It was a crazy time. The speed with which the Corona virus swooped into our lives -- our world -- was a force force that seemed part tsunami, part disbelief, part denial.
It was a weekend that cleaved our world.
Let me turn the page back.
At the end of the first week/beginning of the second week in March, we’d returned from our annual winter holiday ~ aka our beach book reading sojourn at our place in Aruba. Me and my husband Bill left our Gotham apartment March 12th to go to our country house as we do every weekend ~ not giving a second thought that we wouldn’t be returning to New York City on the following Monday.
We were oh-so-innocent…
We all were.
I just read a fashion feature in the New York Times magazine, “Sweatpants Forever,” that cites March 12 as the day when panic about coronavirus took hold.
Honestly, we never panicked. Not that day, especially. However, there was a creeping, rising recognition that this was a real thing that would take its toll and would need to be confronted.
As the next two days unfolded, we had to address Mother’s upcoming trip. My 95-year old Mother Virgina was scheduled to travel to meet her sister from Florida at a mutual friend’s in South Carolina. There was much abuzz about her pending trip among my siblings. Up until that Sunday, I held fast to the notion that she is healthy; life’s full of risk (and I’m of the opinion that grown children too often try to manage aging parents from a safety-only standpoint robbing life of its inherent exposure to liability…). I also opined that she’d miss some adventure. But then Sunday turned into Monday. And by then it was all too obvious.
Coronavirus was reality. Bill and I felt a civic duty and a personal responsibility to do what our governors were asking/ordering. We simply could not do otherwise. It would risk Mother’s well being. We couldn’t take chances. It was sheltering in place for all of us. Mother stayed in - seeing no one but me and Bill. We suited up with gloves and masks when we visited, initially wiping bags, door knobs, and more. It was a challenge in terms of getting groceries. Bill was the knight in shining armour/warrior who braved the crazy world of the food store for us and Mother. I went once with him in the early days, and got cursed at in high hyena screams about wearing a mask, from a woman, no less! I asked the manager’s office to please set some ground rules for the customers, in light of the fact that courtesy seemed to have gone the way of embroidered denim. (I’m not saying it was me, wink/wink, but now there are markings on the floor for safe distancing, an In and Out door, and no one allowed in without a face mask.) Ahhhh… some decency. Order.
Truth be told, we live in a kind of paradise, so the stay-at-home life was not onerous.
We have our gardens to tend to and enjoy. We have the usual care of a home; tasks that in the past we just never had the time to address. I had my garden clients; it was spring, after all. So there was the seasonal horticultural spring clean up; new plantings. In addition, with more folks staying at home, there was a greater need for our services for ever more clients.
That said, I did very much miss - and still do - the breadth of culture and art I so enjoy in town… Along with all the energy of our pulsing streetscapes, restaurants, and greenmarkets…
It felt lonely and isolating to be missing all that inspired maelstrom of talent and exchange of ideas.
Just two weeks into the sheltering in place, I had the creative idea to host a virtual Covid Cocktail Party every Saturday at 5 pm -- the universal start of Happy Hour.
On social media, I queried friends and family as to which platform they preferred: Instagram or Facebook Live.
The survey said, Facebook Live.
So away we went. The first Covid Cocktail party was March 28th and it was really done on the fly. Very impromptu. I can’t believe I even wore the same Calvin Klein dress two weeks in a row! Those first weeks, I was usually racing back from helping at Mother’s, not really planning more than making a drink and reading a bit from my Art of the Garnish book and sharing a few stories, observations, and thanking our first responders. I looked a bit rangy. One of my girlfriends left a Comment afterwards, “Nice but could use some rehearsal. Ha!” I didn’t inculcate the advice until the third episode in the series. But in the beginning, it was fun. Authentic. And sincere.
This is all that I wrote as the first invite:Cheers to my first “Covid Cocktail Party.” We all need a little distraction, community & stories. Cheers to us. I’m gonna shake up a Duchess Martini ~ from my Art of the Garnish book.
I figured it only natural that I should start with my signature cocktail: The Duchess Martini.
Here’s the Duchess martini recipe as seen in the book.
There was good feedback. A good audience size. Plenty of viewers and friends and family showed up! 50 that first time. I thought that was affirmation.
Over time we had tech issues, sound quality (one Covid Cocktail party had to be deleted entirely post event) but we overcame. I got a microphone. The invitations got better - showcasing the drinks I was going to make. I went from one drink per Happy Hour to two.
The audience grew from 50 to just shy of 5,000 - on the Facebook Live Saturday Art of the Garnish Cocktail parties alone.
I began to create the floral fantasy for the shows, going out every Saturday in my pink Wellies to see what was blooming and then arrange the blossoms on the barscape and pick a few petals for the garnish. Extolling the luxury of “drinking with the seasons.”
