The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Friday, July 27, 2007

Drunkblogging: V's New Faves Edition

V is not much of a drinker. She's something of a lightweight, and doesn't much care for being drunk (I'm not sure how I ended being up married to this woman). So while I have enthusiastically dived into the rich and varied new alcoholic opportunities offered my by my new European residence, her exploration, apart from a good glass of red wine, has generally been limited to "I'll just try some of yours." But here are two cocktails discovered in France that she enthusiastically recommends.

[unrelated photo: Saucissons at the marche: Bull, duck, wild boar (yummy!) and donkey]

To understand the Communard, you must understand the apero. Taken after work and before dinner, the apero is a drink not alcoholic or filling enough to blunt the appetite; it merely sets the stage, creating a transition between the day's efforts and the enjoyment of the evening. An apero can be a pastis, a martini (note that in France, a "martini" is a glass of Martini brand vermouth; the familiar gin + vermouth cocktail is a "martini Americain"), or sometimes a small glass of beer.

Ideally, the apero is taken at a sidewalk table at one's local cafe. I highly recommend one of the floating riverside cafes on the Berges du Rhone, such as La Passagere (watch your step on the gangplank on your way to the bar, especially if your hands are full of drinks).

[unrelated photo: Passarelle du College over the Rhone, late afternoon]

V discovered the Communard on the apero menu at Brasserie Nord, chose it at random because its description sounded interesting, and took to it immediately. The recipe is simplicity:

1 part creme de cassis
4 parts light-bodied red wine (typically a beaujolais in these parts)
Pour cassis into wine glass. Fill with wine. Do not stir or garnish. Serve.

The name Communard comes from-- not the late-80's dancepop outfit best known for its cover of Don't Leave Me This Way-- the red color of the drink and its association with the red flag of the 1871 Paris Commune. (In certain conservative circles the same drink is called a Cardinal, to avoid evoking those damned filthy utopian socialists). I personally can't imagine that drinking one would make you want to man the barricades, but given enough of them you might consider adopting the decimal Republican Calendar or allowing women the right to vote.

This isn't a French drink at all--in fact it is the official national drink of Brazil. And in fact I first had one in the US: I was once a drummer in a samba group (long story), and at practice one day our Brazilian singer brought along a bottle of cachaca she'd brought back from a recent trip home. She mixed up a batch of caipirinhas, and I had a few, but as that day went on to become particularly hazy, the memory of how to make them, and what they tasted like, didn't really stick.

Anyway, one of the perks of my job is that I get to order myself duty-free booze a few times a year. I usually take the opportunity to restock with liquor that is expensive or hard to find here. Thumbing through the order catalog I noticed a couple of brands of cachaca, so I ordered one on a whim. The types of cachaca generally available outside Brazil are not well-suited to drinking straight, so I looked up a caipirinha recipe and tried it. V did her usual "I'll just have a sip of yours" bit, but this time the glass came back to me empty, and she asked for another as well. It's since become her preferred summer hot-afternoon drink, something like a margarita and akin to a mojito, but easier-drinking and with that easygoing carioca vibe. So go track down a bottle of cachaca (available but not exactly common in the US), dust off your Jobim records, and get muddling.

Here's how you make a caipirinha:
You'll need a lime, caster sugar, crushed ice, and white cachaca. You can use gold cachaca but that's something of a waste since you won't be able to taste its greater complexity.
Halve a lime vertically and cut out the (bitter) central axis. Cut the lime half into 4 or so chunks. Place into flat-bottomed old-fashioned glass.
Pour 1-2 tsp of caster sugar (aka superfine sugar; you can substitute powdered sugar if you must) over the lime bits.
Now muddle! Muddle like the wind! If you don't have a purpose-made muddler, anything wooden and blunt will do in a pinch. Use a hammer handle or broomstick only if you wash it well first.
With lime & sugar thoroughly muddled, add crushed ice to fill the glass.
Fill with cachaca--should be about 2 to 3 ounces.
Stir well. Garnish with slice from the other half of the lime. Serve.
(Here's an instructive YouTube video if you're not good with book-learnin')

[unrelated photo: old gas pump, Eygaliers, Provence]


I've had a couple of people ask me whether Grey Goose vodka, which is made in France and proudly bears the bleu-blanc-et-rouge tricolour on the label, is cheaper (i.e., reasonably priced) in France. Guess what? They don't actually sell it here. Grey Goose was invented from whole cloth for the American market. Interesting story about it from New York magazine here.


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