Mums Limoncello from the Last Milennium

We were clearing up the house after taking down all the Christmas decorations and we came across this mysterious bottle.


Okay okay… I say “mysterious” but actually, as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what it was.

Sometime in the last few years mum made some limoncello with vodka and lemon rind then left it to season. Obviously we forgot about it and it even managed to accompany us undetected through a house-move. I’m not quite sure how this happened but there you go.


So obviously I wanted to (a) taste it and (b) use it in martini form somehow.


A few years back a man in Beirut told me he liked to add a teaspoon or two of limoncello to his martinis to give them a nice, citrusy note.

So that’s what I did.


I chucked the limoncello into the freezer for a few hours, although note that some limoncellos might freeze. Mum’s was suitably alcoholic that it did not.


Add one teaspoon to a normal martini (the standard recipe is here) and stir it with your piece of lemon peel. Serve.


It adds a nice lemon aftertaste but is a little sweet, so consider using less vermouth than normal if you want to try this out.


It’s also worth noting that this makes an excellent substitute if you find yourself without any fresh lemons. Remember – these are crucial for making a standard martini (unless you’re having it dirty or you’ve got a very good or distinctive gin to taste). A teaspoon of limoncello might be a nicer to impart a lemon flavour than using a dab of lemon oil which I sometimes resort to.


The limoncello also goes very nicely added to a gin and tonic (with a 50:50 gin:limoncello ratio).


So act now: buy some limoncello, make your own, or give your house a spring clean. You never know what alcoholic delights might be gathering dust in a corner.


If you’re moving house be especially sure to check for rogue bottles. You wouldn’t want the next occupants to enjoy it at your expense.

Advertisements

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier… Drunk

Who would serve a jug or pitcher of martini at a party?

Oh wait, only Kim Philby, one of Britain’s most notorious traitors.

  
I’ve just read a book entitled “a spy among friends” by Ben MacIntyre. It was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I struggled to put down. It documents the story of Harold ‘Kim’ Philby as he worked his way into the inner sanctums of British intelligence.

He was considered trustworthy for decades because he was seen as a part of the British ‘establishment’ (he came from a reputable family, went to public school, and attended Cambridge University). 

In stark contrast, however, he was a member of the infamous Cambridge Spy Network who wreaked untold damage on Western Cold War activities.

  

Philby was recruited by Soviet agents shortly after he graduated and provided Moscow with extensive British and American secrets for many years. By the time he defected to the USSR in the 1960s it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of people had died because of his actions.

The pressures of intelligence work evidently led to heavy drinking amongst most agents (this might continue today – I am not fully aware, although I’ve been told that consumption is a lot lower than it used to be).

The pressures of being a mole in this already stressful environment evidently took a particularly high toll on Philby – as well as his long-suffering family: his mother and second wife both died alcoholics while he himself was regularly seen in an unconscious state of inebriation. 

Despite his own alcohol intake, however, he managed to survive to the age of 76. In the end, he died in Moscow in 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the ideological regime he had believed in so steadfastly; the way of governance he betrayed so much for.

While reading about his eventful life I noticed the reappearance of martinis on several occasions and made a note of each one. Sir Ian Fleming pops up in the stories here and there, of course famous for his creation of martini fan James Bond.

  
A personal favourite was the story involving the cocktail bar in World War Two Istanbul. The lady who ran the bar mixed up “volcanic martinis” for her British officer clientele, then sat back and listened while they drunkenly spilled our state secrets for her to pass on to the Nazis. In vino veritas indeed, or should that be in martinis veritas?

The noteworthy ‘pitchers’ of martini were recorded at cocktail and dinner parties held at the Philby household in Washington DC. Intense drunkenness ensued with sometimes shocking social results.

Such parties involved an even greater level of risk when Philby allowed for the mixing of British agents, American agents and British spies working for the Soviets. I think it’s a wonder he got away with being a spy for so long without letting slip during one of his drunken binges. Evidently his lips were sealed even when he was at his most intoxicated. Stalin would have been impressed.

  
During later cocktail parties at his home in Beirut he taught his young son how to mix up a “fierce” martini for the guests. Start ’em young I say. I was taught how to pour G&Ts and whiskies with water for the family when I was well below drinking age so I don’t think it’s the worst thing to happen. Indeed I enjoyed being allowed to socialise with the adults at that age. It was a privilege for the well-behaved.

  
Ultimately though, Kim Philby’s life appears to have been one of loneliness and an ultimate lack of fulfilment. No-one ever truly knew him. While sexually intimate with several women, he was never psychologically intimate enough with anyone to truly bond or connect with them.

While I use martinis to bond with others, he used them to lull his potential foes and numb the pains of his own personal transgressions.

In the end he died with few, if any friends. He had betrayed most of them for an ideology soon to fall apart. What a terrible use of martinis.

I’ll tell you what isn’t a waste though: this book! 

Bar Arabica, Borough Market, 2/5

A relatively pleasant martini was let down by bad service and poor value for money.

 

It wouldn’t take much to perfect their martini but some of the fundamentally poor elements of the restaurant will be more difficult to rectify.

  
Nestled under a railway arch in Borough Market, I had high hopes for this Levantine restaurant. However, the service wasn’t particularly attentive, the portions were small and the martini didn’t do it for me.

  
I was looking forward to a tasty za’tar man’oushe, even though I have regularly been warned that you just can’t get good Lebanese food in London. Sadly it didn’t match my Beiruti experiences. It was a little dry and lacking in fresh ingredients.

  
Other portions were small and not cheap, although we did like boregi (essentially the same as börek – a spinach and feta pastry) which was crunchy and satisfying.

  
The atmosphere was pleasant, with the rumble of trains and nice lighting, but some of our dishes were forgotten. Indeed we felt somewhat forgotten on occasion.

When I asked about the gin used in their martini I was told it was a home-made compound gin, but the waiter couldn’t tell me anymore about it.

  
It arrived chilled but not especially cold, in a coupe glass, with a strip of lemon peel. As always, I feel the need to urge London restaurants serving martinis to keep their gin and glasses (martini glasses, not coupe glasses!) in the freezer.

However, this martini was redeemed by its particular lemon flavour – it was especially citrusy which I like. The gin did not seem especially dry, which was perhaps a blessing considering its temperature, but all in all it wasn’t unpleasant.

 
So what to do? Larger portions would be nice. If you’ve ever eaten in the Middle East you will realise that it’s rare to leave a meal without feeling utterly stuffed and potentially in pain from your host’s kind and generous hospitality. This was not the feeling I had at this Levantine restaurant.  More generous portions and attentive service would be in order. Then keep the homemade gin in the freezer and serve it in a proper martini glass.

Martini with a sprig of thyme

  

This is a very simple variation on the classic martini.

Thyme is one of my favourite herbs. The mouth-watering smell evokes summertime, or some of the delicious za’tar manouche (savoury thyme-flavoured Lebanese wraps) I’ve eaten in Beirut, London and Dubai.

 
Take a sprig of fresh thyme (I’ve been growing some on the balcony), wash and dry it, then rub it around a chilled martini glass to transfer its flavour.

I also rubbed some lemon peel around the glass as well. The lemon and thyme combination might be especially good before a roast chicken dinner.
 Discard the lemon peel, pour the martini using the classic recipe and use the thyme as a garnish.

It adds a nice hint of aromatic flavour to the drink while providing a delicate and colourful garnish that looks so good in the spring as everything starts to turn green.

I think I might try infusing some into a batch of gin. Watch this space…

The hot hot Sriracha martini

It’s a thing now.
IMG_9002-0.JPG
What do Thais and Texans have in common? A penchant for spicy food.

I have a good friend, currently in Texas, who recently announced his addiction to Sriracha hot chilli sauce, a fiery concoction from Thailand.

A US national and an Arabist, he has a very interesting career and academic background, with some very intriguing (and often hilarious) tales from London and the Middle East. Martinis are the best accompaniment to international storytelling so he is therefore a perfect martini guest.

IMG_9007.JPG
I remarked that I should try and make a martini out of the sauce for him. I have already talked about my love of Sri Lanka so it should come as no surprise that I love spicy food, while I have previously made spicy martinis here, here and here. However, I think my friend was appalled at the suggestion of a Sriracha martini. And perhaps rightly so: you shouldn’t mess with a classic, let alone two.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and I was pretty happy the first time round.

IMG_8991.JPG
– Take a strip of lemon peel and squeeze the oil out of it into a chilled martini glass.
– Add a measure of sweet vermouth
– Add a dash of Sriracha hot sauce (or to taste – it’s spicy!)
– mix the two together, then top up with chilled gin or vodka
– stir the drink with the lemon peel and add it as a garnish (you might want to shape it with a knife so it looks neater).

IMG_9004.JPG
It’s very spicy, with a hint of lemon, and is good for whetting the appetite.

IMG_8995.JPG
As far as accompaniments are concerned this martini goes very well with seafood. I would recommend chilled oysters, prawns or salmon as an accompaniment, possibly even with avocado. I think the cool, oily/fatty fish compliments the fiery drink. Here I served chilled king prawns on a bed of lettuce with Peking duck sauce with sesame seeds. I’m sure there are more sophisticated accompaniments than something I poured out from a jar but I just got home from work and wasn’t intent on doing anything more fancy. I also served some spicy broad beans as well.

IMG_9006.JPG
Another new snack I recently found in an Asian supermarket was roasted salted soy beans which was a nice, non-spicy accompaniment for the martini.

This drink would also be a good aperitif before some Thai food.

IMG_9028.JPG
You might even want to drink it while watching a live Thai dancing performance.

In fact, if you drink a few of them you could probably join in.

Chon Gow!

Worcestershire Sauce Martini

Yes you read that correctly.

IMG_8328.JPG
This is another slight variation on a classic martini. Just before you pour the martini, smudge a small amount of Worcestershire sauce into the glass.

IMG_8360.PNG
It adds a slightly savoury tinge to the drink which works quite well, especially if you’re looking to whet the appetite for a meal. Below is a suggestion:

Marinade a good steak at room temperature in Worcestershire sauce for several hours. Drink the martini just before you cook it as a complimentary aperitif. I owe thanks to a certain Beirut resident for the instructions.

IMG_8412.JPG
Alternatively, cook the steak before pouring the martini, slice it thinly then serve it as an accompaniment. I made a honey and mustard yoghurt sauce (mix 1 tablespoon of yoghurt, 1 teaspoon of Wholegain mustard, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of runny honey and a splash of white wine vinegar) to go with this one and sprinkled over some black sesame seeds.

Packing martini glasses for international travel

IMG_8212.JPG
Martinis are an international drink, but transporting martini glasses in your hold luggage on an international flight can be difficult. Nonetheless, I will not go without a martini or two on my holidays so I had to work out a plan.

IMG_8211.JPG
Wrap each glass in bubble wrap.

IMG_7994.JPG
If possible, keep the original box that you bought the glasses in.

Place the wrapped glasses in the box.

Surround them in the box with soft things (clean socks for example).

Pack the box tightly and seal with Sellotape.

Pack in the middle of your luggage surrounded by firm, solid items.

Then prepare for your flight.

IMG_7975.JPG
My friend kindly gave me a bottle of gin (under 100ml) and a plastic see-through bag to take through airport security.

IMG_7977.JPG
Stock up on holiday supplies in duty free.

IMG_7972.JPG
No prizes for guessing what I go for.

IMG_7976.JPG
It’s fairly simple.

IMG_7982.JPG
Enjoy your flight (I ordered a gin and tonic with olives and topped up the gin with the extra bottle my friend gave me – it’s definitely a good choice if you’re a bad flier).

IMG_7970.JPG
When you arrive, hopefully this won’t have happened.

IMG_8005.JPG
You know what to do next.

IMG_8166.JPG
Enjoy your trip!