Be a bar maven

The Cocktail Primer Gracey Hitchcock

As the holiday entertaining season approaches, spare a little thought to stocking the bar. If you usually grab a few bottles out from under the kitchen sink and make do with stale ice from the fridge — trust me darlings –you can do better.
Neither of these books will suggest you try to stock a home bar to rival the Ritz or even the local joint. Banish the thought. No one should expect a private home to be a hotel bar. If anyone does, by all means direct them to the nearest hotel. 
The Cocktail Primer: All you need to know to make the perfect drink by Eben Klemm, lives up to its name. Klemm covers stocking the bar from equipment to liquor.  He offers the basics and then brings it up by levels. I like that approach. He also allows for working in small urban apartments; smart. He offers recipes for the classics well as more-exotic drinks. You can’t miss with this book if you are beginner, and you will also enjoy it even if you’ve shaken and stirred a few drinks in your day.
How to Drink Victoria Moore’s How to Drink is not a beginner’s bar book. She is a Brit with a continental flair for libation lore. She offers little treatises on Pimms’ Cups, fresh juice, and a how-to on tea, coffee, and cocktails. I enjoyed it immensely. Ms. Moore also offers recipes for snacks and dishes to accompanies her favourite beverages. This is a great book for bon vivants!



Peachy –Beach Reads

Dune Road by Jane Green, the best selling New York Times author,is a saucy cocktail of gossip, empathy, and social commentary. It is the perfect mind candy for a summer weekend. Green captures the cadence of Connecticut’s Gold Coast and the personal and domestic chaos caused by current economic meltdown. She juxtaposes it against the pathos of the “modern woman’s angst surrounding the issues of wanting it all and trying it to be all. It makes of for a juicy, if at times predictable, read. I have also enjoyed Green’s other books: Swapping Lives, Second Chance and The Beach House. Her characters are believable and likable with all their laugh lines, foibles, and caprices.

Food & Wine Cocktails 09 is one of the handiest little bar guides I have read in years. It is a combination of city guide, bartender’s recipe book, and party planner with recipes. Usually this is a bad idea, as most subjects get short shrift, but this little tome pulls it off. I love the cocktails recipes. This is first place I have ever seen the correct recipe for the classic scotch cocktail called Blood & Sand— kudos to the editors. The cocktail recipes are correct and original.
I am a fiend about this as I love well-made cocktails. I was lucky enough spend my youth in some of the classiest cocktail bars on the East Coast before they were shuttered forever. I know a classy cocktail. The Blood & Sand was my husband’s, then fiancé’s, drink at the iconic Kon Tiki at the Mont Royal Hotel in Montréal.
If you want to entertain elegantly at home, this book can definitely give you some good recipes and tips from the pros.
In their guide to America’s best watering holes, they hit on a few of my favourites. I adore Trois in Atlanta, Napoleon’s in New Orleans is an iconic favourite, and Rosemary’s is one of the very few places in Vegas that I actually like – so there you go. I may have changed or added a few on their list but, chacun a son gout!
This is a handy little book to pick up if you are looking to up your game as a hostess or a savvy gal about town.
Lopsided: How Having Breast Cancer Can be Really Distracting by Meredith Norton is not a typical memoir about having breast cancer. I avoided reading it. I am burned-out on the topic. I have friends and family who have cancer, as do we all. It is a fact of life. There is little new left for me to read about it; especially as I have covered the subject professionally. But, from the first pages of Lopsided I was hooked. Norton is a new mother struggling with the French culture and language of her husband’s homeland. She returns to San Francisco for a vacation. There Norton discovers that she has an aggressive form of breast cancer and begins a two-year course of arduous and painful treatment. She relates the often painful and horrifying details with amazing humour and humanity. It is funny, how dismissive some people are of disease and pain until they are afflicted themselves. This may not be mind-candy, but I call it a must-read.

Make your next special occasion bloom with originality and flair

This week we have a treat, as our newest contributor Terry Milk shares a very special experience. Terry currently resides in Brazil, where she took a workshop in flower arranging from two top-tier European experts.

Terry is an experienced and elegant hostess – and a wonderful artist in her own right. I have treasured one of her floral water-colours ever since she gave it to me years ago.  
She pointed out that bouquet techniques are easily adapted to stunning table decorations with a few simple adjustments. I cannot wait to try one of these fabulous arrangements for my next special dinner party. Here’s Terry’s report:
European trends in bridal bouquets                                                                                               Terry Milk
While nothing can detract from the beauty of fresh flowers, the right accoutrements can turn them into a unique artistic expression, which will add the perfect note of elegance and sophistication.
Two top Belgian floral designers were in Brazil this month to share their vision of contemporary bridal bouquet design with a group of 20 South American designers, anxious to pick up the latest wedding trends from EuropeMildred Goelen and Krista Verwimp, whose work is often featured in British mag, Flower Inspirations, and Antwerp-based Bloemschikken magazine held a three-day workshop in Holambra, Brazil. They demonstrated more than 20 dramatic styles, ranging from a sleek minimalist look to a jeweled royal scepter. Some were possibly even a little shocking, but they were distinctive, which was rather the point of the workshop.
Overall, there is a movement toward using materials that are not considered “bridal”. A classic spiral bouquet of deep red roses and carnations took on a very urban look when surrounded in halo of twisted shiny steel wire in two different gauges. The stems were then completely wrapped in the same wire for a high-impact polished look.
Rather than just wrapping the stems with a satin ribbon, the meticulous craftsmanship of the bouquet support set their bouquets apart from other traditional arrangements. Individual leaves were carefully pinned in an overlapping pattern to completely cover the bouquet holder for several of their arrangements. Chocolate sisal wrapped around the base of the handle and bound with a copper-colored wire really set off the tight cluster of deep red roses and coral hypericum. The small head of the arrangement and the extra-long base gave the appearance of a scepter, complete with chocolate-colored pearls for a very regal effect. Another hollow spherical form painstakingly covered in pinned eucalyptus leaves, had pink gerberas and roses bursting out of the top. A handle of long strap-like formium leaves completed this arrangement, so it could be carried down the aisle like the Louis Vuitton Ellipse purse.  
The two instructors draw inspiration from the immediate surroundings, incorporating what is available, but in a completely unexpected way. Several of the bouquet supports were forms that had been covered with nori (Yes! As in the roasted seaweed used to roll sushi). It gives a beautiful marble-like effect. The white lisianthus and unopened lily buds contrasted strongly with this dark background. A very traditional white rose and lisianthus classic spiral bouquet was wreathed in ivy stems interwoven with pearl-like strings of palm blossoms, which are available in every garden here in Brazil. The point is to use what you find locally.
The most unusual group of bouquets that they introduced were not bouquets at all, but rather, interesting shapes that were worn not carried. One was a crocheted steel wire wrist-cuff interwoven with mini-chocolate orchids and secured with a pearl ring. Another was carried as a clutch-purse. Delicate phaeleonopsis blooms contrasted nicely with a long cascading cuff that was created by wiring together sections of snake grass with the same silver wire. There was a very chic open sphere made of airy materials, bleached leaf skeletons, wool batting, and white sisal. Looking into the opening, you could see white dendrobium orchid blooms and pearls fixed in the interior. This one was carried in the brides open palm, much like a sorceress carrying a crystal ball.
Whatever style they created, and whatever the materials used, the common thread in all of their designs was the careful preparation, attention to detail, and excellent craftsmanship. A bouquet is raised to the level of artistic expression, rather than accessory.
Mme’s Verwimp and Goelen are able to transform arrangements of already beautiful flowers into true showpieces.