Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wizard of Awes

We’re off to see the wizard this week as we get slightly sentimental.  Created as part of the Karakuri Creation Group’s “Story” exhibition, the Tin Woodman from Japanese artist Yoh Kakuda might just melt your heart.  As with most of the Karakuri group’s offerings, Kakuda offers a few words about the creation, stating that this Woodman went off to see the wizard (I can’t believe you don’t know this story) to get a heart, the thing he wants most in the world.  Only he never really lost his heart – he just forgot how to use it.  

Tin Woodman by Yoh Kakuda

The sentiment is sweet and fitting and the puzzle is a lovely work, one of Kakuda’s best.  The wood turning is expertly done, the little details are perfect and the tricks are nicely clever.  I felt like the scarecrow with my head all full of stuffin’ for a little while, but I wasn’t a cowardly lion – I had courage to persevere and everything worked out fine.  There are two secret chambers to discover and you will need to use your heart and your head if you hope to find them both.  This charming box will send you over the rainbow.

This Woodman will steal your heart

Here’s another story: A dance teacher with dreams of greatness suffers a terrible fall and becomes crippled.  Her hopes are lifted and love blooms with the help of a good-natured ice cream salesman who doesn’t initially realize she can’t walk.  Sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster, no?  Well, maybe in 1934, when “Have a Heart” debuted with stars Sally Moore, Jean Parker and James Dunn.  It was popular enough at the time to merit its very own cocktail!  

Have a Heart c. 1934

The “Heave a Heart” was published in Patrick Duffy’s “Official Mixer’s Manuel” and featured an obscure Scandinavian spirit known as “Swedish Punsch” which was popular during the turn of the twentieth century before Prohibition hit.  Swedish Punsch was based with Battavia Arrack, a sugar cane spirit imported from the East Indies in the mid eighteenth century, and infused with sugar and spices.  In recent years it has again become readily available, such as the popular Kronan brand which is self-described as having “a rich, full-bodied rum palate with complex notes of toffee, smoke, molasses and leather.”  Mmmmmm.  So Have a Heart – go on, have one – after all, it’s been there all along.  And where is the best place for you to enjoy these delights? Well, there’s no place like home.  Cheers!

These two are having a heart to heart

Have A Heart – Patrick Duffy c. 1934

1 1/2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Swedish Punsch
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/4 oz Grenadine

Shake together over ice and strain into a favorite glass.  A little lemon peel oil will get the stiff joints moving as well.

For more about Yoh Kakuda:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Feeling Sheepish

I'm feeling a little sheepish this week as the summer sun sets in with serious intent over Texas.  One sheep in particular caught my attention as the temperature rose.  The fluffy and fun “Sheep?” by Karakuri Creation Group artist Kanae Saito is notable for being one of the very few puzzle boxes she has created with the group and for its, well, fluffiness.  The adorable sheep is literally covered in soft wool and looks like it desperately needs to be shorn.  

Sheep? by Kanae Saito

Saito, one of the rare female puzzle box artists both in Japan and the world, introduces this puzzle by hinting that a “kid-goat and a sheep are playing hide-and-seek”.  Interesting!  But what puzzle box isn’t a game of hide and seek?  Just like her other wonderful boxes which I have described before – the Mouse Kingdom, with its clever hero tiptoeing around the sleeping cat, and the Brothers, that inseparable time traveling duo. Sheep? is a beautiful box and a unique treat. It’s unusually soft to hold, charming to behold and provides a pleasant challenge with a surprise ending.

If you can't solve it you can always make a sweater

To celebrate this shaggy conundrum your cocktail shepherd heads to the Basque region of the US.  Immigrants from Spain and France’s Basque regions were making their living as shepherds in the Pampas plains of South America when the San Francisco Gold Rush hit California in 1849.  They joined the throng and headed north, eventually settling in the high deserts of the American West where they established a new American Basque region and continued the shepherding traditions.  In addition to the distinctive sheep herds, they introduced a favorite drink made from a bitter orange flavored French aperitif called Amer Picon.  Picon Punch, known as “the Basque cocktail”, is a mix of this obscure liqueur (Amer Picon), brandy, grenadine and soda water (and sometimes lemon). 

