The Art of the Garnish
I recently wrote -- with great excitement and full of hard-earned pride -- about the publication of my latest book, Art of the Garnish:
“Tis the season!” is heralded throughout the holidays. We toast, we Prost, we Sláinte, and Salute! And what sparks the salutations is the drink! A frizzy, frothy, bubbly, elixir fashioned with a redolent, glittering garnish to top it all off. So why not gild the lily; give the perfect gift - Art of the Garnish.
Now that it’s January - my Capricorn birthday month -- I can’t believe that I only recently learned that a Capricorn is not “just” a goat but a she-goat! Curious by nature, I needed to learn more. And indeed there is more. (What does this have to do with garnishes and cocktails, you, my dear reader, may be tapping out. Please wait…) (smile) Besides, who doesn’t just love astrology and fairy tales?
I learned (according to Greek Mythology.com) that while Capricorn is usually depicted as a goat or sea-goat, in Greek Mythology he is the God Pan. Pan ruled over forests and woodlands, (see how I’m feeling the connection?!). Eventually, Pan became the God (or maybe, just maybe, the Goddess of Nature - wink). Some of the deity’s qualities, such as sexuality and love of nature have become part of the character of people born under this sign. (oooh la la)
Consequently, Capricorn is an earth sign and people born under this sign are responsible, patient, and loyal.
Loyal. That brings me back to Art of the Garnish -- and my enduring passion for all things natural, plant-based and horticulture. I’ve been enchanted by gardens, garden history, garden art, secret gardens, native plant gardens, ecology, along with garden design, edible gardens, and more - for - well - for ever. I’ve so enjoyed sharing this farm-to-table and fork-to-table and dock-to-dish journey with you. And now -- it’s a garden-to-glass celebration.
In the Beginning I’ll have more to share in subsequent posts but for starters, here’s how the Garnish book came about.
Even with this introduction, I’ll summarize; there are plenty of chapters in this part of the saga. And as most everyone knows - books take a very long time to incubate and birth. A very long time…
After my first book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook was published, I wrote even more about food, drink, restaurants, dining, growing food, sustainable agriculture, gardens, garden design, and eventually designing tablescapes and cocktail compositions, as well as book reviews for both my Garden Glamour blog and for Examiner.com. I also contributed several chapters to Savoring Gotham and wrote the foreword for Alive and Cooking: An Easy Guide to Health for You and Your Parents.
It wasn’t long after I reported on the The Essential NY Times Cocktail Book that I got a call from its publisher, Cider Mill Press, asking if they could schedule a call with me.
I came to learn that they wanted to talk about me working with them to write a book.
You can almost picture this all-too-hilarious scene straight out of a Lucile Ball or Melissa McCarthy comedy sketch where the publishing executive asks if I am interested and while you want to feign calm and check your calendar to see if the Ask can be accommodated -- sheer thrill precludes any diplomacy or restraint. A hearty and honest “YES, I’d be honored,” was in order.
And then, in a kind of Rumpelstiltskin riddle - there was just one catch.
The book’s research and manuscript needed to be completed in three months. Or less.
There was no time to waste.
I did indeed clear my calendar.
I immediately dove head first (or “bottoms up”!) into what we could offer in the cocktail book.
Initially, I knew we could offer a garden-to-glass perspective both in terms of the spirits and the mixes, and the garnishes. After all, I couldn’t think of any spirit that was not plant-based!
And given how very much I adore storytelling, I figured I could not only provide the history and context for some of the classic cocktails, but also offer drinks from some of the places that I have traveled to or lived in that have had a profound influence on me and my cocktail culture, including, Switzerland where I attended school, Japan where I traveled frequently for business, Cuba where I visited for sustainable urban agriculture - and had always dreamed of seeing (it doesn’t disappoint), Ecuador where I’ve worked doing garden design and horticulture and menu development, Aruba where we have a place and sojourn every winter for R&R, and Denmark where I lived and worked - helping compile background research about America’s distinguished early jazz musicians for a Danish notable.
