Summer Quencher: Classic Gin & Tonic

Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.

To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.

Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.

The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.

Classic Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.


Elderflower Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.)
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine

Five Fabulous Summer Cocktails

For once I'm not going to give you a lengthy lead-in, describing sipping margaritas over a long evening watching the waves wash in as the sun set at a little palapa on the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta—true story!—or waxing eloquent about cachaça, the fermented sugar cane brandy of Brazil. Nope, I'm getting right to the recipes, because that's what's important when you've got a hankering for a cold drink on a hot summer day. Cheers!

1. Dave's Ultra Margarita

Adapted from Coyote Cafe by Mark Miller

2 Tbsp. extrafine sugar
6 Tbsp. lime juice
3 oz. blue agave tequila
2 tsp. Cointreau or triple sec
Kosher salt
1 lime

Put large-size martini glasses in freezer to chill. Fill cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Put all ingredients into shaker. Shake till "the sound starts to change just a little bit" (10-15 seconds at most). Take glasses out of freezer. Put salt in a wide, shallow container. Cut a small wedge of lime, make small cut in center of the wedge from cut edge to pith. Put over edge of glass and run the wedge around it. Holding the glass at an angle, submerge the edge in the pile of salt and twirl. Put one large ice cube in glass. Pour 1/2 of margarita mixture in each glass.


2. Caipirinha

1 heaping Tbsp. superfine (baker's) sugar
1/2 lime
2 oz. cachaca

Trim ends off lime so white rind is gone. Cut lengthwise and remove pith from center. Slice almost all the way through perpendicular to axis of lime, leaving rind side intact. Slice diagonally a couple of times, again, not slicing through. Cut in half, perpendicular to axis and put in glass flesh side up.

Put sugar over lime. Muddle gently, squeezing out all the juice you can. Put into shaker. Fill with ice. Add the cachaca. Shake. Pour with ice into tumbler.


3. Gimlet

2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup*

To make simple syrup, in a small mixing bowl stir 1 c. sugar (or superfine baker's sugar) into 1 c. water until dissolved.

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

* Think about simple syrup differently, and your cocktail can suddenly take on a whole different character. Infuse the syrup with rhubarb or elderflower or basil or…?


4. Americano Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
Club soda
Lemon twist

Fill cocktail glass half full of ice. Add Campari and sweet vermouth. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Add lemon twist.


5. Mojito

Adapted from Williams Sonoma's The Bar Guide

6 fresh mint leaves
1-1/2 Tbsp. simple syrup
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Crushed ice
2 oz. light rum
2 oz. club soda

Lime wedge for garnish

Put mint leaves into a highball glass. Add simple syrup and lime juice. Muddle gently (try to leave the leaves whole rather than tearing them up too much...that way you won't have to strain them through your teeth when you drink it). Fill glass with crushed ice and add rum and soda. Garnish with lime wedge.

Top photo: The Americano.

A Trip to the Farm with Auntie: Picking Elderflowers

Saturday morning there was a a two-word e-mail from Anthony Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm. Under the subject line "Elders" it read "In bloom." That was enough for me to cancel my plans for the day, gather up my nine-year-old nephew—who was staying with us while his parents had a well-deserved getaway at the coast—and hit the highway.

Elderflower blossoms.

Arriving at the farm, Carol handed over the key to the Gator along with a bucket—my nephew asked if there were seat belts and I hollered, "Nope! Hang on!"—and we bounced along the track Anthony had mowed to a back field. I knew from previous trips that the elderberries were scattered among an eclectic collection of trees on a west-facing slope overlooking the farm's wetland. And sure enough, pretty soon I could see the white clusters of blossoms glowing against the bushes' dark foliage.

Pulling up to the nearest shrub, the flowery perfume of the blossoms enveloped us, and I set to clipping off the most mature clusters. Trundling through the tall grasses, flitting from shrub to shrub gathering blossoms like bees collecting pollen, the bucket quickly filled and we headed back to the house.Picked and ready to infuse for three days.

Mixed and ready to infuse for three days.

Back in the city that afternoon, I spent a good two hours pulling the blossoms from the stems, a tedious but necessary job since the dark stems of the flower clusters are toxic, though the tiny green stems attached to each flower aren't a problem. Last year I'd infused vodka with the flowers to make a liqueur similar to St. Germain, the artisanal French product. Since, after a year of aging it had just begun to be drinkable, I decided to make syrup this year, which only takes about three days to be ready to use. (Here's the basic recipe.)

Strain into containers and freeze. Easy!

I'd made the simple syrup earlier so it could cool while I picked the flowers from the stems, then I stirred the blossoms into it and covered it with a clean dish towel. Three days later, I strained it through a fine mesh sieve and it was good to go. Dave immediately started trying it out on cocktails, which you'll find below. With almost two gallons of syrup stashed in pint containers in the freezer, I've got plenty to experiment with, so I'll keep you posted as more uses come to light.

Elderflower Gin Spritz

2 oz. elderflower syrup
1 oz. gin
Soda water
Sprig of mint
Strip of lemon zest

Fill Collins cocktail glass two-thirds full of ice. Add elderflower syrup and gin, then top off with soda water. Stir briefly to combine and add mint and lemon zest. For a non-alcoholic but very refreshing drink, simply omit the gin.


Elderflower Gimlet

2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. elderflower syrup

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Celebrate Citrus: Blood Orange Margarita

It's like a soupçon of waking up on Christmas morning when I was a kid. Or seeing crocuses blooming in the stubbly, scant grass of a city parking strip. That frisson of excitement that tells you good things are on the way.

That's how I feel about citrus season, that tart, sweet interlude that brightens the leaden skies of winter and whispers in my ear that spring is just around the corner. So when we knocked on the front door of our friends' home the other evening and it opened wide with an invitation to come in the kitchen for a just-mixed blood orange margarita, we had to restrain ourselves from engaging in a full-on footrace.

The intensity of color can vary.

A natural mutation of the orange, which itself is theorized to be a hybrid between a pomelo and a tangerine, the red flesh of a blood orange is due to the presence of anthocyanins, pigments common to many flowers and fruits, but uncommon in citrus fruits. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) The flavor is less tart than many other citrus fruits, with a distinct raspberry-like note.

The recipe below would be wonderful for a small gathering mixed right before serving, but you could also make a pitcher for larger crowds and shake the drinks up in a cocktail shaker or, even easier, serve over ice with slices of lime or blood orange.

Blood Orange Margarita

Adapted from a recipe by Michael Schoenholtz.

Makes two cocktails.

3 oz. reposado tequila
3 oz. fresh-squeezed blood orange juice (straining out pulp optional)
1.5 oz fresh lime juice
1 to 1 1/2 oz. triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier (can vary depending on sweetness of oranges)

Salt the rims of two martini glasses (if desired).

Fill shaker two-thirds full of ice. Add all ingredients, shake for 30-40 seconds. Strain into glasses and garnish with orange wedge.