What to Drink This Weekend: Romantic Cocktails of Adoration and Love

There are two holidays every year to which I always try not to look forward, because they always have an enormous build-up and perpetually end in disaster.  The first is New Year’s Eve, which never fails to go sideways in some way, shape or form — witness this year’s highlight of Tina sobbing angrily at finding out the “humane” method of preparing live lobster is to chop their heads in half prior to boiling — and the other is Valentine’s Day.

I know, everyone bags on Valentine’s Day lately.  It’s the proper, counter-cultural thing to do, like poking holes in the Pilgrim myth every Thanksgiving so that kids don’t buy into historical whitewashing, and you feel less guilty for believing it in your own stupid, trusting childhood.  Besides, everyone has had an atomically bad Valentine’s Day, one that has left a little blast crater in their lifelong happiness, establishing a lingering distrust of the holiday.  It’s only fair that others know of the pain that lies inside every 14th of February, right?

And if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t had a Valentine’s meltdown and take part of their soul with it, I admire and congratulate you!  Also:  Your day is coming, brace yourself.

Me, I spent a number of years throwing myself quite enthusiastically into Valentine’s, apparently with the goal of setting the record for the single greatest gulf between gifts given and gifts received.  A bundle of movies, magazines, books and candy tailored to a relaxing weekend?  Meet two free movie passes!  A series of floral arrangements, followed by dinner out and a hand-prepared dessert?  Get ready for a gift card for video game rentals!  A raw oyster dinner at a high-profile new restaurant in a trendy part of town?  How about Norwalk virus!

Yet despite all of these reverses, I couldn’t help maintaining my optimism about Valentine’s Day.  Even at my lowest ebb, imprisoned on a toilet with a bucket in my lap and evacuating in all directions, I didn’t lose hope.  It wasn’t that Valentine’s Day as a tradition is terrible, it’s just that most of mine in particular had been dreadful — and that was hardly any reason to go throwing in the towel.  Surely there was some reason to stay positive!

Aw, Tina.  This weekend marks the third month since I was able to hornswoggle her into being my wife, and as such I must celebrate not only Valentine’s Day, but also our quarter-versary.  Now, the web has some pretty weak-assed suggestions on how to celebrate the occasion (honestly?  A tri-fold picture frame? Does ehow.com not want me to see 4 months?), so I have taken it upon myself instead to express myself the best way I know how:

With alcohol, through the internet.

More specifically, through two cocktail recipes that are composed of three parts apiece — the first expressing my feelings of adoration, and the second those of love.  I do believe the two are different enough to merit their own attention, and plus which I like to provide variety to all of you.  Is there a woman who you simply adore and wish to impress with your complexity?  I gotcher back.  Is there a man with whom your love is so deep that his machine gun farts make you laugh harder than he does, when they echo through the house?  There’s a drink for that too.

Let’s find out which fits better for you!

Adoration

Poke a little bit at the word “adore” and you quickly start to trip over religious terminology.  It’s a good Latin word that’s all about prayer and honor, but also supremely loving from afar — which, let’s face it, is just about the only option when you’re dealing with God.

When done properly, adoration is a respectful and wholesome way of paying your respects to what makes any other person simply amazing.  You can adore the way they effortlessly look great, for example, or the way their generous nature just seems to happen, while you struggle daily with how to brush your hair and how much to tip.  Not just a way to express admiration for what’s great about others, it’s a way of identifying what is — at the moment anyway — a little bit out of reach for you.

The problem is that, in these modern times with our helicopters and stem-cell spray-on healing, expressing true adoration is a bit of a challenge.  Try to think of people who worship you from afar, consider you better than themselves, and only wish to earn your good esteem through their subservience and sacrificial gifts?  What if three total strangers showed up to the hospital after your first child was born, and offered you jewellery, flowers and perfume?

Uhhh... security?

There is a better way.  Adoring someone is a complex mixture of affection, appreciation, wonder and insecurity.  It calls for a drink that is equally complex, and one that can capture the contradictions of feeling great joy about someone it feels like you can never touch.

Adoration

(Adapted from the classic East Wing Martini)

  • To a shaker, add no fewer than 3 broken ice cubes, and allow to chill for a couple of minutes
  • To the ice, add 3 oz. of vodka — the higher grade, the better
  • To the vodka and ice, add 1 ounce of Campari
  • To the vodka and Campari, add 1 and 1/2 ounces of Cherry Brandy
  • Shake fully, and pour into a martini glass
  • Add a lemon twist and serve!

You will find the result to be a beverage as complicated as your feelings — sweet and bitter, cold yet warming, boldly colorful yet cloudy and indistinct.  In the combination of three simple liquors, here is a package that is far less creepy than the four days of anonymous cookie bouquets you were thinking about sending her at work.

Love

Is not so easy as all that though, is it?

Wouldn’t it be awesome if love were all making out on balconies and shouting poetry at one another?  But no, love is like so many other good, classic Old English words that I enjoy so much — including man and woman, no less — in that it’s a wee little sound with so much to say.

If adoration is good feelings lobbed from afar, then love is as full-contact as you can get.  I am too horrid at it to attempt any poetry here beyond this:  the person you really love is the one you’ve seen up-close, bright and messy both, and can still say with confidence is the one you’ll take on the world with.  How you feel day-to-day may change — that Tina does not choke me to death remains a mysterious miracle I do not question — but who your partner is never does.

So in crafting a drink that celebrates that, it goes beyond simply tweaking an existing classic.  It calls on taking two very different entities and finding a way to combine them well, even while celebrating three distinct flavors.

Love

First, we start with a flavored simple syrup.  I always get hives thinking about making simple syrup, because heating sugar is to my mind synonymous with the agonizing pain that comes with handling it improperly.  Does anything burn more cruelly than hot sugar?  The venom of spitting cobras, the popping spray of a lava floe, the blasting agony of leaning too close to the BBQ when you light it… no, I think not.  Only sugar can be so sweet, so cruel.

But!  If one can suck it up long enough, and other sources of distraction are fully ample, the process isn’t too bad.

As a quick reminder to those who’ve maybe never tried it, simple syrup is just water, sugar and heat in the proper proportions.  Namely:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • Brought to a boil and then simmered until the sugar is completely dissolved

In this case, I also took about 3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled it quickly, and hacked it into half a dozen evenly-sized pieces.  They were dropped in as the sugar solution was approaching a boil, and stayed in through the entire process.  They can be filtered once the syrup has cooled, and then discarded.

While the syrup is cooling down from skin-shredding heat to merely room temperature, take about three limes and squeeze their juice into 3 cups of cold water.  This will provide a nice, tart base for the granita we’re about to make.

Yes, granita! Easier than ice cream, healthier than sorbet, it’s the simple Italian dessert that also happens to be the first part of our loving cocktail.  Like risotto, a granita requires consistent attention over an extended period of time, but the rewards are rich, so don’t worry.

Once your ginger syrup has finally cooled, pour your unsweetened, diluted lime juice into it, and strain the mixture into a 9 x 13 pan.  The wider that you can manage, the better — the idea with a granita is to distribute the surface area as broadly as you can, so that it crystallizes faster.  Use an 8 x 8 if you have to, but understand that the process may take (ugh) twice as long, because of the thickness..

Pop the solution into the freezer, and visit it every twenty minutes or so with a fork to break up the ice.  If you’ve ever made an omelet before, it’s the same principle:  break up the buildup on the outside, pull it towards the center, and stir.

After a couple of hours, instead of a solid brick of ice, you should have a lovely, flaky, firm granita that looks like this:

Now, you could stop right here, and you’d have a very bright and reasonably healthy dessert for any occasion.  But we’re out to express love, aren’t we?  The coming together of two different people into a fruitful union?  You’re not about to give up now.

No, you’re going to add rum.

Depending on your glass, take between 2 and 3 tablespoons of your granita and form them into a rough mountain.  The closer to the middle of your vessel, and the taller you can get it, the better.  Don’t worry if it crumbles, because that’s actually a good sign:  you want your granita to be flaky, after all!  If it readily forms a brick, then that will cause a bit of trouble down the line.

Now, go on and add some rum.  It’s up to you what variety you choose, but with flavors like ginger and lime, I’d say you want a nice dark rum like Appleton’s or Gosling’s.  Measure it out if you want, but it’s far more fun to fill in around the outside until you see it start to bite into the side of the granita — and that will happen, quickly.

Within about 3 or so ounces, you will have a beautiful merger underway.  The wonderful, caramel richness of the dark rum will begin to blend with the cold, icy ginger, all of which will be cut away by the acid of the lime.  As you sip away at this with your loved one, the flavors will blend ever more fully until they are a true cocktail, and it’s impossible to tell them apart.  All the best of the fruit, the ice, the spice and the rum will become one wonderful solution that leaves you both with a happy glow — the product of patience, over time.

And hey, that’s not at all a bad feeling to have, is it?  Happy Valentine’s, everyone!  May you find someone who adores you and loves you in equal, balanced and alcoholically generous proportions.