And then I had the idea that most folks don’t embrace the cocktail hour as much as it once was - not for lifestyle reasons, although that is nevertheless true. I was thinking more from a food and drink perspective. We indulge in food pairing with wine and beer but cocktails -- not so much. Why? I believed it was because so many of our cocktails were made with mixes that contained a lot of sugar and processed ingredients that to my palate, not only didn’t taste good, but could also render you rather peaky at the same time.
So the book would showcase the real, regional spirits from a diverse geography of places that use their local, homegrown flowers, roots, bark, fruit, and herbs, for their digestifs, bitters, soda, and simple syrup mixes.
After all, many of the spirits began their jobs as tonics and medicines at the local apothecary and pharmacy. I wanted to showcase that distinctive, handmade, artisanal world of cocktails.
I’m devoted to creative design - elegant and whimsical, as well as crafted, authentic, quality ingredients. I figured all these elements would contribute to the storytelling intrigue of the Garnish book.
And finally, I wanted the book to offer the reader a fun, jaunty journey into the world of cocktails, libation lore, drinks, food, mixology tools cum art, and the festive barscape presentations and ambiance, along with the accessories that mark this ephemeral art.
In putting together Art of the Garnish, I started by thinking of it as the embodiment of a great cocktail party. Beside my one inspired garnishes and cocktails and food pairing, I was privileged to invite some of the world’s best mixologists to the party.
Elevating the Art of the Garnish
I began by recreating my favorite cocktail recipes: my Duchess martini is featured in Art of the Garnish as is the classic Manhattan. I make my own maraschino cherry garnishes, too. (I'll add image later. Sigh)
Recipe for maraschino cherries:
A pound of fresh, pitted cherries (when in season) or cans of Oregon or MIchigan sweet cherries, Peel of one whole orange, a cup of water, cup of sugar, cup of cherry liqueur, fresh vanilla bean seeds scraped from half a vanilla pod, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 cinnamon stick, dash of nutmeg. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the cherries and the liqueur and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat. Add the cherries and simmer for 5 minutes. Even less time is needed if using canned cherries. Remove from the heat and add the cherry liquor. Let cool. Store in airtight container.
I also added my own rendition to some cultural classics of my special places. And people too. One of my dear garden design clients has her own honeybees; to honor her and those pollinators I created “Maria’s Mead: Nectar of the Goddesses.” It’s a great story too. Mead is the oldest spirit and its use gave rise to the term, honey-moon. I’ll explain more later…
In addition, I asked some of my favorite spirit makers to suggest some of their favorite top-tier mixologists and brand ambassadors who would best showcase their brand(s). Of course, Macchu Pisco and their star executive and friends, the sisters Melanie and Elizabeth and their London-based cousin, Natasha immediately came to mind. These women are true “she-roes” and straight away offered talent from London and Miami, including Isaac Morrison, drink consultant at Dash Concept, Fabiano Latham, beverage director for Chotto Matte, Valentina Carbone, bartender at Nobu Berkeley St, Calum O’Flynn, The Botanist at Sloane Square, London; Maria Pottage, beverage director at COYA Restaurant & Members Lounge, Miami.
You must read about and taste Macchu Pisco if you don’t already drink their award-winning, hand-crafted Peruvian nectar. It’s a true American success story.
I also worked with Joe Gallo and his clients, including Patron tequila and Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky. I was also gifted to work with Hennessy and their US National brand ambassador, Jordan Bushnell.
Of course, I tapped into family: Jessica Wohlers, fine artist and general manager of Leyenda Brooklyn - one of the best cocktail bars in America, frequently cited as the Best American Bar. Jess is super networked to the world of bartenders and craft cocktail artists and tiki masters. She introduced me to a cohort of Gotham-based professionals who contribute meaningfully to the Garnish book, including, KJ Williams, bartender at Flatiron Lounge, Brian Miller, Ryan Liloia and Jelani Johnson, bartenders at Clover Club and Leyenda; Marlo Gamora, bartender, Dante NYC and Mother of Pearl, NY.
