So, there’s a theory that you’re probably familiar with, that every time you make a decision – whether to order an extra side of bacon with your omelet, or a dish of Hollandaise, for instance – two branches of reality are created:
In one, the extra bacon pulls you out of the funk you’ve been in and gives you the courage to stand up to your boss, who is so impressed that she puts you in charge of the Patel account. You are so successful that you become wealthy and powerful enough to buy that ’68 Barracuda that you’ve always wanted and end up dying horribly in a fiery wreck, far too young.
In the other, you overhear the couple arguing in the next booth. The guy is being such a jerk that you feel compelled to dump Hollandaise on his head. He looks so ridiculous that his girlfriend decides that she can do better than him and leaves him for someone who actually is better. They marry and have three children, one of whom goes on to become the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Minnesota.
The point here being, of course, that you never know where a decision might take you, and if you are like me, you will be burdened with regret of all the people you never got to be.
These are three people I never got to be:
#1 – The Kahuna
She’s not really old enough to be in a bar. She’s not even sure this is the right place; there’s no sign on the door. It’s not one of those hipster speakeasys that she’s heard of – it’s in a strip mall, for crying out loud. But she really needs help and this is where she’s heard she can find the guy to help her.
She opens the door and pauses a moment to get her bearings.
This place doesn’t smell like smoke – that’s a good sign. If anything, it smells faintly like… old books?
The bartender eyes her, but doesn’t say anything. She thought he’d have scowled at her, or carded her, or maybe even ignored her, but he just stands patiently, looking at her and absentmindedly polishing a glass.
She takes a deep breath and walks up to the bar. He still doesn’t say anything, but not in an intimidating way. He just seems… patient.
“Um..” Now that she’s here, she’s not really sure where to begin.
The bartender continues to stand patiently, still polishing a martini glass.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but…um.. I’ve got this weird situation and I’ve heard that there’s a guy… um, yeah…”
The bartender nods. “You want The Kahuna.” He points to a table in the back of the bar.
She squints and can sort of make out a figure in the corner.
She turns back to the bartender. “Should I take him a drink or something?”
“I’m pretty sure you’re not old enough.”
Fern (because that’s her name – Fern) nods in gratitude and makes her way to the guy at the table.
He looks like an off-duty musketeer. He’s got the musketeer beard and mustache thing going, but if he is a musketeer, he hasn’t pulled a sword on anyone in awhile. He looks old, in the way that everybody over the age of forty looks old. He’s dressed pretty nicely – he’s wearing a nice shirt and a vest. He looks like a dad. Fern is pretty sure that he’s only a moment away from telling her an achingly bad joke. He looks up at her from his book.
“Um… Are you The Kahuna?”
“Okay, that’s a weird thing to call me.”
“Is your problem weird?”
“Why do you think I’ve got a problem?”
“You’re fifteen years old. Fifteen, right?” – Fern nods – “And you’re in a bar in a strip mall at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Do you have a problem?”
Fern hesitates, then nods.
“Okay, let’s sit down and chat.”
Given the term “kahuna”, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this drink would involve pineapple juice, and probably a tiki mug. Part of being a kahuna is defying expectations.
1 oz. Sesame rum (see below)
1 oz. Chili-infused rum (see just below that)
1 oz. Sumac simple syrup (which you’ll find just below the recipe for the flavored rums)
3-4 oz. Aggressively bubbly seltzer water – I’m loyal to Topo Chico Mineral Water
Garnish – Wedge of lime
- Combine the rums and syrup over ice in a smallish Collins glass.
- Stir aggressively.
- Top with seltzer and a squeeze of lime
- Stir again, this time gently.
