Why Hello there! It’s your biz-bang-bingle of a boy, Jon O’Guin, and this is Shakespeare September, a month dedicated mostly to discussing foods and drinks based on William Shakespeare, with one notable detour into Peru. In my defense, that Monday’s post was literally 1500 words about Coriolanus, and like, 700 about Ceviche, so we needed some balance. TODAY we will…maybe correct that? I can’t promise the balance here will be good. But I can promise you novelty, for, as far as I can tell, no one has EVER posted a recipe like this one. For probably good reasons, as we shall soon see. If you want to just jump to the drink, then click this link. For the rest of us, let’s talk about asses.
Getting to the Bottom of the Barrel
Ah, Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays, and one of his more layered comedies. And one in which I made an ass of myself.
More literally than normal, I mean.
If you’re unfamiliar, I can summarize it much more easily than I struggled to do with Much Ado a few weeks back. At its core, Midsummer is about 3 basic storylines that are all pretty simple.
Plot number 1: the King of Athens is getting married, and needs entertainers. A group of ‘rude mechanicals’ (meaning something akin to “blue-collar schmucks” in the modern vernacular) Is trying their hardest to put together a play that will be performed for the king, so they can get the money. They’re bumbling fools, but they mean well.
Meanwhile in plot 2, there’s trouble among the Athenian nobility: a young woman named Hermia is engaged to Demetrius. But she REFUSES to marry him, because she’s in love with Lysander. Her father presents his complaint to the King, who tells her the law is clear, and she’s got three options: She can marry Demetrius like her father says, she can become a nun (well, priestess of Diana, but it’s basically a nun)
Yes, Jon, provoke the notoriously vengeful goddess of the hunt. Wise choice.
OR she can be put to death. Which…sure, not GREAT options, but them’s the breaks. The King says she’ll have to choose by his wedding day in order to buy her a little time to make up her mind. Meanwhile, we learn there’s another woman, Helena, who’s desperately in love with Demetrius…which sucks for her, because he’s in love with Hermia.
Then there’s plot number 3: Oberon, King of the Fairies, is pissed at his wife Titania, because she got a cool new baby from India. (Just…accept it. Fairies take babies sometimes, we don’t have time to explain.) She’s not sharing the baby, and is spending time “caring for it” instead of hanging out with him or letting HIM raise it like Mowgli in the Jungle Book, so they’re having a marital tiff.
All of these plots collide spectacularly, as the rude mechanicals go to the nearby forest to practice their play. Meanwhile, Lysander and Hermia explain they’re going to run away into the forest to live like hermits rather than let themselves be broken up. Helena tells Demetrius in the hopes this will make him love her more. It does not. Instead, he runs to forest to MURDER LYSANDER and bring back Hermia.
Let it not be said that Demetrius was a man for dithering or indecision.
He is Vengeance. He is the Night.
IN the woods, everything collides. Oberon makes a love potion to prank Titania (because that’s how you solve marital arguments in fairyland: pranks.) that also gets used on Lysander, so HE falls in love with Helena. So now Lysander loves Helena who loves Demetrius who “loves”Hermia (it’s not clear exactly HOW much Demetrius really loves her, or if it’s just a political thing, or a Gaston/Belle situation), who loves Lysander. While that’s happening, One of the mechanicals, Bottom, gets his head turned into a Donkey’s, and THAT’S who Titania sees. Hilarity ensures.
It all works out in the end, even though the Mechanicals objectively sucked at the play, because, as Theseus says, the important thing is that they tried really hard and cared so much. (Seriously, there’s a nice little speech about “Hey, when you’re powerful and rich like me, sometimes people psyche themselves out when they meet you. It’s actually very flattering.” …a speech that is somewhat cut down by him and the rest of the nobles then OPENLY DISCUSSING THE PLAY’S FLAWS while it’s being put on, complete with jokes.) The fairies bless everyone because they had a good time, and the show closes with Puck literally apologizing if you thought the play sucked, and bidding the audience good-night.
How long did that take? Under 500 words? Noice. Summary shortened, let’s get to the matter at hand.
The Herb I showed Thee Once
I was going to write a bit here about my personal history with the play, but reflecting on it turned out to bring me to a point of surprising emotional fragility, so I’m going to rewind that shit like the Prince of Persia rather than find out how it feels to cry for four hours in the middle of a post. Let us summarize it simply as “I was the dramaturg and light designer for the show, as well as portraying Nick Bottom, and I genuinely love the people I worked with on that show, and have only just now realized the invisible pain that not seeing many of them has been quietly inflicting on me.”
