Cooking, Cocktails, and COVID-19

WRGW’s Olivia Osborne and Arthur Pescan take on isolation in D.C. the only way they can…

BY // ARTHUR PESCAN

Ah, time enough at last. I’m revisiting the iconic Twilight Zone episode a lot lately. Henry Bemis – the nebbish bibliophile who finds himself alone in a changed world, his only company all the books he could ever need – is a fitting figure for these strange days of social distancing.

Outside, the streets aren’t completely empty, but surreal and quiet. Foggy Bottom is a ghost town, and my apartment a block from the hospital means hearing the sirens every fifteen minutes. Trader Joe’s is an hour online to get in, pacing in marked six-foot squares. Baseball’s Opening Day postponed indefinitely. Cough in public and god save you.

Take a page from Henry Bemis and find the silver lining – despite all the anxiety, craziness, and boredom, maybe there is time enough at last. Perhaps it’s a delusion, but at least it’s a comforting one, numbing acceptance that things are as they are, making it easier to pass the days. Besides, be thankful if boredom is all you have to worry about. For myself, it’s finding time to cross things off the list – a book I’ve meant to read, an album I’ve been dying to listen to, a recipe I’ve needed to try.

This past week, it was Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. A dear friend lent it to me, and I couldn’t put it down. This column is not a book review, but if 1950s Saigon, doomed love triangles, tortured psyches, and the failures of twentieth-century foreign policy pique your interest, I highly recommend it.

Importantly, the book brought a new cocktail to my radar: the Vermouth Cassis. I’m hard-pressed to think of another work in which a drink held such importance to the atmosphere – naturally I had to find out more.

Turns out, the Vermouth Cassis was a classic cocktail for decades before the Martini craze burned through, the drink is a staple of Parisian cafes, then New York bars, in the 1920s and ’30s. Simple to make, refreshing as hell, it spread throughout the French world. My mother, born in 50’s-era Saigon, remembers seeing it everywhere around her home city, and now all throughout Little Saigon.

Time enough at last. It applies to cocktails as well.

It’s tough to find any quality liquor – not to mention vermouth and crème de cassis – at a decent price around Foggy Bottom, and I’ve grown too old and jaded for McReynolds and West End. No, this alcoholic adventure entailed a trip uptown to Calvert Woodley, a gem in Van Ness. It’s one of those old-school fixtures straight from 1971 – a liquor shop, wine importer, and corner delicatessen all combined into one. It shouldn’t still exist but thank god it does. $1000 vintage an aisle away from a Yuengling rack. Classy, not fussy. The biggest benefit of shopping here though? They make so much off wine, good liquor is dirt cheap. Paradise indeed.

Of course, paradise had rightfully moved online, orders via click and more of those six-foot squares at curbside pickup. I don’t think I’ll ever fully adjust to shopping under social distancing. Sign me up for any measure to stop the spread while supporting local businesses – there’s still a ridiculous beauty in lining up for a booze ration in a brown bag. Life finds a way to keep going.

Henry Bemis’s spectacles shattered his dream of having time enough at last – here’s hoping the same doesn’t happen with my cocktail glass.

Till next Sunday, cheers.


Vermouth Cassis

Ingredients:

3 parts Blanc (Bianco) Vermouth

1 part Crème de Cassis

Tonic Water

Coupe Glass

 

Steps:

1.) Combine vermouth and crème de cassis in a shaker over ice; stir till thoroughly chilled.

2.) Strain into a chilled coupe glass; top with tonic water to taste.

 

Notes:

  • This is obviously a pretentious version of the cocktail; feel free to make in a Collins glass highball-style over ice.

  • The original recipe switches the blanc vermouth and tonic water for dry vermouth and club soda; the blanc vermouth is brighter and lighter, and the tonic adds more crispness – both perfect for sunny spring days.

  • Obviously, higher quality liquor makes any drink better. But let’s be honest, you’re getting a buzz on a budget. You DO NOT want to skimp on the mixer though. A high-quality tonic will boost this cocktail to the next level – elderflower tonic works wonders.

  • Too sweet? Add more vermouth. Too dry – more crème de cassis. Play around with it.

  • To garnish or not to garnish? So many cocktail enthusiasts (read: alcoholics in denial) gatekeep and demand that a cocktail needs a garnish. Who cares? If you’re feeling it, throw in a lemon slice, a sprig of mint, or some blackberries. Otherwise, just sit back and sip away.

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