Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advil Calendar 2011 BONUS JUDAISM EDITION: Eight Nights, Eight Little Shnepsls

I am an atheist - a from-the-ground-up atheist, not a "I was raised Catholic and those guys are jerks, man!" atheist, although those people are no less atheists. It's just that their mental background noise includes a lot of Christian information. You can not believe in something and still be stuck with it, culturally. I mean, we kind of all are, here in the U.S., but I mean... Hoo boy. Why don't I stop. I think I just pissed off half of everyone I know.

I'm just trying to say that although I may seem to be not at all qualified to do a cocktail calendar for the eight nights of Hanukkah, the fact is, I'm barely qualified to do a Christmas one either. Maybe I should aim to be truly profoundly offensive and do a cocktail calendar for Ramadan! Think I could earn myself a fatwa?

Christ in the Eucharist by Vicente Juan Masip, 16th c.
He looks like he knows I'm not buying it.
He also looks like Chris in Marketing. Weird.
Maybe if I'd been raised in a religious sect with some actual culture, I might have taken an interest. My mother is Presbyterian, and dragged me to her church for a while when I was a kid, but Presbyterian practice is rather polite - it barely even registered as I sat in the choir loft reading a novel I'd smuggled in under the robe. I got through all the Conan books that way.

(I mean, symbolic Eucharist, please. If you're not going to go for full-on it's-a-miracle-because-I-said-so transubstantiation, why bother?)

In the interest of covering all the spiritual bases, I have done a fair amount of reading about various religions. I thought that maybe I would read something in the Koran that would inspire a belief in the unseen. Possibly the Bhagavad Gita would ring true to me.

But nope. I never found myself likely to suspend my disbelief, so as it turns out, I am a tourist in all of Jerusalem's precincts.

Because in all that reading what I learned is that I like most religions. I love the iconography and symbolism, the way that abstract concepts are communicated through story and reflected in ritual. Like I said, tourist.

I love the every-day-is-Halloween quality of Hinduism, for example. Holi, when people throw colored powder at each other, has got to be one of the most inventive ways to worship I've ever heard. And lighting little lanterns and floating them out on the water at Diwali? Adorable and contemplative at the same time!

The website of the Tulleeho Bartending Academy, Bangalore is one of my new favorite cocktail sites, for Holi cocktails like Boozy Woozy Thandai and Alcoholic Gola Sherbet.

I am sort of charmed by Catholicism in all its gory splendor - virgins! martyrs! Latin! lighting shit on fire! My husband's family had an Advent wreath with real candles which totally caught the dining room on fire one year. Plus I have always been delightedly appalled at the presumptive prurience of a religious leadership that expects its adherents to do what it says even unto where they put their dicks and how. Although I guess most religions have restrictions on dick usage.

Islam, well... the call to prayer is one of my favorite sounds in the world, I can say that at least. Whether the muezzin is flat or hoarse, croaky or nasal, when you hear his voice floating out above the city you know you're not in Kansas anymore. Beyond that - a religion that bans alcohol is sadly out of place on Your Neighborhood Librarian, at least this time of year.

But oh how I love Judaism. The food, of course. The traditions of hospitality and gratitude. The seemingly inexplicable tribal behavior - there were neighborhoods in Brooklyn in which every family drove the same model of car, every kid wore the same style of glasses, and all the moms wore tam o'shanters. Klezmer. Hebrew, which looks marvelous and sounds better, and not only uses a different script, it's backwards! And Yiddish. Love Yiddish.

I slipped a Hanukkah cocktail into last year's Advil Calendar - the Gelt Martini (Goldschlager and potato vodka) - but this year I wanted to find a whole suite of Hanukkah cocktails, one for every night.

But guess what.

Despite there being no Judaic prohibition on alcohol - in fact, taking a glass (or four) of wine is part of many observations and rituals - Jewish cocktails are as thin on the ground as Hasidim at a clambake. I have spent more time on these eight nights of the calendar than on all 24 of Advent (this year and last, I'll bet - last year was pretty thrown-together) combined.

