I was a freshman in high school, so this must have been sometime in 1978.
I don’t remember the circumstances, or even who else was with me, but somehow, I ended up in the back seat of a muscle car, driving around for twenty minutes or so with the two coolest guys at my school – both seniors. To their credit, they didn’t rag on us, and even let us jump into their conversation from time to time*, which we in the back seat took as a Very Positive Sign.
A song came on the radio – “Hold the Line”, by Toto.
“Oh, man!” said one of the cool guys. “You HAVE to turn this up!”
And his buddy did.
The song was exquisitely cool. Driving around with those guys was exquisitely cool. For an instant, I was cool.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was the absolute high point of my coolness. I had never been that cool before, and haven’t been since. To this day, my heart shudders a little bit when I hear the opening piano chords of that song, and I will tolerate no criticism of it.
It’s been a long time since then, and I’ve been around and done a lot of things. If I’ve learned anything over the forty-five years since that night, it’s that life is always significantly weirder than you expect it to be. So, someday in the not hugely distant future, when I am eaten by wombats, or my blood pressure takes its revenge on me, or – as I was led to expect in my youth by Saturday morning cartoons – I am crushed by a falling anvil, I will be surprised but not entirely unprepared to find myself in the Afterlife, being judged by Osiris.
He will remove my heart – to, I imagine, my heart’s great relief – and weigh it against the Feather of Truth.
He might ask me if I was a good man.
I won’t know how to answer that, but I do know that I will be able to look him in the eye and tell him that for one, brief, shining moment, I was cool.
Which brings us to three extremely cool drinks. They are delicious. They are cucumbery. They will make you feel cool.
Not Toto-cool, but cool.
- Preparing for Coolness
So, here’s the thing. Some people are effortlessly cool. I’m pretty sure Tom Waits doesn’t have to prepare himself mentally to be hip; he was almost certainly born with it. You could wake him up in the middle of the night and ask him a stupid question, and he’d have something devastatingly awesome to say:
“Is that the smoke detector beeping?”
“No, man – the dining room is backing up. Go back to sleep.”
It is well known that Helen Mirren can destroy a man, utterly without effort.
I guarantee that Barry White never worked at being Barry White; his coolness was innate.
But these are the prodigies, the exceptions. For the rest of us, coolness take preparation. In order to make these three, very cool drinks, you will have to do a little bit of mis en place.**
Prep #1 – Cucumber Gin
Equal amounts, by weight, of:
Persian cucumbers – the small ones, that look like miniature versions of English cucumbers. They taste extra cucumbery.
Low-to-Medium shelf gin – Your goal here is to flavor this pretty heavily with cucumber, which will blow out any delicate flavor profiles of the really good stuff. I use Gordon’s.
Wash, but don’t peel, the cucumbers.
Put cucumbers and gin in your blender. Blend at the lowest speed for 1-2 minutes. The goal here is to chop the cucumbers up pretty finely, to give them more surface area exposed to the alcohol. You’re not actually trying to puree it or anything.
At this point, you will have a bright green mixture that looks like hot dog relish. Pour it into a wide-mouthed jar, label it, and store it somewhere cool and dark for seven days, shaking it two-three times per day.
After a week, strain it with a fine-meshed kitchen strainer. You will be left with an opaque, olive-green liquid that will need to be strained again. Run it through a coffee filter in a funnel.
This will take a while, so set it up, then go into the next room and watch My Man Godfrey. This will distract you from getting impatient and doing something impulsive to speed up the filtering. At the same time, William Powell will give you a Master Class in coolness. By the time Carol Lombard is done being adorable***, your gin will be ready to bottle.
Prep #2 – Cucumber Syrup
“Wait a second. We just made cucumber gin. Do you have some sort of cucumber issues?”
Shh… It will all be okay.
Equal amounts, by weight, of cucumbers and white sugar. Any type of cucumber – whatever makes you happy, or is threatening to take over your garden.
Wash, but don’t peel, the cucumber. Chop it to a medium dice.
Freeze the cucumber chunks for an hour or so. Ice crystals will form, and perforate the cell walls inside the cucumber, making it more enthusiastic about giving up its juice.
Combine the frozen cucumber and sugar in a saucepan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As it thaws, the cucumber will start giving off a surprising amount of liquid. You really won’t need to add any water.
As more liquid appears, mash the cucumber with a potato masher, just to encourage the process along.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and let it boil for fifteen or twenty more seconds, to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved into solution.
Remove the pan from heat, cover, and steep for 30 minutes.
Mash with the potato masher one more time, then strain and bottle.
This isn’t actually a step, but have some of this cucumber syrup on your yogurt. You will start smiling at people in traffic.
