, “Yup, that’s a good sauce,” then go to put the spoon in the sink, only to be stopped in your tracks by a hands-on-hips, steely glared reaction from the sauce.

“Good? That’s what you have to say? Good?”

The ice cream maker might not have a name, but I call this sauce Frida.

Featured photo: Boozy ice cream. Photo by John Fladd.

Little Pink Houses

I have a theory that the greater the classic rock anthem, the less objective sense it makes.

Remember in seventh or eighth grade? That school dance? It was probably the third or fourth one that you had gone to, but this was the first time you were brave enough to dance with someone. And, of course, you waited until the very last song, which was — obviously — “Stairway to Heaven.”

It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. Or whether you were a boy or a girl at the time. Even if you haven’t thought about that moment in years, it is etched in your memory. As are a series of questions you had at the time:

Geez, how long is this song? (Just over eight minutes.)

Is there something special I’m supposed to do with my feet? (No. You’re 13. Just stay upright.)

Can this person see how much I’m sweating? (Yes.)

What’s with this weird bit at the end, where the music goes from slow, to fast, then back to slow, just long enough to make dancing incredibly awkward? (Art.)

And most importantly:

What does that whole line about a bustle in your hedgerow and the May Queen mean? (Nobody knows.)

Great song.

No objective sense, whatsoever.

While this isn’t universal, I refer you to the entire catalog of Paul Simon — or for that matter, Toto.

All of which is pretty irrelevant, except to say that this week, when I saw a little pink house, it seemed important to memorialize it. And my faded youth.

Little Pink Houses

100 grams strawberries — fresh are good, but frozen might be even better; they break down better in a drink.

4 grinds black pepper

2 ounces gin

5 to 6 ice cubes

¼ ounce white balsamic vinegar — regular balsamic will work too, but your drink will end up looking a lot like root beer.

1 ounce strawberry syrup or 2 Tablespoons strawberry jam

~3 ounces plain seltzer

Muddle the strawberries and pepper in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. If you are using frozen strawberries, you might want to let them thaw slightly first.

Add gin, stir, then walk away for five minutes. This will give the gin time to extract some of the flavors from the berries and pepper.

Add ice, vinegar and syrup/jam.

Shake thoroughly.

Pour, unstrained, into a tall glass.

Top with seltzer, and stir gently.

Garnish with songs from your playlist that will drive your children from the house.

This is a refreshing, spring-like drink. It’s not too sweet, and the notes of black pepper and balsamic vinegar keep it from tasting domesticated. It’s an outstanding Zoom meeting book club drink, but also excellent for sitting on the porch and watching the bird bath. As John (still “Cougar” then) Mellencamp would say:

Aw, but ain’t that America for you and me

Ain’t that America, somethin’ to see, baby

Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah

Little pink houses for you and me

Oh yeah, for you and me, oh

Great song. No objective sense.

Featured photo: Little Pink Houses. Photo by John Fladd.

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