Monthly Archives: March 2011


When it came to cocktails, we used to sidle up to the bar and ask for the first thing that came to mind: a gin and tonic.  But today, modern “mixologists” (a fancy name for the bartender) are digging up vintage cocktail recipes – it’s a shame to stick with the same-old, same-old when such wonderful drinks as the French 75, the Singapore Sling and the Santa Maria are to be had.  Whether you like it neat, dirty, on the rocks, or with a twist, your cocktail repertoire will enjoy serious expansion with some of these delightful concoctions from days gone by. 

History and drink descriptions are care of our friends at Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.

Ramos Gin Fizz

A Ramos gin fizz (also known as a Ramos fizz or New Orleans fizz) contains gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water, and soda water. It is served in a large glass, such as a Zombie glass (a non-tapered 12 to 14 ounce glass).

The orange flower water and egg white significantly affect the flavor and texture of a Ramos, compared to a regular Gin Fizz. As Cleveland bar chef Everest Curley points out “a big key to making egg cocktails is not to use ice at first; the sugar acts as an emulsifier, while it and the alcohol ‘cooks’ the egg white.”[3] Even so, many bartenders today use powdered egg white because of the possible health risks associated with consuming raw eggs.

Henry C. Ramos invented the Ramos gin fizz in 1888 at his bar in Meyer’s Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was originally called the New Orleans Fizz, and is one of the city’s most famous cocktails. Before Prohibition, the bar employed dozens of “shaker boys” to create the drinks during periods of heavy business.

The French 75

French 75 is a cocktail made from gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar.

The drink was created in 1915 at the Paris landmark, Harry’s New York Bar by barman Harry MacElhone. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm howitzer artillery piece, also called a “75 Cocktail”, or “Soixante Quinze” in French. The French 75 was popularized in America at the Stork Club.

The drink’s recipe was first recorded in The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. A later cocktail book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury claims that the French 75 is a Cognac based drink.

The Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling is a cocktail that was developed sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon (嚴崇文), a bartender working at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, Singapore. The original recipe used gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, and fresh pineapple juice, primarily from Sarawak pineapples which enhance the flavor and create a foamy top.

Most recipes substitute bottled pineapple juice for fresh juice; soda water has to be added for foam. The hotel’s recipe was recreated based on the memories of former bartenders and written notes that they were able to discover regarding the original recipe. One of the scribbled recipes is still on display at the Raffles Hotel Museum.

Recipes published in articles about Raffles Hotel prior to the 1970s are significantly different from current recipes, and “Singapore Slings” drunk elsewhere in Singapore differ from the recipe used at Raffles Hotel.

The current Raffles Hotel recipe is a heavily modified version of the original, most likely changed sometime in the 1970s by Ngiam Tong Boon’s nephew. Today, many of the “Singapore Slings” served at Raffles Hotel have been pre-mixed and are dispensed using an automatic dispenser that combines both alcohol and pineapple juice to pre-set volumes. They are then blended instead of shaken to create a nice foamy top as well as to save time because of the large number of orders. However, it is still possible to request a shaken version from bartenders.

The Caipirinha

Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime.  Cachaça is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage. While both rum and cachaça are made from sugarcane-derived products, most rum is made from molasses. Specifically with cachaça, the alcohol results from the fermentation of sugarcane juice that is afterwards distilled.

The word caipirinha means ‘little countryside drink’ in Portuguese. Although there’s no definitive version of how the cocktail was invented, its story is bound up with that of cachaça, the spirit that Brazilians drink a staggering 200 million liters of every year.

It seems likely that the caipirinha evolved as workers on Brazil’s sugar cane plantations looked for a palatable way to drink the cachaça they were helping to produce. An alternative story has it that Portuguese slave traders returning to Europe would use limes to prevent scurvy, which they added to the cachaça they’d picked up in Brazil and combined with sugar for sweetness. (History of the Caipirinha thanks to

The Matador

The Matador is a tequila-based cocktail. Less widely known than the margarita, its structure is similarly simple, with three primary ingredients: silver or blanco tequila, pineapple juice, and lime juice. Its chief coupling of pineapple and a single spirit resembles a Jackhammer, a variant of the Screwdriver which substitutes pineapple juice for orange juice to mix with vodka. Matadors are often presented differently, either in a cocktail (or martini) glass or a champagne flute.

