What it’s all about

This is what it's all about ... having fun with friends and family (in this case, at our annual Solstmas party at Liberty Lounge)

This blog is mostly for my own amusement, a chance to geek out about extravagant foods and fancy cocktails, and especially to jot down recipes or ideas that I’m excited about so that I have a record of them for the future.

But, if I have any hope for those who read my blog, it’s that they’re inspired to entertain themselves. I’m a firm believer than spending time with the people in your life is better than watching TV, that sharing a meal or a cocktail you made yourself with friends and family is one of the best ways to show them that you love them. And I think that the time you spend entertaining is repaid with a huge dividend when you see how much fun everyone is having.

I’m not sure that this message always come through in my many posts about my favorite desserts or swanky speakeasies in New York City, which is why I was so gratified to get this email recently from Stephanie, a family friend who follows my blog and can always be counted on to try the most adventurous options on the cocktail menu when I’m making cocktails at my parents’ house in Houston. Here’s her letter and pictures, shared with her permission …

Attached are pictures of Hostess Diary–inspired get-togethers. My New Years resolution was to have one or more guests once a month for dinner or drinks. Easter ham dinner with your folks …

Stephanie's Easter dinner

My other guest had a gallbladder attack and related surgery. I delivered dinner to her house instead of her joining us.

Girls’ campout with a Greek theme …

Girls' Greek picnic

… NYE Bunco with friends and neighbors …

Bunco party on New Year's Eve

I had your folks over in Jan for prime rib dinner …

Stephanie's table setting

… and my Feb dinner was stuffed flounder with neighbors.

This is precisely what I want readers to take away from my blog. I’d love to be able to order expensive truffles from D’Artagnan and have the talent and money to arrange beautiful tablescapes à la Martha Stewart. I emphatically don’t. But I have great friends who are willing to pitch in at every party by bringing a fun bottle of booze or by washing cocktail glasses midway through the evening. I have a larger-than-usual apartment with two fireplaces and a great view of downtown San Francisco. And I have a boundless enthusiasm for making food and cocktails, which allows me to host some memorable parties.

So what do you have that you can share with your friends? Maybe you have a big back yard with a barbecue and you know how to make killer ribs. Maybe you’re good at organizing your friends in playing party games. Even if you have a tiny home, a dinner party for four probably isn’t an impossibility, even if you have to sit on pillows around the coffee table. Even if your entertaining budget is miniscule, you might be able to buy some triple-creme brie and a hunk of aged goat gouda to make a beautiful cheese platter, which guests can nibble on while they do a blind taste test of bottles of wine that they have brought themselves.

My point is that the rewards of entertaining are many, and that there are a nearly infinite number of ways to gather your friends or family for a magical evening. Many years ago, in a tiny little studio apartment, I hosted parties where guests were asked to wear their jammies or something comfortable and bring a short story or children’s story to read to the other guests. Not all, but some of those evenings were utterly magical. When I lived in a 450-square-foot cottage where I couldn’t fit more than four people in the living room, I would wait until we had the rare heat wave in San Francisco and organize a last-minute mojito party in my yard. There were only a handful of nights each year when it was warm enough to comfortably hang out in the yard, but that just made the parties that much more special.

Whether your talent is cooking, cocktail making, decorating your home, or just knowing a posse of  interesting people who should get to know one another, you have the makings of a great party. And whether your home and budget lend itself toward a cocktail party for forty or a dinner party for four,   entertaining is probably within your reach.

If you have any entertaining success stories (or disasters … it happens!), let me know and I might share them on this blog.

The Solstmas Party … in a Powerpoint slide

Our friend Sharona the Shutterbug, unofficial photographer of all our Liberty Lounge parties …

Sharona, wearing the finery she *almost* won in the Solstmas gift exchange

recently sent me a flock of photos she took at our 14-hour-long Solstmas open house a few weeks ago. I plan to post many of them here in the next week or so, but in the meantime, I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the mind of the Cocktail Host.

Our friend Michael and the Cocktail Host, who seems to be having some sort of epiphany. Photo by Sharona Gottlieb.

While I was running around on Christmas morning decorating ice rings for the punch bowl and figuring out what glassware we should use for the keg of home-brewed pumpkin porter our friend Matthew was bringing …

Matthew and his home-brewed pumpkin porter. Photo by Sharona Gottlieb.

