I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book. My sister even comments when I tell her I’m reading it again, and she never comments on my books. “What? Madeleine’s Ghost AGAIN? Haven’t you read it like a billion times?” Not quite.
I just love this novel. It hits me in the heart every time, and reminds me that the world we live in is full of infinite mystery and ultimately, love. I relate very well to the main character, having spent 10 years of my life pining for and loving someone whom I have not been able to forget. That love has colored my life forever. It’s possible to love someone always, even if they aren’t with you or even when they are not the best person for you, to realize that their presence in your soul is permanent, and that, in many ways, they’ve helped to make you the person you are today. That’s certainly true for me.
Part of why I love this book is that most of it is set in New Orleans, one of my absolute favorite cities in the world, and particularly appropriate now. The main character, Ned, spends his formative early 20s there at Loyola, and falls in love with Antoinette, a wealthy Creole whose family has the proverbial Garden District mansion. The path to true love never runs smoothly, though, and theirs is no exception. Ned moves away to New York City, where he tries to start over with new friends, a new job, and a new apartment – one that happens to be haunted by a ghost. But there is another spirit waiting to communicate with Ned, and his life is soon taken over with finding out who these apparitions truly are.
The book is filled with some of my favorite things: forbidden love, the New Orleans French Quarter, ghostly apparitions, and delicious descriptions of food. Oysters eaten raw, sucking the heads of crawdads, a Sunday barbecue of marinated chicken, a pre-seance meal of broccoli and mussel salad, lemongrass soup and Chicken Jakarta, a weekday afternoon sipping Abita beer, and of course, drinking in the French Quarter. One of my favorite scenes is the excellent passage when Antoinette takes Ned to a French Quarter bar and he drinks a made-from-scratch Sazerac cocktail for the first time. And what’s a book set in New Orleans without at least one French Quarter drinking scene?
“When Henri brought the drinks, I tasted the Sazerac and it ran like fire down my throat. ‘Damn,’ I said, ‘this is one hell of a drink.’ He smiled, pleased, and went away. ‘Henri used to be head bartender here till they figured he got too old,’ Antoinette said. ‘But he’s one of the few can still make a Sazerac from scratch. You know, absinthe, bourbon, sweet vermouth, sugar, bitters. The secret is you take the absinthe, swirl it around the glass,and throw it out, then add the other stuff. That’s the secret. Of course, you can’t get absinthe anymore. Pernod’s a decent substitute.”
In honor of Mardi Gras, coming up on Tuesday, I decided to try my hand at reproducing the Sazerac cocktail as described in this Big Easy-flavored novel. Cocktail experts, mixologists, historians and purists all have a variation of this recipe. Some use rye whiskey, some use cognac, some use a combination of those liquors, some use bourbon. I like the sweeter tang of Kentucky bourbon, so that’s what I used. If you don’t like anise, you probably won’t like this drink as the Pernod flavor does come through. It pains me to admit, but I really didn’t like this cocktail. I’m glad I made it, but I wouldn’t drink it again, at least, not in this iteration. Maybe my palate isn’t sophisticated enough? Maybe I should have used rye whiskey?
This is the method that worked for me. I also, of course, had to cook something New Orleans in mood and flavor to soak up the booze, so take a gander at my shrimp Creole (recipe found here)
and miniature King cakes, complete with babies and fleurs-de-lys. No beads, though.
1 highball glass, chilled if possible
Absinthe or Pernod (I used Pernod here.)
Rye whiskey, bourbon or cognac of your choice. I used Maker’s Mark, and yes, I know the purists would sneer. But bourbon is what is mentioned in the book, so in the spirit of following it, I used Maker’s Mark.
4-5 dashes Peychauds Bitters
Teaspoon full of sugar, dissolved in a teensy bit of water.
Pour a shot of Pernod into your highball glass and swirl it around. Empty it but don’t rinse the glass. You want that hint of perfumed anise.
Add about two shots of bourbon, your melted sugar, your bitters, and ice into a separate glass.
Stir gently, and strain into your highball glass. DON’T shake the cocktail, as this will make it cloudy.
Take a slice of lemon peel and rub it around the rim of the highball glass, then twist it so that the lemon oils are released into the glass.
Take a whiff and pretend you’re walking down Bourbon Street being offered beads. Then, sip it while you turn your attention to decorating your miniature king cakes, cooking shrimp Creole and contemplating life in The Big Easy.
But beware. This drink will knock you on your ass but quick.