To the Tiki with Strange Brew

My shitty bar set cocktail shaker has been getting a workout lately.  Brett found my copy of the Death & Co cocktail book and has committed our livers to a winter of gin. Which is fine by me, having a curious mind constantly making cocktails when the city streets become littered with gray, gritty snow will be very handy.

We are ahead of the death of winter thus far, as he has already studied and perfected construction of the Corpse Reviver No. 2.  He won’t tell you that.  But he has.  Besides it tasting like the kind of botanical, boozy lemonade that F. Scott Fitzgerald might take to, when we were out Friday he instructed the bartender at a respected drinking establishment on how to make one.  (Equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and lemon juice with a few drops of absinthe, for the record.)

Having an architect sling drinks is a eureka! moment.  There is an equal proportion of precision and creative thinking to the craft that lends intuition on when to short shake and when to adlib with an herb garnish.  This is precisely the person I want building my cocktail.

Which leads me to a class of drinks known as tiki.  I have thought long and hard about this next statement, but I am sorry and can come to no other conclusion: I cannot like someone who dislikes this class of cocktail.  It is like saying you hate Scooby-Doo or Caribbean vacations or brunch.

They are also easier to make than you might think.  And the best part might be getting to smash ice with a rolling pin.  (Again, if you do not like this sort of thing, that is fine, but please keep your influence away from my joyful extracurricular activities.)

Tiki drinks are pleasure and pain.  And this one, called Strange Brew by the good people at Death & Co, is no exception.  It is, however, arguably much more balanced than some other tiki cocktails, which can be overly sweet and high octane and, thus, prohibitive regarding regular and continued consumption.

Strange Brew is decidedly more delicate, and floral.  It has pineapple and Velvet Falernum, a spicy syrupy liquor from Barbados, to offer up subtle sweet notes. It also has a dousing of IPA for bitterness, which I suppose is falling out of favor with many beer geeks, but I still love it.  You can float the hoppy brew on top, but I prefer to swizzle it in, so it lends a slight fizz to the length of the cocktail.

But perhaps the best part is that the drink gets better as you continue to sip it.  This might also be because you get looser on the way down too.  I guess, technically, it is impossible to judge the fluid merits of an alcoholic concoction with an unsullied sober mind.  And you need other drinks for comparison. Which, I suspect, is a secret motive fueling the craft cocktail scene.  And I wager, with their strange brews, these people are on to something.

Strange Brew


9 ice cubes, divided
2 ounces gin (try Tanqueray or Alchemy Dry Gin)
¾ ounce Velvet Falernum
1 ounce pineapple juice
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 ounces of an IPA beer (such as GreenFlash IPA)
Mint sprig, for garnish


Place 6 ice cubes in a plastic freezer storage bag and bang with a rolling pin until well crushed.  Place the crushed ice in a highball glass (the cubes should fill a 12-ounce glass to the top).  Store in the freezer until needed.

In a cocktail shaker, place the remaining 3 ice cubes and add the gin, Velvet Falernum, pineapple juice, and lemon juice and short shake them (shake quickly and briefly, just to mix the ingredients).

Strain the liquid into your prepared highball glass and top with the IPA.  Stir briefly and garnish with mint.

Makes 1 cocktail

-Alchemy is my new favorite gin: it’s incredibly delicate and hails from Portland, Maine. Their distillery is also very happening.

-Be sure to choose a quality IPA, I’d recommend one that might be described as grassy or like fresh cut lawn.


That's the Shrub.

I would normally start off by suggesting the merits of this liquid as an alcoholic mixer.  I believe cocktails have a therapeutic and social nature which—as long as you do not set out to have, say, seven—can enhance an evening much like candle votives and Ray Charles on piano.  

The gastronome Brillat-Savarin, once said “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  Please forgive the political incorrectness (he spent most of his life in the eighteenth century). 

I appreciate the general sentiment though.  And feel similarly about beer, wine, and drinks that contain gin or bourbon and the occasional egg white.  However, I cannot suggest much in the way of booze with this mixture today. 