I mean, given the absurd number of drinks associated with the Christian holiday, including cocktails incorporating flavors associated with Christmas - gingerbread martinis and candy cane coolers - as well as excruciatingly twee explicitly Christmas crap like The Drunken Elf and the Santa's Sleigh, the White Christmas and the Silent Night, one might expect at least a few Hanukkah cocktails. A Tipsy Dreidel, for instance. A Menoratini.

Come with me on my journey...


Well actually, those things kind of exist. The Menorah Martini is a vodka martini with a splash of blue curacao. It's blue, get it? "Lame," I thought to myself. "Maybe if it glowed in the dark."

Which led to a brainstorm. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, right? When one night's worth of oil miraculously fed the temple lamps for eight nights? So the answer is...


Haaa ha ha ha ha ha haaaa! YES. We are going to light shit on fire after all.

Ok here are the tips:

  • You're going to make a shot of something but only fill the shotglass 3/4 full. You'll need to float a puddle of a very high proof liquor (like Bacardi 151) on top, something that will light on fire readily. You can use a booze of a normal proof, but have it on hand at room temperature or even slightly warmed.
  • Do not fill the shotglass all the way up unless you don't mind the table catching on fire when you blow the shot out.
  • Neither must you underfill the shotglass, lest the glass crack.
  • You may use a snifter, but roll the liquor around the interior before you light it.
  • BLOW THE THING OUT BEFORE YOU DRINK IT. You are not the God of Fire. You search "flaming shots" online and you'll get far more videos of drunken daredevils lighting their faces on fire than you do drink recipes.

If you want to try that thing you saw at the engineering frat when you were in college, when they inverted the pint glass over the burning shot and then carefully maneuvered the fume-filled glass over to a buxom Alpha Phi and encouraged her to huff it... well it's called The Backdraft. The brain damage is not my fault, and the instructions are here.

And if you want to try the fancy shit with the sprinkle of cinnamon (or black pepper) that will spark in the flame, go right ahead. Apparently that is nicest with Sambuca. But DON'T do THIS:

Although if you do, send me the video.

The Flaming Doctor Pepper
6 ounces Beer
1 ounce Amaretto
1 dash 151 Proof Rum

Pour about 2/3 of a can of beer into a glass. Fill a shot glass almost full with Amaretto and use the back of a spoon to layer the Bacardi 151on top of the glass. Ignite and quickly drop the shot glass in the beer glass. Drink quickly.

1 part Absolut Peppar
1 part Everclear, 190 proof
6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 pinch Salt
How to MIX it
Put the tabasco sauce in the bottom of a shot glass, pour equal parts Absolut Peppar and Everclear then add salt. Set on fire and serve.

1/2 oz Grenadine
1/2 oz Amaretto
1/2 oz 151 proof rum
How to Mix it
Layer Grenadine first, Amaretto next, and 151 on top. Light the 151 and let it warm for about 3 seconds. 


Unless you're partial to leaving scorchmarks on the Formica or trimming your nose hairs the hard way, you have known for a long time that flaming shots are for bachelor parties and ... well pretty much just for bachelor parties. Maybe comic cons.

So let's keep looking. Next I turned to my bibles: the Official Mixer's Manual and Esquire's Handbook for Hosts. The Mixer's Manual had some possibilities: The Volga Boatman (equal parts vodka, cherry brandy and OJ) sounded ok, and the Mah Jongg (gin, rum and Cointreau) had promise (it's strong, though - those mahjongg ladies are not fucking around). But ehhh. And while the Esquire book mentions women all the time (we are fussy, myopic and clingy, except in the cartoons, where we are slutty and clueless) there is not word one about Jews.

Esquire cartoon women come to life:
Slutty Jewish Girls, photo by Flickr user Kosher Howey
Then I asked my friends. I asked a bunch of friends, but I had my hopes pinned upon Marjorie Ingall, who reviews children's books for The New York motherfuckin Times and who writes for Tablet, among other things... and Laurel Snyder, author of this year's Bigger Than a Breadbox and the Edward Eager-inspired Any Which Wall, among others. Laurel always has her antenna up about Jewish characters and themes in children's literature, and last year wrote a picture book called Baxter, the Pig who wanted to be Kosher.

Which is funny cause I'm totally writing Eat Me, The Shrimp Cocktail That Lived Forever Among the Jews.