… Dave decided that we needed a diagram of where all the various drinks were, so he wouldn’t have to “keep explaining to everyone where the wine glasses are.” (Click on it to see it in its full glory.) After an hour of fiddling around with his computer (while I stewed about how he wasn’t doing something useful, damnit!), he came up with this 3D graphic, which we posted in a few different places in the house. I’m not sure anyone noticed them without being prompted (at which point we could have just told them where the wine glasses were), but once they saw it they were pretty impressed.

Dave's Powerpoint diagram for Solstmas

At the time he was working on it, I confess I would have rather he were reorganizing the living room or helping me clean the kitchen. But I also think it shows how he’s the yin to my yang, the Abbott to my Costello, the peanut butter to my jelly, the wax to my wane, the mad to my sane (but who is who in this case?).

Without me, our parties would be less obsessively planned, with less homemade food and fewer fancy cocktails. Without him, however, we wouldn’t have synced wireless streaming audio in every room, firewood schlepped and stacked, and “stadium lighting” brightly illuminating the ping-pong table in the backyard at midnight. And there would certainly be no Powerpoint slides, of that I am sure.

It might be easier to plan a party with someone who has priorities similar to my own, but the I suspect the parties would also be a lot less fun.

The Cocktail Hostess and Host. Photo by Sharona Gottlieb. Silly Mrs. Claus apron courtesy of my mom.

 

Entertaining lessons learned … for now

A Sazerac

I’ve hit the wall that I seem to smack into every January and I’m feeling the need to take a step back from entertaining for a while. And by “a while,” I mean maybe a week or so, since inevitably I’ll have the itch to organize some other celebration, or maybe just have a few folks over for dinner, in a couple of days.

This time of year is always the tail end of an entertaining marathon at our house. In the last month we’ve hosted a daylong afterparty that started at 8 am (following an all-night dance event elsewhere), a Christmas Day open house for 70, a very small surprise party for the Cocktail Host’s birthday, and a larger get-together for my birthday last weekend. A few weeks before that it was Thanksgiving dinner for 11.

The Cocktail Host and Jacob set the table

Add in hosting three bridge games, having a houseguest for five days last week, and various friends dropping by for drinks or dinner every few days, and I’m pooped.

I’m sure this burnout is mostly the result of the party I hosted last Friday, where I went a little bonkers with the menu, making homemade cheese straws, and candied spiced walnuts, and Marcona almonds with lavender and sea salt, and crudités with four (!) kinds of dip, and homemade caramel corn with almonds and pecans, and homemade hummus with za’atar and pita chips baked by yours truly, and cumin-mint chicken satay with a peanut dipping sauce … and that’s not counting the menu of five different cocktails and mocktails.

I have to admit there was a moment last Thursday when I wondered why I was spending my birthday lugging a backpack with 20 pounds of veggies, crackers, and tahini up the hill to my house instead of putting my feet up, but I knew the feeling would pass before long. And when the power went out at our house the morning of the party, I briefly wondered how I would go about canceling the party before I started inventorying my candles and firewood and figuring out which dishes I would have to strike from the menu since I couldn’t use my Cuisinart. (The power came back on an hour or two later.)

In the end, though, I enjoyed this party more than almost any other I’ve hosted, in part because the Cocktail Host insisted that I not work nonstop during my own birthday party, even though I reminded him that it would mean that he would have to spend the whole party on his feet. Though I love making food and drinks for folks at my parties, it was a revelation to have more than 90 seconds to chat with my guests in between shaking up drinks.

So the lesson I took away from this season of entertaining—other than enlisting my husband to make drinks during a party—is the virtue of simplicity. Of streamlining. The wisdom of making four types of cocktails instead of six. The sanity I would gain from serving a cheese plate alone rather than a cheese plate and homemade cheese straws, which had me ripping apart my cabinets looking for my missing rolling pin and sweeping up a flurry of flour an hour before my guests arrived.

You wouldn’t think it would take hosting so many parties to figure this out, but apparently it does. I feel like the bride-to-be who stresses about party favors and the color of the table linens and whether her niece should wear the same type of wrist corsage as the bridesmaids. You can tell her to chill the bleep out, but she’s not going to listen to you. She has to learn for herself.

Speaking of simplicity … one of the cocktails I made last Friday was the Sazerac, by some accounts the first American cocktail. Though I don’t drink a ton of Sazeracs myself at home, I wanted to put something on the menu that didn’t include citrus, as did all the other drinks on the menu, and I like the ritual of assembling a Sazerac. And though I expected this drink to be a hard sell considering the competition, it surprised me by being one of the most popular drinks of the night.

