Project Runway is almost over. Naturally, this reminds me of high school.
Do you remember graduating from high school? On the one hand, you were sad to be leaving your friends and a familiar environment that you had finally more or less mastered, but the other hand was busy flagging a cab to take you on to the rest of your life? And then you got your diploma and went to a graduation party or six and maybe took a week of vacation at the beach, and suddenly you realized, "Is that all there is?" College was still three months away, and you had to survive your pathetic summer job, and what had seemed bright and shiny and imminent was distant and scary and beyond vast hills of still-living-at-home-with-mom-and-dad-and-your-annoying-younger-
Of course: you get older, you get wiser. So while the hard-upon-us final episode of Project Runway might seem like those last carefree, post-final exam days of high school, you already realize that all you have to look forward to afterwards is Top Chef, and, well, eh.
So enjoy the final episode while you still can, readers. And how better to celebrate Season 3 than by raising a glass to your favorite designer or designers? And if, by chance, you're wondering what ought to be in that glass, I'm here to tell you. It should, by now, be obvious that we're dealing with four very talented designers with very different points of view. Accordingly, I'm offering you four drinks, one for each designer. As with the hors d'oeuvres in the last post, it should be painfully obvious which drink is for which designer, even before my entirely heavy-handed hints. Three of the following drinks are alcoholic, but I have done my best to give virgin alternatives.
I will confess right up front that I have not always been a big fan of the martini. In fact, when I was about twenty-one, some friends and I went to the Hilltop Steakhouse (a temple erected for the worship of meat, north of Boston), and I ordered my very first martini. Whoa. The Hilltop is not exactly a study in refinement, and its martini was entirely in keeping with the rest of its menu and with the huge plaster cow standing in front of the restaurant. God only knows what they put in that martini, but I was a tiny bit apprehensive about trying another one. Still, I finally did have my second martini. Earlier this evening. What a difference twenty years and good gin make. I may henceforth become a semi-regular martini drinker, but I will probably insist upon making them myself.
If you study the martini literature, which is about as extensive as you might expect for a drink that was much loved by Dorothy Parker, you will find a great deal of disagreement about three fundamental questions. How dry should the martini be? Should it be shaken or stirred? Should it be served with an olive or a twist. I could (and probably still will) go on at some length about each of these questions, but here are the short answers: bone; neither; both.
If you're fabulously glamorous, a martini is basically an excuse to drink cold gin. The degree of dryness of a martini is determined by the amount of vermouth it contains. The less vermouth, the dryer the martini. As a two-time consumer of martinis (and, more importantly, as a complete know-it-all when it comes to all matters ingestible), I can say with absolute authority that without vermouth, you don't really have a martini, but with vermouth, you don't really have the best martini. Fortunately, you can have it both ways.
It is well known that shaking your martini bruises the gin. What's less well known is that stirring it merely bruises the gin to a lesser extent. And the sixteen-ton elephant that no one wants to acknowledge is that in either case, exposing your gin to ice cubes dilutes the gin and exposes it to water that may be less than perfect. To get the very best martini, you need to make your gin ice cold, but you need to avoid ice. Fortunately, you can have it both ways.
No other martini-related argument is even half as vicious as the twist-or-olive debate. To give just one example, my mother and my Uncle Gilbert did not speak to each other between December 31, 1972, when he gave her a martini made with a twist, and December 25, 1978, when he sent her a jar of olives as a peace offering. I am not making this up.* The real tragedy here is not that we had to avoid my Uncle Gilbert (who, truth be told, was not all that fun to be around) for six years. The real tragedy is that in this great land of plenty, we still have people focusing on "or" when they should be focusing on "and." Both the olive and the lemon have something to offer the martini. Fortunately, you can have it both ways.
At no time during the preparation of the following drink are you to so much as consider the possibility that you could get away with inferior ingredients.
The Bad Mommy
One or more martini glasses
One or more toothpicks
At least two hours, or as much as several months, before you're going to finish the martini, open the jar of olives and drain off the liquid. With a vegetable peeler, remove the zest -- but not the pith -- of the lemon in strips. Push the strips down into the jar of olives. Fill the jar of olives with the Lillet, recap the jar, and put it in the refrigerator. Put the Tanqueray in the freezer.
Just before you want to serve the martinis, take one toothpick per imbiber and spear three olives per toothpick. Put the toothpicks in the martini glasses. Pour the Tanqueray into the glasses. Serve.