Picon Punch c. 1850's

Modern day Basque shepherds (those few who still exist) lament the state of affairs with current Picon Punch, because, alas, Amer Picon has not been imported to the US from France since some time after 1908. I’ve picked that specific date because Amer Picon was the featured ingredient in a classic cocktail from that era (published on that date) called the Brooklyn (their answer to the Manhattan).  Since that time it has still been produced in France, but the recipe has changed and the alcohol content has steadily declined from the original 78 proof down to around 19 in its modern iteration (consider that most spirits are around 80 proof).  Of course, because of the scarcity and unobtainable nature, Amer Picon has become something of a cult beverage in the US, and there are a few do-it-yourself recipes floating about which strive to recreate the exact flavor profile of the original, a mix of oranges, quinine, cinchona and gentian root.  So having a true, original Picon Punch is also like a game of hide-and-seek.  With a sheep.  Cheers!

A taste of the shepherding life ...

Picon Punch c. late 1850’s

2 oz Amer Picon (or suitable substitute / homemade)
½ oz Grenadine
½ oz brandy
½ oz Lemon juice
Soda water

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Top with soda water. Lemon peel garnish is traditional.

If you're feeling sheepish, these might help
Special thanks to Anders, the "cocktail guru", who sent me a little of his precious Amer Picon for this recipe.  Check out his amazing creations and follow him on instagram 

For more about Kanae Saito see:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Roundabout View

I’ve been gearing up for this pairing for a few weeks, and like others which have made their way around these pages, this one puts a new spin on things once again.  This time we will reach for the golden ring as we sit astride a painted pony.  The fairground carousel has an interesting origin story, having derived from training exercises of Turkish and Arabian horsemen in the twelfth century.  In the middle ages jousters would ride in circles practicing while tossing balls to one another.  This skill training tradition evolved into entertainment with cavalry riders spearing tiny rings on tall poles for the crowd.  At the end of the eighteenth century amusement park carousels emerged and a menagerie of wild animals was soon added to the pretty horses.

Carousel Box by Kelly Snache

From the creative mind of Canadian puzzle box maker Kelly Snache comes the Carousel Box.  Kel produced this as an homage to another fine box full of gears, the Stickman No. 3 Puzzle Box by his friend Robert Yarger.  Like any good reference, the similarity is superficial and Kel has placed his own brand of puzzling on this work.  He set out to create a brightly colored spectacle with fully rotating gears which interacted together and recall an old time carousel – and he succeeded!  Kel is known for his clever retrofits of old wooden boxes, in which he places hidden locking mechanisms crafted from fine woods.  He built the carousel box entirely from scratch with Walnut, Bloodwood, Curly Maple, Rosewood, Pau Ammarello, Purpleheart, Wenge, Oak, Cedar, and Lacewood.  The detail is exquisite and the hand carved gears are a sight to behold.  They function as described, interacting and spinning with full rotations.  

Bold bright bands of color adorn this festive work

The boxes are striking with bold striped wood across the tops and a contrasting band of color along the sides, and the gears are brilliantly striped as well.  Inside this puzzle is a marvelous mechanism which is equally as beautiful as the outer gears.  There are actually four locks which need to be manipulated in order to access the inner compartment, which is quite large.  Two of these are controlled in a rather magical way, using two distinct methods that Kel has cleverly engineered.  All of this is hidden from site (sadly!) and knowing this is not helpful in the least, but it is so ingenious that I wanted to mention it without giving more away.  A few of the boxes have an extra hidden move as well for one more layer of complexity.  Inside, Kel has lined the box with old theater and carnival tickets to continue the carousel theme, a rather nice added touch.  Opening this box will make you feel like you have indeed grabbed the golden ring, after going round and round and round!


If you don’t feel dizzy enough already, you will soon enough.  We head to storied New Orleans next, to the Hotel Monteleone where we will toast the “Old Square” in the historic French Quarter.  Inside the Monteleone we find the famous “Carousel Bar”, which is literally a rotating carousel.  Each of the twenty five seats at the bar make a complete revolution once every fifteen minutes.  While that may sound lovely and charming, try it while actually having a drink or two … The bar is also famous for being the birthplace of one of New Orleans’ most iconic cocktails, the Vieux Carre (Old Square).

