The Easthampton – Redux

Something about the last week in August always brings a bit of the blues.  Labor Day lurks just around the corner, signaling the traditional, if not official, end of summer.  The days get noticeably shorter, especially when leaving the office after work to find the sky already darkening.  Parents rush to the downtown stores for the last of back to school shopping.  The lazy mid-summer baseball season starts heating up in expectation of October playoff races.  Vacations wind-down and the next period for extended time off isn’t until the winter holidays.  Thoughts turn inward to the meditative and softly melancholy.

Appropriately for this change of seasons, Lush Life Productions, the host this month for Mixology Monday, has chosen “Brown, Bitter & Stirred” for its theme.  While some folks in Gotham City might disagree, drinks like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned never struck me as year-round drinks.   When the days are warm and long, I find myself reaching first for refreshing tall drinks like collins, swizzles and slings, as well as concoctions involving seasonal farmer’s market fare for modern twists.  Yet, as the season – and mood – turns, cocktails involving brown liquors, bitters and more brown liquors are just about what I need today.   However, as I am not quite ready to completely let go of summer just yet, I’ve taken the traditional Manhattan for a trip to the outer banks of Long Island for the upcoming Labor Day weekend through an infusion of end of summer strawberries and a complementary dash of rhubarb.

2 oz. strawberry-infused Rittenhouse 100*
1 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes rhubarb bitters

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass.

* Hull and slice one pint of organic strawberries – its important to use sweet, ripe strawberries, otherwise the infusion flavor will fall flat.  Infuse in high proof rye for approximately one week.  Strain through fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth, then bottle.

Recipe courtesy of Barman Cometh.

Missionary’s Downfall

And on the third day, God said “Let there be the faint beginnings of pleasantly cool air.”  And it was good.

Too pooped from the heatwave and sleepless nights to say much more than that folks.  So I’ll just put up this refreshing and appropriately named cooler from the Godfather of Tiki courtesy of the modern-day court jester of tiki and call it a night.

1/4 cup packed fresh mint
1/4 cup diced pineapple
1 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. peach liqueur
1/2 oz. honey syrup
1 oz. light rum
6 oz. crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into glass or goblet.  Garnish with fresh mint.

Recipe courtesy of Don the Beachcomber via Forbidden Island.

Sage Heaven

I stand corrected.  Yesterday was not a heatwave.  TODAY is a heatwave.  The official thermometer broke 98 degrees in San Francisco, with “unofficial” temps in the triple digits.  Sitting here in Oakland at this time of the evening,  a cool, relaxing breeze should be blowing in to provide the natural air conditioning we like to brag about.  It’s instead the kind of sticky August night I almost forgot about from a decade spent in Boston.   Except we don’t have any electric fans to get the air moving.  (see aforementioned “where is the natural air conditioning?”)  Thankfully, by the end of the week, Alaska is sending us some frozen air and we are projected to go from 100 degrees to 60 degrees.   Crazy? Definitely.  Welcome to California – please leave reason at the border.

In the meantime, its best just to enjoy the weather.  Preferably with a seasonal, market-driven tall drink in hand.  The West Coast cocktail scene, drawing inspiration from the agricultural bounty of a year-round growing season combined with a food-obsessed population, is becoming defined by this style of drinking.  If New York is all about the brown liquours, then San Francisco (and increasingly L.A., Portland, and Seattle) is all about taking the farmer’s market and putting it in a glass.  For this tipple, the combination of sage, raspberry and ginger in a column of ice will have you mixing a second (or third) before you’ve even finished your first sip.

6 fresh raspberries
4 fresh sage leaves
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. agave syrup*
2 oz. gin
ginger beer

Muddle raspberries and sage leaves.  Add rest of ingredients except ginger beer. Shake & strain into ice filled collins glass.  Top with ginger beer.

* Mix 1 part agave nectar to 1 part water

Recipe courtesy of Matthew Biancaniello, Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

Singapore Sling

Heatwave!!! That’s right – its heatwave time in the Bay Area.  In most parts of the country, the tail end of summer means hot, muggy days that fade into what seem like even hotter, muggier (and sleepless) nights.  For us NorCal folks, August means Fog-hust – weeks on end of waking up to bone-chilling, “marine layer” fog completely blocking out the sun until a small break of blue skies for a few hours in the afternoon, after which more freezing fog rolls in shortly before sundown.  While its always worth a cheap thrill watching the tourists in their shorts and sandals stumbling around almost as cluelesly out of sorts as Beatty and Hoffman in Ishtar, I’d rather have the sunshine.

Just when you don’t think you can deal with one more morning of “I moved to California for this?”, a short-term heatwave rolls in to barrel out the fog and kick the temperatures up 20 degrees.  Perfect weather for an old-school cooler.  Most of what we can say about the Singapore Sling is that it was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 1915, a hangout for folks like Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, and Noel Coward.  Beyond that, the history of the drink, including the original recipe, gets rather muddy.  Which of course means that it was the perfect topic of research for drink nerds seeking to unearth the origins of this famous drink.  The end result of the geekery was to find that the original drink was likely a far drier, less fruity, more bracing drink.  Quite tasty on its own accord, but far different from what modern drinkers associated with the Singapore Sling such as to require giving it a new name.  But that’s a horse – or blog post – of a different color.

