Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ode to the Blood Orange

It's fitting that blood oranges are in season the week of February 14th, because I am in love with them.

I love everything about them - the gradations of reds and yellows on their skin like a sunset, slicing them open to reveal that striking, sexy and luscious dark flesh on the inside, the surprise of its flavors. There is a cool citrus sweetness there, distinctly, well, orange. But then things turn up at the end into a sharp bite of bitterness, akin to grapefruit, but more focused and quick. "Don't mess with me," it seems to say. "Take me seriously. Treat me with respect." Like most great lovers, they're only around for a couple of weeks and then disappear. They return the next year, and all is forgiven, but fleeting. Squeeze them wrong, their juice sprays all over, and it will stain. As it should.

I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. I never was, even in the times I've had a man to spend it with. Like New Year's Eve or St. Patrick's Day, it's one of those holidays accompanied with too much pressure. Nowhere is safe. Places normally of refuge - my favorite bars and restaurants, feel it's necessary to come up with some sort of love theme menu, at a "special" price to make it easier, take the guessing out of ordering. Doesn't it occur to them to NOT do that, for the people who are already in love, and know what they want, what their significant other wants? It's a favorite restaurant because they serve favorite foods, which is incredibly romantic. But no, on that night, you have to order something else. At a higher price.  Dessert isn't desired, it's settled upon, because it's included in the price. Bet you didn't realize Valentine's Day is actually a Jewish holiday in disguise.

Then there are the choices with anti-love themed items. Why does it have to be either or? Why can't I just be a person on Valentine's Day? If I'm not lucky to have someone to love, then why do I have to be made to feel a sociopathic response to it instead?

Don't get me started on the cocktails. Cloying, Gooey, sticky, fatty - an excuse to get rid of all the bottom shelf liqueurs. Yeah, that'll make you look super hot with your clothes off.

But back to blood oranges.

Bitter, sour, sweet, all at the same time. The embodiment of love and love lost. And being forced inside because nowhere is sacred. Enjoyed in privacy, letting that sweet juice run all over, and no one will care. Perfect.

For Valentine's Day, I wanted to create a cocktail with ingredients that frame the inherent flavors of that sensuous fruit, using ingredients that, like love, are rare and decadent in their own right, and rich in flavor but not heavy-handed. The Dell'Erborista amaro adds a drop of punishment, but used sparingly, keeps it sexy.

San Valentín Sagriento (My Bloody Valentine)

2 oz straight rye whiskey
1/2 oz Barolo Chinato Cocchi
1/4 oz Amaro Dell'Erborista 
1/2 oz fresh blood orange juice
1-2 bar spoons (depending on how much of a spanking from the  Dell'Erborista you can take) of good quality maple syrup
3-4 drops Bitters Old Men Macadamia 
1/2 wheel of the blood orange for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until joined and cold of heart. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Attempt to balance the half orange wheel on the rim, but it's Ok to let it fall into the glass. The greatest love is never perfect.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Eras - Ending, Beginning and Enduring

"The end of an era" has become an all too familiar term. I am now at that age where I hear it on a near weekly basis. In New York City, in particular, in the current state of commercial realty, there is physical evidence that eras have been ending all over the place.

In the past month, eras ended for two of my good friends, who both lost their mothers after long illnesses. One of them, was a Broadway stage actress and beloved voice teacher. Both of them were just all around excellent moms and fantastic women.

Yesterday, I had dinner on the Upper West Side with a dear friend I don't get to see very often. One of the reasons we reconnected recently was because an era had ended for her, and I was a significant part of it in some way. She had informed me a couple of weeks ago that her best friend from childhood, and someone I knew at one point well enough to invite to my wedding (as most of you know, great party the marriage had no chance of living up to) had died suddenly from lung cancer in November. My friend's grief was still so new, raw and perplexing, that it hadn't occurred to her to inform people until months later.

When she told me, I was gobsmacked, although I can't claim that this person was someone I considered a close, inner circle friend. We had exchanged a few letters when we were teenagers, she in Westchester, me in Connecticut. Mostly as a show of solidarity and support for our mutual friend, instead of what could have been a brutal rivalry - teenage girls being what they are. We reconnected again some time before I was married, and stayed in touch for a few years after that before she permanently moved to Paris and started a family. Our mutual friend would show me pictures, and give me updates on her life. I would wish her well, and ask after her. But we had stopped communicating entirely, mostly because we were both busy or otherwise pre-occupied - middle aged adults in different countries being what they are. The mutual friend and I had also pretty much stopped communicating in the last couple of years. Though we live in the same city, our lives are very different in many ways. It was just one of those things.

It was wonderful to see her last night. Over a cocktail and subsequent dinner near Lincoln Center, we caught ourselves up with the highlight reels of our recent lives. Over dessert, she gave me the full rundown on what happened to our friend. One of the reasons so few people knew is because she was in complete denial that she was dying, even at the end. Her health had so efficiently turned against her that she when it became apparent she wasn't going to make it, she didn't have time to process what was happening, or leave instructions, or say goodbyes. When the day came, it was so sudden and so physically far away, that those close to her could only go into a sort of logistical autopilot of arrangements and plane reservations.

This was all very sad to me. When we parted in the cold, windy night on upper Broadway, my friend and I promised to be better at staying in touch, which I believe we will be. Life is indeed too short, and we have now reached the age where we can no longer have faith that people we once knew are still kicking around somewhere. I walked past Lincoln Center, which never ceases to take my breath away when I see it lit up at night, the fountain in the foreground, the huge Chagall paintings adding colorful backdrop through the windows of the Met in the distance. How many times have I walked past this scene through the ages? It always seems to be there for all my life's turning points. Won't it always be there for me? In that moment, I became so aware of time passing that it was as though I could feel it slicing through me. It's not a good feeling. I don't recommend it. Hard on the eyes on a cold night...

So this morning, when I learned of the passing of Mayor Ed Koch, I was taken aback in a different way. This man was such an integral component of our culture, like it or not, that it simply never occurred to me there would be a day he'd cease to exist. A face and voice I'd known and appreciated since I was capable of knowing anything, and now it's gone. Maybe he made some unpopular choices, but I still feel an affection for him because of how much he truly loved this city and (I like to think, anyway) the people in it.

So on this day, the first of the month, which is also the 100th birthday of Grand Central Station (where as a child I thought Michelangelo had painted the ceiling), I bid adieu to lost eras, while welcoming new ones, and celebrating those wonderful structures I hope will always be the scenery in the ever-changing narrative of my life. This calls for a cocktail.


I thought about creating one especially for him, and to commemorate Grand Central Station maybe, and all the things I appreciate about this city, but also the elements that make it challenging. But you know what? That cocktail already exists. It's called a New York Sour. This recipe calls for rye, but I think bourbon, irish whiskey or brandy would work just as well. Maybe for Koch float some Manischewitz instead of a typical dry wine. Up to you. Cheers, New York City! Here's to many more memories, sweet and tart.

Via Serious Eats: The New York Sour

2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or 1/4 - 1/2 ounce simple syrup), to taste
splash chilled club soda (optional)
1/2 ounce dry red wine

Add sugar and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker and stir to dissolve (if using simple syrup, skip this step).

Add whiskey to lemon/sugar mixture and fill cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake well for 10 seconds, and strain into either an ice-filled rocks glass or a chilled cocktail glass. Add splash of club soda (optional).

Carefully pour the red wine over the back of a bar spoon so it forms a layer atop the drink.