The Expat

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Fitting as it may be, I did not name this cocktail.

Lantern's Keep did. Lantern's Keep being a swankadoodle cocktail spot inside NYC's Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street. I've never visited there, but I'm already kinda in love with the place just based on its website, where it describes itself as "a salon devoted to the art and enjoyment of great cocktails. This secretive salon [seems to be a speakeasy-style place located off the hotel lobby, hence the need for the lantern] is already luring cocktail aficionados in and transporting them back to a turn-of-the-century Parisian salon." Which immediately makes me think: Midnight in Paris! C'est l'age d'or, Marion Cotillard! I want in!

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Now what I liked about this cocktail right off the bat -- before I even tasted or tried making it, when I'd only read about it in Life & Style Magazine (um, which I was reading... on a plane? While getting a mani-pedi? Let's go with that one) -- was its simplicity. The more I experiment with cocktails, the more I appreciate those that get to the point, that express an intention and just get over themselves and get on with it already in as few ingredients as possible.

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The L&S write-up didn't mention how much Angostura to use, so I started with one dash. I mixed that up, and in one sip I went to my happy place; immediately, visual pictures of me cozied up in alluringly dim cocktail boites came to mind. The PhoBlograpHusband tried it and felt it had a too-sweet-bordering-on-cloying finish, so I made another with two dashes of bitters. The result was simultaneously a) weirdly muted, b) all tartness with no anchoring bottom note, c) completely devoid of any sort of finish at all.

It's amazing how much a quarter-ounce of syrup, or a single dash of bitters, really matters in a cocktail.

The Expat

(based on Lantern's Keep's recipe as printed in Life & Style)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

Mint sprig, to garnish

Combine liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Give your mint sprig a smack and then arrange it atop the drink to garnish.

Tasting Notes

Let me explain, if necessary,what I just wrote about the mint sprig slap. This is something commonly done at your better cocktail lounges and I've been remiss not mentioning it here. The mint's not just something pretty to look at or a pop of contrasting color; it really does make a difference in your overall enjoyment of The Expat if you get that whiff of mint up the shnozz right as you're taking a sip. By smacking the mint, you get an extra release of those minterrific notes. You're literally smacking the mint outta that mint. So hold your sprig by the stem with one hand and give it a thwap! against the open palm of your other hand.

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The Pineapple Gimlet

I've been wanting to make this cocktail for months, ever since I scheduled my Midwestern roundabout (Mtl -->StL -->CHI -->TOR -->Mtl) for late April and knew I'd get the chance to revisit The Matchbox, that sliver of a Chicago watering hole that is basically the greatest bar on Earth. To sate myself in the weeks prior, I read through Matchbox's Yelp reviews and saw that, time and again, opiners were recommending the pineapple gimlet. Doesn't that sound ah-mah-zing? A pineapple gimlet!

And then the PhoBlograpHusband and I finally went to The Matchbox and got the last two seats at the bar during happy hour. It seemed foolish for me to order and pay for an entire cocktail that I could only take one sip of (per my own pregnancy rules) so I asked Sean to order himself a pineapple gimlet and he said no. He was in the mood for a Manhattan. I suppose I could choose to call my husband a big, fat jerk at this point but it's really OK. I pouted for a moment and then moved on.

Except not entirely, because I still just knew that I had to try making a pineapple gimlet of my own, at home, for you, me, the blog and that selfish hubs o'mine. And in fact, when that finally happened, it was Sean who took the wheel and hammered this recipe out (because every now and then in my 30-something weeks of pregnancy I just hit a wall and have to go sit comatosely for a while).

Sean did everything right with this pineapple gimlet recipe, and the cocktail is quite divine: light in body yet full and round in flavor. You taste the lime juice first, its citrus tang bullish out of the gate, and then for an aftertaste you get the comparatively soft and lilting taste of pineapple.

Sean used less egg white than I probably would have, resulting in a drink with more visual clarity (and probably more clarity on the palate as well). Usually, out of sheer laziness, I just plop the entire, raw white of an egg into my shaker, but here Sean carefully portioned out just half of the white. Adding raw egg white to a cocktail, as well as complementing the drink with a rim of confectioner's sugar, are two tricks I learned years ago thanks to The Matchbox.

The Pineapple Gimlet

(inspired by the offering on the menu at Matchbox, but I have no idea how similar our recipes may be)

2 ounces Akvinta Vodka

1/2 ounce triple sec

3/4 ounces freshly squeezed pineapple juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 of the raw white of a large egg

Confectioner's sugar, for the rim

Lime slice, to garnish

Rim a cocktail glass with confectioner's sugar and set aside. Pour all liquid ingredients into a shaker and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds (aka, a dry shake). Then fill with ice and do so again. Strain into your glass and add garnish.