More important than the history, is whether the recipe tastes good.  As the original recipe was lost in a bar on the other side of the globe in a time when the British ruled the world and not just a small section of the cable dial, numerous recipes have worn the title “Singapore Sling”.  While they all generally include gin, cherry brandy, and benedictine as jumping off points, it often goes downhill from there.  These are not one of those recipes.  The first is by the King of Cocktail Dale Degroff, the man possibly more responsible than any other single individual for rescuing the cocktail from the basement of cheap booze, artificial sour mix and stuff shot out of a bar gun.  The second is by Beachbum Berry, a professional drinker who has managed the feat of creating a career out of unearthing and resurrecting the original tiki recipes of Donn Beach, Trader Vic and others.  Both are fantastic – so don’t just stop at one!

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce Bénédictine
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 dashes grenadine
club soda

Combine with ice and shake well. Strain into a tall wine glass or Collins glass over ice, and top with club soda. Garnish with an orange-cherry flag.

Recipe courtesy of Dale DeGroff

2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce brandy
1 ounce Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1 ounce fresh lime juice
club soda

Recipe courtesy of Beachbum Berry

Cuban Anole

Sometimes you just need to get away from all the wrenches life throws at you.  However, unless you are a trustafarian or founded your own tech company, flying off to the South Pacific in the middle of the week just isn’t an option.  As a second best (or maybe twelfth best), there is always a tiki drink.  Tiki has come a long way from the dark recesses of cheap rum, canned pineapple and reheated rumaki.  Beyond just restoring the classics to their original state with high quality rum and fresh squeezed juices, folks are using these standards for some very interesting riffs and variations.

This one is a twist on the mai tai, by swapping out the orange curacao with cinnamon syrup.  It also layers in the vegetal funk of a rhum agricole along with the aged rums.  The freshly grated cinnamon provides a really nice nose to the whole affair.  Kick back, relax and forget the work week for a few hours.

1/2 oz rhum agricole blanc
1/2 oz aged Jamaican rum
1/2 oz aged Barbados rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz cinnamon cyrup
1/2 oz orgeat

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass with crushed ice.  Garnish with fresh grated cinnamon.

Courtesy of cocktail virgin slut

Momo Rye Fizz

One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is the year-round access to a seasonal cornucopia, much of it grown organic/biodynamic/grass fed/with hugs.  Growing up in the Northeast, the growing seasons were considerably shorter and there was always the miserable stretch from late November until winter was over when “seasonal” vegetables meant potatoes, cabbage, potatoes, winter squash, and potatoes.  Everything else was shipped in from warmer locales, picked under-ripe to avoid bruising and spoilage in transit, meaning produce that tasted bland and mealy.

Here on the left coast, it is a completely different story.  I’d even go so far as to describe it as a complete change of habitat.  After a while, you forget that being within a 100 mile radius of farms, vineyards, ranches and fisheries generating year-round produce is NOT normal.  You quickly grow used to it. Spoiled even.  Not that I’m complaining – the “half the price as the grocery store for three times the quality” daily supply of farmer’s markets is not only key to the good life, but also the lynchpin to saving enough money to pay the insane rents out here.

Right now, the farmer’s markets are bursting with string beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, golden beets, melons, berries, plums and peaches.  It’s that last one that is my weakness – picked just ripe that day and ready to almost burst from its skin, there is nothing like a summer peach.  With almost, but not quite too much sweetness, it has the burst of sun-filled flavor that reminds you of long summer days that fade into warm, muggy nights of backyard grilling and homemade ice cream.  And like summer, it is also quickly fleeting, with a peak season gone almost as soon as it arrives.  Sweet and fleeting, a little bit like life, I guess.  So enjoy it while it lasts.

1/2 fresh peach
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 Rye
1 oz lemon juice*
soda water

Muddle the peach with simple syrup. Add the rye and lemon juice. Shake with ice, strain into a tall glass over ice, and top with club soda.

* Depending on how sweet & ripe your peaches, you may need less than 1 ounce of syrup.  Next one I’ll be trying it at 3/4 oz.

Recipe courtesy of Oishii Eats (h/t Looka!)

Thomas Keller’s Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is one of those recipes that makes for a simple but elegant meal that can be prepared with a minimum of fuss. The trick is getting it just right. When it’s good, it’s a mouth-watering dinner that brings forth instinctive memories of Mom’s home-cooking. But when it’s wrong, it runs the range from an under-cooked, bloody mess to over-done, so dry it dehydrates you just thinking about it. To compensate for that narrow window of perfection, I’ve tried all sorts of methods. Slathering butter on the skin to crisp the skin quickly and keep the juices intact. Pan-searing the skin in advance, followed by a quick high-heat roast. Basting the chicken with a giant eyedropper. Buying a roasting rack and rotating the chicken on each side halfway through. Each method attempted to compensate for some failing of the previous, yet the end result was either completely hit-or-miss or involved far too much effort for what should be a straightforward meal.

I came across this recipe from Thomas Keller while watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations of all things. Who says you can’t learn anything watching television? The total amount of actual work involved using Keller’s recipe is roughly the sum total of five minutes. The trick I’ve found to making this very simple recipe successful is to do everything exactly as Thomas Keller says without question. Do one step differently and it doesn’t work. I have no idea why, but I’m not going to question a guy with not one, but two Michelin 3-stars under his belt.

The first step after cleaning the chicken, is to pat dry it thoroughly – it’s very important that the chicken is dry so as to minimize the production of steam while it roasts. Then let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour. According to the master, if you don’t let the “product” warm up to room temperature, then it won’t cook evenly. Based on personal experience, the master is right.

After the hour is up, set the oven to 450. While the oven preheats, its time to truss the bird. This is a very important step – trussing the chicken keeps it compact, so that all the parts will cook at the same rate in what is a relatively high-temperature cooking method. Trussing sounds scary if you haven’t done it before, but its one of those basic cooking skills that once you learn, its like riding a bicycle, with the exception that its even easier. Rather than explain how its done, just go watch this video of Keller in action. (Warning: the video and sound are not in sync. Just watch what he does more than what he says.) Keller also shows how to remove the wishbone so as to make carving the finished roast easier. This is the only step you can skip, but again, he’s right – removing the wishbone makes is possible to slide the whole breast off the bone with one easy slice.

Then season it with cracked pepper and kosher salt – don’t be shy with your seasoning. The sharp bite of the salt on the crisp skin is fantastic. Place it in an oven-proof skillet or roasting pan, and toss it in the oven. Roasting time varies by size. A smaller 3 1/2 pound chicken will take about 45 minutes, while the more standard 4 to 4 1/2 pound chickens will take about an hour. The skin will come out golden crisp and the meat will be basted in it own juices and fat. I usually let the roast rest for about 10 minutes prior to carving.

1. Clean chicken and pat dry thoroughly. Let rest for 1 hour to bring to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

3. Remove wishbone (optional). Salt & pepper inside of chicken. Stuff optional aromatics (garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc.) in chicken.

4. Truss chicken. Season outside of chicken liberally with fresh pepper & kosher salt.

5. Place chicken in oven-proof skillet or a sheet pan & roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Don’s Navy Grog

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt is a great name for a boy from Texas turned Prohibition-era bootlegger in the Big Easy.  However, not so much for a guy running a Polynesian-themed restaurant in 1930′s Hollywood.  Thus was Don the Beachcomber born.  Having legally changed his name, Donn Beach took his colorful past running rum in Caribbean, working in Chinatown restaurants and traveling the world to single-handedly create the world’s first “tiki” bar, combining tropical inspired rum drinks with flared up Cantonese food.  Celebrities flocked to his bar, which offered an escape from reality vibe.  Ever had a mai tai with a pu-pu platter?  If so, its because of this one guy.

After spending the war years opening officer “rest camps” (read: bars) in places like Capri, Nice, Cannes, & Venice for his buddy US Army Air Force General Jimmy Doolittle – for which he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star – Donn returned home to a flourishing tiki-empire that his wife had grown to a chain of 16 restaurants.  The tiki fad continued to explode in the 1940s and 1950s, even spawning a Nor-Cal / So-Cal tiki rivalry between Donn and the Bay Area’s Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron. (You really can’t make this stuff up.)  Eventually, Donn would divorce his wife (along with his restaurant chain), moved to Hawaii to open a bar with an office atop a giant banyan tree and eventually retire on a houseboat in the South Pacific.  Which would be destroyed by hurricanes. (the storm, not the drink)

One of the classic tiki recipes that Donn created that is now enjoying a resurgence, this one combined a heady mix of three different rums tempered with  some citrus, a little honey and a splash of fizz.  Its a tiki twist on the historical grog of British Navy tradition, which was little more than high proof rum mixed with some water or beer to take the edge off.  Donn’s version is refreshing and easily drinkable, but packs a real whallop underneath, just like the grogs of old.  Story is Donn limited his customers to only two of these.  Enjoy.

3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz honey syrup*
1 oz light Puerto Rican rum
1 oz dark Jamican rum
1 oz demerara rum
3/4 oz soda water

Shake ice and strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice.

* Honey syrup is simply a 1:1 or 2:1 mix of honey and water, depending on your sweetness preference.  Heat the honey and water until the honey completely dissolves.  Let cool, then bottle.

Recipe courtesy of Don the Beachcomber via Jeff “Beachbum” Berry