Saturday, February 24, 2018

Double Trouble

What’s better than a single puzzle box?  Why, a double dose, of course.  And who better that Akio Kamei to provide this double delight.  Over thirty years ago, master Kamei designed the Pentagon box.  Kamei loves to play with conceptual ideas and bring them to reality in his work.  The Pentagon was born from a paradox – what if a box is open when it is closed, and closed when it is open? It’s such a tantalizing idea, but how can it be turned into a real object? How indeed can anything be closed once it is opened?  This is just the type of conundrum that Kamei would marvel at and love to create.  

Double Box by Akio Kamei

He solved the paradox problem by creating a double layered box – a lid for the main box, which can be opened.  Which then locks (closes) the box.  When the lid is closed, in theory, the box inside is unlocked, or “open”.  It’s the ultimate paradox, and by design, Kamei appears to have created an impossible object in the Pentagon box, or at least a box which can never be truly actualized.  It’s like Schrödinger’s cat.  He has more recently revisited this brilliant idea in a new creation, the “Double Box”, which is a simplified version of the Pentagon.  The Double Box is more reserved in appearance, with a basic rectangular form, and an upper section covering a lower.  It has nice contrasting wood stripes across the top.  And true to the original, once you open it, it’s closed.  I think I’ve heard a faint mewing coming from deep inside on occasion, but I can’t be certain.

It's open.  But only while it's closed.

To toast this mischievous marvel I’m taking a bit of poetic license for the potion pairing by using a dopplebock – the doubly strong German lager style beer known for being rich, malty, lightly hopped and associated with goats.  This last bit is a due to a bit of linguistic liberty which evolved from the origins of this beer in 14th century Einbeck Germany.  The Einbeck style was adapted in 17th century Bavaria as a lager, where it was pronounce “ein bock” due to the slightly different Bavarian accent.  An ein bock is a billy goat, and ever since, boch labels have sported the sprightly fellows.  The dopplebock, or double bock, is a stronger version of the traditional boch style, originated by the Franciscan Paulaner Friars to serve as “liquid bread” during times of fasting.

The Bishop's Wife by Howard Stelzer

Here’s a doubly delicious dose of double bock, courtesy of Howard and Ashley Stelzer from their book “Beer Cocktails”.  It combines a rich and almost chocolatey  dopplebock with cherry preserves and rum to create a decadent dessert drink reminiscent of Black Forest Cake.  This is one bock you’ll definitely want to open, even if your other bocks stay closed.  Cheers!

Like a Bavarian Black Forest Cake

The Bishop’s Wife by Howard Stelzer

1 ½ oz dark rum
2 tbsp. black cherry preserves
4 oz chilled dopplebock
quarter lime

Muddle the preserves, lime and rum together and shake with ice.  Strain into a favorite glass and top with the chilled beer.  Garnish with a double lime.

Double Bocks and Booze

For more about Akio Kamei:

For a prior beer cocktail:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Petit Four Your Thoughts

As many purveyors of the puzzling pleasures do, I often enjoy torturing … err, treating my friends and colleagues to a few choice selections to try.  One of my favorites has a number of merits which make the puzzles just perfect for sharing with friends.  They are extremely portable, able to fit easily in a pocket and produce when the moment seems right.  Which is usually when someone says, “so what puzzle box do we have to solve this time?”  The puzzles are elegant and beautiful, and happen to look like tempting, tasty treats.  And of course, they are very, very tricky, a finding belied by their delicious looking exterior and small form. 

Cinnamon Walnut Twist Cake by Perry McDaniel

I also like the fact that their creator is from Texas, so I can call him a “local” artist when describing the pieces to others.  Perry McDaniel hails from Midlothian Texas, just shy of Dallas.  He is a master joiner, precision woodworker and Incra magician.  He is also a brilliant puzzle box designer.  He enjoys fashioning his work to mimic actual desserts such as slices of cake or pie, and more recently has diminished his work – at least in scale.  It seems he has expanded them in complexity at the same time.  He opens the “Puzzled Guy Patisserie” on rare occasion and the pastries fly off the shelves.  The “Strawberry Very Short Cake” and the “Cinnamon Walnut Twist Cake” were on offer almost ten years ago at a pop up shop in San Francisco and they are still as fresh as ever.  Part of Perry’s “Petit Four” series, these two perfect pastries look good enough to eat, and each deliver plenty of puzzling to make you earn those calories.  Better still, this is a dessert that you can share, over and over again.

Strawberry Very Short Cake by Perry McDaniel

Perry’s pastries, which are really puzzles, always make me want to mix things up with my cocktails, so to speak, as well.  For his “Blackjack Cake” I made a cocktail cake based on panettone, for example.  Here’s something equally puzzling – a sorbet, which is actually a cocktail.  I’m very slightly famous around citrus season for my ruby red grapefruit sorbet, which uses Texas Rio Star grapefruit, the most delicious in the world.  I’m also rather fond of the Negroni, and all its variations.  It’s one of the more versatile classics of the cocktail world, although many feel that it’s an acquired taste.  This may just be the most delicious way to start you own infatuation with the Negroni, in that case.  If you already love them, even better.  

Grapefruit Negroni sorbet

The classic Negroni has equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.  This combination of standard and lower proof spirits actually lends itself well to ice cream and sorbet making, since too much alcohol will make it impossible to solidify the solution (unless your ice cream maker gets down to -173.5 degrees Fahrenheit).  Using a standard 80 proof gin is key (not higher proof versions like “Navy Strength”).  Combining this with Campari, which is 56 proof, and vermouth (such as the rich and delicious Antica Formula, at 16.5 proof), results in a solution of around 50 proof, or 25% alcohol content.  With straight 80 proof spirits you can add around 2 oz per quart and yield a softly scoopable dessert.  The Negroni sorbet allows for a slightly more generous dose, if preferred.   And we prefer!  Here’s to sneaky sweet surprises in all shapes and sizes.  Cheers!

