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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Falernum

 

It is essentially a syrup with a robust flavor, not necessarily strong with alcohol even though the following recipe shows a version made this way.  I’ve heard it mostly goes with rum drinks, yet a buddy of mine swears by it with whiskey.  Like a syrup flavored with raspberry, or cinnamon, or mint, or anything you enjoy going in your cocktail, falernum is a rich combination of flavors mixed with simple syrup.  Understandably not as easy to make, I think it’s a lot of fun to make.  There again, I like making my own syrups.  If you want a gist of it, think of ginger, clove and allspice together, with suggestion of lime.  What is curious is how over-run the flavor of lime is, particularly after looking at how much lime zest is added.

I selected possibles from a number of recipes I’ve found.  My first attempt last year turned out such a success, I not only wanted to keep making the stuff, and making different recipes, but wanted to continue into experimenting, even in error.  So please don’t read only my recipe, but look around to find other recipes.

Falernum
6 oz Wray & Nephew Overproof
2 oz Lemon Hart 151
40 cloves (whole)
1 Tbsp Allspice berry (meaning not ground)
zest of 9 limes 
1/2 cup ginger (julienned)
14 oz simple syrup
10 drops almond extract

First, if you prefer to keep your overproofs single, go with the Wray & Nephew.  That’s how I did it last time.  I’ve been itching to try the combination since getting my first bottle of Lemon Hart (a thousand thank yous Watson).  Measure your spirits and pour into a wide-mouthed jar or bottle.  Please do not try to stuff the ingredients into a 750ml bottle only to find how difficult it would be to get it all out afterwards.

Toast the cloves and allspice over medium heat until fragrant.  It might help to get fresh spices, which only makes sense.  But at the moment I am not practicing common sense and using old spices, hoping the toasting will make up for the difference.

After tossing your warm spices into the jar, peel the skin off the ginger, chop the ginger julienne style (meaning thin sticks).  As you can see by the picture I sliced mine thin instead, my own experiment.  Every recipe I have ever read using ginger insists on julienning.

Either use a fine zester or a sharp peeler, get the green part of the skin off the limes.  The white part underneath is bitter, only the zest.  After your falernum is complete, you may want extra lime flavor, which many may, this is when you would add lime juice.  Please do not make your falernum with the juice of the lime.  It will lessen the lifespan, causing little black dots.  I don’t think I need to tell you what those little black dots would be, let alone what they’d do to you if you drank enough of them.  The zest is ample enough for a robust sense of lime, even though I truly understand the need for the freshness only the juice produces.  I typically add falernum to rum drinks anyway, and would add lime juice whether I was indulging in falernum or not.

Next, close the lid on your container and give it a good mixing before closing.  You’ll keep that lid on for 24 hours.  I haven’t heard of a need to refrigerate, so out of the sunlight is best, as long as the lid is on tightly.  Now it’s time to figure out what to do with all these peeled limes.

The next day, make the simple syrup, which is 2:1 sugar to water.  Actually that’s rock candy syrup.  Simple syrup is 1:1 sugar to water.  But in my house my syrup is thick, never thin.  At least that’s what Rule #43 says on my refrigerator.  After all the sugar is absorbed, and to the touch your syrup is room temperature (unless you made it cold process, which is with cold water), set the syrup aside.  Drain the day before’s ingredients through a fine mesh strainer, preferably through cheesecloth – something you can wring out all the possible flavors (even the last drop will improve the end result).  Discard the solids.  Mix into the syrup, and add the final touch:  10 drops of almond extract, gently stirring it in for bottling.

Then make your first drink.  And make it cold.  My first one will be a Mai Tai.  For those of you in camp Trader Vic, I enjoy your Mai Tai too.  It is an excellent drink.  I simply prefer Don the Beachcomber‘s, reserving any opinion into which drink came first.  As long as we are toasting, I genuinely don’t care.