If you follow this method, you will have a perfectly dry martini with extremely cold yet thoroughly unbruised gin. You will also have a hint of vermouth and olives with a bit of a twist. You will want to sip this drink very slowly, both to savor the intricacies of the flavor and because it's totally deadly.
And the non-alcoholic alternative:
The Good Mommy
A martini glasses
4 ounces of moral superiority
Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!
This next drink will not appeal to everyone. Some will find it obnoxious, but those who love it will do so passionately. It is simultaneously brash and excellent. You might, in fact, not believe that a drink could be this good without some professional help. But it is what it is, without apologies. And it has no alcohol, so you can serve it to your friends who've been through rehab.
3 T. firecracker syrup (recipe follows)
3 T. fresh lime juice
In the bottom of a tall glass, combine the firecracker syrup and the fresh lime juice. Add ice cubes, and fill with club soda. Drop a slice of hot red pepper into the drink, and garnish the glass with a slice of lime. Serve with a bendy straw.
One cup water
One cup sugar
Two hot, red cherry peppers
In a four-cup glass measure, combine the water and sugar. Stir. Cut a cross in the bottom of each pepper, as though you were going to quarter it, but without cutting all the way through, so that the stem is left intact. Put the peppers in with the water and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high until the water is boiling and the sugar is dissolved. (You may have to stir the syrup once or twice.) Let the syrup come to room temperature, then strain and refrigerate.
You may note that there are no bubbles in drink in the picture. I forgot to buy club soda, so I used still water. If I were a food stylist (and I'm obviously not), I would have cheated and used the bottle of tonic water in the frig to make it look like I'd used club soda. But then I wouldn't have been able to drink my firecracker, and I really wanted to drink it because it's a seriously delicious drink, though I think it would be even more seriously delicious with club soda. To my taste, the spice, the sugar, and the lime compliment each other perfectly, but if you don't like any sort of hot pepper, then just skip this drink.
You could easily make the firecracker alcoholic by adding an ounce of vodka. I don't see the point, but I know plenty of people who would.
What would a Project Runway viewing be without a tropical drink? Dull, that's what. This drink started out as a version of a mai tai, but it shook off the oppressive politics of the land of its birth and went on to make its own way in a new land. It goes down very easily, so be careful, or you'll be vasted before you know it, because it's a lot more potent than it seems at first swallow. Ideally, you'd have some mugs shaped like pineapples or some coconut shells to serve this in, and if you do that, you can call it a Miami Vice. Serve it in a glass, and the appearance dictates the name.
Miami Iced Tea
6 ounces pineapple juice
6 ounces cranberry juice cocktail
6 ounces dark rum
3 ounces triple sec
3 ounces amaretto
3 ounces lime juice
Mix the liquid ingredients in a one-quart pitcher. Add ice until the pitcher is full. Serve in tall glasses, over more ice, and garnished with lemon wedges. Enjoy responsibly.
This last drink is a little bit harder to characterize. Properly made, it could also be served as a dessert at your next dinner party because this is a flexible drink. This is a drink that thinks about the task at hand and makes it work. It's hot and it's cool. It's dark and it's light. It's sweet, but it's substantive and complex, and it's got a couple of secrets. It's the perfect drink for an autumn (K)night.
Sweetened condensed milk
Put the cold coffee into either an ice cube tray or into individual containers and freeze solid.
In the bottom of an oversized coffee mug, pour a layer of sweetened condensed milk (about two tablespoons). Add one or two tablespoons of dark rum. Grate bittersweet chocolate to taste on top. Fill the cup about halfway with coffee ice cubes. Add the hot coffee. Serve with a spoon.
I was a little short on time, so my chunk of ice was not fully frozen when I completed this drink, so I can't really show you the desired result. It still tasted very good, but you will want to take your time and use fully frozen coffee ice. As the ice melts, stir up the sweetened condensed milk from the bottom. It should be a lot like coffee ice cream.
If you want a nonalcoholic version, just leave out the rum, and your coffee will be perfectly fine. Alternatively, leave in the rum and add a similar amount of Frangelico. I didn't, but only because I somehow ran out. I think the producers drank it when I wasn't looking.
*Please don't ever believe me when I say that. I am totally making this up. My mother doesn't even drink gin.