And they didn't disappoint. Marjorie reminded me of a Tablet article she wrote about a cocktail Seder (the six Sipping Seder cocktails are wonderful) which includes a recipe by Zachary Sharaga of Louis 649 called the Mah Nishtanah (the four questions), a Negroni made with Cynar, its bitter taste evoking the bitter herbs of Passover. This is totally just what I was looking for, but for Hanukkah.

So here's what I heard back from my best Jews:

Laurel: I have heard of people making vodka martinis with a little manishevitz mixed in for flavor. I myself do not like sweet drinks, but I know people who do this.
Marjorie: i ordered a maneschevitini at a lower east side bar a few years ago and it was the most heinous thing i have ever put in my mouth. (write your own joke.) the thing is maneschevitz and slivovitz (the only two jewy starting points i can think of besides random impossible to find israeli liqueurs) are both gross!
Laurel: How about you just take a slug of scotch from a bottle in your desk drawer and call it "Zaide's Ghost."

Nobody who answered my question had anything nice to say about Kosher for Passover wine. I even found a cartoon in which the statements accompanying the four cups of wine included the addendum, "I will buy a decent Cabernet next year instead of this syrupy stuff." So on the second night of Hanukkah, we are going to go with...

Zaide's Ghost, by Laurel Snyder:
Open bottle of scotch, raise to lips, drink. L'chaim!

Or with the Jell-O Shot recipe from the Manischewitz website (I AM NOT KIDDING):
2 cups berries (raspberry or strawberry), thaw if frozen
½ cup Manischewitz Blackberry Wine
½ cup unsweetened apple juice
1 envelop Knox gelatin
½ cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff
Purée berries in blender or put through a sieve to make fruit pulp. In mixing bowl, combine berries, Manischewitz Blackberry Wine, and apple juice. Sprinkle gelatin on top and stir until dissolved. Add sugar. Blend well. Refrigerate until jellied (about 4-6 hours).
Add milk and blend thoroughly. Fold in egg whites. Pour into 2 cake or pie pans and freeze mixture at least 6 hours.
30 minutes before serving, remove from freezer. Serve in dessert glasses.
Serves: 6.

Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

Marjorie also pointed me to the Guns and Moses, a drink invented by bartender Kate Grutman for a bartending competition in L.A.
1-1/2 oz Karlsson’s Gold Vodka
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 Maraska Maraschino
1 oz Cherry Manischewitz
Scant 1/2 tsp. rose water
Garnish with rose petal.
Maraschino, Maneschevitz, lime and vodka? I'm with Marjorie, it sounds awful. Very Jewish, but awful. We are nearly halfway through the Festival of Lights and I am still looking.

Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's WWII movie, was kind of a wreck despite the presence of some fine (and fine looking) actors. Mostly it just made me want to watch The Dirty Dozen again. But it did give us Eli Roth as Donny Donowitz, the most prominent Jewish action hero we've seen in a while.
Lt. Aldo Raine: Actually, Werner, we're all tickled to hear you say that. Frankly, watchin' Donny beat Nazis to death is is the closest we ever get to goin' to the movies. 


Continuing my own research, I found a very nice rundown of Yiddish terms related to drinking by Michael Wex, the author of Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion, Born to Kvetch and The Adventures of Micah Mushmelon, Boy Talmudist (which I kind of have to get my hands on). He offers these observations and one cocktail recipe:
"The single most Jewish liqueur ever known — at least back in my youth, when it was all the rage with the ladies who bar mitzvah — is Cherry Heering, a brandy-based cherry liqueur with a name that inspires confidence at any event at which Yiddish might conceivably be or have been spoken. Real cocktails, though, have never been developed. There is but one: 
Alter Kaker (invented by Paul Lewis of the Joffrey Ballet)
1.5 oz. Old Grand-Dad
5 oz. Prune Juice
Pour into highball glass over ice cubes."
"Alter kaker" means "old fart" in Yiddish. I kind of love that Michael Wex didn't feel the need to translate that phrase. And I love that he appears to be personally acquainted with ballet dancers.

Our friend Sinclair reports that her grandfather, truly an alter kaker by the sound of him, was mighty fond of a 50:50 mixture of Clamato and orange juice, with vodka added. Sinclair's husband visibly dry-heaved when Sinclair mentioned this concoction - apparently the old guy got Alex to try it once. Once.

