This time of year many of us are reflecting on the more important aspects of our lives, spending time with family and friends, sharing stories and hopefully feeling thankful. I’m thankful for many things, including this opportunity to share my thoughts, puzzles and drinks with you all. I occasionally hear a word or two of encouragement back, which is always welcome and appreciated. Let me know how you are doing, drop me a line or leave a comment if you are enjoying this blog, and tell me what you are thankful for in life too. I’d love to hear from you.
|The Flatliner Deluxe by Mike Toulouzas|
I also love holiday themes here, and haven’t done one specifically for Thanksgiving that I can recall, which strikes me as preposterous. After all, it’s one of my favorite holidays, and I’m not alone in that. Everyone loves Thanksgiving in America, and we would all do well to remember the point of it all in these controversial times. There are only a handful of countries that have such a holiday – the US, of course, as well as Canada, and also some Caribbean Islands and Liberia, believe it or not. We just finished celebrating our version here in the US, with traditions that include a famous parade in New York City and a giant feast from which we are still recovering. My annual Thanksgiving Day contributions include a world famous mushroom and Madeira soup, Texas ruby red grapefruit sorbet, and of course, a selection of hand crafted cocktails.
|You just might die trying ...|
So what should we discuss here at Boxes and Booze for the Thanksgiving offering? Well, I don’t have a turkey puzzle box, yet, so we will have to make do with the stuffing. For those few of you out there who are uninitiated, the stuffing (sometimes called “dressing”) refers to the side dish mix of breadcrumbs, onions, celery, mushrooms, stock, and often other ingredients like nuts or oysters that is packed inside the turkey cavity and served on the side. Packing all that stuffing into the turkey will have to serve as our segue to this fine packing puzzle from the talented Mike Toulouzas.
|The Deluxe Version (prototype)|
Mike, who lives in Greece and occasionally makes some truly beautiful and award winning puzzles, was inspired for this particular piece by another appropriately named packing puzzle, “Stuffing”, by Liu Suzuki. That puzzle required the stuffing of four oddly shaped pieces into a rather small box so that the lid shut completely. What made it so difficult was the way the pieces overlap and leave gaps when assembled, making the solution very confusing. Mike had been thinking about creating a packing puzzle that could not be assembled outside of the box, a common way for this type of puzzle to be solved. It can then simply (or not so simply) be placed inside of the box. Suzuki’s puzzle, with its irregularly shaped pieces, got Mike thinking. He increased the challenge by making six very oddly shaped pieces, which do not hold together in any construction outside the box and thus foil the attempt to solve it that way. He called his puzzle “very, very difficult” and named it “Flatliner”, exactly because it will cause you to experience a cardiac arrest after trying to solve it. Mike does have a great sense of humor. And as he does on occasion, he later revisited the idea and produced a limited “deluxe” version featuring a beautiful standing box of Palisander, Bubinga and Beech wood, with Walnut and Maple pieces and a lid which attaches to the box side when open. This version has only five loose pieces, and one fixed piece placed inside the box already. I don’t know if that is supposed to make it easier or harder, but I would personally add another very to the original very, very difficult rating. Mike is absolutely devious at puzzle designs and this is one of the most challenging packing puzzles. I have solved it once, long ago. More recently a helpful guest spilled out all the pieces and I am still trying to put them back properly as of this writing. But at least it reminded me of this wonderful puzzle, and for that, I am thankful.
|Packed with holiday spirit|
For this Thanksgiving toast I mixed up something apropos, and tried to stuff as many holiday flavors into the glass as possible, in keeping with the theme here. For the base I used cognac, a deluxe touch to replace bourbon in this seasonal whiskey drink. Of course there had to be spiced pear liqueur from St. George distillery, full of Bartlett pear, cinnamon and clove. Any excuse this time of year to use that is a good enough excuse, trust me. Add it to anything to impart that instant holiday flavor. For some interesting and harder to place notes, like an irregularly shaped puzzle piece, the Czech spirit Becherovka does the trick. It’s a fascinating herbal spirit dating from 1807 full of dark honey, clove, cinnamon, ginger, licorice, menthol, allspice, cardamom, bitter root and gentian. It has been called “Christmas in a glass” and works incredibly well in winter drinks. It adds just the right touch of intrigue here. There’s also Bessamim, another aromatic spiced liqueur that evokes cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, carrot cake and candied spiced nuts. As if all of that weren’t enough already, there’s a subtle hint of homemade grenadine, made with fresh pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses, for a final touch of sweetness and vibrant color. Pack it all together for some deluxe holiday magic. Here’s to the best of the season, may you all stay healthy and happy. Cheers!
|These birds are stuffed|
The Deluxe Version
¾ oz cognac
¾ oz Becherovka
½ oz St. George Spiced Pear
½ oz Sukkah Hill Bessamim
¾ oz lemon
¼ oz house grenadine
Shake ingredients together and strain into a favorite glass.