I knew Tom Sebazco, entrepreneur and bartender at Fitzerald’s Pub - having worked with Tom and his multi-talented wife, EunYoung.
I did identify one artist via Instagram: Josh Suchan, Ice and Alchemy, who creates some breathtaking cocktail creations. I was astonished looking at his feed. Further, Josh is a truly nice man. I’ve very much enjoyed working with him. You can readily see his work in the thumbnail images my publisher posted as part of the Amazon link.
Chandon was yet another brand that I very much like; having worked with them in the past. Chandon was kind enough to contribute a few of their world-class recipes to Garnish.
Using my design style, it was relatively easy - and fun - to create the Finishing Touches for the cocktail creations. I was inspired and informed by the ingredients, of course. And fantasy; Hollywood glamour; my fashion garden design background, too.
Garnishes that inspired me were in that same lane. Edible flowers and herbs came naturally to adorn seasonal drinks. Did you know you can eat passion flowers? Or orchids? Or Fuschia?
And talk about fun, for “I’m Nutty for You,” for example, I used Cracker Jacks - complete with a prize.
Or jewelry: think brooches or a tie tack - perfect for spearing a fruit or candy garnish. You know you've lost an earring or cuff link or two. Repurpose it to a memorable garnish.
Knitting needles in a Sweater Weather drink? Of course!
Did you think about candy licorice or passion flower blossoms or sesame seeds with a tahini pairing?
Or smoke? Or toys? Or gold dust? And you thought parasols were the bees knees!
The team at Cider Mill Press was a clutch of delightful and supportive professionals - all women -- who aided and assisted every step of the journey with humor and charm. We had fun, too. But I must confess, I did get worried when the original team changed over the course of time… And then Buzz - my new editor came on board. He sherpa’d Garnish - with grace and courtesy - through the challenges of tying up the loose threads to completion, as well as the somewhat daunting initiative of tasking me last year to produce all the instructions about what tools to use to create citrus garnishes; how to craft the garnishes -- Reamers, Rimmers, zesters, wheels, twists, tattoos, citrus baskets, sculpted garnishes, to name a few and all the detailed drawings to accompany the how-tos.
And much to my heart-fluttering joy, Buzz - and I’m guessing John, the publisher, created the perfectly pretty and glamorous book cover. I clutched my heart and sighed with delight upon first seeing it.
So, while it wasn’t three months to completion - rather three years. It was, undoubtedly, worth it.
Then, there is the undisputed genius of the professional photographer, Doug Young. While there are a number of my own photos in the book and some stock photos - you will surely recognize the superior quality of Doug’s composition, lighting, craft, and talent that adds so very much to Garnish. I’ve worked with Doug in the past -- was introduced to him and his work through my Long Island Homegrown Cookbook cohort - and was sincerely honored that he agreed to come to our country house to photograph the cocktails for the book. What a day! It was crazy - rushing the natural light. Trying this and that. Cutting flowers; dripping honey; igniting fire (near or on my antique dining table that gave me a sincere case of the frets!). Bill brought in slate from the walk; I mixed and whipped and garnished trying to keep pace with Doug and his unswerving eye and dedication. Bless you. Thank you.
Art of the Garnish
It’s said you can judge a book by its cover - and the glamorous, tactile and textured hardcover Art of the Garnish book beauty is a sight to behold - and touch. It’s pretty-in-pink, accessorized by the Garden-to-Glass green garnishes herbs, flowers, and spices that star in the book. It’s a great size too (6 x 8ish) - ideal for gracing your bar cart, bar, or island mixing station (or bedside table!).
According to Amazon, as supplied by my publisher, the incredible Cider Mill Press - (who I couldn’t love more) - the Garnish book is described as:
Full of tips, tricks, and instructional illustrations about how to prepare a wide range of cocktail garnishes, The Art of the Garnish is a mixology must-have!
