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Meyertini

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Snowbound by a fresh nine inches, exhausted by skiing in high altitude, and hopelessly out of wine, Mr. Henry sensed now was not the time for caution or for retreat. He called upon his pioneer spirit of rugged individualism, the hallmark of his character.

Luck favors the prepared drinker, and as luck would have it days before Mr. Henry had purchased a sack full of lovely little Meyer lemons despite bitter recriminations from his otherwise even-tempered consort. “And just what do you intend to do with those?” she asked with rising tone and rising eyebrows.

At that instant he wasn’t sure exactly what, but yesterday inspiration struck.

Last week Naughty Mary had come over to the apartment, you see, carrying her traveling martini field kit: one shaker, one bottle of Hendrick’s gin, one bottle of St. Germain elderberry liqueur, and a handful of fresh sage leaves. To everyone’s delight she made a sage martini (borrowed from restaurant I Sodi in Greenwich Village).
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Drop a few sage leaves into the shaker, add a gargantuan pour of Hendrick’s and muddle them together with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes add ice and much less St. Germain, shake and strain into cold glasses. (Quantities are approximate with Mary, but she never falters.)

Elderberry liqueur tastes remarkably like fresh lychee fruit, by the way. In the martini its sweetness is nicely undercut by sage’s aromatic bitterness.

Inspired by Mary’s success, Mr. Henry improvised.lagitana.jpg Making-do with what’s at hand – isn’t that the American spirit?

Seizing an open bottle of La Gitana dry manzanilla sherry, he mixed his first original cocktail. Dry sherry is slightly salty on the palate and seems to bring forward the tartness of the Meyer lemon.

Meyertini

teaspoon or so of Meyer lemon juice
liberal pour of dry sherry
double that amount of gin
ice

Shake and strain, or else find a handy motel glass and just drink it, for Lord’s sake.

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Mr. Henry’s high regard for the original martini, peerless expression of the bartender’s art, made him hesitate to name this gin cocktail a Meyertini. After drinking one, however, cleverness clouded his better judgment – precisely the state of mind he had been seeking.

Sweet Tea

Straight from the airport on her very first visit to New York City, framed by Maxfield Parrish’s panoramic Old King Cole, Kenzie took her seat in the Astor Court restaurant of the St. Regis Hotel.

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At twelve years old she was the youngest lady present. Accordingly the waiter first approached her to take, with great ceremony, her drink order. Flummoxed at being caught suddenly in the spotlight, she hesitated and then responded in an endearing southern accent, “I’ll just have sweet tea.”
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Her fifteen-year old sister, also dressed immaculately, could not restrain her indignation. “Oh! I can’t believe you! They don’t have sweet tea here. That’s a southern thing.”

“But,” said Kenzie plaintively, “I just w-wanted sweet tea.”

Mr. Henry couldn’t resist calling her “sweet tea” for the remainder of the weekend. Could you?

What can you do when a restaurant isn’t serving your standard? Do you allow yourself to be buffaloed by the wait staff? With sixty-five years more restaurant experience than Kenzie, Nana stands her ground. She takes her tea brewed, iced and unsweetened. Whether or not it’s on the lunch menu, brewed unsweetened iced tea is what she’s having. With the nicest of smiles she entreats the waiter to brew it specially, ”if it’s not too much trouble.”

Experienced waiters quickly accede to Nana. They spot right away that she is the kind of client who won’t hesitate to send a dish back to the kitchen….several times. Don’t let her sunny demeanor fool you. Nana is not intimidated by big city restaurants.

When Mr. Henry orders a dry martini and receives one made with vodka in lieu of gin, he resists upbraiding the hapless server or upending the cocktail tray. Instead, he seizes the moment as a teaching opportunity. After all, few enjoy the benefits of his good fortune and education. Mr. Henry appreciates that some bartenders lack the advantages of proper instruction in mixed drinks, but he maintains faith in his fellow barman. He refuses to believe anyone would willfully pour cheap vodka when tradition calls for fine gin.

Clearly more should be done in bartender education, and in the next administration, if candidates are to be believed, more WILL be done. Surely both parties can agree to make this a policy priority.

