Sunday, December 22, 2013


What's Jack Donaghy doing here? He's having a Nancy Drew (white
rum, diet ginger ale, lime). "For men, it's called a Hardy Boy," says Jack.

Last week I got to wondering, in a post I titled "Nancy Drew Turns 21," what some of my favorite children's book characters would drink once they were old enough to drink. I made fancy cognac cocktails for Maddie and Verity from Code Name Verity, took Claudia Kincaid drinking at a swanky joint in Manhattan's financial district, and shared a chamomile toddy with Mrs. Frisby.

But there are more. MORE.

I put the question to a few friends: "What children's book character would you most like to have a drink with once he or she has grown up?" And EVERYBODY - er, just about everybody - answered "Matilda" right away. Let's go get squiffy with Matilda!

So my first stop on the kidlit bar crawl will be at Matilda and Miss Honey's house. (Oh gracious do not google "Matilda and Miss Honey" unless you are prepared for some potentially life-altering fanfic.) Matilda is all grown up now and has made a sweet little fortune of her own on industrial patents, but she and Miss Honey still prefer their housemate arrangement.

And though I have heard that they make a formidable double team on the rare occasions they venture out to the roadhouse on the highway, we decide to stay home on the porch and sip something cool while we catch up.

Matilda's favorite drink is a Madras. Made with cranberry and orange, it is a cheerful drink with a beautiful color. The mixture of OJ and cranberry juice means that Matilda can make hers a little on the tart side by going heavier on the cran and Miss Honey's a little sweet by upping the OJ, and they are both happy.

Matilda's Madras
1 1/2 ounces cranberry vodka
1/2 ounce cranberry juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 cherry
In a highball glass full of ice, mix one and a half ounces vodka, half an ounce of cranberry juice and one ounce orange juice. Stir and serve. You can garnish it with a cherry. Two for Miss Honey.

Librarian and blogging superstar Sam Musher of immediately thought of the Baby-Sitters Club when asked who she wants to go drinking with this December - and knew right away what each would order:

"The baby-sitters are definitely getting together when they're all home for Christmas, but the bar options are pretty crappy in Stonybrook. Kristy's easy; she'll have what's on tap. Claudia orders some ridiculous vodka thing that ends in 'tini and comes with a pile of plastic garnishes she can play with.

Stacey (who's taken the train in from New York just to see them) has to be careful because of her diabetes, so maybe just a Manhattan? Dawn tries for a mojito, but of course the bar has no fresh mint, so it's a disappointing sour-mix margarita for nature girl. And Mary Ann will take her Maker's Mark neat, thankyouverymuch.
I have spent way too much time thinking about this.

Drinking with children's book characters is the best game!"

John Schu, of Mr. Schu Reads, wants to drink with Babymouse. Me, too!

Babymouse grew up to be your brilliant and lovable but sometimes exhausting co-worker who comes in to work one day announcing (for example), "I should be a food stylist! For photo shoots! Don't you think? I'm totally going to do that!" and you want to be supportive, but on the other hand she's actually really good at the job she does have, but you want her to be happy, and you kind of agonize over this for days, until finally you take her out to the fancy cocktail bar you can't really afford on a photo archivist's wages (Verlaine), buy her a lychee-tini, clasp her hands and bravely say, "Babymouse, you were born to be a film historian. You are great at it. I don't think you should ditch your job to become a food stylist."

She'll look at you, furrowing her brow. "Oh my god no! That would be a nightmare, right? You'd never want to eat again! Did you know they use Scotchgard on pancakes to keep the syrup from soaking in?"

"No... I didn't know that," you murmur, bewildered but relieved and a tiny tiny bit exasperated. It's the Babymouse Zone, and you've been sucked into it - AGAIN - just like when she was going to get in shape and try out for the astronaut program and the time she cut up half of her clothes because she was going to start an upcycled clothing store.

So have another lychee-tini, listen to another disgusting story about how food gets photographed for magazines, and try not to overreact when she rhapsodizes about her plan to move to San Diego and get a job as a xeriscape designer.

Verlaine's Lychee Martini recipe is not posted online (it is said to include pineapple juice), but the extremely informative Lychees Online website offered some guidelines for making a good lychee martini, and this recipe, by Jess Scone, more or less conforms.

The Perfect Lychee Martini - 2 martinis
  • 4 ounces vodka
  • 2-3 ounces canned or fresh lychee juice
  • 1 ounce lychee syrup reserved from a can
  • ice
Place two or three canned lychees into each chilled glass, strain the cocktail over them, and enjoy.

Why does Babymouse drink lychee martinis? Well. I was actually kind of hoping you wouldn't ask that.

Sigh. Wilson sent her an article once about the health benefits of lychees (Vitamin C, anti-oxidants, etc) because one condition they were said to ameliorate was tinnitus. Now, Babymouse has been on this thing for years about how when she was a kid she had trouble focusing, and she thinks it's because she had tinnitus, which her brain interpreted as an invisible Narrator observing and commenting on her life. So she consumes lychees whenever she can, and she swears that Narrator has totally gone away.

replies the Narrator.

Jesus, she's been smoking since she was ten!
Laurel Snyder nominates Pippi. You know Pippi's going to have some great stories, but dude - I am frankly terrified to drink with Pippi.

Can you imagine? This is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking we're talking about. She makes gingersnaps in batches of 500 - how much booze do you think she can put away? Plus, she's Swedish! Swedes drink crazy strong stuff! Little sinus-rocket shots of akvavit! Double IPAs! Strong porter!

AND, not that she'd be encumbered by it (like, at all) - but the drinking age law in Sweden is both liberal and complicated - it is legal to drink when you are below the age of 18, but it is illegal to sell, lend or give alcohol to someone under that age, which seems to imply that if teenagers are gonna drink booze (which? THEY ARE), they're gonna have to steal it first. Good lord. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.

(Not actually Pippi.)
Well as it turns out, the grown-up Pippi is not some hurricane-haired anarchist living with 40 wild animals in the Villa Villekulla shouting at her garbage cans. She's got a lot of hair, true, but often as not it is tamped down by a bike helmet - she works for Stockholm City Bikes, a bike-sharing program that is now very successful thanks in part to her cheerful efforts.

It's perfect for her. She gets to spend a lot of time outside - supervising free mass bike lessons for kids and adults (that always end with riding the bikes straight into Lake Mälaren); she gets to use her incredible powers of persuasion - forming a miraculous partnership between bike shops and the police to recondition confiscated bikes and put them in the hands of youngsters; and she gets to make big arm-wavy speeches. Everybody knows Pippi!

In fact, transportation planners and eco-activists from all over the world come and interview her. (Later, they look at their notes and frown. "Did you meet a Mr... Nilsson?" they ask each other.) Her very favorite "duty," however, is the weekly underground costumed bike ride through the streets of Stockholm.

(Not actually Stockholm.)
When I finally (literally) catch up with her, it's at a huge, lantern-lit party in a city park after one of these rides. Everyone is laughing and disheveled, disentangling wigs and capes from helmet straps and reflective vests.

I talk to a really cool librarian and his wife for twenty minutes before I realize it's Tommy. Annika is absent - she is currently living in Indonesia making her living as a tattoo artist and surf instructor. It's always the quiet ones.

Somebody has had the foresight to fill an aluminum water bottle with akvavit, and that gets passed around. Somebody else shows up with a cooler full of Oppigårds.

Eventually, I return my bike to the share rack and lurch off back to my hotel. Pippi is reclining on the grass with a bottle of snaps, her head in the lap of some fella who can't believe his luck, singing a song she's just made up about her horse. The last thing I hear her call out is, "Next week! The theme is tropical fruit!"

Me, I think I want to hang out with the grown-up Charlie Bucket.

Charlie's a teetotaler, actually - compared to the kicks he gets from warm whipped chocolate and spun sugar fireworks, mere alcohol doesn't thrill him at all. But that doesn't mean an evening with Charlie is a snore. No way. The holiday season is a sticky whirl at the factory, so the only way he can make time for a visit with me is to walk and talk (and taste and sip and inhale).

From left: lemon cheesecake-filled chocolate easter eggs, mushrooms made of devil's food cake and fondant, a spun-sugar nest with candied malted eggs, and candy sushi. I am so sugared-up by the end of our tour my hair is curly.