The modern Matador, sometimes referred to as the “Tequila Matador,” is a drink made with tequila, pineapple juice, and lime juice. It has been around for decades, and is included in classic cocktail books like Trader Vic’s Bartending Guide.

The Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, originally published in the Britain in 1937, has a completely different recipe for a Matador that is made with orange curacao, French vermouth, and tequila. The Pinequila, a cocktail more similar to the modern Matador, is also included in the book and is made with 1/3 parts tequila and 2/3 parts pineapple juice. (Thanks to Ryan Kelley at

Pimm's Cup

Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based potation made in England from dry gin, liqueur, fruit juices, and spices. Served with lemon soda or ginger ale, it becomes a Pimm’s Cup. Pimm’s No. 1 was created in the mid-18th century by English oyster bar owner James Pimm. The recipe is still a secret; supposedly, only six people know exactly how it is made. It has a dark, golden brown color, a medium body, and a taste of quinine, citrus fruits, and spice. Its low alcohol content of only 25 percent has made Pimm’s a drink to have when you are having more than one.

As was customary at the time, Pimm served the cocktail in tankards—hence the name Pimm’s Cup. The rage for this relative of the Sling became so great that Pimm mass-produced and bottled it along with Pimm’s 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6: whiskey, brandy, rum, rye, and vodka, respectively. Detractors have likened the earthy mixture to liquid dirt mellowed by iodine, but the Pimm’s Cup is still the traditional drink of Wimbledon, with visitors to the matches consuming some 40,000 pints a year. The addition of a cucumber slice gives the drink some truck as a health food. Some.  (From Field Guide to Cocktails by Rob Chirico)

The Presbyterian

The Presbyterian is a mixed drink of bourbon whiskey, club soda and ginger ale.  “Why a Presbyterian? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it’s a reference to the nationality of the base spirit, and a nod to the Church of Scotland. Then again, the wholesome appearance of this drink makes it suitable for covert imbibing at church picnics; for all anybody knows, you’re relaxing in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea.

Whatever the provenance of its name, the Presbyterian is pretty much made to be enjoyed outdoors, preferably with a picnic blanket in sight and with a few blue puffs of smoke blowing off the barbecue. Incredibly easy to prepare, the Presbyterian also lends itself to the pitcher treatment: simply do a little math before the guests arrive, and pour everything together as everyone’s starting to mill around the backyard (or deck, or fire escape, as the case may be). Then settle back with a plate of potato salad and whatever’s smoky and sizzling, and watch the sun go down on a long holiday weekend. Just remember to plan more days like this in the summer to come.”  (Thanks to for this info.)


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The art of the matter

"Electric Chocolate" by Martha Rich

Part of the joy of coming home to a welcoming space at the end of the day is being surrounded by things we love, whether that’s a collection of family photos, heirlooms, or art pieces we’ve collected over the years.  The problem, we’ve found, is discovering new artists whose style jives with that of our own.  Furthermore, there is the problem of cost.  Sure, we’d love to feature a Mark Beck painting in the living room, but we don’t exactly have several thousand dollars lying around.

This is where 20× comes in.  This incredible website has a formula that goes something like this:

(limited editions x low prices) + the internet = art for everyone

Here’s how founder Jen Bekman describes it:

As we see it, there are a lot of people out there who want to sell their art and a lot of people who’d like to buy it. They just have a hard time finding each other. The internet is the perfect place to bring those people together, and we’re exactly the right people to make it happen. We’re passionate about art and the internet at 20×200. We’re really excited about creating a place where almost any art lover can be an art collector.

"Fingerprints" by Ky Anderson

So that’s basically it.  If you’re an art-lover, have as little as $20 to your name, and access to the internet, you too can become the proud owner of original artwork.  Some of the artists whose work we’re currently lusting after include Martha Rich, Amy Jean Porter, Ky Anderson, and Chi Birmingham.

"Studio Aprtment" by Chi Birmingham


"Rose-breasted Grosbeak" by Amy Jean Porter

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TREND: High-tech treasure hunting

"The Skirtlifter" - a racy and cleverly-hidden little geocache in Perth, Australia

Have you ever gone “geocaching?”  If not, you are missing out on one of the greatest uses of recent technology.  In short, it’s a high-tech, family-friendly, free and super fun way to get out and explore an area.  All you need is a GPS device or a smart phone outfitted with the free geocache intro app (available from iTunes).   Here’s a little video to explain what this trend is all about.

I’ve geocached all over the world, and it never fails to delight….or frustrate, depending on the difficulty of the cache.  (My husband and I have yet to find one in a local park and it’s driving us crazy.)  But it’s worth the potential hair-pulling just to get out and discover new favorite spots.  When I touch down in a new area – whether urban, rural, or in-the-sticks – I make a point of looking up the local caches because they are often in nooks and crannies that only the locals know about.

There are, of course, some pretty extreme caches out there – and extreme geocachers to match.  I love reading message boards about the most challenging caches in the world.  Here are some quotes:

 — The “Elvis Confluence” in Virginia … It’s in rough terrain and a real killer in the summer because of snakes, underbrush and the like…

 — The cache in Australia called Claustrophobia. It involves long hikes, descent into a cave, swimming through black water, and climbing out using climbing gear. If there’s a harder cache, I haven’t seen it.

 — I just geocached Antarctica!  Woohoo!

In fact, there is even a rumor that the International Space Station hosts a cache. 

But most caches are really quite simple, and perfect for all ages, really.  Kids, adults, and seniors alike will enjoy the thrill of the hunt.  And with most caches hidden outdoors, why not bring Fido along, too?

The key to getting in on the fun is the website, which gets you set up with a free membership, cache coordinates, and clues.  You can also find reviews of GPS devices, articles about geocaching from all over the world, and suggestions on how to maximize the experience.  (I’m thinking a country cache, picnic blanket, bottle of wine…you get the idea!)

So what are you waiting for?  Download your coordinates!

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Desert Island Condiment: MUSTARD

First, a poll.

For us, the answer is definitely mustard.  We can eat it by the spoonful. Ever since we were kids, there has been something spiritual about lathering a fat beef frank in a potato roll with bright yellow French’s mustard at a backyard barbecue.  In short, we’ve never met a mustard we didn’t like.

I can relate.

If you’re anything like us, you noticed that this month’s Sunset Magazine features six recipes for do-it-yourself mustards.  Do we have the chutzpah to make our own mustard at home?  Not sure.  But the article got us thinking about this piquant, versatile condiment.

A few facts:

    • Mustard is a condiment made from the seeds of a mustard plant.  The whole, ground, cracked, or bruised mustard seeds are mixed with water, vinegar or other liquids, and sometimes other flavorings and spices, to create a thick paste ranging in color from bright yellow to dark brown.
    • Mustard often has a sharp, pungent flavor, as mixing the ground seed with cold liquid allows the enzyme myrosinase which it contains to act on glucosinolates also present to make isothiocyanates, responsible for mustard’s characteristic heat.  Homemade mustards are often far hotter and more intensely flavored than commercial preparations.
    • As a cream or a seed, mustard is used in the cuisine of India, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, northern Europe, the Balkan States, Asia, North America, and Africa, making it one of the most popular and widely used spices and condiments in the world.

Our favorite uses for mustard:

    • “Mildly hot, sweet ‘n tangy” beer mustard spread on a giant soft pretzel, accompanied by a rich Belgian Tripel ale like Chimay White (Cinq Cents).
    • Rustic whole-grain mustard with a shepherd’s plate of manchego cheese, cajun sausages, roasted red peppers, and crusty bread (inspired by our favorite tapas order from Novo Restaurant in San Luis Obispo)
    • Italian-style Mostarda di Cremona, a lovely pear- and fig-packed condiment perfect for garnishing Easter ham
    • Nasal-clearing Dijon mustard whipped into a creamy honey-mustard dressing and drizzled over a salad like this grilled quail salad recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine.  Paired with a spicy, floral Alsatian Gewürztraminer?  Heavenly.
    • Good old-fashioned neon yellow American mustard on a grilled hotdog in summer.  Not much beats it.

Must-do pilgrimmages for the mustard-lover:

According to Barry Levenson, founder & curator of the National Mustard Museum, you can blame it all on the Boston Red Sox. In the wee hours of October 28, 1986, after his favorite baseball team had just lost the World Series, Barry was wandering an all-night supermarket looking for the meaning of life. As he passed the mustards, he heard a voice: If you collect us, they will come.

He did and they have. In 1992, Barry left his job as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Wisconsin to open this most improbable museum, now one of Wisconsin’s most popular attractions. The Mustard Museum has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the popular game show To Tell the Truth, as well as countless features on other national television and radio shows, and in major newspapers everywhere.

