“Look at these cocktails,” I say to my brother and hold up the magazine. The picture is pool-blue with a bright orange cocktail smack in the center.
“I’m driving,” he says, so at a red light, I hold it up again to show him the grilled flatbread on the other side of the double page spread.
“This is what I want my life to be like,” I say, and he says, “You just showed me that page,” and I say, “I thought you were driving.”
A few days later, his girlfriend comes to visit, and we decide to make the drinks. My brother has been learning to tend and carts his bar guide and herb books around from place to place. Of course, he’s left his brand new bar set at the other house, and we’re not sure what to use for a muddler other than a pestle, the top half of which has disappeared somewhere, the broken-off bottom still drooped in the mortar like a fat, marble bulb.
The recipe calls for tangerine halves to be dipped in raw sugar and grilled over fresh sprigs of rosemary. After I’d melted the siding off the house from a grease-fire fueled grill, we think we’ll give that a rest and caramelize the nectarine halves in a skillet on the stove. The store is out of tangerines.
I forget that sugar burns. I forget that a hot grill is different from a hot skillet, and as soon as the nectarine slices hit the skillet and the hot, crisping leaves of rosemary, a waft of thick steam rises, pure and white, and suddenly the room is filled with the fragrance of Christmas and that thick, white smoke, which, after I remember to turn on the fan above the stove, looks just like Santa Claus’ beard getting sucked up into the vent. The fire alarm blares and we’ve burned the bottom of the skillet, six charred circles where the nectarine halves had sat sucking up sugar.
We muddle the sugared, burnt nectarines until the kitchen is fragrant with a sticky green smell from the rosemary and the crispness of citrus. It is brown. And not a pretty brown, like chestnuts shined under a thumb or a buff chocolate Ganache, but the color of mud sludge or an old faucet spitting out rust water.
I dip my spoon into the syrup and taste the brown liquid, darkly sweet from the burnt sugar, turning the citrus wintry. We pour white rum into the pitcher and taste the concoction, and feel our mouths flare with the alcoholic heat. “Let’s let that sit,” I say.
We do other things. We go to the store. We try to scratch the burnt sugar from the bottom of the pan. We take a dip in the pool. When we reconvene in front of the pitcher, there is a hush. A nervousness that we’ve ruined the rum. But with the wait, the rum, sugar, and citrus have blended into something strong and soothing – caramel and orange peel and smoke.
Cracked over ice and garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary, it’s not an ugly brown anymore. It’s the color that things are when you’ve done them wrong and somehow everything still turns out alright.
While we used nectarines to make these, I think tangerines would take away some of the bitter edge from a nectarine. Adapted from Bon Appétit, July 2012. Serves 6.
4 tangerines, halved lengthwise
12 rosemary sprigs, divided
2 cups white rum
Dip the cut side of the tangerine halves in raw sugar until evenly coated. Line the bottom of a skillet (set to medium-low if you want nicely caramelized tangerines, high if you want to burn your sugar. Oops.) with 6 sprigs of rosemary. When the skillet is hot, place the tangerines cut side down on top of the rosemary, and cook until the sugar has caramelized. Place the tangerine halves into a pitcher and discard the rosemary. Muddle the caramelized tangerines until fragrant (the sugar releases oils in the tangerine’s skin) and juicy. If you like your drinks on the sweeter side, add an additional 2 tbsp. raw sugar before muddling. Add 2 cups of rum to the pitcher, stir, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.
Fill six cups with ice and evenly divide the strained rum mixture into the glasses. Top off with grapefruit-flavored tonic and garnish with a rosemary sprig.
Photographs by Ellen Kaufman (burghbierandbeyond.tumblr.com).