Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ode to my sister, the cocktail party, and her whiskey sour

My sister is just the kind of person to have a cocktail party for her birthday. Since we moved back from Canada, I've seen her spend her weekends activity-hopping, and she owns at least four cocktail dresses in the first place. Maybe that doesn't seem like a lot to some of you out there in the real world, but to me owning a cocktail dress at all is a big deal. I just don't go out. I'm not opposed to it--to owning a swanky dress or heels or to cocktailing or what-have-you, but I just don't do it. To find a dress in the first place is enough stress. To find one that looks good and fits and then to wear it? Well, that is just a whole lot of one kind of energy I don't have. But it is just the kind of energy Mara does.

We are different like that. We think about fun differently, put up streamers differently, and make cocktails, you guessed it, differently. Fun to Mara is activity-oriented. Her friends play volleyball, board games, card games, go on hikes, watch movies, or go out to lunch--as a group. I tend to think about fun in terms of eating out with one other person, or sitting on the couch with some tea and a friend, or sipping coffee in a cafe by myself. Note here there are no groups.

I tend to think streamers look best swagged like the piping on a cake: bordering something in an even, balanced, and symmetrical sort of way. Mara on the other hand is utterly haphazard about such things. Planning and attempts at precision exhaust her, at least when it comes to streamers. When it came time to put up streamers for her party, I had run out of energy, so Mara put up her own. Or, Mara put up streamers with Cedar. They had them crossing through the kitchen, criss-crossing the lower living room, and dangling down from my bedroom fan like fringe on a flapper's dress. I rest my case.

And cocktails? Take her attempt at making a whiskey sour. She read the recipe and then who knows what happened. A sour, it seems, should be kind of sour. Her's is not. Mara's Whiskey Sour is best described as a whiskey-lemon version of a margarita. It is sweeter and more playful than the traditional--like she is. And even though I certainly wouldn't have made it like that, I have to admit, I liked it.

In fact, I rather liked everything Mara did for her cocktail party. I liked the swing and swag of streamers. I liked the menu. I liked the music which she smartly headed up. And I liked the friends she invited. These were people, I admit, I had been hesitant to meet despite her repeated requests that I mingle and make friends with them. When they came, they were dressed with flair and fun on their minds. They were open and friendly with me despite my obvious lack of proper attire, and even before the hordes showed up there was this happy buzz about the place. It wasn't just the cocktails. These people were normal, so very well-adjusted to enjoying themselves. I was in awe. The last party I remember going to was for a friend's 30th birthday bash nearly five years ago. She was also the type to throw a fun party. I went, but I found a seat next to the food table and refused to move the entire night. I talked, but only to one or two other people. They were both as terrified and bemused by the event as I was.

A couple of nights after the party I called Mara. I never did make up my own cocktail recipe with the yuzu or lime or lemongrass syrups. I just didn't get a chance. But I had liked her cocktail and I wanted to share it.  So she came and stayed, and eventually we got around to it. She kept calling the yuzu syrup yazu syrup. Or zuzu syrup. Or zazu or zulu. She called it anything but yuzu. This is just another small attestment to our differences. Yuzu, sister. It's yuzu.

And come to find out, she remembered exactly what she did with the cocktail. She remembered that she started by squeezing half a lemon into an old-fashioned glass. Unfortunately the precision from there kind of fell apart. She  plopped in a table spoon--that is, a real spoonful--of sugar to dissolve in the juice. Then she poured in a "shot or two" of whiskey, and because she is the creative sort and thought it sounded good, she drizzled in a long stream of yuzu syrup. She stirred to combine. Oh, but the ice--she may or may not have added any.

This time around it went pretty much the same, but I made her measure first and add later, then tweak. There was the half lemon squeezed with the brute force of a hand. There was none of this use of a fork or hand-juicer to get every last drop of juice out like I do. She just gave the lemon a healthy, hearty squeeze until the flow slowed to a drip, then she tossed it. She added the sugar, which turned out to be about a teaspoon and a half and the two nearly-full shot glasses of whiskey. She poured in the yuzu syrup, added by the tablespoon and tested, and added and tested, until it was right. And then she stirred it with her finger. When I made a face and laughed at her she grabbed the nearest utensil-thing and stirred with that. It just so happened to be a knife I had used earlier to cut onions. Whoops.

We tasted and liked, but I felt it was just too sweet and silly to offer to the world. So I convinced her to try a couple dashes of bitters. After all, I had made a point to make sure there were proper bitters around. We might as well use them.

Mara's response was more precise than her mixing methods:  "I like it! Now with the bitters, it's standing up straight. Before, it was like a little kid dancing." Well put sister.

My interpretation of this comparison is that Mara's Whiskey Sour was beautiful originally like children are--sweet and fun but a little all-over-the-place. It was something I'd be delighted with at first but probably want to hide from in about two minutes. When you add bitters, it does some kind of magic. The drink doesn't lose sweetness but it seems to walk you through the sweet frolic on your tongue and bring it all together at the end. Though it still feels playful and rather delightful, there is no excessive spinning as a child is want to do. Mara agrees.

Here's to you then, Mara: thanks for you and your ways--your cocktails, your friends, your streamers, and your fun. Happy birthday.

Mara's Whiskey Sour

Mara mixed all this in her glass, but it really is very good super cold. So if possible, shake the mix with ice in a jar with a lid or a proper shaker and then strain into a glass with more ice, maybe even one made with this.

juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 shots whiskey (we used Jack Daniels)
1 shot yuzu syrup (for recipe, see previous post)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 dashes Reagan No. 6 orange bitters

Combine all and stir to dissolve sugar. Serve in a old-fashioned glass with ice with a wedge of lemon. Enjoy!


  1. By the way, I only have three cocktail worthy dresses! =) But thank you, sister, for blogging about me. Ha!

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  2. Oops, just wanted to add an exclamation point at the end of this statement: Well, maybe my memory counts one too many then, but perhaps it is less a matter of memory and more an example of my off-kilter cocktail attire!

  3. Mara's signature whiskey sour recipe sounds good, Amanda. Usually, I mix it up with a dash of egg white to make it frothy. Hmm... it's making me want to take a shot!

    1. Makes me want a shot too! I've not tampered with the egg whites, as I tend to have my cocktails with Mara and she has a raw egg white block. But soon we shall experiment...thanks for the reminder!