Vieux Carre by Walter Bergeron c 1938

Local lore has it that in 1938, head bartender Walter Bergeron created the drink as a tribute to the multicultural flavor of his city.  He added Cognac and Benedictine for the French, Rye whiskey for the Americans, sweet vermouth for the Italians, and spiced Angostura bitters for the Caribbeans.  Of course there’s a drop of Peychaud’s bitters too, to set it uniquely in the French Quarter.  The Vieux Carre is a boozy delight and has stood the test of time as a true classic.  Next time you are in New Orleans, stop at the Carousel Bar to have one – and hold on tight as you toast this tradition.

Full of the flavors of New Orleans

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
-                                   - Joni Mitchell

Treat yourself to a carousel ride

Vieux Carre c. 1938

3/4 oz. rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1 barspoon Bénédictine
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Lemon peel garnish is traditional.

For prior puzzle boxes by Kel Snache see:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Appropriately Knot

I’ve got myself all tied up this week. I’ll try knot to make things worse as I untangle the situation, but you’ve been forewarned.  The Try-Knot Box (Puzzlebox No. 17) from Robert Yarger is another wonderful creation by the mechanical maestro.  One of his more unusually designed pieces, the Try-Knot Box has all the puzzling mechanisms on full display, outside the box.  Three striking looped bands encircle the inner box in three directions, one nested within the other.  The bold bands are crafted in contrasting yellowheart and wenge wood, and have little purpleheart buttons which slide along a track inside each band.  

Try-Knot Box by Robert Yarger

At the heart of this knot is a rectangular box made from shimmering leapardwood.  The box has a maze etched into three of its sides, which must be navigated in coordinated fashion requiring alignment of multiple bands at a time. Careful planning must be made to free the box inside enough to allow each of the two compartments to open.  In classic fashion, Robert has arranged the mazes to require going all the way back in the opposite direction to open each compartment, making the challenge twice as hard.  Like a true knot, even with everything on display, picking this one apart is not as simple as it might appear.  If you get the chance, give this knot a try – it’s another impressive piece of puzzling art from the versatile man of sticks.

Bold bands of exotic wood encircle the central box

To toast this knotty situation I searched for a suitable tipple to tie to the theme.  I tried knot to get tangled up in all the rather risqué cocktails I discovered out there along the way.  You might not be surprised to find out that there are many, many variations on the theme of “Thai” cocktails including the “All Thai’d Up”, “Thai Me to the Bedposts” and both the “Thai Me Up” and “Thai Me Down”.  I tried knot to … but I couldn’t help myself.  Which is acceptable, since this post is all about “try not”.  Not do not.  Yoda would not be pleased.  

Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down by Gabriella Mlynarczyk

I settled on the “Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down”, a Thai infused masterpiece from bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk who writes the LA Loving Cup cocktail blog.  The cocktail may have a tongue in cheek name, but has serious sophistication, balance and depth which is worthy of this pairing.  For the cocktail, I used Hayman’s Old Tom Gin for a softer, sweeter gin base, and Sayuri “course-filtered” Nigori sake infused with thai basil.  Nigori sake (“cloudy”) is distinguished by its cloudy appearance, due to the retained, unfermented and unfiltered rice particles. It tends to be creamier and sweeter, and lends a wonderful texture to a cocktail.  The Sayuri is delightful in this drink for both flavor and context, as “yuri” in Japanese translates to “lily” but connotes “innocence” and “chastity” - rather ironic in the “Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down”.  Try-knot to get your knickers in a knot as you tie one on – this drink is delicious.  Here’s to enchanted entanglements, lovely loops, heavenly hitches, and talented ties.  Cheers!

Try knot to get all Thai'd up with these ...

Thai Me Up, Thai Me Down by Gabriella Mlynarczyk

1 1/2 oz gin
1 1/2 oz thai basil infused saki
1 oz lime juice
1 oz kaffir lime leaf simple syrup

2 dashes Miracle Mile Yuzu bitters (sub orange or lemon)

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. Garnish with anything that's knot tied down.

For more about Robert Yarger:

For prior Stickman puzzles see: