Isn’t it great? Things are s-l-o-w-l-y getting back to normal! Folks are going out, getting together, socializing – in short, LIVING again!
Since you will probably be having people over for a cocktail soon, I wanted to offer some reassurance: it doesn’t matter what you serve. Oh, I mean for snacks (the drink you serve is of paramount importance – more on that in a bit). I know folks labor over preparing a stellar hors d’oeurve –be it the latest version of deviled eggs to a fancy and pricey crab Rangoon. It ain’t necessary.
I read recently that famed chef Julia Child, practically the patron saint of all things French and fancy, was partial to serving cocktails alongside little bowls of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers! My own culinary heroine, Martha Stewart, has been known to simply layer slices of processed American cheese with Club crackers and call it a day (of course she was probably spatchcocking a hand-raised organic free-range chicken for the dinner to follow).
The thing is … it’s the getting together that’s important. And the drink you serve. While on the subject of Ms. Child, she was a big fan of what she called a “upside down martini.” She considered this an ideal precursor to a delicious meal – particularly if paired with those little goldfish crackers.
JULIA’S UPSIDE DOWN MARTINI
5 parts Noilly Prat extra dry vermouth
1 part Diplomet dry gin
Shake ingredients together until well-chilled. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Julia was quite partial to Noilly Prat, still widely available today and a true connoisseur’s choice when it comes to vermouth. Crafted by the sea in the South of France since the early 1800s, this fine spirit combines 18 herbs and spices, such as chamomile, bitter orange and orris root. Good luck finding her favorite gin. It’s been around since 1945, and sounds delightful, with lemon peel, angelica root, saffron, and fennel seed (and juniper berries of course). I’d love to try it if I can find it – but it may be exclusive to Europe. Interestingly, Diplomet was widely called the “official” gin of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Europe after World War II. It’d be perfect for quaffing over Memorial Day. My search continues.
Julia liked this version of the martini because, being significantly lower in alcohol than the more usual gin-centric version, “you can have two.” Indeed, Ms. Child, indeed.
As summer inexorably approaches, along with swimsuit season, I was determined to try a cocktail that seems appropriate – the Hanky Panky (as in, “My baby does the …”)
1-1⁄2 oz. gin
1-1⁄2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
Like many cocktails, this one has a legendary origin. The story goes that it was created at American Bar in the swank Savoy Hotel in London. The bartender, Ada Coleman, who served up drinks there for 22 years (1903 – 1925), was a near celebrity – along with much of her clientele, which included Mark Twain, Diamond Jim Brady and the Prince of Wales. It seems that a then-celebrated but now forgotten actor, Sir Charles Hawtrey, came into the bar and requested a drink with a punch. Ada, doing a riff on the Martinez cocktail popular at the time, substituted Fernet-Branca for the maraschino liqueur. The actor took a big gulp and proclaimed the new concoction “the real hanky panky!” Apparently hanky panky had a somewhat different meaning back then.
If you are not familiar with Fernet-Branca (and I was not), it is an Italian bitter. And, since it is Italian, not French, the T is pronounced (say FEHR NET BRAHN KAH). Made in Milan for 175 years, it is a very interesting liqueur and a worthy addition to your bar. It’s made with 27 herbs and spices and really tastes like nothing else. There’s a slight menthol edge to the bitterness that gives it a unique flavor profile. I’d tell you more specifics but supposedly the recipe is only known to the president of this family-owned company. And Mr. Nicola Branca wasn’t talking.
A bartender friend of mine shared that Fernet is sort of a secret bartender’s handshake. Order it and the savvy bartender will know that you are either a fellow bartender or a worldly customer who can handle a strong drink. Order a Hanky Panky and, well, you’re on your own.
Lest the French feel left out, I offer up a cocktail said to have been favored by famed artist Henri de Toulous-Lautrec. Monsieur Toulous-Lautrec enjoyed, with regularity, a drink that sounds undrinkable to me (but feel free to try it yourself). I personally have vowed to abstain from absinthe, that, along with Jagermeister, being two spirits I cannot abide.
TREMBLEMENT de TERRE (Earthquake)
3/4 oz. absinthe
1 oz. gin
1 oz. bourbon
Shake all ingredients with ice until shaker frosts over. Pour into a wine glass and garnish with a lime peel.
Or … you could do as Henri did and carry around a hollow cane filled with this concoction. Crippled in adolescence, the artist was abnormally short in stature and truly needed the cane for trekking up the hill of Montmartre to the brothels of which he was fond. I’ve heard there was a pretty wild scene there back in the day, so a short dwarfish man swilling from a cane might have drawn little notice. Had goldfish crackers been invented yet I’m sure they would have made a terrific accompaniment.