But just because it’s a “simple” drink doesn’t mean that everyone agrees about how it should be made, and many knowledgeable bartenders vehemently disagree about the technique for making it. Some serve it in an old-fashioned glass while others prefer using a cocktail glass. Traditionalists use a sugar cube, but some use simple syrup instead. Some use a combination of a few different types of bitters, while others insist a Sazerac should only be made with Peychaud’s. Some rinse the glass with absinthe, but others use Herbsaint, the New Orleanean anise-flavored liqueur that became popular when it was illegal to sell absinthe in the United States. And finally, and perhaps most contentiously, some like to drop the lemon twist into the drink, while others insist it should only be twisted over the drink and should never, ever see the inside of the glass.

I’m not at all doctrinaire about my Sazeracs and am of the opinion that as long as the drink is quite cold, it’s probably going to taste great. Cocktail nerds will already have their own firmly held opinion about how to assemble this drink, but for the rest of you, here’s the way I put them together.

You’ll need some rye (I’m very fond of Rittenhouse and Michter’s, but Bulleit is perfectly acceptable and a bargain to boot), some Peychaud’s bitters, and some Herbsaint. Even if you’re starting from zero, it shouldn’t cost you more than $50 or so to buy all the ingredients if you use Bulleit.

Sazerac ingredients

Put an ice cube in the bottom of a pint glass and shake about three dashes of Peychaud’s bitters on top. Use a muddler to mash it all up.

Adding the Peychaud's bitters

Add 2 ounces of rye to the glass, add ice, and stir to dissolve the sugar and chill the drink.

Stirring the Sazerac

Now remove a small cocktail glass from your freezer (you do keep cocktail glasses of various sizes in your freezer at all times, don’t you? Good!). Add a small amount of Herbsaint to the glass. Some people like to use an atomizer or an eyedropper, but I typically use a small squeeze bottle. Tilt the glass so the Herbsaint coats the interior of the glass, then dump out the extra liquid.

Adding the Herbsaint

Strain the rye mixture into the glass, squeeze a lemon twist over the drink, and drop the peel into the glass. Voilà! You’ve just made a classic cocktail that’s been around for about 150 years. Now don’t you feel sophisticated?

Voila! A Sazerac.

The end of an era

 

A few weeks ago, my parents, who live in Houston, decided at the last minute to host not one but two different parties (on consecutive nights, no less) to celebrate my father’s retirement. It’s not clear whether it was their fondest wish to have their beloved youngest daughter (ahem, that would be me!) in town for the celebrations, or whether they simply didn’t want to be bothered manning the cocktail shaker for each of the  parties. Regardless, they flew me home for a quick two-day trip to join in the festivities. Though it was undoubtedly generous of them to spring for my last-minute plane ticket from San Francisco, at least it was cheaper than hiring a bartender two nights in a row, as I frequently reminded them during my short trip home.

I’ve written about having parties in Houston before. I like to whinge about how my parents’ suburban liquor store doesn’t stock Miclo creme de violette from France or my favorite brands of French Cognac, or about how I have to make do with my parents’ too-large tumblers instead of having access to my own collection of highball and old-fashioned glasses. The same was true this time, and so, mixologically speaking, these parties weren’t my finest moment of cocktail achievement. I tried to take advantage of the produce in my parents garden (at this point a bit wilted from weeks on end of 100+ degree heat), and I had to concede that half of the guests would rather have a Shiner Bock beer (Texas’s best brew) or vodka martini (the saddest “cocktail” ever, in my opinion) rather than take a leap with a cocktail concoction they had never heard of before. At least I turned my most loyal blog reader onto my own desert island cocktail, the Sidecar, which was initially a hard sell among the Houstonians.

Although the cocktails I made  (basil-gin gimlets, mojitos, sidecars, and the London Dry Sangria I worked out for a wedding a few weeks ago) weren’t particularly inventive, the parties were a great success … less because of the food and drink and more because of the occasion we were celebrating.

My father went to work for the U.S. space program, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in 1966, two years before I was born. With his electrical engineering degree, he started working on the primitive computers that guided the Apollo rockets in their flight. I love these photos of my dad working for the space program during the Apollo program because in some ways they look so unlike him (he’s nearing his 70th birthday), and yet in other ways they are so clearly him.