Not the best example picture of this, since I’ve seen all of these people in the last 6 months or so, but I just really like showing off Glen’s headpiece from the show.
BUT THAT IS NOT THE POINT OF TODAY’S POST. No, we are not to reflect on the past, but to forge a brand-new future! A Future of Progress, Science, and ALCOHOL. And Somewhat pretty colors! Let’s break it down, y’all.
So, first thing’s first: one of ingredients we’re dealing with today has been something I’ve wanted to show you guys for MONTHS, but didn’t know a good way to introduce to you. But NOW, I finally have an excuse, so let me immediately draw things out to please my contrarian soul.
Last Thursday, I figured out I was NOT making the Mushroom/Meat dish I was mentioning. The timeline just didn’t work. My family loves to book events in the fall, so we had not one but TWO things to go-to out of town this last weekend. As such, I realized I needed something for today’s post, and as it has so often happened in my life, (and likely will NOT at some crucial point seconds before catastrophe, ending my life) the crunch time panic immediately inspired me: do another Cocktail titled “A Midsummer Night’s Drink”. So I immediately set about unpacking how, exactly, I would do that. And the first thing that came to mind…wasn’t so appealing.
As noted, I played Bottom in the show, meaning that I don’t really interact much with the Lovers in the play, just the female fairies and the Rude Mechanicals. So I had an idea: do a drink based on the fairies and Bottom. Because of that special ingredient I mentioned earlier: Blure.
Seen here before it attempted to fuse with Eddie Brock.
Blure is a brand name for something called Butterfly Pea Flower Tea (that I’m going to abbreviate as BPFT, because it’s a funny sound and otherwise the next paragraph would have “pea” and “tea” in it like, 6 times.) which is an ingredient used at more exotic bars for a particular purpose. What purpose could drive people to harvest this South Asian flower to make BFPT? It’s not taste, as it’s a basically flavorless liquid. It’s not for body, as BPFT is no more or less thick a liquid than water. No, BPRFT is used for two purposes: its color. And while that sounds like it’s only one purpose, you’re wrong. Because what makes it cool is that it CHANGES color.
Note to self, next time check the pixel parameters before all this .
BPFT is a natural pH indicator: adding acidity to the liquid will turn it from a deep midnight blue to a vibrant reddish-purple. And that was PERFECT for today’s drink for two reasons: one, as noted, Bottom is turned from one thing into another by Fairy magic. The second reason is that he then has a scene hanging out with a fairy named Peaseblossom. He literally hangs out with a fairy named “Pea Flower”! It’s an AMAZING coincidence.
This established, I noted something else. Another one of the fairies also has an edible name: Mustard Seed. And I had just recently gotten some cookbooks that discussed the idea of including/incorporating mustard as a cocktail ingredient.
He hath musty victual
That’s not from this play, Title Jon. Anyway, yes, there ARE recipes for cocktails that use Mustard. At least 5, actually. But I ruled out most of them for lack of time: several of them are less “cocktails that use mustard” than “Cocktails where you infused a given liquor with mustard seeds to add a specific note, and then added that liquor to the mix” which isn’t a bad idea, but it’s also not helpful when your goal is “I don’t have time to make meat-pies, so I’m making a cocktail.” To be told “Now put the jar of vodka in a closet for 2-3 weeks.”
So, I ended up scrapping…basically all of them. One used Ketchup, another needed 5 hours for a quick infusion, a third wanted me to make a mustard SYRUP out of agave nectar, onion, mustard, caraway seeds, etc…which I legitimately COULD have done, but I decided not to, because of ANOTHER idea. And yes, “I was working on a stupid idea and then interrupted it with another dumb one” IS a common descriptor of my minute-to-minute activities!
Specifically, I realized “holy shit, Bottom turns into a DONKEY. And I like Moscow Mules! Which use LIME JUICE, so I have the acidity to trigger the BPFT! It’s all coming together!” Tragically, I realized seconds later that it was “coming together” much in the same way that drunk drivers and trees by the side of the road “come together”. Can anyone see the issue? I’ll give you a hint.
I’m blue daba-dee-daba-di, daba-dEE-daba-di…
Yes, color. If I was turning a Dark Blue drink into a Bright Purple drink…how was that going to interact with Mustard, a condiment famous for being neither Blue nor Purple? I decided to resolve that later, and instead worked on a simpler detail: how to re-jigger the mule. (Which sounds like a sex act, I admit, but is not.) Typically, if you want to make a variant on the Mule, you swap out the alcohol. A Moscow Mule becomes a Dublin Donkey with some Irish Whiskey instead of Vodka. And while I briefly dabbled with Bourbon for a Kentucky Ass, I figured balancing BROWN, Yellow, and Purple was going to be a right mess. So I decided to make it an English Ass, mixing Gin, Ginger Beer, and Lime juice. Where I discovered that the amount of lime juice needed with the ginger beer meant the gin was basically erased.
