Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Murray Bay

Murray Bay cocktail

For the past few weeks, C and I have been creating new cocktails at work, some of which are now on the menu at the restaurant (!). This new assignment has made us really, really happy. We’re constantly coming up with new ideas, and we’ve already compiled a long list of future experiments.

It was with this in mind that I tried out a new cocktail the other day, inspired by Hendrick's Gin's, their amazing website, and the fact that they made the Saveur 100 this year, and by the legend of Murray Bay, QC. Anthony became obsessed with Murray Bay years and years ago when he read Edie, the oral history/biography of Edie Sedgwick. Murray Bay was the town where Edie’s grandparents owned their summer house, and the descriptions of the family’s summer vacations in Murray Bay—the picnics, the boats, etc.—read like a scene out of Wild Strawberries. What were Massachusetts socialites doing summering in Quebec? Well, Murray Bay was a favorite destination for the New York-Boston social set from the late 19th century into the 20th century. So much so that it was once known as the Newport of the North. In fact, when asked “Where is Murray Bay?”, no less of an authority than then-President Taft gave the enigmatic answer, “Murray Bay is a state of mind.” It took years for Anthony to figure out that Murray Bay had long since come to be known as La Malbaie.

With its rich blend of herbs and spices, gin has long had medicinal properties attributed to it, and I’ve been a believer ever since I read Michael Ondaatje’s justly celebrated account of growing up in Sri Lanka, Running in the Family. I made sure to drink at least two gin and tonics per day when I was India a few years ago. They tasted especially great there, and that was as close as I’ve ever been to Sri Lanka, but I also felt like they were bolstering my constitution. Anyway, I love this particular drink because with its blend of gin, blood orange, bitters, and rhubarb-lime syrup, it simultaneously conjures the exotic and the local. It also tastes like just the kind of cordial that would have appealed to Murray Bay’s martini set, back in the day.

Had I been a Sedgwick this is exactly the kind of drink I would have packed in my art deco sterling silver thermos (with matching cups, of course) for our picnic. I would lay out my blanket and throw a ball to the dogs. As the kids ran around in their starched blue and white navy suits I might even crack open a favorite Emily Dickinson volume. What can I tell you? It’s cold and miserable in Montreal, and we're in the thick of an ice storm. Can’t a girl dream?

The Murray Bay

2 oz. gin, preferably Hendrick's
3 oz. fresh-squeezed blood orange juice (or pink grapefruit)
1 Tbsp. rhubarb-lime syrup *
1 drop Angostura bitters
slice of blood orange to garnish (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and agitate until cold. Strain into a martini glass garnished with a slice of blood orange. Serve.


* Thanks to some readers for pointing out that not everyone has a bottle of rhubarb-lime syrup kicking around in their fridge. I was shocked to discover that there are no commercial varieties available. Looks like you're going to have to make your own this summer. Luckily, it's easy.

3 lbs. rhubarb, trimmed and chopped
4 3/4 c. sugar
2 c. lime juice, freshly squeezed

Simmer rhubarb with 1/2 c. water for 30 min. Strain, reserving juice, add sugar and lime juice, and simmer 30 min. Strain and store in the fridge. Keeps several months.

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