This highball is one of those ones that has flavors that come to you in waves. One sip will taste mostly of sesame. The next will be a bit spicy. You’ll find yourself asking what that fruity taste is, seeing as there isn’t much fruit it this. It’s the sumac – a Middle Eastern spice that normally adds sourness to dishes, but in this case, because it’s infused into a simple syrup, it more tangy and mysterious. Because of the sumac, you don’t want to have a lot of citrus in this – just a kiss of lime. The wedge of lime is necessary though; it negotiates a detente between the other ingredients. This is one of those drinks that you can sip on for hours. If someone were to ask you for a taste of it, they would probably pause and give you some serious side-eye, but they’d almost certainly ask for a second, and maybe a third sip, then probably one of their own.
1 liter inexpensive white rum (As usual, you probably don’t want to use your good stuff, when you are covering up most of the subtle flavors with tahini. I use Mr. Boston.)
16 oz tahini (I like Krinos.)
- Combine rum and tahini in a very large jar or other air-tight container. Shake with great vigor.
- Store the jar somewhere warm and dark for 7 days, shaking twice per day.
- Strain through a fine mesh strainer, then filter through a coffee filter.
This results in a fantastic sesame rum. It is silver in color. It is smooth and tastes delicious. You could easily sit in an armchair with a brandy snifter of the stuff. There is, however, a drawback:
The rum and the tahini have spent a week getting their groove on. At the end of it, the rum has gotten everything she wants out of this fling, says, “Well, this was fun…” and goes on her way. The tahini, on the other hand, has turned into Rick Astley, and is determined that he is never going to give her up.
As much as the rum has bonded with the tahini, the tahini has bonded with the rum, and without the use of a lab-grade centrifuge – which my wife will not let me buy – a liter of rum nets you between ten and twelve ounces of finished product. Given that there was a relatively small investment in the rum to begin with, that might be okay.
But there is another way:
Sesame Rum #2
1 cup white sesame seeds
4 cups white rum
- Over medium-low heat, toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet, stirring constantly, until they have turned the color of a graham cracker or a lion.
- Transfer seeds to the same large jar or airtight container. Add the rum. There will be a satisfying sizzle.
- Shake, then store in the same warm, dark place for four days, shaking twice per day.
- Filter through a coffee filter.
This sesame rum is not as smooth and silvery as its little brother, but it is also delicious. It has a deep golden color and really pops in your mouth, shouting, “It’s SESAME TIME, Baby!”
And you net about a quart of rum.
Roughly chop 4-5 jalapeño peppers, and put them into a large, wide-mouthed jar. Add a bottle of white or silver rum (again, probably not the good stuff; any subtleties of flavor will be completely covered up). Shake twice per day. Taste it after four days to see if it is spicy and flavorful enough.
1 cup White sugar
1 cup Water
1 Tbsp. Powdered sumac (available online or in a Middle Eastern market)
- Combine all three ingredients in a small saucepan. The sumac is slightly hydrophobic and doesn’t want to play well with the water. Use a whisk to force the issue.
- Bring to a boil, then let the mixture boil for another twenty seconds or so, to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Remove from heat and let it steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain with a fine-mesh strainer, then again with a coffee filter. Bottle and store in your refrigerator.
#2 – The Host
I like hosting these parties. We don’t have enough places to dress up like adults anymore. I’m wearing a sharp suit – a silver tie against a very deep purple silk shirt and a velvet smoking jacket. I know that not everyone would approve, but it is my party, after all.
I check to make sure that Celia has what she needs at the bar. This is the first time I’ve worked with her, but she comes highly recommended and my guests seem to love her. She says she’s all set.
The music is great – not too loud, but the kind of jazz I love, with lots of horns. Nelson Riddle, Tony Bennett – that kind of thing. Very Vegas-y/New York-y.
A very beautiful, very kind woman in an outstanding cocktail dress stops to give me a smile and kiss me on the cheek. Hannah’s an old friend from college and I’m really glad she and her girlfriend were able to make it tonight.
Before I can ask her about her latest New Yorker piece, I hear a couple of raised, angry voices from a group of people by the fireplace. I excuse myself and go to see what the problem is.
