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Food and Drink

All mixed up! Summer time and the sippin’ is easy

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Summer means sippin’. Sure, everybody has to re-hydrate regularly with that delicious Whistler water, but when that’s taken care of, it’s time to turn to something even more refreshing.

Beyond the traditional cool brewski (what else could be the summer cooler of choice with Brew Creek in the neighbourhood?), options are about as limitless as your imagination. We had to concoct a quick celebratory toast recently and came up with that delicious Langueuil peach beverage from France (nice and peachy and not too sweet) with a good splash of Rosemount Traminer Riesling and a slice of ripe strawberry for a special touch. Yummy, and a festive step beyond a white wine spritzer.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a wine spritzer. In fact, I think they’ve been wrongfully overlooked in the booze-bubble where the martini still reigns in any permutation but “dry.” Don’t be cheap — use a nice wine. Acidic and crisp, and splashy looking with a wheel or two of lemon or lime dancing amongst the bubbles, a white wine spritzer can turn around a hot summer afternoon.

Likewise a shandy, or “shandygaff” as it was first called in England (possibly from London vernacular of the day for a pint of beer, a “shant of gatter” — from “shanty” for “public house” and “gatter” an idiom for “water”). Originally it meant an equal mixture of beer and ginger beer. One of the first references to it was in the June 4, 1888 Daily News where it was dubbed one of the “new-fangled drinks.”

Shandies aren’t so new-fangled anymore but they’re still popular in Europe, especially in England and Germany. Create your own by mixing beer with the best ginger beer money can buy, or a good tart lemonade. Usually it’s half-and-half, but adjust the ratio to suit your taste. If you really want to chill out, pop in a few ice cubes, maybe with fresh mint frozen in them, and horrify your best brew buddies.

If you want to have more fun with the classics, check out Mark Kingwell’s new book, Classic Cocktails, A Modern Shake . Not only will you learn how to mix up the real thing, Kingwell places each drink in cultural context, be it in film, art or literature. Here’s a sampling:

 

Kir Royale : I remember going out with an “older man” in San Francisco who knew how to live right. He insisted I try a “kir royale.” I wasn’t big on drinking alcohol at the time, but one sip made me rethink that.

Not to be confused with a champagne cocktail, another favourite, a kir royale is made with brut champagne with a splash of crème de cassis — literally a splash, as in one part crème de cassis to nine or 10 parts champagne. Don’t let a flashy friend or bartender use more than that — it turns out sickeningly sweet. It’s traditionally served as an aperitif, but I say what the heck, enjoy it anytime. Use a flute or any tall skinny glass if you can, and while the jury is still out on this, I say pour in the crème de cassis first so the champagne bubbles it up. In summer, the colder the better.

We have Félix Kir, the mayor of Dijon, France from 1945 to ’68, to thank for the basic kir. It was his favourite aperitif — a crisp white burgundy with the locally made crème de cassis, a blackcurrant cordial made by French monks to “combat the affliction of wretchedness.” Like I said, enjoy it anytime.

A splash of crème de cassis is good in so many ways, even in a glass of cold mineral water or over vanilla ice cream with a bit of shaved dark chocolate on top. Just having the bottle on your shelf will make you feel classy — the label is a baroque work of art.

 

Tom Collins: The only drink I can ever remember my mother having for about the first 17 years of my life was a Tom Collins. Women wore slinky or frothy dresses to parties back then, and we have a classic photo in the family album of my very glamorous looking mom in a fancy number with a cobalt blue velvet bodice and huge meringue of a skirt, Tom Collins held jauntily in hand.

The Ultimate Book of Cocktails tells us that the Tom Collins was originally called the John Collins, after the head waiter at a London hotel in the early 19th century. The name morphed to “Tom” when it started being made with Old Tom gin. In fact, I’ve heard it ordered as an “Old Tom” in my earlier days as a cocktail waitress.

The classic mix is three tablespoons of gin, juice of half a large lemon, a teaspoon of sugar, and top it up with soda water. Serve it with a slice of lemon and enjoy.

Mark Kingwell insists that you not fiddle with a Tom Collins mix — too sweet. But I don’t know. Every time I try it, it reminds me of sipping out of my mom’s cocktail glass when we gals were all decked out in pouffy party dresses back in Edmonton.

 

Daiquiri: We went to Cuba a few years ago and, yes, we made the obligatory stop at El Floridita, the Havana bar Ernest Hemingway graced so regularly. But it was so depressingly velvety inside that we fled gratefully back into the glare of the mid-day sun as quickly as we could. Oh well.

The drink that “Papa” made so famous in Cuba was not the mojito (the classic: four parts light rum, two parts fresh lime juice, a teaspoon of sugar, five or six bruised fresh mint leaves, and a dash of Angostura bitters). Regardless, we had one at a state-run hotel, and the mint was so dirty it made the drink murky.

But not to disparage Cuban drinks, the finest of which I think is a good, golden 25-year-old rum simply served neat. And the second finest? An authentic daiquiri. Hemingway would agree.

Sorry, but modern daiquiris, and 99 per cent of margaritas for that matter, just don’t cut it, made as they are from the slushy concoctions that are close cousins to 7-Eleven Slurpees. The real daiquiri is white rum and fresh citrus juice. That’s it. The “Papa Doble” — Hemingway’s famous double daiquiri, in Spanish — was eight parts Bacardi white rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, and two dashes of maraschino liqueur. Legend has it that he downed 16 of them in one sitting at El Floridita. Olé!

 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer with a half-finished bottle of crème de cassis straight from Dijon in her cupboard right now.

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