Waiter, there's a cocktail in my sorbet ...

Grapefruit Negroni Sorbet

2 cups fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit fruit (such as Texas Rio Star)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Negroni cocktail (1 oz each of Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth)

Combine ingredients in an ice cream maker and freeze.  Let it set in the freezer for a few hours before serving in cocktail glasses.  Garnish with an orange twist or flower.

These sweets are surprising

For more about Perry McDaniel:

For more Negroni variations:

Saturday, February 10, 2018


I’ve got a broken heart this year for Valentine’s Day.  Don’t feel too bad for me, though - I’m only talking about a puzzle box.  Last year for your amorous amusement I featured what might have been the perfect pairing of love potion and puzzle, the Valentine’s Day Box by Tatsuo Miyamoto and the Heart Shaped Box by Brad Farran.  It really can’t get any more perfect than that.  I even created one of my most adorable citrus peel garnish creations ever, a lemon orange and lime cupid perched on a strawberry.  I was trying to make up for being so cynical the year before that, when I explored the gruesome origins of Valentine’s Day and even deconstructed things down to a mathematical formula.  Sigh, those were good times.  Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

Secret Heart by Tatsuo Miyamoto

But here I am, with a broken box.  Okay fine, it’s just in two pieces.  It’s not really broken.  I was just setting things up cleverly.  We have Karakuri Creation Group artist Tatsuo Miyamoto to thank once again for this nostalgic trip down memory lane on Valentine’s Day.  He’s a rather romantic fellow, and has created a number of heart-themed boxes.  Love should be simple, and obvious.  You should know it when you see it, or feel it.  The two halves of this heart come together naturally, as easy as falling in love.  Inside one half is a music box, which plays a wistful tune when properly activated.  Perhaps you can hear it, somehow?  Now I need a place to hide away … and the other half provides that nicely.  You’ll have this box opening its heart to you in no time.

I'm not half the man I used to be ...

I’m a creature of habit, so the pairing for this secret heart once again comes from the wonderful Death and Company Modern Classics book.  Death and company was the term applied to those desperate souls who drank during the dark days of prohibition, and was adopted as the name of one of the more influential bars in New York City.  Also invented by Brad Farran, the creator of the Heart Shaped Box cocktail, this year’s tasty tipple features tequila, which is sure to make your heart beat faster.  The drink is based on the classic Manhattan, which combines rye and sweet vermouth, but swaps the rye for a finely aged tequila instead.  Farran then gives the drink a little tickle, with the addition of a his “Tickle Juice”, a combination of crème de cacao chocolate liqueur and Cynar, the deliciously herbal Italian amaro, which finds its way into a number of Death & Co. creations.  Be careful, this is another potent love potion that might make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Te Amo by Brad Farran

Te Amo by Brad Farran

2 oz anejo tequila (e.g. El Tesoro)
¾ oz sweet vermouth (e.g Cocchi Di Torino)
2 tsps crème de cacao (e.g. Marie Brizard white)
1 tsp Cynar
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
1 dash Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub

Stir ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass.  Garnish with an orange peel or something heart-felt.

A lovely pair

For more about Tatsuo Miyamoto:

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Purrfect Pair

Marjariasana, anyone?  No, it’s not a mind altering substance, it’s a body altering exercise – specifically, the “cat pose” known to practitioners of yoga. Cat’s just love to stretch their sleek spines in movements that seem to stretch on and on.  

Gombo by Yoh Kakuda

Karakuri Creation Group artist Yoh Kakuda has a unique eye for animals and a refined skill at bringing their subtle movements to life in small wooden sculptures.  Kakuda’s “Gombo” is a wide-eyed cat, caught in the middle of a comfortable wake up stretch.  Gombo’s body is elongated and lithe, supple and stealthy.  Gombo has a secret, but he won’t tell – cat’s got his tongue.

Yikes! Get meow ta here!

We recently adopted a kitten who lost his mother during Hurricane Harvey.  He loves to poke his nose into my photographs of boxes and booze.  Eventually his curiosity led to a pairing of his very own.  The tipple for this tomcat comes by way of Brazil and Thailand.  The Caipirinha originated in Sao Paulo in the early 1900’s as a medicinal tonic made with green lemon, honey, garlic, and Brazil’s version of sugarcane rum, cachaça.  When the tonic made its way to the big city of Santos, it was reworked as a cocktail and dubbed the “little peasant” (caipirinha) in homage to its humble origins. Undeterred, it went on achieve international cocktail fame in the 1920’s and was even inducted by Brazil’s president in 2003 as the official drink of the nation.  

Siamese Caipirinha by Mike McMillan

Fast forward to the present day in Austin, Texas, where bartender Mike McMillan created his popular twist, the Siamese Caipirinha, and you can see where we’ve been going with this one.  Infused with Thai chile and basil, this version is richly flavored and so delicious.  You might even say it's the Cat's Meow.  Cheers!

A purrfect pair

Siamese Caipirinha by Mike McMillan

2 oz Thai chile and basil infused cachaça
2 tsp fine sugar
Half a lime, cut into 8 wedges

Muddle the lime wedges and sugar in the bottom of a shaker tin.  Add the cachaça and shake vigorously with ice.  Pour into a favorite glass.

For more about Yoh Kakuda: