50 Shots of America: Connecticut

Our fifth state, the Constitution State (so-named because they had the very first one), ratified the big Constitution on January 9, 1788, and gets it’s name from the Mohegan word for “place of long tidal river.”

As I researched the state I got the impression that they really aren’t into the wild and wacky, up there (even if they are home to the country’s oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce). Lots of industry, economics (thanks, again, to favorable tax conditions for certain types of businesses; namely hedge funds in Greenwich), and lots and lots of schools from private day and boarding schools to numerous colleges including the uber-ivy league Yale University, home of the first football game (American football, of course).

Scads of famous folks came out of the Provision State: Noah Webster (he of the Dictionary), Eli Whitney, PT Barnum (and, therefore, the Circus as we know it), Harriet Beecher Stowe, the beautiful Katherine Hepburn and America’s first traitor: Benedict Arnold. The “Land of Steady Habits” apparently counted inventions among a habit to pursue, as this state was the birthplace of the Hamburger (1895), the Polaroid camera (1934), the helicopter (1939) and the color television (1948), just to name a few. In fact, 2 years before the Wright Brothers made Kitty Hawk famous, Gustav Whitehead was making aviation history in Bridgeport.

But where does that leave us for the cocktail? Don’t worry, I managed to work something out with what I was given. You see, Connecticut is also known as the Nutmeg state. Not because they produce nutmeg or trade in it or anything, no. The story goes that some peddlers would whittle knobs of wood into a nutmeg shape (which is easy to see how that could happen, it being a brown seed and all) and sell them to unsuspecting customers. That’s one of 3 theories I read for the name but none are 100% certain. Still, it’s interesting enough to make it drink worthy!

the Yankee 78

1 oz Milk
.5 oz Brandy
.5 oz Nutmeg syrup*

Combine all ingredients over ice in a small cocktail shaker and shake until nice and cold. Strain into a pretty cordial glass for maximum effect. You can add a very light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg to the top of the milk foam but, I assure you, it’s not necessary.

As mentioned, the shaken milk produces a great, foamy head that contrasts nicely with the off-white to mocha color of the rest of the drink speckled with bits of nutmeg. (The color depends on how dark your sugar syrup ends up.) As there is a considerable dairy industry in Connecticut and milk punches and brandies always strike me as incredibly Colonial, this seemed the perfect vehicle for the nutmeg flavor without it overpowering the drink.

I made the test drinks with fat free milk because that’s what I drink but I think using 2% would add a nice layer of richness to the drink–if I were making these for a group, I certainly would.

The drink is named after two other bits of information I discovered about the state. One, that the state song is Yankee Doodle and it’s residents are sometimes considered the first Yankees. Two, that there are only 78 hours out of every week that you can purchase beer and liquor from stores (restaurants and bars are allowed broader hours), and less than that to purchase wine if I read the statutes correctly! Stores can only sell alcohol between 8 am and 9 pm Monday through Saturday, not on Sunday and not on certain holidays. If, for instance, Independence Day falls on a Sunday (a dry holiday on a dry day) then the following Monday becomes dry, too!

I guess we’re spoiled down here with our wine and beer in 24-hour supermarkets and late-night liquor stores!

*To make Nutmeg Syrup

.5 c white sugar
1.5 Tbsp ground nutmeg
.5 c water

Combine in a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. You may have to guess a bit because the nutmeg has a tendency to float on the top and obscure the view. Avoid breathing in the fumes as the mixture cooks, that nutmeg can be quite potent! Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain through several layers of cheesecloth (layers given a quarter turn each to trap as much of the ground spice as possible) once. Some nutmeg will pass through the straining but you’ll catch most of it.

The leftover syrup (this barely makes a cup after straining) can be stored in an airtight contained in the fridge for quite some time. Obviously an excellent addition to eggnog, this syrup would go well in Tiki-style drinks and practically anything that called for rum! For an even richer taste, make it with brown sugar instead of white.

XYZ and so forth

Okay, barflies! I’m going to wrap up this little trip through the Alphahol in one fell swoop of a post for a couple of reasons.

a) we’re at the “difficult” letters, and
b) I wanna talk about the Zombie before Halloween instead of 2 weeks after.

So indulge me: 3 cocktails in rapid fire!

XYZ Cocktail

1.5 oz Rum of your choice
3/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Lemon juice

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Whew! This one is strong–of course, it’s mostly booze. If you like a softer drink, try this with caution, and because there is so little to work with substituting a generic Triple Sec for the Cointreau is going to result in a sub par Xperience.

Your Favorite Aunt

1 oz Gin
1 oz Brandy
1 oz Sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Lemon juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Discovered this one while trying out sweet vermouth recipes and it’s actually quite tasty. It is, again, high on the alcohol and short of mixers but it’s a good sipping drink.

