The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is, for me anyway, hit or miss. I loved The Lake House, and have plans to blog it sometime in the future. I disliked The Forgotten Garden because it was just so implausible. But I really enjoyed The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It is precisely the type of book I love – fictional but set during the Victoria era in England, a mysterious house, a group of artists, a mystery going back over 100 years, and even some eerie haunted house action.

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The premise is pretty simple. Elodie, a young lady living in modern-day London, works as an archivist and discovers a hidden satchel in her office one day. The satchel, as it turns out, belonged to a famous Victorian-era painter named Edward Radcliffe who suffered a major tragedy in his life and stopped painting before his masterpiece – which was never found – could be finished. In the satchel is his sketchbook with a portrait of a house which Elodie recognizes, though she’s never been there before. There is also a photograph of a gorgeous young woman, Lily, who was used as Radcliffe’s model, though her true  identity is unknown.

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It’s Lily’s character who is the narrator throughout the book, though in a very unusual way. SPOILER ALERT: Lily is a ghost who haunts the mysterious house seen in the sketch book and oddly recognized by Elodie, and how she got to be the resident spirit haunting the house is a major storyline in the book. It’s actually quite a clever literary device, I thought, and it doesn’t mar the flow of the words. I hate that, when a writer tries something they think will be “cool” or “new” and it ends up being more irritating than anything else.

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In feeling, this book reminded me of The Little Stranger, which I blogged last year, and which is truly one of the more eerie books I’ve read in the past few years. Anything with the whole haunted house vibe already earns brownie points in my book, and the house in this book is straight outta literary porn – hidden compartments, twisty staircases, leaded windows that may or may not reflect ghostly presences, a huge, sprawling garden in which anything can happen, and of course, those wide-windowed bedrooms that hide forbidden love affairs, hidden diaries, and any number of secrets.

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I think the only character I didn’t much care for Elodie. I know I’m mean sometimes, but goddamn it, grow a spine already! Sheesh. What a total and complete wimp this girl is. She’s engaged to someone she acknowledges she doesn’t feel deeply for, she is totally happy to let others plan her wedding and essentially run her life, she refuses to tell her landlady Mrs. Berry that she’s moving out to get married, and she is so out of touch with her own emotions and motivations that she can’t figure out why she keeps using the mystery of the satchel and the sketchbook and the photograph of Lily as her escape. HELLO! You don’t want to marry the guy, sweetie! It’s not rocket science! I saw that on page 4. But I like strong women so it’s no surprise that she vaguely aggravated me. 🙂 Anyway, she and  Mrs. Berry have a lovely ritual of having a cocktail together in the afternoons, and being that I fell in love with this drink when I was in Venice, it seemed quite appropriate to recreate it here.

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She reappeared carrying a tray loaded with a jug fizzing orange. Mrs. Berry had been on a trip to Tuscany with her watercolor group the previous year and had developed a penchant for Aperol Spritz. She filled a generous glass for each of them and passed one across the table. “Salute!”

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INGREDIENTS
3 ounces Aperol
3 ounces Prosecco
1 ounce soda water
3-4 ice cubes
Orange for garnish

METHOD
In a large wineglass or old-fashioned glass, put the ice cubes.

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Pour over the Aperol. Isn’t it pretty?

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Pour over the Prosecco.

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Add the splash of soda water.

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Garnish the glass with the orange slices, admire the color and be reminded of sunset in Venice before chugging it down. Good stuff! But it goes down so smoothly that you don’t feel it, at least until you try to stand up and can’t. Not that it’s ever happened to me.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Friday, May 25 was the anniversary of the death of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. For anyone who loves sarcasm, satire, and snark, this book is a must-read. I was introduced to this book in a way a lot of geeky types are – by someone far, far nerdier than I.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?

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I remember devouring this book in junior-year Honors English class, after I had finished an exam before everyone else, and was bored. When I inadvertently burst out laughing while reading, the teacher tried to take the book, saying she didn’t appreciate me reading “pop fiction.” My response was “how can you call yourself an English teacher and consider this book pop fiction?” Needless to say, I had some explaining to do to the principal later that day.

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Basic book premise for you non-nerds who have not had your brains edified by reading this book: Arthur Dent is rescued from having his house destroyed by the arrival of his friend, Ford Prefect. Ford is revealed to be a space alien who takes Arthur on an intergalactic adventure when it is revealed Earth is destroyed to make way for a galactic freeway. Intelligent mice, and aliens, robots and computers with names like Zaphod Beeblebrox, Deep Thought, Veet Voojagig, take us on this hilarious journey through the universe to find the the computer which has the answer to life itself.

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It’s 42. Don’t ask.