Dad during an Apollo flight

Dad supporting an Apollo flight

Dad is on the right

Since Dad starting working for the space program not quite two years before I was born, it has been a part of my life all my years. My very first memory as a child is of watching one of the Apollo rockets lift off. We lived in Titusville, Florida, at the time, about 15 miles away from where the rockets launched. My father always had to be at work during the launches, which took place in the early morning, which meant that my older sister and I were always home alone with my mother. I remember our mother plucking us out of bed in our pajamas and sitting on the back of our Dodge sedan in the carport while we watched an Apollo rocket rise into the sky, looking for all the world as if it we could just reach out and touch it.

As much as the space program has been a part of my life, this was even more so for my parents. At one of my Dad’s retirement parties he mentioned that there had been 135 shuttle launches. Since he specialized, among other things, in launch support, he would always get up in the wee hours and go to work at Mission Control for each launch (actually, he was usually in the room next to Mission Control, where he and the other engineers would monitor the systems). I asked him how many of those 135 launches he had missed, and he said that he had been at Mission Control, or at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for all but three or four of them. Add in the 15 or so Apollo launches he participated in between 1966 and 1972 and he witnessed the arc of the U.S. space program for 45 years.

So even though Dad is more of a beer drinker than a sophisticated cocktail tippler (hey, at least he graduated from Schaefer Light to Heineken some years ago!), I raise a cocktail (maybe a Blue Moon, one of the few cocktails other than Aviation to use my beloved creme de violette) to Dad. Now all I need is one of these cocktail shakers for my next party in Houston.

The Main Squeeze

Main Squeeze Cocktail

Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of my friends Kristina and John. Though, sadly, I somehow managed to come away without any pictures of the beautiful blushing bride and her handsome beau, I did come home with a camera full of pictures of cocktails and food. Go figure. Suffice it to say the event was gobsmackingly beautiful, from the bride herself in her grandmother’s necklace to the garden setting to the wildflowers on each table. And did I mention the cupcakes?? Oh, the cupcakes!

wedding cupcakes

The most gorgeous of the many fabulous cakelets, which were all baked by friends of the bride, were these, which, not surprisingly, were contributed by The Working Cook.

s'more cupcake

It doesn’t take long looking at this cupcake to realize that it’s a s’more cupcake, with brûléed marshmallow and graham cracker. Wow.

But back to the drinks … In addition to beer and wine, the bride and groom wanted to serve a signature cocktail, which I volunteered to make. So, after I made several different drinks for the bride to taste a few months ago, she settled on London Dry Sangria, a pitcher cocktail dreamed up by Duggan McDonnell, a genius of a San Francisco bartender who opened the neo-Latin speakeasy Cantina a handful of years ago. With a bright lemon flavor and bit of sparkle from the ginger beer, it seemed like the perfectly refreshing drink to serve during a cocktail hour that would immediately follow a warm-weather afternoon ceremony.

The recipe for his London Dry Sangria has been published in a few places, both in a book and online, but even after I found it I had a bit of work in front of me.

You see, most recipes are published without mentioning specific brands of food or spirits. Most of the cookbooks I edit—whether for food or for cocktails—specifically discourage mentioning brand names  of ingredients. This is generally for very good reasons. First, you don’t want to discourage a reader from making a recipe if they don’t have access to the specific brand specified in a recipe. And second, recipes that specify brands often seem as if they’re shilling for that brand. If you see a recipe that indicates, for example, Kraft grated Parmesan cheese or Grey Goose vodka, you might guess that the recipe was engineered by the corporate flacks at the respective company rather than crafted by a dispassionate foodie. This is why most recipes you’ll find in cookbooks don’t mention specific brand names except for in a few rare instances (Tabasco sauce and Campari are a few exceptions that come to mind).

I think that this is generally a good policy, but it’s less compelling when applied to cocktails. If I were just throwing together a pitcher of Duggan’s London Dry Sangria for a run-of-the-mill cocktail party, I wouldn’t have been thrown off by his ingredients list, which calls for gin, white wine (actually, he specifies a grüner veltliner), orange bitters, and ginger beer, among other ingredients, without specifying the type. But, when you think about it, there is such a huge amount of variation between those ingredients that it can result in various versions of the drink that are quite different.