The mustard season offers a full palette of food, wine, art, entertainment, and cultural activities staged throughout the world-famous grape growing region from approximately the end of January through the month of March.

The Napa Valley Mustard Festival, a non-profit community service organization, has a dual purpose: It serves local businesses and non-profit organizations, attracting visitors to Napa Valley during the months of January, February, and March, a beautiful time of the year when wild mustard carpets vineyards with brilliant hues of green and gold; and it promotes national and international businesses that sponsor and participate. Throughout the festival, a network of Napa Valley communities, businesses, and non-profit organizations welcome visitors and encourage them to explore the arts, culture, and agriculture of Napa Valley. They join forces with national sponsors and mustard companies from around the world to produce the world’s most sensational season of events.

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Plumping up for Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

I didn’t grow up celebrating Mardi Gras.  All it’s ever really meant to me is New Orleans, debauchery, beads, and college kids throwing up on my front lawn. 

But lately I’ve been intrigued by the roots of this strange holiday that’s celebrated the world over.  This year’s festivities take place this coming Tuesday, March 8th.  So, in preparation, here is a little history, care of my own curiosity and The History Channel website.

First, the origins of Mardi Gras:

According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.

Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.

Carnevale in Venice

How do we celebrate Mardi Gras in the U.S.?

Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of the holiday’s future epicenter: New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812.

On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city. Since then, krewes have remained a fixture of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake.

Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama and Mississippi. Each region has its own events and traditions.

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

And across the rest of the world?

Across the globe, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Brazil’s weeklong Carnival festivities feature a vibrant amalgam of European, African and native traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the giant Quebec Winter Carnival. In Italy, tourists flock to Venice’s Carnevale, which dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its masquerade balls. Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that empowers women to cut off men’s ties. For Denmark’s Fastevlan, children dress up and gather candy in a similar manner to Halloween–although the parallel ends when they ritually flog their parents on Easter Sunday morning.

The King Cake

For those of you looking to host an authentic Mardi Gras celebration, consider baking a King Cake.  Once again, according to the History Channel:

Serving a King Cake during Mardi Gras celebrations is a tradition that honors the Magi who visited the Christ child on the twelfth night or Epiphany (January 6). The cake is shaped in a ring with a pecan, bean or plastic baby placed inside the dough, before baking, to represent the baby Jesus. The cake is then decorated with the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras, and divided among guests. Whoever finds the baby doll will host the next King Cake celebration.

Careful, now.

Here is a recipe for a tasty King Cake from the New Orleans Public Library.  I’m hoping to start a tradition of baking this cake every year, and waiting to see who cracks a tooth on the Baby Jesus.

Dough Ingredients:

  • 4 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold milk
  • 1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • 5-6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 dried bean, shelled pecans, or naked plastic babies
  • Icing Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • 4-6 tablespoons milk


Combine the yeast, 1/2 of the sugar, and the lukewarm water in a very large bowl, stir well and set aside for a few minutes until the mixture swells slightly and small bubbles appear on the surface. Stir in the remaining sugar, milk, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Mix well. Add egg yolks and mix again.

In another bowl, work the butter/margarine into 5 cups of the flour.

Add the flour-butter/margarine mixture to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup is added. Begin to knead in the bowl, adding more flour if necessary to make a smooth, elastic dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is still sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a bowl which has been buttered or sprayed with a no-stick spray. Cover and let stand in a warm place until dough doubles in size.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 8 x 14 inches. Brush each rectangle with 1/2 stick of melted butter or margarine. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle 1/2 of the mixture over each rectangle. Roll up from the wide end, as you would a jelly roll, inserting one of the dried beans, pecans, or naked babies along the way. Press the ends of the dough together and stretch the roll into an oval about 14 inches long. Place on a greased/sprayed cookie sheet and allow to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 35-45 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with the fingers. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes.

Beat the butter or margarine until softened. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and continue to beat, gradually adding milk until a glaze consistency is achieved. Use half of the icing on each cake.

Spread the icing evenly over each cake and decorate immediately with granulated sugar that has been rendered purple, green and gold with food coloring, making alternating bands of color.

Other decorating options:

Divide the icing into three portions and use food coloring to make purple, green and gold icing. Spread in alternating bands along the length of the cakes.

Use purple, green and gold gumdrops, jelly beans, or other candy to decorate the white icing.

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