Saturday, December 16, 2017

Feeling Cagey

To truly enjoy the holiday season this time of year it’s always nice to keep it simple.  Remember the little things in life and spend quality time with family and friends.  These simple pleasures become amplified and take on new meaning and depth.  Here’s a fairly “simple” puzzle box I received as a gift from a friend, a small gesture yet one that means so much.  Shiro Tajima, formerly of the Karakuri Creation Group, enjoys playing with simple shapes and structures in surprising, unusual and puzzling ways.  He created his “In a Cage” puzzle with the goal of designing a simple box with a complex secret.  He is masterful at the small details in his boxes and has created some of the most puzzling and award winning offerings in the past.

In a Cage by Shiro Tajima

In a Cage is a perfect little puzzle box.  It really is so simple, just a small redwood box inside a white dogwood cage.  The box is held in place somehow, but moves around and from side to side.  Puzzling out the solution is not so simple after all, and requires a number of insights into how the structure functions. It seems hard to believe that such a little device could keep you busy for long, but it does.  It’s so clever and satisfying.  It’s truly a brilliant design and won an honorable mention at the 2017 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  It’s a great puzzle to slip in your pocket and hand to a friend, and if it can’t be solved it still acts as a lovely fidget spinner!

It seems so simple, and yet ...

To toast this little marvel I made a replica of In a Cage … in a cocktail!  Sticking with the theme of something simple which has hidden complexity, I’ve created a variation on the classic Brandy Alexander, one of the more deliciously simple holiday cocktails in existence.  I always seem to come back to this one during the holidays.  Traditionally, brandy is combined with crème de cacao (chocolate liqueur) and heavy cream in equal proportions for a decadent dessert drink which dates back to 1915 and a bartender named Troy Alexander.  He used gin in the original, but brandy became dandy soon after. 

This cocktail is in a cage!

For this version I’ve swapped the brandy for Pedro Ximenez Sherry, a seriously scrumptious dessert wine because why the hell not.  But you really begin to appreciate this Alexander more and more as you experience it (much like the puzzle box …) thanks to the special holiday ice keeping it cool.  The ice is made from cinnamon spiced cranberry syrup and Becherovka, the Czech Republic herbal liqueur which dates from 1807 and has been described as “Christmas in a glass”.  Its flavors of ginger and cinnamon blend deliciously with the cranberry syrup and swirls of the melting goodness ebb into the Sherry Alexander as you sip it until you start to feel guilty about experiencing all this pleasure.  There’s a puzzle in your hand, a toasty fire going, maybe a kitten in your lap and your family all lounging about looking at their phones. It really doesn’t get any better than this, does it?  Go on, you deserve it.  Cheers!

Don't be cagey - it's delicious!

St. Nicholas Cage

1 oz PX Sherry
1 oz Crème de Cacao (Tempis Fugit)
1 oz heavy cream

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Add a large prepared ice cube and grate some nutmeg on top.

Ice: Freeze mix of Becherovka : spiced cranberry syrup 1:1 with equal parts water.  Volume depends on your ice tray.

Spiced cranberry syrup: Add 1 cup fresh cranberries, 2 cinnamon sticks and a few allspice cloves with 1 cup water to a sauce pan.  Simmer until berries burst then mash.  Add 1 cup sugar to dissolve and simmer for a few minutes.  Strain the mix through a mesh strainer to remove the large solids.  Scale up as desired, this stuff is delicious.

Simple pleasures

Special thanks to Matthew Dawson for the perfect puzzle gift.  The bourbon gummy bears have nothing to do with the cocktail, but Matt loves gummy bears so those are for him.

For more about Shiro Tajima:

For last year’s Brandy Alexander:

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