The Bonne-Bonne

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When I was penning The Big Book of Martinis for Moms -- because that's how one writes a book; one pens them ever so eloquently; one doesn't thrash at one's laptop until the "c" key gets permanently stuck or try to organize one's writer-blocked thoughts by haphazardly slapping a bajillion Post-Its on the wall like a mental patient -- I had an idea for a chocolate-cherry cocktail.

If you've readskimmed why haven't you bought this book yet please buy this seen the book, you know that the cocktail recipes therein each correspond to a particular feat of motherhood that deserves a potent, potable reward. So like babyproofing the house is an accomplishment that calls for a Rusty Nail, while helping with homework earns Mom a Brainstorm. The chocolate-cherry cocktail, I thought, would be a mother's just desserts on those blessed afternoons or evenings when she gets to do nothing at all, fluffy-slippered feet resting atop the coffee table. In other words, like drinking a bonbon.

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Unfortunately, I knew that actually inventing said cocktail would not be so easy-breezy. Chocolate and cherry are two very forceful flavors. I find that sometimes when I try to combine two big, bold tastes like that, I wind up with a flavor profile that's somehow less than, or even worse than, the sum of its parts. It can taste entirely like one flavor and none like the other, or two two can meld into something downright blech-y.

Anyway, one way I snuck around those problems was by relying on cranberry juice, which provided a lovely hue (seriously, cranberry juice really does pretty up a drink) as well as an easygoing companion, palate-wise, to my white creme de cacao.

The Bonne Bonne (which I've given a French feminine spelling) wound up not making it into the book. Quel mal-mal for the book but goody for us!

The Bonne Bonne

1 1/4 ounces vodka

3/4 ounce white creme de cacao

2 ounces cranberry juice cocktail

2 dashes chocolate bitters

Combine all four ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail or martini glass.

Tasting Notes

I didn't have any Three Olives Cherry vodka on hand while testing out this recipe, but I'd bet it's an ever better ingredient to use in this instance that straight-up vodka.

An even bigger cheat: You can make a drink with equal parts chocolate vodka and cranberry juice. Not bad at all. (Ghetto Bonne Bonne, anyone?)

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The Aviator No. 1

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I'd like to talk about cocktail geekdom in this post, which I realize is like talking about the pink elephant we're all seeing in the room.

When Googling "aviator cocktail," one of the top search results is this 2008 story from the NYT's Dining section entitled "A Brotherhood Formed with Cocktails and Ice." While the boys'-clubbish headline does make me wince (here's one occasion where I'm all for a "personhood" amendment; how about "camaraderie," Gray Lady?) the story tickles my historical fancy, as I feel like it's sort of the ur-trend piece about us modern-day cocktailians (as one of those quoted in the piece preferred to be called, rather than "cocktail geek").

A recipe for the Aviation Cocktail No. 1 is one of two that accompany the piece. Note that I just wrote Aviation Cocktail No. 1, not Aviator Cocktail No. 1. [Inner cocktail geek jolted awake by persnickety clarification.] The latter is actually more obscure, it seems, and therefore much harder to come by online. [Geek full of pride for self, knows more obscure cocktail knowledge than most, is so cool!] And as the numerical nomenclature suggests, both the Aviation Cocktail and the Aviator Cocktail come in more than one accepted form. [Geeeeeekkkkyyyeeeeaaaahhhhh!]

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The difference between Aviation No. 1 and Aviation No. 2 is creme de violette. While both are considered "vintage" tipples, I guess even back in the day -- a day perhaps as far back as 1916, as an Aviation No. 1 recipe can be found in Recipes for Mixed Drinks, published in that year -- creme de violette was hard to come by, as Aviation No. 2 omits it outright. This is not a bad thing, I'd say, as what's left sans creme is gin, Luxardo and lemon juice, a dangerously drinkable trifecta. [Reminds geek of geek's own, French Gimlet-esque recipe. Geek so money and don't even know it. Why geek talk like Cookie Monster? GEEK SMASH!]

The Aviator No. 1 builds on that heady trinity and adds creme de cassis -- perhaps to replace the original's creme de violette with a more commonly found ingredient? -- and egg white. While the egg white surely does it job and makes the drink damn good, I can't give you an historically justified reason for it. [Geek sad.]

An as long as I'm now gonna go ahead and deflate my inner geek ego, I have never, ever in my life managed to taste a drop of, or even find a bottle of, creme de violette. I think it's like the Godot of cocktail ingredients.

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The Aviator No. 1

(You can find this recipe or something similar in Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails, as well as my own The Big Book of Martinis for Moms)

2 ounces dry gin

1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur

1/4 ounce creme de cassis

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

Raw egg white (say, the amount in a medium-sized egg)

Combine gin, Luxardo, lemon juice and egg white in an ice-less cocktail shaker. Shake for about 20 seconds. Next, add ice to fill, cap shaker again and shake for another 20-ish seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. To finish, pour your quarter-ounce of creme de cassis into the center of the glass; it will sink to the bottom of the glass' V-shaped bowl and give the drink a layered look.