And, finally…

The Zombie

1 oz White rum
1 oz Amber rum
1 oz Dark rum
3/4 oz Lime juice
3/4 oz Pineapple juice
1/2 oz Apricot brandy
1/2 oz Papaya juice
1/2 oz Simple syrup
1/2 151-proof Rum

Combine all but the 151 in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake vigorously–as if you were running from a zombie–then pour into a very tall glass (don’t strain). Float the 151 on top of the drink and garnish elaborately–a spring of mine, lime wheels and cherry all dusted with confectioners sugar; orange and pineapple slices or some other tropical fruit. Serve with a straw–sipping from the top will give you a mouthful of the 151 and not much else, not the desired result.

A bit complex but the taste is worth it. If you have trouble finding papaya juice, puree or nectar (as I did) juicing your own isn’t as difficult as it seems. Sure, it’s not like a citrus fruit that’s juice is easily available, but if you don’t have an electric juicer, here’s how I got it done.

Juicing a Papaya

  1. Slice the papaya in half, lengthwise, and remove the black seeds and any light-colored membranes.
  2. Slice each half into quarters to make it easier to separate the pink flesh from the skin and lighter rind.
  3. Cut up the long slices and place in a decent-sized bowl with high sides.
  4. Crush the fruit with a muddler, pestle or wooden spoon until no longer solid.
  5. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a smaller bowl, working the mash gently with a spoon to get the maximum juice out.

Now, I got about an ounce of juice from a quarter of an 8-inch papaya and it was a bit pulpy so, as I sipped the resulting drink, did get a bit separated but it didn’t make the drink at all unpleasant to imbibe. I’ve read that you can also substitute orange juice but I think I’d go with mango juice (something generally easier to locate) before going with the more mundane OJ.

Of course, this year’s Pumpkin Party is going to be a brunch, so I think I’ll leave the Zombies off the guest list. Instead, for those who wish to imbibe, I’ll be serving Bloody Marys, Mi-moan-sas, and Boo-linis. Have a good holiday, folks, stay safe and drink responsibly.

The Toddy

I’ve had my head buried in alcohol history and lore, lately, and in the most recent reading, the Toddy came up. With the beginnings of a nip in the air (okay, so it’s our annual Fall cool snap that will disappear soon, but let a girl dream) the Toddy sounded like an excellent subject to tackle instead of whatever else I’d been thinking of for ‘t’.

Toddies are an old, old, old drink and, in their original form, were nothing more than water and liquor, with maybe some sugar added. They’re not much different now, with the addition of some sort of spice and maybe a bit of lemon to round things out.

I read a lot as a child and when you tend to read old books, that take place centuries prior and maybe in other countries, it’s easy to develop some fanciful notions about toddies and, especially, their healing properties as they were often given to characters who’d come town with a cold or had gotten caught in a terrible storm while on their horse. So, several years ago, when coming down with yet another case of something or other, I decided to try a Toddy to see if it would help. Of course, I didn’t have brandy in the house, but I could have sworn I’d read about someone using Bourbon, and I had that, so I brewed some tea (tea used to be considered a spice, by the way), adding a cinnamon stick, a lemon slice, some honey and a shot of bourbon to it.

It wasn’t exactly what I’d thought it would be.

Whether it was the harshness of the Bourbon (which I generally keep around for cooking with, not drinking) or the bitterness of the tea–or both–the drink needed a lot of sweetening before it was palatable and it just wasn’t the pleasant, soothing experience I had hoped for.

This go round, wiser and with a better-stocked bar, I skipped the tea, used brandy (okay, I used a brandy-based liqueur–Tuaca–that I knew I liked) and used simple syrup for my sweet. I also just used a lemon twist instead of a lemon slice, and I think it makes a difference.

Tuaca Toddy

1.5 oz Tuaca liqueur (an Italian brandy-based liqueur with hints of vanilla and citrus)
.5 oz Simple syrup
1 Lemon peel, 2″ long
dash of Cloves
2.5 oz Hot water

In a mug or other handled glass (this is warm, remember?) combine the Tuaca (or the brandy of your choice)  and syrup. Twist the lemon peel (try not to get too much pith when you shave it away from the fruit) to release the oils and drop it in, followed by a sprinkling of ground cloves (you could use nutmeg, if you prefer, or even cinnamon but I’d stick to a little and not use the stick–it can be too strong). Top the drink off with the very hot (not quite boiling) water, stir it around a bit and drink when the temperature is level enough not to scald your tongue.

Even though this is a favorite home remedy for colds and chills in many areas, keep in mind that alcohol can dehydrate you so you should supplement it with plenty of plain water if you choose to try this at home.

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And speaking of health, a gentle reminder that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and I’m still raising funds for my local Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign. “Support the tWINs” (the team I’m on) through my support link and get a special print. More details at the link, and thank you.