For the past two weeks, I have been battling some sort of viral something that has chosen me as an agreeable host.  I have also been bitten by what general consensus indicates was a spider.  The cocktail of these two organisms has irritated a lymph node in my neck so that it has puffed up to the size of a pea. 

Consequently, I have found my bed more appetizing than a bar and have not done much in the way of imbibing. Unless you count translucents, like soup and hot water, in a list of boring possible antidotes.

In alcoholic terms, I can tell you that this liquid works with a little seltzer and about an ounce of vodka. (But what doesn’t?)  Luckily, it also works as a lovely base for homemade soda with some bubbly water and ice cubes.

The bright cherry-colored liquid is called a shrub and earns its name through the addition of vinegar.  It is an old timey drink that has recently experienced a popularity resurrection. The slight sourness from the vinegar balances and pulls together the other flavors—providing a cohesive kick.

I used damson plums because it was early fall at the time and the market still had some. I suspect you could use supermarket stone fruit, as you will be concentrating the flavors through heat anyhow. You may also want to experiment with a variety of herbs, fruits, and types of vinegars. 

Either way, it is worth trying.  It is an elixir that makes other clear liquids vastly more appealing.  Which is really what we are all after, in some form, anyhow.

Damson Shrub
Inspired by Kathy Gunst of WBUR’s Here & Now


½ cup sugar
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup whole damsons (with the pits) (or about 2 large plums, pits removed and roughly chopped)
½ cup apple cider vinegar, see note


In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low and add the basil.  Simmer about 10 minutes then add the plums and cook about 5 to 10 minutes, until the plums start to burst and break down.

Add the vinegar and cook at a simmer 2 to 5 minutes more.  Strain out the basil leaves (or leave them in if you want a stronger herbal note; I did not).  Let sit for 1 hour.

Strain out the remaining ingredients using a wire mesh sieve or cheesecloth set over a small colander or strainer.  Keep the resulting liquid in the refrigerator until ready for use.  It will last for several weeks (mine has thrived for about a month).

Yields about 2 cups

-The apple cider I used was fairly mild in terms of its acidity: if you have strong vinegar start with 1/3 cup. (I suspect this will include most supermarket grades.)

-I kept the pits in the damsons because they were too many to remove and was going to have to strain out all the bits anyway.  I also thought maybe they’d add a little structure to the final product, like stems and skins can with wine. Maybe?

-You’ll probably need about ½ cup of the shrub if making a cocktail (adding an ounce of booze and an ounce or two of seltzer, for fizz, with some ice cubes is a good place to start).



It is 10:30 PM and I am eating a slice of squash bread.  It is quiet in my kitchen.  I just had the shattering realization that some people—many people—I went to high school with now have multiple children.

I do not have children.  I have a one-bedroom apartment I can barely afford.  I have towels that get moldy. I have a sourdough starter and a few succulents that, some days, seem very challenging to keep alive.

I start to feel a little bad about all this, so I remind myself I just baked two loaves of very good bread.  And that I added a vegetable—not because I needed to—but because I wanted to.  Because I had a craving for butternut squash, and also for cake, and the universe was in low supply of acceptable recipes with these combined appetites.

So I took the bones of a banana bread recipe—a very good one—and browned some butter.  Added autumnal cues by way of cinnamon and allspice. Quartered a whole squash—without chopping a single finger off—and roasted it into submission.

It turns out very well, the bread, until I realize I have compared it to having a child and not killing a cactus.  I recently turned thirty-three and part of me feels I should have more grown-up ends by now. At the very least, maybe a yard?

But instead I live in a pest-free rental—with the black and white-tiled floors I wanted in my mid-twenties—in an area bolstered by the mafia and cannoli.

I have a smart, thoughtful, and very handsome boyfriend who never lets me drink alone, whom I love. I have maintained a job at a well-respected institution for over a decade. Plus I am old enough to swear and not feel bad about it.

I also have the sense to know bad things happen and enough emotional collateral, I think, to navigate them. And to realize that having kids does not make one feel any more put together.

In truth, I do not know if I even want a yard.  I certainly do not want to mow it.  What I do know, for now, is that I want butternut squash in dessert form.  And I know how to make that happen.

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread


1½ cups mashed cooked butternut squash (about ½ a medium squash, see instructions below)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed dark muscovado sugar (or regular dark brown sugar)
2 eggs
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
1 cup chopped pecans


A few hours in advance (or the night before):

Set the oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a sheet pan lightly with olive or canola oil.  Quarter a whole butternut squash, leaving the skin on.  Place on the prepared pan, flesh side down and skin side up.  Roast for 60 to 70 minutes, or until it softens and the flesh side become caramelized (you’ll have to peak to see this).  Let cool and refrigerate until needed.

When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9 x 5-inch (or two 8 x 4-inch) loaf pan(s).

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter on medium-low until it becomes caramel-colored and starts to smell nutty; this will take 5 to 10 minutes, swirl the butter occasionally to prevent it from burning in spots and adjust the heat as necessary.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugars and brown butter on medium-high speed until fully combined and the mixture resembles wet sand (about 2 minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, then the buttermilk, 1½ cups squash (flesh only), and vanilla; mix on medium-high until fully combined and smooth. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three swift additions.  Stir in the ginger and pecans with a rubber spatula until just combined (make sure bits of flour are no longer visible).

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.  (Start checking around 55 minutes with the two smaller loaves.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then, with a knife, loosen the sides of the bread from the pan.  Let cool on the wire rack for one hour before slicing.

Makes one 9 x 5 loaf or two 8 x 4 loaves

-The pecans seemed seasonally timely, and were good, but I prefer walnuts in breads like this.

-In a pinch, substitute 1 tsp dried ginger for the fresh variety.

-It is decorative gourd season too, and if you need a proclamation mug, you can find it here.


Gold’s Banana Bread and Circumstance

Here is what I know about banana bread. It happens under two circumstances.

One is that you get a craving for it on a Tuesday and then wait for the bananas to become speckled and chestnut in spots.  Then you satisfy your needs on Friday. 

The other is that you buy more bananas than you, and anyone in close cohabitation, could humanly eat in a three or four day period.  The decreasingly yellow fruits make their presence known through aspirations of breakfasts gone by. And you must dispose of them.

The trash is not an option.  Banana bread happens when becoming wholly-rotten-to-the-point-of-disbandment is not an option.  Or when waiting is the only option.  It is a wonderful, strange thing that occurs when either too much or too little planning takes place. 

And thus, it is accessible to many types.  This is one of the reasons, I think, why it is so appealing.  It is likely the person who makes you banana bread is either a good planner or someone who often makes the best of a bad situation.  Both types are handy to have around.  Particularly with concurrent skills in the banana bread making department.

The last time I made a loaf was November, 2011.  I documented it on a trip with some friends to the mountains of New York.  (Banana bread is good on trips.)  A solid recipe for sure, but arguably a little too bedazzled when simplicity is what you require.  It also suffers from inaccessibility with the cardamom-haters that walk the earth.

Then, a few months ago, a classmate brought in two loaves of still-warm banana bread—one with chocolate chips—both served with honey butter. It was the best banana bread ever.  The recipe came from the back of a bag of Gold Medal flour. Which should be a lesson to all of us.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to our negligence and to the ordinary. After all, that’s the stuff really good banana bread is made of.

Gold’s Banana Bread
Adapted from the back of a Gold Medal Flour bag


1¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 or 4 whole)
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts


Set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9 x 5-inch (or two 8 x 4-inch) loaf pan(s).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Add the eggs, bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix on medium-high until fully combined and smooth. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  With the mixer running on low, add the flour mixture in three swift additions.  Stir in the walnuts with a rubber spatula until just combined (make sure bits of flour are no longer visible).

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center.  (Start checking around 55 minutes with the two smaller loaves.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then, with a knife, loosen the sides of the bread from the pan.  Let cool one hour before slicing.

Makes one 9 x 5 loaf or two 8 x 4 loaves