*I worked with approximately a jillion immigrants from all over the former Soviet Union when I worked for a software company in New York. We called them all "Russians" which they thought was pretty amusing. "Not only am I not a Russian," my friend Vadim would rumble, his voice deep, dark, implacable, and full of boulders - I always thought the 1919 Molasses Flood must have made a sound like Vadim reading compiler errors aloud - "but in Ukraine, I'm not even a Ukrainian - I'm a Jew!" We non-immigrants were often treated to aphorisms like the one above, usually having to do with death, but sometimes on the subject of alcohol, gambling, or bodily functions. Man, I miss those guys.


And then Marjorie found a new restaurant in Tribeca named after an old-time Catskills family resort, Kutsher's. Their drinks menu is something that I would take to bed and recite to myself as a beautiful bedtime story. It's very summery, though, befitting a restaurant named for a vacation spot, and I don't really see what's Jewish about the cocktails except some of the names. But I'll take it!

I like the look of the Route 17, named after the state road that shoots the motorist through Catskills resort country. I'm sure visitors to Kutsher's spent a whole lot of time on that road, and I think that's where my husband and I were one night on our way to a camping weekend on our friends' property in Delhi.

We had gotten a late start and realized that by the time we got to Chris and Jenny's it would be long past dark and camping would be a mess, so we decided to stop for the night. We saw a sign for an old-fashioned looking bungalow-style hotel thingie and pulled into the driveway. Immediately, curious faces appeared in our headlights - silent, curious faces in extremely Orthodox garb. It was a little unnerving. Actually, it was like Children of the Corn. Children of the Kasha, say.

This resort - perhaps more accurately called a compound - may have been The Derfl ("the name speaks for itself!") (it means "small village" in Yiddish) or maybe Oppenheimer's Regis Hotel ("free wifi, fully-stocked bais medrash"), but the manager made it clear that there was no room at the inn, so to speak. Not for us.

ANYway, the Route 17 has these ingredients:
orange liqueur
lemon syrup
grapefruit bitters
absinthe rinse
Instructions weren't on the website, so I winged it:
Rinse the glass with the absinthe. Then I tried 2 parts tequila and 1 part Cointreau, a thimblefull of simple syrup and a pretty heavy dash of grapefruit bitters, and a big lemon twist, which I ran around the rim of the glass before dropping in. 
I had no lemon syrup, although it would be easy to make. 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, zest of one whole lemon. Heat these things, stirring, over medium high heat, until mixture boils. Strain into a jar, throwing out the cooked zest.

VERDICT: Next time I'll skip the absinthe rinse.


Listen, I am so relieved to find an actual Hanukkah cocktail, and so exhausted by my search, here it is:
The Dreidel is much more like it:
2 ounces plum brandy
2 ounces apple juice
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce cherry flavored liqueur
1/2 ounce egg whites
1 dash Angostura bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients.
Shake very hard for 30 seconds and strain into a small wineglass.
Plum, apple, cherry - sweet but not sickly. Nice. And the egg whites are a kosher staple. Remember, when you're working with egg whites, the "shake very hard" part is key. Shake until your arm feels like it's going to come off. Shake some more. The credit for this drink goes to Nopa Bar in San Francisco.

SEVENTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH: Presenting the House Cocktail at the Governor William J. Le Petomane Memorial Gambling Casino for the Insane*

Drank this stuff by the pint
when I was pregnant.
My friend Tracy came home from a trip to Kansas City Missouri with news of Der Schmutzige (The Dirty One), something they invented at an Austrian joint called Grünauer. All Tracy or I could get was the ingredient list - black pepper / mustard infused vodka, beet brine, pickle water and kraut juice - but I am willing to experiment until I figure out the proportions!

WIRED magazine wrote a good set of instructions for how to infuse vodka - it's one of those projects that combines the fixy aspects of craft with the sensory pleasures of cooking. (That means boys or girls could do it - oh now I'm being catty, ignore me.) Plus it's hard to fuck up.

I combined about 3 tablespoons each of multicolor peppercorns and mustard seeds (I heated the mustard seeds in a frying pan for a couple minutes first) and then added about two cups of vodka. I set this up on December 6.