The problem, it seems, is from a man I don’t know very well – a friend of a friend of a client, who sort of ended up here in the way that guests do, sometimes. I’m not sure what set him off, but he’s clearly in a mood and he’s not being very nice to Russell, a friend of mine and an excellent poet. Russell’s calm – he’s always calm – but clearly running out of patience with this guy.
I hear the new guy finish a sentence that includes the word, “pathetic”, as I walk up behind him.
“Evenin’,” I say to the small group of guests. “I’m glad you could all make it tonight. Can I get anybody anything?”
The new guy turns to me, looks me over, and is clearly not impressed.
“We’re fine,” he says, then turns his back on me and starts in on Russell again.
Russell doesn’t need my help – he can handle jerks just fine on his own – but this is my party and I don’t like people being mean, especially if they aren’t even amusing.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” I say to New Guy. “I’m the host. Why don’t you come over to the bar and tell me your life story?”
He turns back to me. “Actually, I’m in the middle of something,” he says. “I think you should mind your own business.” Then he turns his back on me again.
Even in this alternate reality, I’m not great at making decisions, but this clown has made one for me.
“Moose? Elizabeth?” I call to the couple who are exchanging pleasantries with Hannah. “Could you give me a minute, please?”
Moose and Elizabeth are one of those interesting, mismatched couples that you run into occasionally. He is a huge, heavily tattooed Samoan, and she is a petite blond woman with shockingly blue eyes. Interestingly enough, Moose is her nickname, and I don’t know the story behind Elizabeth’s. I met them at an art auction a year or two ago.
They walk over to us, calmly and efficiently.
I gesture to New Guy with my chin.
“Do me a favor, please. Show this cat to the door.”
Elizabeth lets his wife take care of it. He holds the door.
Show This Cat to the Door
This cocktail follows the classic proportions for daquiris, gimlets, and margaritas – two parts alcohol to one part citrus juice to ¾ part syrup – in this case, grenadine. The lime juice keeps this from being too sweet. The grenadine keeps it from being too sour and gives it a perfumey quality. The bison grass vodka gives the whole thing a spine.
The Tabasco is a reminder of who you’re dealing with.
2 oz. Bison grass vodka – I’ve been drinking Žubrówka.
1 oz. Fresh squeezed lime juice
¾ oz. Grenadine
3 drops Tabasco
- Combine vodka, lime, and grenadine in a shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly.
- Strain into a coupé glass.
- Add three drops of Tabasco. Do not stir. Take the Tabasco as it comes.
#3 – The Cookie Guy
Okay, so that guy over there in the tropical shirt? The one who looks like a hipster Santa Claus? Yeah, there’s a weird story about him.
He came in with Mary and Julio a couple of months ago.
You know Mary? I think you do. She went to school with us, but she looks like she could be one of our moms. She’s really pretty, but she’s been through a lot. When I introduced her to my boyfriend, he said, “She’s really sweet, but man she’s got some miles on her,” – which probably wasn’t the nicest way to put it, but it’s pretty accurate. She’s had some really bad luck with men, but Julio’s been good to her. I’ve heard he can have a bad temper, but he’s never raised a finger to her; he treats her like a queen.
Oh, the Cookie Guy. Right.
Anyway, apparently – this is according to Mary – Julio’s temper kinda led to them meeting the Cookie Guy.
Yeah, so apparently, Julio had a bit of a difference of opinion with his boss at the body shop. He was supposed to put racing stripes on some guy’s Mini, and Julio ended up painting a mermaid riding a jet ski across the whole driver’s side. His boss wasn’t pleased about it. Julio’s point was that it was a really good painting of a mermaid, but his boss’s point was that there shouldn’t be a mermaid there at all, and one thing led to another, and suddenly Julio’s a freelancer.
So, Julio storms out of there with smoke comin’ out his ears at, and – and this is what a good influence Mary’s been on him – instead of doing something stupid, he calls Mary and asks if she can go for a ride with him while he cools off. Mary tells him not to get on the bike yet, and she’ll be there in a few minutes, so he spends half an hour smokin’ a cigarette and polishing his gas tank. Mary takes an Uber to the shop, and spends a couple of minutes hugging him and reminding him of what a genius he is.
