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Failure of Fresh

July 1, 2011

Let’s talk about creativity for a moment. The title of yesterday’s post touched on it, but I failed to connect the dots as I recounted an easy recipe for savory bread pudding.

Kids can be marvelous artists. The form of their line is unconstrained. Their imaginations run wild. They are not limited by their egos. But invariably, if you give a kid a big box of crayons, they will use every one until their paper becomes nothing but a big muddy mess.

The secret in getting good art out of kids is knowing when to take the paper away.

Unfettered creativity is often disastrous (although in rare instances it is staggeringly brilliant). But putting some limits on one’s own creativity can actually help you achieve better results. This applies to art, as well as cooking and making drinks. Yesterday’s post was supposed to show how you can be creative within the confines of a structure to make a recipe your own.

Riffing off proven ideas is a good place to start. For example, some cocktails call for the inside of a glass to be rinsed with a base spirit to perfume the drink. Maybe there’s another way to achieve that effect. Well at dp Brasserie in Albany, they are actually smoking glasses. I think that is a great idea.

But these kind of things don’t always work out well.

One trend that is really hot is the use of fresh ingredients in cocktails. It makes sense given the prevalence of the local, seasonal, organic mantra of the food-obsessed nationwide. And it can be delicious. We recently got a bunch of basil from our CSA that contained a few basil flowers. The first thing that came to my mind was that they would make a great cocktail garnish.

The CSA was the inspiration for another seasonal summer cocktail I made by muddling fresh cilantro leaves with lemon wedges and sugar. I added a hefty does of gin, a bit of Canton ginger liqueur for added sweetness and bite, and a drop of Angostura orange bitters for some complementary complexity. The whole thing was shaken vigorously with plenty of large ice cubes, and strained into a glass over fresh ice.

It was a beautiful shade of green, with just a few fine bits of fresh cilantro leaves suspended in its midst. It was super refreshing and redolent of summer. Most importantly it served as a showcase for the fresh ingredients, and let them shine through.

While the mantra of fresh may be popular, it seems as if not everyone gets it.

Recently, I came across a blog post for a cucumber Collins. And I was very excited, for a few reasons. One, I love the Tom Collins. Two, I think cucumber makes a fine ingredient in summertime cocktails. Three, I love seeing people promote the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients.

I encourage you to take a peek over at the blog and gaze upon the drink that got me all worked up in a tizzy. It’s a beautiful shade of green. But as I read the recipe I realized the creator of this cocktail doesn’t really get it.

What broke my heart was seeing cucumber liqueur.

The notion of a fresh cocktail should be all about putting the fresh ingredients front and center. Let the muddled fresh cucumber actually be the hero. Save the cucumber liqueur for when you can’t find ripe and flavorful cucumbers at the height of the season.

[Note: below stricken based on the apparent early arrival of cucumbers (see comments).]
Oh. You mean, cucumbers aren’t in season yet here in New York? Well, we haven’t seen any yet from our CSA, and this handy dandy sheet from Pride of New York says that the season doesn’t even start until mid August.

So much for fresh and seasonal.

Then there is the call for more sour mix than there is booze. Not only do I think sour mix is nasty, vile stuff, but it’s also generally sweet. So there is sweet sour mix, sweet liqueur and sweet syrup. That’s three ounces of sweetened ingredients, which are only going to obscure the subtle and delicate sweetness of the paltry two cucumber slices that were muddled into this drink at the start.

The fact that this is a short drink, weighing in at only five ounces exacerbates the sweetness problem. Officially a Collins isn’t supposed to be a short drink. It’s a tall drink by definition, filled with refreshing seltzer, versus the token splash received in the recipe.

You want a fresh cucumber Collins?

First wait until August. When the cucumbers are bursting with flavor, take a meaty one inch segment and muddle it in the bottom of a mixing glass. Then gently muddle mint leaves. Add the juice (and the shell) of half a lemon, a tablespoon of simple syrup, two ounces of gin, and a ton of fresh ice. Shake and strain into a tall glass filled with large ice cubes. Fill with seltzer and stir. Garnish with a fresh, thin slice of cucumber floating on the surface of the drink.

Naturally, you may care for the drink a bit on the sweeter side, so feel free to add more syrup to taste. Just remember, you can always put more in, but you can’t take it away.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. abby permalink
    July 1, 2011 10:00 am

    I’ve had more than a half dozen cukes in my CSA box during the last two weeks…

  2. July 1, 2011 11:16 am

    I am a huge fan of cucumber cocktails, and also spicy/herbed cocktails. I had a margarita at New World Bistro with chipotle-lime syrup and it was delicious. Also, I am a huge fan of Hendrick’s gin. That in a gin and tonic with slice of cucumber is delicious (maybe a little St. Germain too).

  3. July 1, 2011 8:41 pm

    We got cucumbers this week from our farmer (Farmer Jon’s Produce, Selkirk) for our shop (All Good Bakers). Jon & DJ don’t have a ton of them coming in yet, but there are some! They might have them at the Delmar Farmers Market this Sat….you should come on by…9a-1p, 332 Kenwood Ave. Nick’s paring them with fresh radishes and a lemon vinaigrette for a microsalad served w/ sandwiches this weekend. Cukes paired w/ gin sounds divine….

  4. Matt K permalink
    July 1, 2011 11:22 pm

    We got cukes this week from our Denison Farm CSA. No need to wait!

  5. July 2, 2011 2:33 pm

    I don’t know where the State of New York gets its information, but clearly they are misinformed. Either that, or the climate is changing, because we have early basil as well. Regardless, the comment about cucumbers not being in season has been stricken. However, the overall argument is still valid and I stand by my assertion that this cocktail entirely misses the point of using fresh ingredients in drinks.

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