That's some schmutzy damn vodka wouldn't you say?

We drank it on December 11th or so. Boy, that vodka got STRONG. I may have overdid it on the peppercorns.

I mixed:
one part infused vodka
1 part kraut juice (siphoned off a bag of kraut - they don't have Frank's down here)
1 part okra pickle brine
1/2 part beet pickle brine (I just happened to have pickled some beets this summer)
I shook these hard with ice and poured into chilled martini glasses. I took a sip. Bob took a sip. "Do you want me to take that back?" I asked him. "Please," he said.
I took them back to the kitchen and added more okra pickle brine, until the thing was possibly as much as half brine.
Then I drank them both, because Bob wasn't going to touch that shit again.

*Basically this entire 8-night post has been inspired by a long stretch of too many Mel Brooks movies. Can you have too many Mel Brooks movies, you ask? I answer with three words: Men in Tights.


Cochineal bugs feeding on a cactus
And the last night of Hanukkah happens upon Weird Drink Wednesday. Before Marjorie and Laurel came to my rescue with their Hebetastic drink advice, I had contemplated inventing something myself in a desperate last-ditch response to the dearth of Judaic tipples.

("Judaic tipples." That sounds funny. Judaic tipples are all you get to see when you go to a striptease bar on Route 17.)

I thought of The Fuzzy Pupik, which is just a Fuzzy Navel with a kosher salt rim. Or the Parveh Manhattan - made with rye whiskey, of course. Watch out for that maraschino cherry, though - as I learned from Zushe Yosef Blech in his book Kosher Food Production (available in Google Books), some are colored with carmine, which is made from ground-up cochineal insects and therefore not kosher. Wow. A whole new reason to never eat a maraschino cherry EVER.

But this discussion wanders into Weird Drink Wednesday territory because of a drink name my husband came up with: The Klutzy Mohel.

You know what a mohel is, right? The guy who performs the bris. The circumciser. Laurel had a run-in with a real putz of a mohel when her first son was born, and I swear if I ever meet that schmuck I'm going to punch him right in the pupik.

So The Klutzy Mohel. I put my inventing hat on.

I started out thinking in terms of a clear or amber cocktail, with a drizzle of Grenadine and an evocative garnish, kind of like the Bloody Brain shot we used to do in college (right). For the garnish, I thought a wide twist of lemon peel while my husband assumed we'd use a smashed cherry. Sinclair thought something suitably disgusting could be concocted out of a button mushroom. Depends how klutzy this mohel really is, I guess.

I thought of red drinks like the cherry lime rickey. I took a side road into Kümmel territory when I happened upon the Tovarisch (vodka, Kümmel, lime) in the Mixer's Manual. There's a cocktail blogger in New Zealand who has done a lot of work with Kümmel and who kind of talked me out of it. His blog is called Bunnyhugs (don't ask) and I think he invented the clear-ish drink I want to use:

Unnamed Bunnyhugs Creation:
1 ½ oz pisco
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz St. Germain
½ tsp grenadine
1 tsp maraschino (the liqueur, not the juice from the potentially treyf embalmed cherries)

We haven't hit pisco yet this Advent/Hanukkah season, and it's too good to skip. You add my boyfriend St. Germain to the mix and that will make me willing to take a chance on a little bit of maraschino. We even own a bottle of Luxardo - Bob likes to put it in things (usually to the detriment of those things) because he thinks the straw-wrapped bottle is festive.

To turn Seamus's delicious pisco drink into The Klutzy Mohel:
Mix pisco, lemon juice, St. Germain and maraschino in a shaker with ice. Shakey shake. Come on Pilgrim, you know he loves you. Pour into a chilled martini glass.
Drop in - and this is my moment of genius - a fat curl of apple you have gouged out with a melon baller.
Then drizzle the Grenadine in slowly and carefully so that it does that thready bloody thing.

Et voilà

TOMORROW: Tomorrow? Seriously? I did eight days in one post and I'm still at it tomorrow? Well of course I am! Tomorrow is the solstice, and I don't think I've pissed off the pagans yet! Tomorrow we have solstice cocktails full of pomegranate juice and champagne and all kinds of hippie crap. It's the shortest day of the year, which means it's the longest night. SKOAL, brother.