The Fifty-Fifty Martini

Fifty Fifty

Hi there. I don't know why the otherwise lovely pic above insists on orienting itself sideways. But let's just accept it as some sort of metaphor for the randomness, the precariousness with which life can come at a person, the balancing act we all agree to execute every time our feet hit the bedroom floorboards. It's still a proper cocktail, goddamn, and after all this time I've been away, that's all my thirst cares about.

So, there is a little bit of news to share on my end, a couple new developments in my life since last we spoke so very long ago. (Months! Practically a year! Are months the new year? Is that a trend I missed since going underground? On a related topic, wtf is a Harlem shake?)

I have a baby now.

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People, life was filled with perfectly great reasons to libate before I had the kid. Now there is but one reason to seek out solace in a cocktail glass, and it is this awesome, animated mound of delight, terror, havoc, charm and chaos. She is a writhing, smiling, life-sucking raison d'inebriate.

Unfortunately, that life-sucking part ain't no joke. I want need crave a cocktail at day's end, and the choice of a cocktail, singular, as opposed to many cocktails (that would necessitate an entire cocktail rack (that's a Wayne's World reference)) also ain't no joke, because one cocktail at a time is all I can handle now. My newly established drinking habits remind me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. To paraphrase: If I go for two, I'm probably gonna have to barf up my lunch, so I'd better make this one count.

Make it special! Make it count! Is my new cocktailing mantra.

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It's not entirely a coincidence, therefore, that the other thing I did on my maternity leave was write a cocktail book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms -- which just so happens to come out To-Day! Check it out on Amazon, why don't 'cha? (Buy "check it out," I mean buy it; proceed to checkout!)

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The book contains about 175 cocktail recipes worthy of both a mother's scant, precious time and a cocktail lover's top-shelf tastes. There are no sippy-cup sangrias or Hi-C highballs, if that's what you're thinking. This book's chockablock with straight-up booze, people.

So, of course, I wanted to share with you one of the book's recipes on this otherwise-un-noteworthy Monday afternoon. The Fifty Fifty Martini is a rather wet martini. In fact, given how martinis are preferred bone-dry nowadays, it's downright drenched. In The Big Book of Martinis for Moms, I recommend it as a commemorative tipple for learning to share the load with your co-parent:

Look up "for better or for worse" in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of a screaming baby in a crib and two new parents staring at one another, dumbstruck. Your little one may have been your singular burden to bear for nine body-battering months, but now she's a shared responsibility, equal parts "yours, mine and ours." And the truth is, your partner is your only true ally in this whole parenting thing. Especially once the fanfare from family and friends dies down, and it's just the three of you left to your own devices, wondering what the heck is supposed to happen next. Here's a hint: Talk it out. Listen and learn. Ask what your partner thinks. Sometimes father really does know best. (Really!)

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Life is harder now, but to quote A League Of Their Own (why am I quoting all the movies I saw on TBS last weekend?!), the hard is what makes it great. The Fifty Fifty Martini is what makes it palatable.

The Fifty Fifty Martini

(As published in The Big Book of Martinis for Moms -- have you bought it yet?)

2 ounces dry gin

2 ounces dry vermouth

Cocktail olives, to garnish

Combine gin and vermouth in an ice-filled mixing glass and stir briskly for about a minute. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Skewer your olives for best presentation and add them to garnish.

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The Alexander the Great

MmmmmMMMMmmmmm nom nom NOM NOM NOM NOM

Now, I have never started a post with such gustatorial, guttural nonsense. So you must realize, people, me reeeeeally likey this cocktail.

And how could I not, as it contains the greatest food known to man: Mint. Chocolate. Chip. Ice. Cream. Zomg. (Mark Bittman would argue it's not a "food" at all. Mark Bittman can suck it.) Srsly, I could live on mint chocolate chip ice cream, in either of its two glorious hues: au naturel white or 50s-sci fi green. It's my ambrosia and my manna rolled into one. It's my manbrosia!

So here's the backstory on the Alexander the Great. I'm still working on my weeks-old reader challenge to come up with cocktails suitable for showcasing -- or at least, for palatably drinking down one's stash of -- ouzo, that tricky and troublesome anise-flavored Greek liqueur that's oh-so-hard to get along with when you're any other possible cocktail ingredient. So far I've done up the Greek Tiger, aka the screwdriver of Greece, and a raspberry mint lemonade concoction that manages to throw enough up against ouzo's bomastic licoriceness to tame it nicely.

But I still wasn't done; one of my teacher's-pet neurons did some extra credit work and fired off a message to me: Do an Alexander! A couple winters ago, I'd rolled out an entire week of Alexander posts, reveling in the creamy decadence of this most aristocratic of dessert cocktails. (I say "aristocratic" because the Brandy Alexander, the most well-known Alexander to date, was invented for a royal wedding in the 1920s.) Another historical triv bit I'd mentioned was that the original Alexander, i.e. the one just known as "an Alexander," was made with gin as its base liquor, followed by the all-Alexanders ingredient template of creme de cacao and cream or ice cream.