Plus, I figured it was a great way to showcase the Art of the Garnish book. Of course we had to cancel the book parties and readings that had been scheduled; but the flip side (always looking for the silver lining) is that I surmised more folks would want to create a delicious, glamorous cocktail party --at home -- using the recipes from my book. I read that liquor sales increased by more than 30% in the first month of coronavirus. Gave a whole new meaning to Happy Hour!
This is what I posted on Instagram following the first Live event:Things I’m doing during corona crisis: “hosted” my 1st #covidcocktailhour party - you can view on Garden_Glamour FB page (link in bio); #puzzles I got for Mother - we love it - trending 🙌 & @mobituary @cbssundaymorning feature confirmed that. Thank you. @billl2720 cooking up the best #homegrown healthy #food Last nite: Lemon, chicken with capers. Be well. Be safe. Enjoy the #artofthegarnish #cocktail party. #garnish #cocktailsofinstagram #drinks #martini @vermouthdolin @itsnotjustcocktails @livvodka
It’s like a time capsule…
I found this admittedly dim photo of me with my Duchess Martini that I came across while looking for the Duchess Martini recipe from the book. Nevertheless, I wanted to share it. Dark becomes me! Ha. Plus, it was from a happy time: dinner with friends - can you remember that?! We were dining at the world-class and ground-breaking restaurant wd~50 that molecular gastronomy chef Wylie Dufresne owned. I also reviewed the restaurant for my Examiner Food and Drink column. Remember restaurant reviews? Chef Wylie now owns Du’s Donuts. Delicious. Over the years I’d see chef Wylie with frequency at various industry events where he was the celebrity chef. Miss that kind of magical encournter.
Week two of the Covid Cocktail Party.
Everything was still simple.
I see I did a quick Facebook or Instagram invite:Tonight at 5 ET/Gotham time - will be my second #CovidCocktailParty Celebrating the #ArtoftheGarnish & #cocktailculture See you at #HappyHour on Facebook Live 🍸✨🍹🥃
Ha! Again, no rehearsal. Just went with it.
I made the creamy, minty, chocolaty Verdant Green Jangala. It was a remix of the favorite, Grasshopper - with a different twist. Here’s the page from the Art of the Garnish book.
What didn’t make it into the book was the background to the drink and the barscape composition that I can share with you here:
Verdant Green Jangala
A remix on a jungle-green Grasshopper that’s refreshingly minty, and as bewitching and beguiling as nature’s world of plants. Oh, and Jangala is Sanskrit for jungle. A nod to the green of the drink and its link to the world of plants.
1 jigger green creme de menthe
1 jigger white creme de cocoa or white chocolate syrup - homemade is best
1 jigger milk (or cream, or cream of coconut)
3-5 shakes of Fee Brothers chocolate bitters
Mix all in shaker - with ice
Pour into ornamental stemmed cordial, liqueur or sherry glasses, straight up.
Key lime basket brimming with mango pieces.
Key Limes are tiny (1-2 inches); the size allows the basket to perch on the glass rim with a cut on the bottom. Or place a toothpick in the underside of the basket and perch a la a beach umbrella so that the basket rests on the rim with support. To create the garnish, use a paring knife to cut out first one side, then the other, leaving the middle strip as a “handle” You can scallop or cut notches on the edges of the “basket” if you choose. Use a serrated melon baller to hollow out the key lime pulp. Cut up pieces of colorful, soft tropical fruit -- mango or papaya -- and fill the basket. You can also fill a dollop of red pomegranate seeds.
Arrange plants - think herbals, spice plants, and small fruit “trees” as an homage to this nature setting. Potted rosemary, lime, or any kind of mint plant - there’s apple mint, pineapple mint, and more! Continue the green theme with lime-green coasters, cocktail napkins and green snacks. I paired the chocolate green Pocky sticks in a glass for easy snacking - plus there’s a matching chocolate taste. Animal crackers add to the whimsical jungle theme.
For added jungle ambiance, lay out the smart technology tuned to nature videos. Here I used two phones and an IPad, each with its own nature show. The jungle sounds of birds singing, cascading waterfalls, and jungle cats (peering at the animal cracker still life!) is a cocktail party conversation starter and a unique, personalized cocktail composition component that can be readily adapted to any number of party themes. Engage your guests - ask them to provide a favorite video and add to the composition.
The smart technology adds to an Oscar party with vintage films playing out, or athletic events with YouTube heroes, or opera stars performing for a cocktail themed Madame Butterfly party…
All the links to the Live Facebook Videos are available at Garden_Glamour. Please visit and subscribe.
I was - and am - deeply indebted to my family and friends for the support of the Art of the Garnish Covid Cocktail Series. And your patience! The early events were simple. An experiment. Raw. But sincere. And fun. Hey, as I wrote then, “It’s my first pandemic. Be kind!”
I’ll share the thinking behind the next series of Art of the Garnish covid cocktail parties - putting into context the times we lived through. Mercifully. I’ll also share the recipes and the seasonal garden-to-glass garnishes.
Don’t forget, all spirits and liquors come from plants.
And remember, the best ingredient is love.