The perfect cocktail is a sight to behold, and it is often enhanced both in flavor and appearance thanks to a garnish. Learn the ins and outs of garnishing your drinks with The Art of the Garnish. Full of tips, tricks, and instructional illustrations on the right way to prepare a dizzying array of garnishes, from herbs and citrus to nuts, candy, meat, and jewelry, this book is a must-have for the aspiring mixologist! Like all the books in the “Art of Entertaining” series The Art of the Garnish offers easy-to-follow recipes and colorful photographs; the beautiful images detail how these garnishes enhance cocktails and will help make you the star of happy hour.
I promise -- you will so enjoy the book! I relished researching the cocktail lore: exploring “Where did these drinks originate? Who gave birth to which garnish?” Besides the patina of time, the stories passed on are fueled with booze, not surprisingly, so the true tales are often a bit hazy - but no less intriguing. These are fun stories - the ones you hear from your favorite bar tender who knows her cocktail history.
I based my cocktail recipes and food pairings on the idea that one could enjoy cocktails even more when using natural, garden-inspired spirits that, more often than not, are regional, seasonal, and at one time - gave drinks their special, homegrown panache. For example, Crème de Violette liqueur is made from violet wildflowers native to Austria and Switzerland, adding a light vanilla and floral note to champagne or sparkling wine and cocktails. Moreover, Crème de Violette’s regal color adds more glamour to your drink compositions.
Likewise, the Italian, bitter amaro is an herbal liqueur that started out as a digestif - as did many liquors. I love its regional distinctions; contributing so much flavor due to its artisanal creators. It stands to reason that every amaro is different: it’s a mix of herbs, flowers, aromatic bark, citrus peel and spices—a blend that can include anything from cardamom to elderberry flowers. Therefore, each and every cocktail made with this luscious liquor is unique.
A rather existential experience... True luxury. Plus, I love this sense of adventure.
Yet one more example is that of the Boba Pearl drink recipes. Boba pearls are made from tapioca. I love tapioca - and as a kid, asked that my birthday celebrations include either tapioca - or angel food cake - in place of the traditional birthday cake.
But what is tapioca? Most shrug. Yet, tapioca comes from the cassava plant. Therefore, I paired the drink with a root vegetable appetizer so that the cocktail and food complement one another in the same way that cooks and chefs admonish, “What grows together, goes together.”
More food pairings - and that didn't make it into Garnish:
Let’s not overlook the ice. It’s such a key ingredient in most every drink and yet… Of course, we invested in a pure ice maker so can indulge in those ice nuggets. And pretty ice too - we have skull cubes and heart cubes and…
In a punch, I use flowers in a bundt pan filled with distilled water. As the ice melts, the floral wreath emerges and adds an elegant finishing touch. Below is a video of a Halloween punch with dry ice and a floral ice ring. Have fun with your ice - more ephemeral cocktail art!
It’s often said that there’s no doggie bag for cocktails. I adore that in-the-moment cocktail experience that cries out for family, friends, community - and conversation; glamour, and style. And you get to do it over again the next evening.
In a home bar or in our case, a speakeasy - complete with a hidden door!
Or in a local tavern, swanky hotel lounge, a terrace, or a beach, or cocktail lounge or bubble bath! The possibilities of place and garnish are limitless.
As I joyfully herald in Art of the Garnish, cocktail culture is one of the few if only customs that has so many iterations that span many categories - including fashion: a cocktail dress; interior design - a speakeasy or cocktail lounge or bar or tiki hut; a time of day - cocktail hour or happy hour and let’s not forget the Morning After.
Please enjoy my latest book, Art of the Garnish. You’ll be equally smitten with the “libation lore,” the history, the food pairings and tablescape compositions, as well as the cocktail style and the glamour… Here's a video of my remix on the classic Grasshopper - mine is the Verdant Green Jangala. The Barscape composition includes the green drinks and garnish, along with plants. and smart devices tuned to jungle or animal YouTube videos - to add to the jungle ambiance! Fun and immersive.
And I must ask because it's so important to the success of the book - when you do receive your copy, can you please post your review on Amazon or B&N or your local Indie.
We very much appreciate the book love...