He agrees with her, they put on their helmets, and take off on the bike.
Anyway, a couple of blocks later, some driver isn’t paying attention and cuts them off in traffic, which sets Julio off again. He pulls up next to the guy at the next stoplight and has him roll down his window.
He yells, “What are you? Stupid?” at the guy in the car.
The guy looks a little shocked, then looks over his shoulder, and musta realized what he’d done, then looks back at Julio, and goes, “Yeah, I think I am. I’m really sorry.”
Julio’s not expecting this, but he’s still mad, so he just kinda sits there glaring at the guy, who I gotta think is also wondering what to do in a situation like this.
After a few seconds he turns and picks up a Tupperware container he’s got on the passenger seat, and asks Julio if he wants a cookie.
Julio’s definitely not expecting this, but he takes a couple of cookies – one for him and one for Mary – and right about then, the light changes, so the guy in the car nods and drives away.
Mary says that it’s a pretty good cookie, but apparently Julio really likes it, so a couple of blocks later, he catches up with the guy again, taps on the window, and asks for another cookie.
The guy smiles like he just got a check or something, and gives Julio a couple more cookies. While Julio’s reaching out for them, the guy compliments him on his neck tattoos. Julio’s never heard anything like that from a white guy before, so he stays behind the car and catches up again at the next light.
According to Mary, this goes on for about ten more minutes, until both the men realize that neither of them knows where they’re going; that they’re just following each other around, and Marry rolls her eyes so hard she almost falls off the bike.
Which is how they ended up here.
Julio, Mary, and the tropical shirt guy come in the bar, completely cracking up, from telling each other – I’m not kidding – knock-knock jokes, and get a table. Julio insists on buying the first few rounds, which is pretty big of him considering he doesn’t have a job anymore. Eventually Mary drags the white guy up here to introduce him to me and makes him bring the cookies. He shakes my hand and tells me his name, but I never catch it, because I’m completely into the cookies by then. He sees that I’m into them, and tries to tell me somethin’ about how they’re an experiment he’s trying out before the holidays, but I have to hold up a finger and shush him because he’s harshing my cookie mellow.
He says, “Yes, Ma’am,” and waits until I’ve eaten his last three cookies. I think he just stands there patiently, but I’ve got my eyes closed for the last two cookies, so he might’ve smirked or something’.
I shake myself, and run my fingers through my hair, then ask him what his name is again. He’s like, “Just call me whatever you want to,” and so I’ve been calling him The Cookie Guy, and he’s become a regular. He usually comes in with Julio. It turns out he knows this kid who’s an artist who’s starting a big commission and needs some airbrushing done, so Julio’s got a gig through the end of the year.
Anyway, that first time The Cookie Guy came up to the bar – the time he brought cookies – I ask him what I can get him, and he asks me if I can come up with something for someone who’s having an adventure, and that’s what he gets now.
This drink is loosely adapted from one called The Danger Zone:
1½ oz. Chili rum (see above)
¾ oz. Frangelico
¾ oz. Fresh squeezed tangerine juice
½ oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
½ oz. Simple syrup
1 whole egg
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Dry shake vigorously for one full minute – this means shaking without ice. (Trust me, you do not want to add a raw egg to ice before it has been diluted with the other ingredients.)
- Add ice, then shake again, until very cold.
- Strain into a small Collins glass.
This is a very foamy drink. There will be a couple of inches of froth on the surface of your cocktail. In this case, think of it as an adventurer’s homage to classic jazz. The foam is delicious, but it is mostly a preview of the body of the drink itself. The chili rum gives an alcoholic bite and introduces a background chili flavor that is balanced by the sweet hazelnut notes of the Frangelico. The fruit juice balances the booziness. The egg does a couple of things: It adds body and viscosity to the drink, but it also raises the PH. The citrus juice is pretty acidic; the egg is slightly alkaline and helps balance out that acidity.
An adventurer’s cocktail.