And…fourth? Fifth? Who knows how many bad ideas I’ve had so far. (In this project. The count overall is…well, in theory it’s countable, much like you could EVENTUALLY count every star in the night sky, but in practice it’s best to just agree there’s a lot of them). The idea was: Hey, if we’re making a fairy based drink, shouldn’t it have the alcohol CALLED “The Green Fairy”?
More like LUCID dreaming, am I right?
I’m actually like, 65% sure that’s why they picked the name, so it’s an even worse pun than it sounds.
Yes, I mixed in Absinthe. And discovered that, in a game of “Absinthe versus Lime Juice”, Absinthe wins. IN fact, my next 3-4 tests showed that “Absinthe vs ANYTHING” ended up with Absinthe winning. After a couple tries, we found a drink that Nate, our resident Absinthe addict, approved of, So I set out trying to then incorporate mustard into it. And that…Oh man.
In 30 minutes of effort, I learned more about mustard as a cocktail ingredient than I suspect most trained bartenders. (A weird thing to say, as I am legally a trained bartender according to the state. Well, SAFETY trained, at least.) For instance, if you’re using straight mustard, don’t stir the drink. You have to shake it to get it truly dissolved. Also, mustard remains in a micro-suspension even when “dissolved”. Meaning you need to either keep agitating the drink, or down it quickly, as otherwise it’ll slowly “settle” in the drink. And also, it’s really fucking hard to find a reasonable balance between mustard, gin, absinthe, and lime juice.
And yes, before you ask, I DID drink this.
And it just tasted like absinthe to me. Like I said, it is a STRONG flavor.
I mixed mustard with alcohol and added the juice second. I dissolved the mustard in the juice and added the alcohol, I tried mixing alcohol with dried mustard powder, I did a NUMBER on it. Eventually, Nate got sick of trying my new abominations, and demanded to know why I was so insistent on putting mustard in the drink. My explanation of the fairies’ names momentarily appeased him…until I noted that the only other fairies named are Moth and Cobweb. Nate seized on that to demand that if I tried to give him another drink with Mustard in it, He would force me to try one with cobwebs in it. I gracefully and independently decided that the mustard wasn’t a worthwhile tack to keep trying.
So we returned to basics: Gin, Absinthe, Ginger Beer, Lime. An Ensorcelled Ass. Our particular brand of Absinthe is clear, so the color was a very light gold from the ginger beer before the BPFT was added. Once it was, we tossed in the lime juice, and THIS was the final product.
What a daring new visual we certainly didn’t see like, twice before in this post.
Which worked out AMAZING, because of something I hadn’t considered, so wracked was I with Mustard Madness. The love potion in Midsummer. It’s explicitly made from a plant that is PAINSTAKINGLY described by Oberon. A plant once white, now purple with Love’s wound, that maidens call “love-in-idleness”. That plant is the wild Pansy. I had made an English Ass, which, with the touch of fairy magics, became soaked with love potion.
Flavorwise…it’s not the worst drink I’ve ever had or made. Which is faint praise, I know, but understand that I am not a particular fan of absinthe, and the absinthe is definitely present in this drink. Despite, as you’ll see, being a relatively miniscule part of the overall liquid, it was, to me, still the primary flavor. You can experiment on your own with how you balance it. For a more stirring endorsement, Nate called it “good”, which is pretty logical, since he’s a fan of absinthe. He also preferred our first attempt at it to the finished product, when I simply eye-balled the ratios, so really, work it till it works for you. Your tongue should catch our tongue’s sweet melody, as it were.
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THURSDAY: I JUST TOLD YOU I WAS OUT OF TOWN ALL WEEKEND AND SPENT SUNDAY NIGHT EXPERIMENTING WITH ABSINTHE. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I AM REMOTELY PREPARED TO PLAN MORE.
MONDAY: HOPEFULLY MEAT PIES, UNLESS THE MUSHROOMS WENT BAD.
Now it's time for the
1 part Absinthe
4 parts Dry Gin
8 parts Ginger Beer
Enough Butterfly Pea Flower Tea to color the drink.
1 part Lime Juice
Combine all ingredients, except Lime Juice, in a highball or other low glass.
When serving, add lime juice to drink and stir to combine, allowing drinker to see the color change.