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Unlike some martini drinkers, it seems, Mr. Henry can taste the difference between vodka and gin. A simple sniff is sufficient. For those of you who cannot, Mr. Henry advises choosing your drinking establishment exclusively by price.

The more difficult aspect of the waiter/patron interaction is standing your ground. Be polite but firm. You should receive what you ordered, not something nearly almost like what you ordered.

Honeymoon smoothie

After 30 years of shacking up, Jeff and Gail got married.

In Hanalei Bay, on Kaua’i, Hawaii, in the lee of Bali Ha’i they spent six weeks snorkeling and snuggling. It was indeed their own special island.

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Each morning before the sun’s rays reached the blue sea floor they trundled down to the market to buy a tranche of  ahi or kampachi caught that very morning. After a morning in the water they prepared a lunch of sashimi (dipped in soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi) with slices of avocado, papaya, star fruit, or mango (the Haden variety, with pulp that is not stringy).haden.jpg

Richly dark greens like collard or rainbow chard filled the markets. Oddly enough, however, because the climate is so temperate, tomatoes do not ripen to full flavor there.

On Kaua’i they make a pungent and tangy feta-style goat cheese that pairs well with fresh cilantro and crunchy crackers.

But what was the potion impelling them to bind the ties of wedlock? What was their passion fruit?

It was the rum smoothie.

Gail’s Honeymoon Smoothie

dark rum
young ginger, grated
pineapple
guava
mango
splash of orange soda
dollop of lychee-flavored yogurt
coconut water (crack the nut with a hammer)
ice

Drink before dinner. Watch the stars come out.

Having lived happily ever after, having spent a honeymoon in paradise, and having gotten married, in that order, pretty soon now, yes, any minute Jeffrey is going to propose to Gail (or will it be vice versa?). Accordingly, the next logical step in their backward romance will be that unforgettable first blush of mutual infatuation. Who could not be envious?

White balsamic

How hot was it last weekend? It was so hot that Mr. and Mrs. Henry had to trade favors to decide who went out to buy food. Ice cream melted during the walk home from the store. Black cherries which at the store were perfectly firm arrived home warm and soft. To make sure the bay scallops survived the blistering march up Broadway from Citarella, Mrs. Henry, ever the rugged survivor, packed blue ice in her grocery sac before setting out.
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Firing up the oven was out of the question. Some sort of savory salad seemed wanting. Mrs. Henry fried diced bacon and saved a little fat in which she seared the scallops. She tossed white beans (bottled, Italian) with fresh baby spinach in a vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and lemon. Topped with diced mango and bacon bits, the dinner salad was the perfect reprieve from the day’s punishing heat.

Made from sweet trebbiano grape juice, not from wine, white balsamic vinegar is fruity and distinctly less acidic than red vinegar. It won’t overwhelm a mild dish like scallops or potato salad. Its sweetness also obviates the need to add sugar.

Mr. Henry’s delicate constitution presents a different category of challenge. Although he likes the taste of raw garlic, onion, green pepper, and scallion, his stomach responds repeatedly with complaints. If he roasts or braises these thoroughly, he can eat them in small quantities. But what if you want the taste of raw onion?
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Heaving only one or two sighs of exasperation, Mrs. Henry arrived at a neat solution for a potato salad eaten over the infernal weekend.

She finely diced a Vidalia onion and let it quickly pickle in salt with a liberal dose of her white balsamic vinegar.

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When combined with hot potatoes the pickled onion wilted, yielding its sharpness without denying its flavor. Celery added crunch. Flat parsley added color. A dab of Dijon mustard, a splash of olive oil, and a tablespoon of sour cream generated a creamy potato salad that looked as if it were made with mayonnaise but tasted lighter and fresher.

As for the soft cherries, she threw them whole into a great pot, added a tablespoon of turbinado sugar and a half cup of sake(!). After bringing them to a boil, she let simmer for half an hour until the cherries were plumped and the sauce caramelized. Cooled they became a delectable dessert and breakfast treat all the more remarkable for their unexpected spiciness – a hint of cinnamon, a suggestion of prune, the possibility of sherry. No one guessed the presence of sake.

Next time Mr. Henry will try stewing fruit in white balsamic. It’s sure to work.

Vermouth romance

In the thrall of his own remembrances, Mr. Henry set out to prepare a proper Moroccan dinner for the family. Unfortunately, however, he could not devote half the day to the task, nor had he prepared pickled lemons 30 days ago. What to do?

He telephoned Nadia for help. She recommended a one-hour stovetop tagine (stew) of chicken with grated onion, saffron and ginger. In this tagine there is a curious trick common to Moroccan cooking: you load the ingredients upside down.
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Nadia uses Cornish game hen but Mr. Henry prefers skinless chicken.

In the bottom of a heavy stew pot, place the chicken without oil or butter. Grate two normal sized onions in the food processor and pile the onion on top of the chicken. Add a teaspoon or more of ginger, a half package of saffron, salt, pepper, touch of cooking oil, and tablespoon of butter. With low heat the meat will brown slightly, release juices, and steam the onion. Once the covered pot is leaking steam, stir the tagine and continue cooking on low until meat is falling off the bone. If you want more sauce, add a touch of stock early on.

In Morocco this is served over couscous accompanied by prunes stewed in sugar and cinnamon. A crusty bread, however, serves equally well.

Mr. Henry inhaled the simple but exotic amalgamation of flavors redolent of ancient Andalusia and, despite Nadia’s express rejection of this idea, poured in a good half cup of dry white vermouth. Was it anathema? Well, so what if it was. The result was excellent.

Mr. Henry rarely makes a sauce without adding some spirit or other. More often than not, however, he pours not from the bottle but from the chef’s personal glass.

Lately Mr. Henry has been on a something of a vermouth binge, the dry white French version, mind you, not the sweet red Italian version. A fortified and spiced wine, vermouth adds magic to any dish that includes the flavors of Provence or the Piemonte. Think of herbs de provence, garlic, and rosemary – all rather intense flavors that can easily become too insistent. How do you force them to blend so that one does not predominate? Any white wine will work, but vermouth’s spices yield an aroma less sweet and more woody.

One of the forty or more spices in vermouth is juniper, hence its walk-on role in the dry martini. Wormwood (the origin of the word vermouth) adds another woody note, an aroma that recalls the dusty hillsides of Provence.draguignan053.jpg

In the 1980’s outside Draguignan in the Var, a forest fire destroyed much of the old growth forest on either side of the autoroute that follows almost exactly the ancient Roman via Domitia. Setting out from Gawain’s castle one sunny morning Mr. Henry climbed a long hill through waist high bushes vigorously sprouting from the charred earth. For no apparent reason he kept dreaming of roast lamb. Covered in fine pungent dust, he realized he had just hiked through two miles of rosemary.parsnip_gladiator.jpg

Last week he found some firm parsnips in the market and decided to roast them with garlic, shallots, olive oil, herbs de provence, and fresh rosemary. In the LeCreuset oval gratin dish, beautiful for serving, he roasted his parsnips covered for 45 minutes. The dish was nearly done but seemed, like Winston Churchill’s pudding, to have no theme. A liberal pour of vermouth and another 15 minutes in the oven was the coup de grace.

On Saturday night after Little Henry returns from fencing class, Mr. Henry usually set up place mats in front of the TV to watch reruns of Monk and to eat hamburgers. Mushrooms sautéed with bacon and onion provide a savory accompaniment. Here again a dash of vermouth brings it all together. Be sure to add it when the pan is hot so that the alcohol evaporates more completely and the food does not absorb it too deeply. Otherwise you get vegetables that taste of little else but vermouth. There is such a thing, after all, as too much romance.

Nagging questions

Radical changes in routines are afoot in the Henry household.

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Over Christmas at her vacation ranch in the Catskills, Pepper picked up an intestinal bug prevalent in beaver scat (Who knew?) and began losing weight. Saintly Dr. Brown, font of veterinary wisdom and love, promptly and permanently removed raw chicken from the Pepper Food menu because of the possibility of salmonella poisoning. Until the system re-boots, Pepper eats Hills canned “prescription diet W/D.” To his dog-savvy readers Mr. Henry asks: What is the best dog food?