When I'd blogged that one, I'd gone with a mint-chip gelato, and when I thought about an ouzo-tinged take on an Alexander, it all just came together. I'd learned from the lemonade cocktail that mint's a good sparring partner for ouzo, which could simply be swapped in for the creme de cacao. Gin, mint and ouzo all have that herbaceous thing going that I always love to play with. The cocktail's called an Alexander, and this one's got Greece's national liqueur in it, and Alexander the Great was Greek!

As one of my 1980s primetime heroes would say, I love it when a plan comes together.

The Alexander the Great

1 1/4 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

3/4 ounces Arak Razzouk*

3/4 ounces Haagen-Dazs Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Fennel seeds or ground nutmeg or sesame seeds, to garnish

Combine gin, arak/ouzo, and ice cream in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Strain into a well-chilled cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish as desired.

Tasting Notes

*For those would have just joined us, arak is basically Lebanon's own anise-flavored liqueur and can be used interchangeably with ouzo in whatever recipe. I happen to have a bottle of arak I'm trying to kill of so that's why I used that.

Which garnish to use? Sesame seeds if you want some salty-sweet action going on in your glass. Ground nutmeg if you'd rather play up the straightforward sweet. Fennel if you like the herbal-green flavor of it all.

A mint sprig is always a nice garnish, too.

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The Dirty Gin Martini with Pickled White Asparagus Spears

The second time I lived in Manhattan, which was for about 30 months, I had an annual ritual (you do the math) of meeting up with m'gays at the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill in the West Village and drinking a big, fat, dirty vodka martini. This ritual was perfect for a number of reasons -- for two, the Knickerbocker is a bona fide throwback of a joint, its prices equally retro -- but I guess the main one was that this was the only time I would ever allow/fancy myself a dirty vodka martini; it had to be with these friends, sitting at this bar, where the bartender, whomever it was on a particular evening, would always serve the cocktails oversized, even saving the little extra in the bottom of the shaker to top off my glass after I'd taken a few sips.

Now, one could argue that there's a lot that's less than perfect about this scenario. All-booze cocktails ought to be stirred, not shaken, lest you "bruise" the liquors (I believe purists are particularly strident in their anti-bruised-booze stance when it comes to gin); you're not supposed to want any diluted-down "extra" besmirching your drink; martinis are passe and dirty-anything is an abomination on par with Red Bull or drinks that approximate birthday cake.

For me, having all these little rules in place about exactly when I'd indulge in a dirty vodka martini somehow made drinking one OK. Like how dieters rationalize their way right into the ice-cream case at PathMark, perhaps, or the way the editors of the Approval Matrix can rhapsodize with equal gushiness about Roc-A-Fella and Evan Ziporyn's electric gamelan music. Look at me, the highbrow gettin' all lowbrow! What naughtiness! I'm gonna go watch Millionaire Matchmaker now even though I claim my favorite show is Downton Abbey! I could not only justify but revel in the dirty martini's briny tang, which I love so much, because I wasn't just ordering a cocktail; I was having a moment. (I must also admit, I don't love the dirty-martini taste enough to want it regularly; once yearly jibed with how often I'd get an guttural, gustatorial hankering for one.)

The PhoBlograpHusband found these white pickled asparagus spears on sale at our Montreal supermarket not long ago. Occasionally we buy groceries here based on how much the packaging makes us laugh, like the time I bought fish sticks because it said on the box, "Now In A Box!" (WTF did they used to come in??!? #thatswhatshesaid), and M'Lord asparagus spears clearly fit that bill ("#foodforthe1percent," I joked online at the time). I think it was Sean who said they and their brine would make a great basis for a dirty martini. As for me? Now that I'm up in Montreal and having a hard time finding where m'newgays at, I thought that was a smashing idea, and perhaps the start of a whole, new ritual.

One more thing, speaking of high-falutin vs. lowdown rituals: I don't care what Rachel Maddow proselytizes, I say eat the garnish. OK, so maybe not if it's got a rind on it, but Especially Yes if it's a big, honking, salty-briny kinda garnish like a nice, long swizzle-skewer of stuffed olives or white pickled asparagus spears, which is half the fun of ordering something like a dirty martini. (I mean, srsly, who doesn't want to be this girl?). Or house-brandied cherries. ALWAYS eat house-brandied cherries.

The Dirty Gin Martini with Pickled White Asparagus Spears

2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

About 1/3 ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

About 1/3 ounce pickled white asparagus brine

Pickled white asparagus spears and fresh dill (optional) to garnish

Combine gin, vermouth and brine in an ice-filled mixing glass and use a bar spoon to mix as fast (yet smoothly) as you can. Strain into a well-chilled martini or cocktail glass. Garnish to your liking with white pickled asparagus spears, and perhaps a sprig of dill as well.

Tasting Notes

Yes, I used to enjoy dirty vodka martinis at Knickerbocker, but I made a gin martini here. Why? Because I wanted to try one (honestly, I've had gin martinis, and I've had dirty vodka martinis, but I don't think I've ever had a dirty gin martini). And because we have no vodka in the house at present. And also I guess a little because I do think it's time for me to grow up a little bit more (she said, as she sipped a dirty gin martini while six months' pregnant.)

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The Stanley Cocktail

This is gonna be one of those babbling brook o'consciousness posts I write from time to time, lending special credence to the word "babbling."

Sean and I made this cocktail a couple weeks ago -- before my Moms swooped into town for a week-long six-day (she'll correct me in an e-mail if I don't do it now) stay. Why don't I cocktail *more* when hosting family? God knows I need it badly-er during such times. Oh, right. I'm up the spout. Good thing that I don't forget that too often.

Anyway, my home office is also our guest room, so when we've got folks staying here I basically don't write, don't work, don't check e-mails, and generally grow more and more discomboobulated and unmoored from real life. Which is probably why I sound the way I sound right now. Me no typie so good when brain cloudy with word farts what is thesaurus?

So, the Stanley! Why did we make the Stanley? We made the Stanley because we had lemon juice about to turn in our fridge and because after many sadistic false starts, Mother Nature has finally gotten her big, compostable ass into gear up here and delivered a proper Montreal spring. (I am the last person who should be making fun of other women's fat asses at this point in my life/pregnancy, but she is not a real person so she can suck it.) The Stanley, rather audaciously, combines gin and rum, two liquors that a) you rarely see mixed, yet b) speak to the same joyous thermometer creep that ought to be celebrated with a proper cocktail, preferably including them. Grenadine and lemon juice take away from that audacity, make it more like the Banality of Cherry Coke than the Audacity of Hope (the Audacity of Hooch?) but we decided to give the Stanley a go all the same.

We got the Stanley from our trusty-dusty Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide. Sometimes this book -- as much as I insist upon treating it with reverence, for it is really old and its starchy pages smell wonderfully like pickled dust -- is like a big clusterwuh? Like when it gives you a girly-ass drink called the Stanley. Who invented this shit, or at least named it that? It is very pretty, though. In fact, I bet if I just keep looking at those pics above my head fog will lift before long...

Every time I say "the Stanley" in my head, I picture two things in quick succession. One, Mrs. Roper. Two, Pretzel Day.

I like Pretzel Day...

The Stanley Cocktail

(as per the Old Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide)

1 ounce Bombay Dry Gin

1 ounce Bacardi

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce grenadine

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled cocktail or coupe glass.

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The Bittered Gin Sling

I need to make an Ur-Cocktail. Like, I want to just mix a liquor (bourbon, a-doy, although I'd then be game for trying several others) with sugar, water and bitters -- the original notion of what constitutes a "cock-tail" -- and see what it tastes like. I kind of assume it's gonna taste awful, or at least undesirable, right? Because, for one, when have I ever employed water as an ingredient, and for two, what kind of cocktail enthusiast thinks it a swell idea to include a diluting agent as a key part of a recipe? Water's what you drink at the bottom of your near-emptied highball while you're waiting for the barkeep to make you a fresh one.

In the meantime, here's the Bittered Gin Sling, which may be the closest I've ever gotten to an ur-ball. To paraphrase How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, authored by my spirit animal Eric Felten, it was in the first decade of the 1800s that the word started to appear in print, although at first without much in the way of definition or attribution. Upon receiving a reader's letter asking for clarification of the term, the editor of a Hudson, New York newspaper wrote that a "cock-tail" is also "vulgarly called a bittered sling... a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." Felten goes on to say that it didn't take long for enterprising folks to massage that template further with additions like lemon juice, sherry, sweet vermouth, or soda water (in place of flat water).

Fittingly, the recipe for this Bittered Gin Sling is the first to appear in How's Your Drink?, on page 13. Atrociously, I just realized that I've never done a sling on this blog either??! Remedies, people. Remedies shall be appearing here soon. (I guess all cocktails intend to remedy something, but you know what I mean.)

The Bittered Gin Sling

(borrowed, with very minor modifications, from How's Your Drink?)

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

3/4 ounces Stock sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce mint-infused simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Soda water, to fill

Lemon twist(s), to garnish

Shake all but the soda water in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into your with-ice glass of choice (highball, Collins, etc.) and top with soda water. Garnish.

Tasting Notes

Mint-infused syrup, you say? That shit's wack, yo! At least that's what I thought but Sean was calmly insistent, as his demeanor so often appealingly is, that a) it would deliver a refreshing twist and b) neither of us were in the mood to make regular simple syrup at the moment. The cock-tail is an ever-evolving thing.

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