Tasting Notes

For extra egg-white froth, drop the coiled wire from a tktk strainer into your cocktail shaker for the first shake.

Difford says the drink tastes better when you forsake the layered look and shake the creme de cassis with the rest of the ingredients. Whatever, geek.

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The Really Good Pickle Martini

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If you are a minutia-obsessed Seinfeld fan like I am (Is it possible to be any other kind of Seinfeld fan? Minutia is that dude's umwelt) then you remember the episode wherein Jerry tries to decipher the note he scribbled in the middle of the night while half-asleep. He finally figures out it's a line from a sci-fi B-movie he'd been up late watching. A line, it turns out, that's actually not that funny.

Such it's been for me the past few weeks with a drink name and recipe I came across and jotted down and now I'm all like, wuh? The drink's called The Filthy Narwhal, and Googling it comes up goose eggs as far as a source or point of origin.* I think I may have seen it on the online cocktail menu of some resto in Boston. I have no idea why I think that, seeing as I can't remember the last time I was in Boston, nor do I have any plans to be in Boston, but so fire the synapses of my sleep-deprived memory these days.

What I need no help recalling is what about the Filthy Narwhal made me want to copy it down -- it's got a pickle garnish! I [heart] pickles. When I shove pastrami down my piehole dine respectably at a Katz's or a Schwartz's or any other Jewish deli, I'm mainly in it for the pickles. (Maybe I just have a thing for foods that are green?)

On a different** episode of Seinfeld, Seinfeld said, "I've never had a really good pickle." While this statement should bring much shame on Jerome and his Hebrew roots, I am here to state that you can have a really good pickle martini. Like, The Really Good Pickle Martini.

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Now, the trick to a really good pickle martini is that the cocktail should contain pickle juice but should not taste absolutely and entirely like pickle. You don't want it to be so over the top that it becomes more gimmick than potable. That's a tricky trick because pickle juice is powerful. (Say that 10 times fast.) And in fact, the Filthy Narwhal sidesteps this quandary entirely; it doesn't contain any pickle juice, only vodka and dry vermouth with a garnish of organic dill pickle and blue-cheese stuffed olive. (Yes, I wrote all that down, but didn't write down where it came from.)

This martini is really rilly good, y'all. The flavor profile has a bit of brine to it but it's still very much a proper martini even though it tastes noticeably different from a standard martini, and honestly, if you think it's just another dirty martini, believe me when I tell you it's not dirty at all. (It even looks all but clear.) The pickle garnish exudes a snappy olfactory element as you dive in so that your nose as well as tongue gets in on the fun. (Now that's a bit dirty.)

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I'm just gonna say it: I am master of my domain. (Yes, we're still talking about cocktails.)

The Really Good Pickle Martini

2 ounces Gordon's Dry Gin

1/4 ounce Martini & Rossi dry vermouth

1/4 ounce pickle juice

Dill pickle, to garnish (I used a pickle slice, the kind they sell in jars for putting on sandwiches)

Pour gin, vermouth and pickle juice into an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir briskly with a bar spoon for about a minute. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Add your pickle garish, preferably skewered.

*UPDATE: Source found! I was close; it's not from a cocktail menu at a Boston resto but a Burlington, VT resto. Still a wuh? but at least I'll sleep better tonight.

**CORRECTION: It's the SAME episode!! What are the odds?!? I hang my head in Seinfeld-fan shame.

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The Grasshopper

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Have I really never discussed with you peeps my love for mint chocolate chip ice cream? Let me rephrase more accurately -- my looooove, my looovvvvvelurrrrrvemmmmnomonomnomnomohmommymygoddammmnnn for mint chocolate chip ice cream? That's just not possible. Is that possible?

[Point of information, as I've just now bothered to fact-check my own query: It is indeed not possible. I blogged about my mint-chocolate fetish last June when I made up the Alexander the Great, my mint chip-arak concoction. Yum.]

What's really not possible, then, is that it's taken me this long to talk about the Grasshopper.

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It is no mistake that in his book How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, my cocktail-historian crush, Eric Felten, chooses to discuss the Grasshopper, an all-liqueur dessert cocktail, immediately following the Pink Lady and preceding the Smith and Curran (aka the electric egg cream). Of those three, actually, the Pink Lady could wipe the floor with the other two, because at least the Pink Lady contains gin (as well as applejack brandy, which is no joke, and raw egg white, which has its certain Rocky connotations even as it does lend a cocktail a cap of frilly froth).

According to Felten, the Grasshopper was "a fad cooked up by marketing johnnies around 1949. The Leroux Liqueurs Company of Philadelphia only made cordials, so what better drink for them to promote than one anchored by a pair of liqueurs... Sweet, creamy and pretty, the Grasshopper quickly became an iconic girly drink."

And then he goes on to cite various postwar scribes who damned the drink with faint praise ("so-called cocktail," "something of learned vulgarity") in a way that reminds me of how current-day critics love to jump on the Girls hate-wagon in what basically amounts to condescending woman-bashing codespeak.

(Yes, dammit, I am making a link between a dessert cocktail and HBO's latest zeitgeist-rattler. My husband is a Ph.D. student, I binged on the first season of Girls as if it were a bag of York Peppermint Patties (which is exactly what the Grasshopper tastes like YES IT TASTES LIKE THE WHOLE BAG) and I dream about cocktails constantly so... yeah.)

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When I was watching the PhoBlograpHusband edit these gorg Grasshopper pics he shot, I asked him, "Is that really just cream and creme de menthe and creme de cacao? Is that really all we put in there?" And he looked at me funny and I said, "I just can't believe -- it just doesn't seem like those are three ingredients that would really coalesce together as well as they do. I just can't believe how good this cocktail looks."

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See, I internalized the girly-bashing just a bit, when what I really need to internalize is another Grasshopper. In my belly. That's what she said!

The Grasshopper

(A classic; this recipe is based on my own from The Big Book of Martins for Moms)

1 ounce green creme de menthe

1 ounce white creme de cacao

1 to 2 ounces cream

Mint leaves or chocolate shavings, to garnish

Combine the three liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail or martini glass. Top with mint leaves or chocolate shavings.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, the stiffer you like your drink, the closer you want to hold to that 1:1:1 ratio. Add that extra ounce of cream for your cousin who just turned 21.

What kind of cream? Half-and-half will work just fine if that's what you've got. Otherwise it's just what your tastebuds prefer. (Speaking of, I read in the New York Times' recent review of Salt Sugar Fat that there is no known point at which a creamy drink becomes too creamy for the average set of tastebuds. Too sweet is a measurable, reachable endpoint but not too fatty/creamy. Just a little cocktail-party factoid for you... and which I guess you could interpret to mean that your tastebuds would prefer melted butter. Gah. Stick to heavy or whipping cream at most.)

Felten says you can use either light (i.e. clear) or dark creme de cacao. I'd play it safe and stick with the light as I would not want to risk a swampy-hued Grasshopper. Felten, for what it's worth, describes the resulting shade as sage green. Revenge of the Sage Thing!!!

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The Birthday Cake Martini

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When I tended bar at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis, floating in the ether inside that hallowed drinking hall was something called the Birthday Cake Shot. By "floating in the ether," I mean it was a concoction that wasn't in our top-secret, behind-the-bar recipe binder or on our official menu -- but it was on patrons' minds all the same, and many of them knew to ask for one on their (or their friends') birthdays. Hence, we tenders had to have the shot committed to memory.

Except I never quite did. Instead, I often and repeatedly annoyed my fellow bar employees by asking them to remind me what was in it. I resented the Birthday Cake Shot because I was there to make grown-up cocktails, goddamnit. The Birthday Cake Shot wasn't even a concoction so much as a contraption, because it was one of those where you had to do it by sucking on a slice of lemon at the finish, and maybe lick some sugar beforehand... again, I can't remember whatever particular gymnastics were involved. Also, there was Frangelico, and somehow the lemon and Frangelico wound up tasting like yellow cake mix when combined on the tongue. Anyway, you get the point -- it was one of those shots wherein its puerile overcomplications were taken as clever by the completely blotto.

So when it came time for me to include a Birthday Cake Martini in The Big Book of Martinis for Moms (because, hey, of course a book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms has to have a birthday-cake martini; I may be a cocktail snob, but I'm not an idiot), I decided that we were gonna do it a little more grown-up-like. Because hey, like it or not, growing up is in fact what a birthday is about.

Now let's jump to today for a sec. There's another reason why I posted the Birthday Cake Martini today, besides just it's-the-last-day-of-the-week-of-blogging-cocktails-from-my-book-oh-you-haven't-heard-about-my-book-yet? Today's also the birthday of two of my favorite ladies/drinking companions. Hi, Michelle! Hi, Harley! Michelle also just gave birth, like, 10 days ago, so she definitely needs someone to buy her my bookA DRINK!

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The Birthday Cake Martini

(From The Big Book of Martinis for Moms)

2 ounces cherry brandy

1 1/2 ounces dark creme de cacao

1/2 ounce Benedictine

Splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus a little extra to sticky up the rim of your martini glass)

Confection's sugar, rainbow sprinkles and maraschino cherry for garnish

First, dunk the rim of your martini glass into a saucer of lemon juice to get the lip sticky. Then dunk it in a second saucer of confection's sugar. Set aside. Next, combine brandy, creme de cacao, Benedictine and lemon juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Carefully strain into your martini glass. Finish off with a maraschino cherry that you've rolled around in some sprinkles.