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:

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