Tasting Notes

Yeah, I made this a vodka pineapple gimlet rather than a gin one. Again, thought it might result in a flavor with more clarity, plus it gave me the chance to use our gifted Akvinta Vodka, which is clear-tasting in all those good vodka ways to say the least.

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The (World's Greatest?) Frozen Banana Daiquiri

Something that may or may not surprise you: I'm one of those people who likes to scour the Internet for variousDIYtutorials and then implement them all over my house, oftentimes to the mild chagrin of the PhoBlograpHusband. (Two nights ago, our kitchen table was occupied for 12 hours by our crockpot, wrapped in a beach towel, 'cuz I was making yogurt.) If I were born fifty years earlier,  I would have been a devout Hints from Heloise kinda housewise. As it stands, since the start of summer my freezer has contained a big Ziploc full of banana peels and eggshells, so I can spend my weekends making nutritious, eggshell-and-banana peel fertilizer for my outdoor plants.

Also in my icebox are whole, way-overripe bananas whose peels have turned brown. The peels will inevitably see the inside of the aforementioned Ziploc; the bananas themselves are there because a few weeks ago I read online about making a soft-serve, ice cream-like dessert using nothing but frozen bananas and a blender. Given that pregnancy has kicked my ice cream addiction into disgusting overdrive, I thought this was worth a shot. I also thought, frozen banana daiquiris.

Frozen daiquiris -- a regular daiquiri (rum, lime juice, sugar) buttressed with pureed fruit and crushed ice -- get a bad rap, of course, because their crushed-ice component has allowed them to become conflated with Slurpees and slushies, and so now they are most commonly made from chemicals and food coloring, served out of a whirring machine at someplace like a Sandals resort. This is tragic, because how often do we get to enjoy the wholesome flavor of pureed fruit in our cocktails? Who wouldn't enjoy the foamy, frothy wonderfulness that an ice-blended cocktail provides? (Even I capitulate to the delectable siren call of a Frappuccino at least once per summer.) And when was the last time you got to freaking drink a banana?

A frozen banana daiquiri seems like it should be arduous to make, but it is not. It is surprisingly simple (dump stuff into blender, turn blender on) and it is surprisingly good: Smooth and creamy, with a nice, tangy, lime-y undertone, and not at all too sweet. What I found most surprising was how well its constitution held up. I figured this drink would start separating, rum and melted ice sloshing atop a swamp of banana mush, within minutes. It absolutely did not. All in all, this cocktail was so impressive and enjoyable that Sean took it upon himself to drink the whole thing (after my one, obligatory sip). He even stored it in the fridge while he went to play Frisbee for two hours, came back and drank the rest and it still held up.

So how do we make the World's Greatest Frozen Banana Daiquiri? I think I'm still working on that. What I know so far is, you definitely want to use at least a 50-50 ratio of light and dark rum. I suspect 100% dark rum would be most pleasurable (but we ran out). Yes, you can taste the alcohol in the recipe below, but it wouldn't hurt to be stronger still. My other suspicion is that this should be topped with a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg. The banana and lime flavors do play nicely against one another, but I think there's room in there for a third, outta-left-field flavor.

Of course, most frozen banana daiquiri recipes you're going to find online are going to tell you a) light rum only, and b) garnish with a Maraschino cherry. Take that shit to the Bahamas, yo!

The (World's Greatest) Frozen Banana Daiquiri

3/4 ounces Kraken Black Spiced Rum

3/4 ounces Bacardi Light Rum

1 tablespoon triple sec

1 1/2 ounces lime juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 banana, medium/large, preferably frozen and preferably overripe, sliced up into a handful of pieces

1 cup crushed ice (usually takes about 3-5 ice cubes depending on size)

Lime peel, to garnish

Combine all ingredients except peel in blender. Blend on a low speed for five seconds, then blend on a higher speed until drink is smooth. (Shouldn't take more than 10 seconds.)  Pour into chilled hurricane, martini or cocktail glass. Garnish.

Tasting Notes

OK, so what rums would kick this drink into World's Greatest territory? Honestly, name your poison. If I had more than a splash left of the Kraken, I would've gone whole-hog Kraken. Spiced Navy rums would be great, I'm guessing; I'm partial to Sailor Jerry.

You don't *have* to cut up the banana beforehand, or pre-crush the ice -- but I did both, the latter using my hand-cranked Ice-O-Mat. It'll just cut down on your blender time. This is important to someone like me who has a crappy blender as I'm always worried I'm going to kill the damn thing someday. And I really did only need to blend on high speed for like another 5-10 seconds.

You want to use an overripe banana because the riper it is, the more sugars it's got in it. You know how when you eat an underripe banana, it can sometimes have that unpleasantly bitter, "green" taste to it? I don't know why, but that taste tends to come out even more when you puree the banana, even if it's a just-ripe banana. I know this from trying to make the banana "ice cream" using a just-ripe banana. Stick with as-overripe-as-you-can bananas.

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The Gin Rickey

If that was Feh-bruary, I'm hoping this doesn't become Meh-rch.

Part of the reason I didn't post much last month was, Sean and I conducted a mega cocktailing session a couple weeks ago that yielded, like, 8 or so bloggable potations -- zero-ish of which I felt any excitement about. We were going for volume, and aiming to keep the necessary ingredients in line with what we already had on hand. Such cocktailing under pressure can still yield inspiring results -- and in fact, I always try to err on the side of fridge and pantry staples when composing recipes, because, you know, Shit At-Home Bartenders Have.

So maybe it was just Feh-bruary working its dour magic, or maybe the problem was that we relied on one book out of our entire cocktail reference library, a book I must now admit I find lacking in its organization, writing style, fonts and pretty much anything else you eyeball when you open a book.

(If you see this book cover, crack with caution...)

So, here I am with a backlog of recipes and a complete lack of anything to say about them... except, I suppose, this one. Because it doesn't matter how poorly laid-out a rickey recipe may be within the pages of a particular tome; a rickey recipe is forever timeless and foolproof (and boastworthy as its own mini-history lesson). Never mind the five inches of snow that's accumulated since this morning OF MARCH FIRST on the Montreal side street I look out at every day; wherever you're downing a rickey, it's at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. Writer's block may be the sad side effect of a neverending winter and a glut of who-cares concoctions, but a rickey can always get your juices flowing.

A rickey is one of those categories of cocktails -- well, firstly, it's not technically a cocktail, it's a highball; second, what I mean is, it's like a smash or a shrub or a julep -- defined not by its primary liquor but by all the other stuff, which in this case means lime juice, club soda and a lime garnish. So you can have a bourbon rickey, a Scotch rickey, a sloe gin rickey, a vodka rickey, a brandy rickey and so on. (Although whatever you do, don't have a vodka rickey. Drink with purpose!)

Really, the rickey embodies all those qualities that make me most love a five o'clock cocktail (it's not just a blog; it's a thing you can do!). It's a good and proper drink, imbued with history and flavor (the gin rickey's especially nice with its gimme combo of juniper and  citrus), and it's got that elegant simplicity thing going that allows a feeling of all-is-rightness to wash over me, even when I'm stuck in a glut of wrong.

The Gin Rickey

(Adapted from the book pictured above, and really, I"m not looking to start turf wars here, I just don't find this book as handy and delightful as many others)

2 ounces gin

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

Club soda

Lime wedge or wheel, to garnish

Pour gin, lime juice and club soda, in that order, into a tall, ice-filled Collins glass. Stir briefly. Garnish with lime wedge or wheel.

Tasting Notes

A less-tall highball glass will suit if you don't have a nice, tall, slender Collins glass. Trivia: Add simple syrup or sugar to a rickey and you have a Collins.

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The Grenade Launch

Ladies and gentlemen, where have I been all your month?

Where I've been is, first I went out of town for work, then I came home with a cold, then I went out of town again. The short month flew by, my skedge was always being cut at the corners, blogging got squeezed out, and all in all, it was a real Feh-bruary. (I just came up with that, really I did. You can use it, though. Or how about Meh-bruary?)

Throughout, I was hoping that an idea would percolate in the back of my head for this cocktail contest I wanted to enter (deadline: oh, about 89  minutes from this very moment): PAMA's Best Home Bar Star. Just as it sounds, submitted recipes must include PAMA pomegranate liqueur, and the contest's only open to amateur, at-home mixologists.

And yet, no inspiration was striking. Like, none. Feh-bruary really lived up to its name-I-just-made-up and I wasn't coming up with any sort of hook to hang this drink on. So what I did was,  I went to the supermarket, hoping that browsing the aisles would somehow reveal a perfect, secret ingredient to me. In the juice aisle, I found my muse.

Did you know that the French word for pomegrante is grenade? And just like a grenade, BOOM -- cocktail framework smacks me upside the head. French ingredients, something that really goes pow on the palate. Voila.

The Grenade Launch

1 ounce Bulldog Gin

3/4 ounce PAMA

1/2 ounce St.-Germain

1/2 ounce Lillet

1 dash yellow Chartreuse

1 dash orange blossom water

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

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

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