More distressing was Mr. Henry’s breezy abandonment of principles with regard to mixed drinks. He has long maintained that the classic dry martini is the one and only mixed drink that passes muster or, in this lifetime, passes his lips. The flu’s choke hold on his head and chest sent him ransacking the refrigerator for anything to sooth his sore throat, and ransacking the whiskey cupboard for anything alcoholic to suppress his cough. Lurking behind the buttermilk was a lone bottle of tonic, an odd lot leftover from summer.

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Tonic water, it turned out, acted as a tonic to the malaise. Somehow this came as a surprise to Mr. Henry, another example of flu-induced woolly-headedness, perhaps, or his long-standing prejudice against mixed drinks and their drinkers. With the last Meyer lemon added, a cold glass of bitter tonic tickled his numb palate and set his heart a-race.

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Furtively adding a dash of Hendrick’s gin before 5:00 p.m., he settled back to enjoy the successes of British colonialism, to lay down the white man’s burden, and to watch the televised make-believe that passes for frank political debate in this country. To tonic drinkers out on the information highway, Mr. Henry asks: Does tonic make your heart race, too? (And might it color your political views?)

For those interested in an excellent prècis on how to use the Meyer lemon, by the way, take a look at Cooking with Amy.

The real vehicle of betrayal came at Naughty Mary’s house in the guise of an exquisitely delicious orange aperitif of three parts Hendrick’s, one part Lillet, and a dash of orange bitters. Now that he has become a drinker of aperitifs, of flowery-colored aperitifs, no less, Mr. Henry can no longer hold up his head at the club. It comes as a comfort, therefore, that he holds no club membership.

Genie Walker Red

In 1962, Tangier, Morocco, was a cosmopolitan city, even though Mr. Henry had not yet been there.Eucalyptus Forest

He did not have the pleasure of attending Ridha’s circumcision party at the house on rue Darwin, a party deemed by all to have been a singular success, by all except Ridha himself, that is, who in addition to the unenviable discomfort of the ritual procedure suffered an asthma attack so severe that his father had to hustle him into the Peugeot 404 and carry him up into the Eucalyptus forest to breathe its calming natural vapors.

The drink of choice for sophisticated guests was “un petit whiskey” – a shot of scotch at the bottom of a tall glass embellished by one or, at most, two ice cubes melodramatically administered with silver tongs.Bastilla

In the rose garden, in the gazebo, and throughout the fruit arbor, guests feasted on Esther’s magical bastilla. They drank several cases of Johnny Walker Red liberally poured by police officers moonlighting as waiters. Upstairs in the bureau, however, for 45 years protected by sturdy lock from curious uncles and nosy gardeners, one case survived intact. When Nadia closed the house this summer, she added that case to the shipping container.

Distilled spirits are supposed to be perfectly stable. Once bottled they are said not to age or change flavor either for better or for worse.

Through 45 years of winter fog and summer scirocco the cork stoppers have dried and become brittle, yet they pulled away without crumbling. About a centimeter of liquid has evaporated from each sealed bottle and the whiskey has darkened slightly. The small exchange of oxygen caused a madeirization, a slow alteration of both color and taste.

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At this writing Mr. Henry has just drunk from one of these bottles and he can announce here for the first time a breakthrough in modern whiskey-ology. The 1962 scotch tastes smoother and has less bite than a current one, now more a sipping scotch than a mixing one.

Once freed, the amber genie in the bottle unleashed swirls of memories from spirits long departed. Pouring a third one for purposes of further research, Mr. Henry raises a glass to the circumcised and to the uncircumcised alike.

Mr. Hendricks

Before consuming a beautiful roast loin of pork encrusted with a Mario Batali dry rub (a pulverized mixture of dried porcini, red chili flakes, garlic, and brown sugar), Gail and Jeff plied Mr. Henry with a small shot of syrupy Hendricks gin straight from the freezer.
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Mr. Henry has converted. Can there be a summer libation more apropos than this? The juniper is balanced by citrus peel and, surprisingly, coriander. It was the consummate aperitif. Afterwards, sitting in front of his TV, visions of the perfect martini swirled in Mr. Henry’s brain as he watched The Tudors chew the scenery.henry8.jpg

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