From Mars with Curiosity

Doesn’t it look like you could walk here, like it isn’t 171,156,808 miles away (and growing more distant every second according to a real-time distance calculator)?

Reading the news online, having not nearly as much interest as I wanted, I heard they sent another mobile probe to Mars.  It was good to hear the word NASA again for some reason.  Yet it was the pictures sent back from the red planet that genuinely caught me.  This was right before the olympics, I think, and hearing a joke that it took what…16 minutes for images to get here from Mars – but video from London taking 6 hours.  There was one image in particular, not blurry, not pixellated, not of a landscape stuck in a crater, but a crystal clear horizon with a mountain, and a familiarizing shadow of the rover to compliment the privilege of seeing another planet.  I stared at the image for a while, taking myself there – no, bringing it to me.  I imagined walking there, like I was hiking a barren desert (I really like hiking in deserts – that is when I can get to one).

Images are from NASA – there are lots more.

Then came the color, more images sent home of landscapes and views from Curiosity’s camera, whether including parts of itself in the view or not.  This also helped shape how I wanted to build my drink.  It can’t be a bright red drink.  Mars is not bright red, or not as red as some of the from-space images I’ve seen.  Yet again I stared.

It was so easy to take in, and before I knew it, I forgot how difficult it was to bring this image to my eyes.  How many millions of dollars?  How much time planning it, building it, and finally sending it?  How many people invested? How hard was it to send this incredible machine to another planet?  How hard was it to make this incredible machine send this image to Earth?  Here’s to the Mars Rover Curiosity, or to all who had a hand in her triumphs.

The Mars Rover Curiosity
1 oz Mount Gay Eclipse
1/2 oz Rhum Barbancourt White
1/2 oz Lemon Hart 151
1/2 a lime (cut into 6-8 pieces)
3/4 oz ruby red grapefruit juice
1/2 oz blood orange juice
1 level bar spoon brown sugar 
1/4 oz falernum
1/2 oz Cherry Heering
3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
freshly grated nutmeg

Muddle lime  & brown sugar.  Add rest of ingredients, shake with equal amount of crushed ice (around 3/4 cup).  Pour unstrained into chilled double old fashioned glass, or big enough cocktail glass.  With a fine grater, dust lightly with nutmeg.  Garnish with a wedge of ruby red grapefruit with 2 cherries skewered, and a sprig of mint, to look like the rover (kind of) coming over the rim of the glass, just as unstoppable as your thirst.  I also added a slice of carambola, AKA star fruit – I thought appropriate.

Since this is summer, there aren’t any blood oranges around.  They are almost always limited to the season, whereas regular oranges are more prolific and abundant.  For those who have not heard of the blood orange, please don’t panic – it is citrus only, just like any other citrus.  If you don’t believe me, check out some of the True Blood cocktail recipes.  Or, if you prefer it out of the bottle, HBO describes their True Blood version as “…a delicious blood orange carbonated drink inspired by Bill’s favorite synthetic blood nourishment beverage.”  I found blood orange juice in the supermarket, hopefully just as easy to find for you too.  If you don’t have nutmeg seeds, or cannot find any easily, it might lightly roast ground nutmeg in a fry pan to wake up the flavor and aroma (I’m just talking about for 20-30 seconds – you’ll smell when it’s done).

If you don’t have Rhum Barbancourt, another agricole will work.  Light Bacardi could replace it, even though it does not resemble the flavor.  Also, Lemon Hart can be replaced with another demerara; but since it is overproof – add twice the amount of your 80 proof to equal the attempted flavor.  I would however highly recommend getting a bottle of Mount Gay, not merely because it is one of my favorite rums, but is easily available, and flexible in a great many drinks.

Some might consider this a sour drink, or at least very tangy.  As with all drinks, if you prefer more sweetness, make it the way you want it.  I’ve tried to balance the sweet and sour, but understand not everybody likes sharp contrasts of citrus over the other fruit flavors.  Since I ask for brown sugar, it might be better to up the sweetness with simple syrup instead so not to overpower with molassesness.  I like molasses flavor, but thought only a little was important when mixing with the other enhancements.  Regardless, this is a sipping drink, thanks in part by the tool of crushed ice to slow you down (I respect it as a tool, instead of straining it).  When I sip on a drink, I reflect.  And reflecting is the point of this drink, reflecting on the reason I made it, of a far away place brought closer.

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First Love – the Navy Grog

There’s no forgetting the first one, the one who first lit your eyes up with their features, and filled you with their warmth and feelings for you.  The first love, who in a way all others are compared, the first not of many, but as an exception.  The Perfect Drink.

When my wife and I were looking at houses a few years ago – our first house from living in apartments, the whole process began with the first house, right?  There’s always the first of anything one continues.  We looked at this house, bright-eyed like a dog at a picnic, and tried our hardest not to love it, not the first one!  We said to ourselves, if that wasn’t the first, we’d buy that house.  So we looked at other houses, and eventually mourned when we heard the house had sold, knowing in our hearts we should have bought it.  We still talk about that house.  In a way, and please bear with me a little on this, in a way that first house was the perfect house, just like “the perfect drink” – something I did not want to immediately entitle and rank as #1 until I drank more variety and got more experience.

Let’s go back in time a couple of years.  I started a ranking system around the time I started researching cocktails, and making them.  Soon after I learned rum was my favorite spirit and threw most of my efforts in researching all its facets.  I enjoy tequila and gin, and the occasional whiskey, but fell further away from vodka.  But rum seemed to call to me far more than any other.  This scoring of drinks I would make kept an eye out for what I wanted to taste again, or sifted out those I’d merely mark up as something I tried.  My growing passion for Tiki drinks lead me in ranking, but controlled my reasoning so I wouldn’t simply rank something with top marks for the only reason of liking how it tasted in the moment.  The system is based on a 0 to 4 scale.  As time went on, I thought I might never find the perfect 4, even though favorite drinks ranked as a 3.0 or a 3.5, protecting the stature of a genuinely amazing cocktail.  Just so you know, I won’t make my ranking system any part of this blog, simply something I do privately.  I just wanted to describe how I came about the first 4.0…the first perfect drink…the one that shattered the scoring possibility and opened my eyes to a new world.

Navy Grog

Sorry the image is not clear. And I messed up the ice funnel, making it look too smooth. I’ll try again and replace the image when I do better.

Navy Grog (from Hawai’i Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber)

3/4 oz fresh lime juice
 3/4 oz fresh grapefruit juice
 3/4 oz honey
 3/4 oz gold Ronrico
 3/4 oz Appleton Estate
 3/4 oz Pusser's
 3/4 oz club soda
 2 dashes Angostura bitters
 1 oz guava juice
 8 oz cracked ice

The instructions in the book have you using a blender.  I rarely use one, except when necessary, or if the desired effect absolutely must be in that form.  I shake almost everything in a boston shaker.  So what I did was shake all but the soda for about 15 seconds, vigorously, until my hand felt really cold (not merely cold…but really cold).  Stir in the soda, then strain into a 14 oz glass with a special ice popsicle with a straw inside.  The best instructions I have seen are from http://www.amountainofcrushedice.com.  She is great, and describes & illustrates this process in detail.

Donn Beach‘s Navy Grog changed my life.  Since then I have come across four more perfect drinks, and know more will find me in my traveling around the land of Tiki.  In fact, soon will come a drink I’ve hoped for since first hearing about it, but haven’t had the right rums, or at least approximate substitutes.  I’ll let you know after I try it for the first time.