We were a bit worried, when the Bucket family moved into the factory, that Mr. Wonka's emphasis on secrecy would end up isolating Charlie, and he would grow up to be a suspicious and weird man. But Charlie realized right away that there is no competition for genius - the Snozzwanglers of the world could steal Wonka products right and left, reverse-engineer them down to the atomic level, and still never duplicate the real Wonka deal.

With the decreased emphasis on security, Charlie and his team have more time to innovate. The Oompa Loompas are important contributors to the creative process - now that there are human workers in the factory, they have had time to document and expand upon their knowledge of industrial process and material properties. They have a cooking show on E! and a popular series of industrial safety videos.

The Oompa Loompas drink, oh yes they do. And here's a cocktail they made just for me:

The Chocolate Squirrel

3/4 oz amaretto almond liqueur
3/4 oz Frangelico® hazelnut liqueur
3/4 oz brown creme de cacao
3/4 oz cream

Pour ingredients into a stainless steel shaker over ice, shake until completely cold then strain into a chilled stemmed glass or rocks glass filled with ice.

Lissa Wiley from Here in the Bonnie Glen thinks we should take Harriet Welsch (aka Harriet the Spy) out for a drink. I think that's an excellent idea.

Harriet lives in Cleveland now, of all places. She's the head of Business Analysis at Progressive Insurance. Surprised? I will be surprised the day that Harriet doesn't surprise me.

Harriet, as it happens, is in love with data. She found out in college, when she had to create a sample database for a mandatory stats class. She populated her database with information from her old notebooks, and became entranced with the way the database helped her quickly identify patterns and verify hunches.

She still considers herself a writer, and in fact still considers the job at Progressive fairly temporary. She writes all the time - mysteries, literary fiction, sci-fi, and the occasional romance novel, but doesn't have time to send her manuscripts to agents or editors (or so she claims).

Harriet likes to hang out at the bar in Terminal Tower. I just shake my head. Terminal Tower is Cleveland's Empire State Building and Grand Central combined. Built on top of the rail terminal, it is all Art Deco and soaring spaces and kiosks selling counterfeit baseball caps and the scent of fast food. The bar at Terminal Tower is a hideous sports bar and I don't care how good the people watching is there, I'm not going.

Sneaky enough for Harriet?
Instead, I take Harriet to the Velvet Tango Room, a faceless joint in Ohio City recommended by my sister-in-law T. That's not a pseudonym - we call her T. T says "Paulius the owner is a riot. He finally succumbed to putting up a little neon sign a couple years ago but only opens shutters and lights it when open. Bullet holes in ceiling are real."

The inside is like Indiana Jones's house in Princeton transplanted to Drew Carey's Cleveland - part tastefully lit soffit ceilings and intriguing artifacts, part borderline-terrible leather couches and velvet upholstery. There's a gorgeous-looking little hidden garden at the back.

I won't be fooling around at a dignified little gem like this - they make my favorite, a Negroni, with "Campari and Plymouth gin, along with either our own Tango reduction ”vermouth”, or Vya, a small batch sweet vermouth. Finish is a flamed orange peel."

Harriet's always been kind of an old lady at heart - like a sharp-tongued Golden Girls Dorothy kind of old lady - so she orders a Highball, which is very old school. I have never had a highball. Frankly I thought it just described the glass. But VTR's is made with Maker's Mark, their strong housemade ginger beer, and lime.

Harriet tells me way more than she should about how much information a giant insurance company has about you, what they do with it, and what they can predict about you just from your address or the kind of car you drive. And then she gets distracted watching the double date at the next table go down in flames, progressing from passive-aggressive male bonding to outright husband-bashing. Harriet's eyes light up and I know she's glad she has a laptop in the car.

We took a little break there, but I think that means we'll just keep on Adviling even after Advent is officially over. That's the great thing about inventing your own holidays - you make your own rules.

Hey I don't think I used even one f-word in this post! We'll make up for that nexxt time - I have a Xmas Cocktail Romance I've been cooking up and I think I can keep that relatively filthy.

Your Neighborhood Librarian loves you - time for a drink!