Do you use Barritts Ginger Beer (which I hear is Duggan’s go-to ginger beer), which is a fairly sweet drink that contains high-fructose corn syrup? Or do you go with Bundaberg, or the intensely flavored Fever-Tree, loved by cocktail aficionados but considerably more expensive? For the gin do you use Hendrick’s, which is delicate and floral, with more cucumber than juniper, or do you go with Junipero Gin, which smacks you upside the head with its spicy juniper quality? Even the orange bitters in the original recipe are up for interpretation. I started with my go-to orange bitters, Reagan’s Orange Bitters No. 6, my favorite to use in a gin gimlet, before I decided that the drink benefitted from a dose of the beefier and spicier Angostura Orange Bitters.

Since I needed to prepare 176 servings of the drink for the wedding, I really wanted to dial in the right combo of ingredients in the recipe, but I also needed to use ingredients at a reasonable price. This, unfortunately, eliminated using Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, a delightful 90-proof gin (most gins are about 80 proof) with a strong undercurrent of juniper and citrus that I thought would marry well with the lemon juice. But if I scrimped on the gin, that meant I would have more money to spend on the ginger beer, an important ingredient since the bride had originally suggested a drink that incorporated fresh ginger.

In the end, I decided on this refreshing cocktail, which the bride charmingly called “The Main Squeeze.” So, with several tweaks to Duggan’s original ratios, and the addition of recommended brands, this is what we drank at the wedding …

Main Squeeze cocktail

The Main Squeeze, after Duggan McDonnell’s London Dry Sangria

Makes 8 servings

12 ounces gruner veltliner or other zesty dry white wine, like a sauvignon blanc
7 ounces Tanqueray gin
8 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 ounces simple syrup
10 dashes Angostura orange bitters
10 dashes Reagan’s Orange Bitters
12 ounces Cock & Bull ginger beer
16 thin lemon slices, for garnish

Combine the wine, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and both bitters in a pitcher and stir to combine. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Pour into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Top each serving with 1 1/2 ounces of ginger beer and garnish with two thin lemon slices, each pressed against the side of the glass using the handle end of a barspoon or a chopstick. Serve at once.

The drink seemed supremely popular, and I’d drink it any day, but as always there are a dozen different directions you could take this drink in. Use the ingredients I’ve suggested here, or substitute what you have on hand. I’d be curious to hear your results.

Making the most of what you’ve got

Fresh from my parents' garden

I entertain so frequently that I sometimes fall into a rut. Left to my own devices, most of my parties will be some variation of one of the following:

  1. a retro cocktail party, with classic cocktails, a fire in the fireplace, Ella on the stereo
  2. a casual summer barbecue, with the CocktailHost grilling on balcony and me muddling fruit into cocktails in the kitchen
  3. a small three- or four-course dinner party for four or six

In part that’s because those are some of my favorite party styles, but each one is also tailored to some aspect of our apartment. The fireplace. The balcony with a gas grill. The dining room table that fits six (barely).

That’s one reason why I really enjoy hosting parties in other venues, or for a different crowd, or for a different sort of occasion every once in a while. Though it’s a huge help for me to rely on one of my regular party styles when I’m throwing together a shindig without much time to prep, I also want to keep things fresh.

This is all a long way of saying that I had the pleasure of co-hosting a party at my parents’ house in Houston in June. (Sorry for the long delay, Mom! I finally found my lost camera with the photos on it.)

My parents and a few of their friends are kind enough to read my blog, and when they found out I was going to be in town my mom asked me if I would throw something together. Who me? Host a party? Well, if you insist.

I knew right away that wouldn’t have access to all my fancy cocktail glassware and gadgets, and that I wouldn’t be able to stock up on obscure liqueurs or spirits at their suburban liquor store. I couldn’t even make an Aviation, since creme de violette hasn’t made it out to their neck of the woods yet.

The key, though, is to focus on what you do have. In this case, at the top of the list was my parents’ garden, which was completely overgrown with basil …

basil

as well as fresh mint …

mint

and edible marigolds, which make a beautiful drink garnish.

Marigold for garnish

After I found a few cucumbers in the fridge that had come straight from a friend’s garden,  the cocktail menu practically wrote itself.

Mom took care of the food, making her old-school “Gourmet Crab Ring” that she’s probably been making since before I was born …

Gourmet Crab Ring recipe

Of course, since we were in Houston, we served it with crackers in the shape of Texas …

Texas-shaped crackers

(Random aside: Does anyone know of any food products sold in the shape of any state other than Texas? In Houston you can find all sorts of crackers, tortilla chips, and even pasta in the shape of Texas, but methinks this is a distinctively Texan conceit. If you have a photo of food in the shape of any other state, please send it to me. I’d love to see it.)

At any rate, the party was great fun for me, and I think for the guests, too. It was a good reminder, though, of how I need to keep the temperature in mind when hosting a party.  I’m so used to our perpetually chilly San Francisco apartment that I didn’t take into full consideration the effect of the 95-degree day on our guests. Next time I’ll serve more tall drinks on ice, like the Paloma, which was the most popular drink of the evening. (The recipe I based mine on is here, though I made a few tweaks and garnished it with those pretty marigolds.)

My favorite drink of the evening, though, was the simple but subtle cucumber-basil gin gimlet, which one guest (and regular commenter to this blog, though I’m not naming names) seemed to enjoy quite a lot. In this drink, it’s particularly important that the basil be spanking fresh, and you can’t get much fresher than leaving it on the plants in the yard until you’re ready to assemble a drink, then dashing outside to pluck off a few leaves at a time. Here’s my version of the super-summery cocktail:

Cucumber-Basil Gin Gimlet

3 thin slices cucumber
5 basil leaves
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 ounces gin (preferably Hendrick’s)
Splash of simple syrup

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber slices, 4 of the basil leaves, and sugar. Add the lime juice, gin, and a splash of simple syrup. Add ice to the shake and shake until well combined. Taste and adjust, if necessary, to suit your taste (neither too sweet nor too tart). Double strain, using both a cocktail strainer and fine-mesh sieve, into a chilled cocktail glass (a cocktail strainer alone won’t remove all the bits of basil and cucumber). To garnish, place the remaining basil leaf flat on one palm and slap it with the palm of the other hand (this releases the basil’s aroma). Float the leaf on top of the drink and serve.

cucumber-basil gimlet

Cucumber-basil gin gimlet

A very special birthday celebration …

Photo by Rachel Myrow

Though most of the parties I’ve hosted this summer have been last-minute, ad hoc affairs, last week I had a great time hosting a somewhat more elaborate 40th birthday party for one of my dearest friends, whom I mention here often as the Working Cook (the name of her cookbook and her former column for the San Francisco Chronicle).

The Working Cook, photo by Rachel Myrow

Anyhoo, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I need no excuse to throw a party, but it’s radically more fun when you’re putting together a shindig for someone who is near and dear to you. In fact, I have often thought that there needs to be a word for the glee I feel when cooking a nice dinner for my honey, or organizing a surprise party for a friend, or making cocktails for a friend’s wedding or bachelorette party. The Germans are good at this. Maybe Freundglückkochen? Freund-Parteiglück? Someone who knows German better than I do—help me out here.

It was a crazy cold and cloudy evening for early July …

Photo by Rachel Myrow

Photo by Rachel Myrow

… which means that no one ventured into the backyard, but on the flip side that means we got to build a roaring fire in the fireplace and hunker down against the cold.

Mr. Manhattan and I collaborated on the cocktail menu, and then he very generously offered to shake up the cocktails all evening long, which freed me up to focus on the lavender-sugar and sea salt Marcona almonds, shrimp with Szechuan peppercorns, homemade caramel corn with toasted almonds, and chicken satay with a peanut, curry, and coconut milk dipping sauce.

With Mr. Manhattan behind the bar, the cocktails were predictably off the hook, and his Still Life with Apples, After Cezanne, a cocktail topped with “smoked cider air” made from apple cider, liquid smoke, soy lecithin, and xanthan gum, was a particularly big hit with the birthday girl. (The recipe, invented by Daniel Hyatt at San Francisco’s Alembic, appears in the book Left Coast Libations.)

The other cocktail that went like gangbusters was the blackberry-mint margarita which I think is a perfect summer cocktail, with plenty of fresh fruit and herb flavors but enough punch from the tequila to give it a little heft. Give it a shot during the brief weeks that blackberries are in season …

Photo by Rachel Myrow

Blackberry-Mint Margarita

6 fresh blackberries

8 fresh mint leaves

1 1/2 ounces Chinaco reposado tequila

1 oz fresh lime juice

3/4 to 1 oz simple syrup

Muddle 4 of the blackberries in a cocktail shaker with the mint leaves. Add the tequila, lime juice, and 3/4 ounce simple syrup, fill the shaker with ice, and shake well. Taste and add more simple syrup, if necessary (the amount required will depend on the sweetness of the blackberries). Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Spear the remaining 2 blackberries on a cocktail pick and use to garnish the drink.

If you give this recipe a try, let me know how it turns out!