Prep #3 – Jasmine Syrup
“Okay, seriously – what is with you and syrups? I really just want a cocktail.”
Calm down. I’d advise you to have a drink, but you need to make the syrup to do that. It’s a vicious cycle. Trust me; you’ll be glad you made this.
1 cup Water
1 cup White sugar
½ cup Dried jasmine blossoms
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, making a simple syrup.
Stir in the jasmine blossoms. They will want to float on the top; make sure they get thoroughly bathed. Think of them as a six year-old boy.
Remove from heat, cover, and steep for 30 minutes.
Squeeze the juice from the half a lime into the mixture, stir, then strain into a bottle.
This is very good in tea.
That you can drink with your cucumber yogurt (see above).
Your family and coworkers will find you 12% easier to get along with.
Cocktail #1 – Cucumber Margarita
A margarita is a Summertime classic, a cucumber one, doubly so. There are only three ingredients in this, so you will probably want to splurge on a good tequila. The bar in Albuquerque where I first had this suggested Hornitos. Who am I to argue with them?
3 slices (~45 gr.) Cucumber with skin
2 oz Blanco tequila- The pale green color of this drink is important, so probably don’t go with anything aged, or golden-colored.
1 oz Fresh squeezed Lime juice
¾ oz Cucumber syrup (see above)
Muddle the cucumber slices thoroughly in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.
Add ice, lime juice, syrup, and tequila. Shake until very cold.
Strain into a chilled rocks or margarita glass.
Drink this while listening to songs with the word “corazon” in them.
The key to a good margarita is balancing acid, sweetness, and the flavor of tequila. This does a pretty good job of that, but with cucumber. The cucumber doesn’t take over the drink or anything, but reminds you that you aren’t on Spring Break in Cancún; you are an adult – for the next fifteen minutes or so, a sophisticated adult.
A cool adult.
Cocktail #2 – Hold the Line
One of the dangers of Summertime cocktails is that small drinks go down far too easily. One cucumber margarita will lead to the next one, which will want to invite one of its friends along, and the next thing you know, you’re propositioning a hat rack.
Sometimes, a tall drink is in order.
3 oz Watermelon juice – You can buy this easily enough, but I used an immersion blender on a pint of fresh watermelon chunks, then strained it. It took about three minutes.
3 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz Cucumber syrup (see above)
2 oz Cucumber gin (see also above)
Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker.
Pour, unstrained, into a tall glass.
Garnish with a watermelon rind pickle.
It’s always tempting to play with the proportions in a drink recipe – a little more syrup, or lime juice, trying to juggle the proportions of sweetness and acidity. This one really doesn’t need much adjustment. It just makes you smile serenely. Watermelon can taste a little flat on its own, but the lime juice is a perfect partner for it. It would be a little too sour, then, but the cucumber syrup levels everything out.
The only possible adjustment might be to make a batch without the gin, so your kids can sit with you on the porch, drinking this and being cool.
Cocktail #3 – Heart Like a Feather
This is where the jasmine syrup comes in. You’d think that a delicate flavor like jasmine would not stand up to cucumber gin. Or, for that matter, jalapeño-flavored corn puffs. You’d be mistaken. Do not underestimate Jasmine. She’s beautiful, seductive, and just a little bit dangerous.
Cucumber juice – Again, I just threw half a cucumber in a blender (a Magic Bullet, in this case), blended it up, then strained it. You won’t need much for this recipe.
2 oz Cucumber gin (see above)
1 oz Jasmine syrup (see above)
1 oz Fresh squeezed lemon juice
Rinse the inside and paint the outside of a coupé glass with cucumber juice. Freeze for twenty minutes.
Combine gin, syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker, with ice. Shake thoroughly.
Remove your frozen cucumber glass from the freezer, and strain the drink into it.
Garnish with a cucumber wheel.
This is one of those drinks that starts out extremely cold and crisp, then changes character as it warms up. This is a take on a gin sour – again, the acidity of the lemon juice is balanced by the jasmine syrup. The cucumber juice is there largely to give off cucumbery esters and make you feel cool. The gin is…
Well, to quote 1969’s Esquire Drink Book:
“Gin smells of oriental flowers at dusk. It whispers of clean stands of fir trees in the winter wind. Of all the drinks you can think of, it extends perhaps the most seductive invitation.”
* “Yeah!”, “Wow!”, and the evergreen, “Uh, huh.”
** See? Right there? I tried too hard to be cool by using a chef-y term and didn’t stick the landing. Preparing better could have prevented me from sounding pretentious.
*** This is a trick. Carol Lombard was never done being adorable.