Martini Quotes

"I'm not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over an ice cube.

I'm talking satin, fire and ice; Fred Astaire in a glass; surgical cleanliness, insight.. comfort; redemption and absolution. I'm talking MARTINI.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Tomtember and Tomcats

Leap Year

        Well it's that strange epoch where we try to reconcile our concept of time and calendar with the universe's machinations.   With the establishment of the Gregorian solar calendar, utilizing 365 days per year, we are forced to add a day every four years to make up for the fact that there are actually 365 and 1/4 days in the solstice cycle.   February seems to be a logical choice as the month has a dearth of days to begin with.  This too is perplexing to me- that there should be a different number of days in the various months.  It seems to me we would be better off if all of the months had an equal amount of days.  That is, in fact, more in line with a lunar based calendar where every month has 28 days.  Unfortunately, that would only produce 364 days in the calendar.   That is very unfortunate as I was entertaining the idea of naming the extra month Tomtember.  It would fall between August and September- my favorite season of the year- not too hot and not too cool.   Why the universe can't conform to my standards is beyond me.

Black Cats

      I was introduced to a Gin cocktail recently by way of my oldest son, Brandon, who was enjoying a meal with friends and family prior to a Boston College basketball game. Having inherited his father's partiality toward Gin, he sent me the cocktail menu with his libation of choice for the day.  

     Joy Division
         orange infused old tom gin
         galliano liqeur
         rhubarb bitters 

A discussion ensued as to what exactly is Old Tom Gin and from whence was that name derived.  If you recall your Gin history, it is generally accepted that the forerunner to modern day Gin was the Dutch beverage Jenever which was brought back to England by the soldiers returning from the 30 years War.  Gin production soared in England leading to a reactionary government movement to curtail it's production resulting in a British Gin Prohibition of sorts.  It is purported that the sign of a black cat or Tom outside an establishment was a signal that the beverage could be had therein.  The situation was analogous to the Prohibition Era of the United States and the evolution of bathtub gin and speak easy lounges.  By slipping a coin in a slot by the cat's paw, a shot of gin would be delivered through a pipe- I believe this may in fact be the world's first fast food concept, albeit Gin as opposed to burgers.  It took Roy Kroc several hundred years to apply the idea to the hamburger and establish McDonalds.  

Missing Link

      In terms of taste, Old Tom Gin has been referred to as "the missing link", between the malt based Genever and a traditional juniper forward London dry gin.  It is typically sweeter than London dry gin but drier than Genever, with a bit less of that Juniper forward characteristic.  How that sweetness is arrived at is a matter of debate.  The two schools of thought are that the sweetness either is derived from a choice of botanicals perhaps in conjunction with a malt wort or rather simply adding sugar at some point in the distillation (I would not add a couple of sugar packets to a bottle of Beefeater and think it sufficient).  Old Tom is somewhat mellower as well and this may stem from the fact that it was probably produced, or at least stored in, barrels back in good old 18th century England.  

      Gin is technically defined by the inclusion of Juniper to the mix of botanical ingredients. Anything after that is fair game which is why there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of marketed brands of Gin available today.  Old Tom Gin is a bit mellower and less dry than your standard London Dry Gin variety, but there is no less daunting an array of options to it's production.  Take the two here:

Hayman's is a time honored tradtional maker of several classic Gins.  Their Old Tom is produced from a venerable family recipe, sweetened with sugar and retaining a clear color.

Ransons is a relative newcomer that uses a more complex recipe and barrel aging to impart a smoother, sweeter Old Tom Gin relative to it's London Dry cousin, with an amber hue akin to whiskey.

Although they both categorize themselves as Old Tom Gins, they are very different in flavor profiles.  Hayman's is notably sweeter from the addition of sugar, whereas Ranson utilizes a malt barley wort and barrel aging to sweeten and mellow the Gin.  Either way you can't go wrong.

Wouldn't it be lovely to be sitting outside on a warm Tomtember evening enjoying a cocktail with Old Tom Gin?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lent Fasts, Mardi Gras and Martinis



    Several days ago on the Thursday wedged between Ash Wednesday and a meatless Friday, I thought I would take respite from the meat fast and indulge in a little bacon as only a Martini lover could.  In a moment of inspiration, I crafted a Martini with Caorunn Gin which utilizes the Coul Blush Apple in it's botanical mix.  What better garnish than Applewood smoked bacon stuffed into the olives?  The result was better than I could ever have hoped for. 


      Raised in the traditions of Catholicism, I was taught to observe a fast from meat starting on Ash Wednesday and including all Fridays during the 40 days of Lent. The forty days was meant to evoke the remembrance of Jesus' forty days of fasting in the desert during which he resisted temptation by the devil on three occasions.  However, I actually counted out the days on the calendar and there clearly are not 40, but 44.  I could not let this rest and did a bit of reading on the subject.  The confusion might in fact stem from a bit of semantics.  The liturgical Lent Season, as a calendar item, runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.  This is actually 43 or 44 days depending on whether you count the Thursday.  The Lenten fast always has been and always will be forty days for reasons previously stated.  The start of Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday is 46 days.  However, Sundays are never fasting days in the Church and there are six Sundays in the lent season, thus forty days of observing the lent fast.  I have to apologize to my non Catholic friends for having to read through all this, but I find it necessary to set the record straight.


     Being in a generally inquisitive mood, my thoughts next turned to the fish.  Why abstain from meat but readily partake of fish.  It is pretty obvious that a fish is just as much an animal as a cow, so the distinction is not on a vegetarian basis.  For that matter, why is religion tied to the practice of fasting at all?  Yet, fasting has been part of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition since ancient times.  In the very early days of Christianity, fasting was practiced by Jews on Mondays and Thursday and all the original Christians were obviously Jewish.  It must have been a practical matter for the early Christians to move their fast days to differentiate themselves from their former religion.  Perhaps the arrest of Jesus on a Wednesday and subsequent crucifixion on a Friday provided the impetus for the choice of those two days in particular.  The Roman Catholic Church downplayed the Wednesday fast, but kept the Friday fast until quite recently.  Fasting most often took the form of the avoidance of meat, most likely because meat was more of a luxury food.  Again, the form of the fast seems to be more of a practical matter.....that Jesus frequented the fishing hole and performed miracles with fish probably helps a bit as well. 

     The more academic biblical explanation is in the concept of the paying of sins.  Before Jesus, sins were paid for, or atoned, by the sacrifice of warm blooded animals (see Leviticus 1:4).  Just as the flesh of the animal was offered up in payment of sin, so then did Jesus offer up his flesh in the payment for the sins of all mankind.  Friday is the day that Jesus died, so Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent out of respect for Jesus who gave up his own flesh to pay for the world’s sins.  So then it is the warm blooded trait of the animal which makes it fodder for the fire and the cold blooded nature of fish that puts it on the menu for fasting days.  Similarly, alligators, iguana, frogs and the like are all potential menu items on the Lenten fasting cuisine.  I much prefer a Cajun spiced Tuna steak with a Martini, which come to think of it doesn't really sound like much of a fasting sacrifice.

Fat Tuesday

      Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.  In countries such as England, Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which is derived from the word shrive, meaning "confess". Through the transfigurative property of time, we have taken the religious preparation for a fast of remembrance and turned it in to a festival of pagan debauchery.  The golden idol persists. 

Bacon Martini

      As I see it, there are two ways to produce a good bacon Martini.  The simplest, and the one I chose, is to simply use it as a garnish, either as a side or stuffed into the olive.  There is also the trend of infusing the bacon flavor directly into the gin.  Warming the bacon in gin allows the aromatic compuounds from the bacon to dissolve into the gin.  Once the fat is mixed with the alcohol, let it cool overnight, and the fat will rise to the surface, effectively trapping those volatile flavor compounds in the alcohol. Strain off the fat in the morning, and you've got your flavor-infused gin.  Seeing as it's only morning, you will have to wait awhile to enjoy your bacon Martini.

On a purely hypothetical level (avoiding the obvious sacrilege) if I were to take the place of Jesus in the desert and the devil offered me a bacon Martini, one would have to fear for the salvation of mankind.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Deserts and Martinis


       As the relatively mild winter weather continues here in New England, standing in stark contrast to last year's unrelenting winter, I find myself in the midst of planning a trip to Palm Springs, California, an oasis of fine hotels, golf, tennis, and a seemingly endless array of water driven recreation in the middle of a desert as only could be done in the US (or Dubai).   In the early 1900's, Palm Springs became a haven for those seeking better health and recuperation from what ailed them in a pleasant, dry environment.  In the surrounding foothills overlooking Palm Springs healing mineral spring waters fed the resort spa destination.  The area became a frequent getaway for the Hollywood rich and famous particularly in the post World War II era.  Hollywood values permeated the resort as it combined celebrity, health, new wealth, and sex. As Culver (2010) explains: "The bohemian sexual and marital mores already apparent in Hollywood intersected with the resort atmosphere of Palm Springs, and this new, more open sexuality would gradually appear elsewhere in national tourist culture."  That all seems quite interesting, but I will be going for the rather mundane reason of observing some tennis at the BNP Paribus Open at Indian Wells.  

Desert Despair

     With my desert itinerary in the making, I could not help but to draw parallels with my most recent read The Sheltering Sky, written by Paul Bowles, and published in 1949.  Just as WWI produced "The Lost Generation" of writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald et al, so it was that WWII produced a similar artistic community and Bowles was in the thick of it.  Rather than the Paris cafes frequented by the original "lost generation", Bowles was drawn to North Africa, specifically Tangier.  He used his familiarity of the area as the setting for his acclaimed novel. The basic plot revolves around Port and Kit Moresby and their hapless friend Tunner.  Port has planned a trip for the New York based couple to escape the world ruined in the aftermath of WWII, while at the same time attempting to repair a marriage which has fractured.  They travel to North Africa and embark on an ever more chaotic and degenerative journey into the Sahara Desert, which represents an existential quest for something to hold onto in a world ostensibly devoid of meaning or relevance.  The title comes from the following passage:

"You know," said Port, and his voice sounded unreal, as voices are likely to do after a long pause in an utterly silent spot, "the sky here's very strange. I often have the sensation when I look at it that it's a solid thing up there, protecting us from what's behind."
Kit shuddered slightly as she said: "From what's behind?"
"But what is behind?" Her voice was very small.
"Nothing, I suppose. Just darkness. Absolute night."

      Now here is a book that sounds the depths of despair.  I think it was the character Roger in The Strange Country, a never completed novel by Hemingway who said   “Missing is bad. But it doesn’t kill you. But despair would kill you in just a little time.”  It masterfully paints a very dark picture in the setting of the nearly limitless sunlight of the Sahara Desert.  

Dry Martinis

     All this talk of  the desert naturally brings to mind the dry Martini, but not everyone is fully versed in the usage of the term dry as it relates to an alcoholic beverage.  In the fermentation process, a carbohydrate substance is taken up by a fermenting agent, i.e. yeast for example, which utilizes the sugar for energy and produces alcohol as an end product.  Wouldn't it be nice to be a yeast for a day?  To oversimplify the formula, the human species also utilizes sugar to produce energy, but the biochemical process we possess produces carbon dioxide as an end product. If, or more precisely when, the fermentation process is brought to a halt determines how much sugar remains and thus how sweet, or conversely, how dry the resultant alcoholic distillate is. 

     Now the original Martini was concocted with Old Tom Gin which is decidedly less dry than the London Dry Gin to which most people are more familiar.  The  vermouth which was added was either sweet or dry depending on which story of the genesis of the Martini you believe in.  So initially a "dry martini" referred to the use of dry vermouth and London dry gin. In modern terminology, dry has become synonymous with the proportion of gin to vermouth.  The classic ratio is 3:1  and as the ratio of gin increased, the martini became drier.  Hemingway was famous for his use of the term Montgomery to describe his martini ratio of 15:1 , as he stated this was the only acceptable ratio of attacking force the British general would accept to assure victory.  I believe he had a certain amount of disdain for this particular commander.

It is ironic indeed that a dry martini could be so refreshing in the driest of climates.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


  A Painter

    A Persistence of Memory is, of course, Salvador Dali's most recognized work and a fixture in popular culture, or at least what was popular culture when I was growing up. He painted what are referred to as dreamscapes, as he was inspired from the visions in his dreams.  This particular one seems to have struck a universal cord amongst people.  A print of this painting graced the wall of my bedroom through my college years. I had not a firm grasp of what attracted me to this work back then, probably a vague freshman notion of time and memory.  I believe that I purchased this print soon after having been dumped by my high school girlfriend which probably, on second thought, explains a lot.  Time is something which we all struggle with, and I find myself in a constant state of war against this most indefinable of dimensions.  Time is something which we cannot buy and can never get back once it is gone.  As time marches on, deaf to our petitions, all we have left are the memories, and they are not quite so firm and real as we would like to hold onto them, but they are changing, malleable like the clocks in Dali's piece.

       I was recently having a discussion with my son, who is a high school sophomore at a fine Jesuit institution.  He was telling me that one of his teachers put forth the idea to the class that time really doesn't exist- to which I promptly replied that I couldn't agree more.  I challenged him to define time for me and to his credit, he provided some reasonable descriptions of time, but not a definition.  If one considers, for instance,  the present tense of time- when exactly is it?  Do we consider an hour, min, sec, millisecond, etc.  You could continue dividing infinitesimally smaller intervals without ever defining a single point as being NOW.   For all we truly know, time may simply be a construct of the human mind to give ourselves a sense of order and place in the universe. -Just  an idea to consider over a Martini.

An Author

      Memories persist in their strongest form when associated with emotion- good or bad.  Henry James was probably the author who understood this concept best.   What he also realized, is that memories are frequently evoked from the sense of smell.  Who hasn't at one time or another caught wind of a certain aroma, be it a food, flower, or just the air around us and not had a memory suddenly triggered within us associated with a strong emotion.  There is, in fact, a biologic basis for this phenomenon.   The olfactory regions not only serve the sense of smell, but are also used in the experience of emotions and the memorization of events. This is the reason why odors can evoke very strong associations and memories of situations and places from a long time ago.  This was quite eloquently articulated by Helen Keller:

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us
across thousands of miles and all the years we
have lived… odours, instantaneous and
fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or
contract with remembered grief.”

An Herb

      Although I have no formal training in the culinary arts, I do consider myself a fairly decent chef.  I truly enjoy a summer evening cooking on the grill with an ice cold Martini in hand.  I have always said that if you cannot prepare food which tastes good with olive oil, salt, pepper and Rosemary then you have no business being in a kitchen.  My herb garden is perpetually awash with Rosemary.  That sweet, earthy aromatic aroma works well with just about anything.  And, just as important, the good news is that Rosemary may also have some memory boosting properties as well.  Some studies have shown that this relationship is more than just a casual one. 

Martini with Wire Works Gin
      Now when it comes to the Martini, you have two choices for adding Rosemary to boost your memory. One can either use it as a garnish, or use a gin with Rosemary incorporated into the botanical mix.  I have lately been using Rosemary as a garnish as it nicely complements the botanicals in most gins and seems to balance the Juniper nicely in the more modern balanced varieties of gin.  To get the full effect, rub the Rosemary around the glass to activate the organic oils in the Rosemary.  Simply plopping it in the drink is very uncouth.  Wire Works Gin produced by Grandten Distillery in South Boston, I find to work exceptionally well with Rosemary as a garnish.  Added to the traditional mix are spruce tip, which nicely cuts into the Juniper  and kumquat providing a sweeter citrus appeal.  This is one of my new favorite gins out there and I highly recommend it.  If, on the hand, you want a gin that incorporates the Rosemary directly into the botanical mix, then Gin Mare is the way to go. It is a Spanish gin bursting with the wonderful taste of the Mediterranean: olives, thyme, basil and most importantly, Rosemary.

And so my friends, 
Remember to Drink and Drink to Remember!