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Anyway, the character of Zaphod Beeblebrox, erstwhile president of the galaxy, is the inventor of a drink so out-of-this-world strong…….pardon the pun, that its effect is described as “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped ’round a large gold brick.” Or this other, most poetic description – “the alcoholic equivalent to a mugging; expensive and bad for the head.”

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The aptly named Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster sounded most intriguing – see below – so I did some research into how one creates this masterpiece of a cocktail that will knock you on your ass.

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Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol’ Janx Spirit.

Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V — Oh, that Santraginean water… Oh, those Santraginean fish!

Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost)

Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia

Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet, and mystic

Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink

Sprinkle Zamphour

Add an olive

Drink… but…..very carefully…

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This is the pared-down method that worked for me, based partly on this post at the Feastygeeks.com blog, which is nerd heaven for us geeky kids; and partly from Wonderland Recipes.com. I skipped the Algolian Suntiger teeth, though. They’re hard to find this time of year.

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INGREDIENTS
Handful of crushed ice
1 ounce bourbon whiskey
1 and 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce sour apple mix
2 ounces blue Curacao
2 ounces lemon juice
1 lemon slice

METHOD
In a cocktail shaker, mix crushed ice with the bourbon whiskey, the gin, the sour apple, the Curacao, and the lemon juice, and shake well.

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Garnish with a slice of lemon, and if you’re feeling fancy, peel off some of the lemon peel and twist before dropping into the drink, to get some of the lemon oil and essence.

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I highly recommend following the ratios above, lest you find yourself shitfaced and on the floor wondering how you got there.

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Drink, but VERY CAREFULLY! Here’s to you, Douglas Adams, and thanks for all the fish!

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For MGC, who turned me on to Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Here’s to you, my dear.

I’ve often thought F. Scott was the man of my dreams, albeit 50 years too early. The man could write, loved to drink, was a party animal, and as handsome as any man I’ve ever seen. I mean, what else is there in life? I could totally have been his Zelda!

F Scott Fitzgerald
 

Fitzgerald is, in my humble opinion, the quintessential author of the Jazz Age, that gilded pre-war time of parties, sexual freedom, sparkly dresses and headbands bedecked with feathers, the “Charleston,” and sheer excess. Nowhere is this dazzling and dark era brought so beautifully to life than in The Great Gatsby. I had a crush on Jay Gatsby after reading this book in my older teens, and fed by watching Robert Redford play him to perfection in the original film. But as I get older and read this book over and over, I find myself increasingly……not disliking him……….but wanting to shake some sense into him. However, since I know what it’s like to carry a long-time torch for someone who’s not a part of my life, I can understand. Or perhaps I understand all too well and that’s why I want to slap some sense into J.G. – figuratively smack some sense into myself as well?

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I digress. One of the pivotal, and my favorite, scenes in the book is when Gatsby whisks his lover Daisy off to New York City to escape the heat, along with her horrendous husband Tom, her cousin Nick who is the de facto narrator of the book, and Tom’s quasi-girlfriend Jordan. They end up at the Plaza Hotel, drinking mint juleps and getting crazier in the heat, until tempers explode and truths are told that change everyone from that point forward.

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In honor of the Kentucky Derby, and my love for Jay Gatsby and this book, here is a lovely little recipe for that old Southern favorite, a mint julep. This method, which worked VERY well for me, serves one, so feel free to increase ratios as needed.

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INGREDIENTS

1 highball glass
1 spoonful of sugar
1 spoonful of water
7-8 fresh mint leaves

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Enough crushed ice to fill the highball glass
Bourbon whiskey of your choice. I love Marker’s Mark, so that’s what I used here.
Dash of nutmeg
Fresh mint leaves for garnish

METHOD

Add the sugar to your highball glass. Add the water to just dampen the sugar. Don’t souse it. This is about what you want.

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And know that this is truly for a bourbon whiskey lover, as the amount of sugar doesn’t really cut the liquor flavor. So use a bourbon you really like, or add more sugar and a bit more water.

Add in the mint leaves and muddle them a bit, if you have a cocktail mallet. If not, the back of a spoon should work. You want to release the oils in the mint. Add three or four more fresh mint sprigs to the sides of the glass.

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Put in the crushed ice to the top. You essentially don’t want there to be room for anything except bourbon. Did I mention this drink will knock you on your ass?

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Fill the glass with bourbon whiskey. It’s actually a very pretty color if held in sunlight. If this amount of bourbon freaks you out, use half that amount and add a bit of water. It won’t taste the same, but you also won’t find yourself lying on your kitchen floor drunkenly singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” Not that that’s ever happened to me. I’m just saying it for YOUR sake.

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Add a small dash of nutmeg over the top, which takes this cocktail to another level flavorwise, and garnish with the remaining mint leaves.

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Sip and enjoy, preferably with a good friend while wearing a Derby-esque hat and watching the ponies.

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