June 17, 2016
Those cute little paper umbrellas always seem to conjure up visions of exotic island playgrounds with shady palms and sunny beaches, rum-based fruity drinks, comfy lounge chairs, and ambient strains of Santana. When you are handed an umbrella drink it’s as if you have received a postcard from paradise that says, “Pack up all your cares and woes, and sip into another world for a spell!”
We all know a few serious-minded souls who refuse to be seduced by umbrella drinks— those connoisseurs of fine wines, scotch and rye drinkers, and other ultra-cool people who never wear Hawaiian shirts or cargo shorts. And they certainly will never be seen sipping on a pretty little potation. That’s a shame, because these sweet little drinks are such a refreshing way to ease one’s mind and body into the simmah down mode. My immediate family members do love their wines and spirits, but they also glory in a well-made froufrou drink. And now I will briefly detour from the topic of cocktail drinks to tell a story about the first cocktail party I ever attended.
In the spring of my senior year of college, my advisor, Miss LaRue Pollard, invited the graduating journalism majors to her apartment for a farewell cocktail party. “How civilized!” we thought. Most of us were cocktail-party virgins. Quaffing beers in bars probably hadn’t equipped us to sip wine and gather into esoteric conversational bouquets, but still, we were excited. Free food and drink!
Miss Pollard’s apartment was sleek and contemporary, with lots of smoky glass, chrome, and leather. I especially was taken with her designer chairs, the backs and seats of which were mere swaths of black leather stretched around shiny chrome metal tubes and fastened into place with chrome-plated wing nuts and screws.
I had chosen to wear my favorite pale-pink polyester pantsuit. (In the ’70s, natural fibers took a backseat to synthetics, an unfortunate collision of fashion and science, some critics would say.) In the style of the day, my pant legs were fitted at the top and then flared into bell bottoms at my ankles, making the top half of my body appear to be resting on two billowy isosceles triangles.
I ordered a glass of Mateus rosé from the server, as if this were something I did every evening back at the Quonset hut (the married student housing where Bob and I called home). Clothes, wine, cheeks—pink oozed from every fiber and pore. After chatting with some friends who had parked themselves in those exquisite chairs, we decided to move into the dining room for some appetizers. As we walked to the table, I felt an odd tug. “Strange,” I thought, but I continued on. Then, there it was again. I spun around and was aghast to see that there were extremely long pink polyester filaments extending from my pantsuit all the way back to one of those chairs in the living room. My long, long pink threads, stretched taut as a bowstring, had cordoned off the dining room from the living room, like police tape at a crime scene. I instantly grabbed the frizzled filaments and began winding them around my hand, as though I were reeling in a fishing line. As I worked my way back to the chair, I spotted that shiny wing nut, now laying on the floor; the exposed screw was still in the chair and had a death grip on my pantsuit. I was horrified to see that the leather back was dangling from the chair, because it was now attached only to one side of the chrome framework. I finally managed to disengage myself and my threads from the screw, and shoved the pink ball of frizz (still attached to my pants) under my pink polyester top. Fearing that someone might ask me about my “tumor”, I left the party and headed back to the quiet at the Quonset hut.
There were several other incidents and accidents involving the awesome tensile strength of those synthetic fibers. Their penchant for grabbing onto any projection in their path finally stretched my patience until it snapped. The pantsuit had become so covered with snags that I dumped it in the garbage. I would wager a guess that this wrinkle-free miracle of modern science was likely not biodegradable. It’s probably still intact, forever caught upon some rusty screw at the bottom of a landfill in Ames, Iowa.
Oh yes … we were talking about umbrella drinks, weren’t we? So … most sources I consulted defined them as a mixture of tropical fruit juices and rum, and garnished with the customary paper cocktail umbrella. (The umbrella drink reportedly was first created at the famous Tiki bar, Trader Vic’s, in 1944.) In recent years, the lines have been blurred in terms of what constitutes an umbrella cocktail. Much experimentation by creative bartenders around the world has greatly broadened our perception of what ingredients comprise an umbrella drink. They can include, besides fruit juice and rum, such things as coffee, cream, ice cream, cucumbers, herbs, and much more, as well as other kinds of liquor, such as tequila, rye, scotch and liqueurs. The common denominator seems to be that they are beautifully presented drinks that aim to satisfy the sweet tooth; they may or may not have a paper umbrella parked in them; and they seem to cast a happy attitude on those who drink them, because they either truly are in an island paradise or because they are imagining that they are.
Four drink recipes are featured in this post. The first one definitely qualifies as an umbrella drink. The next two are what I would call “semi-umbrellas” because they do contain fruit juice but not rum (using another liquor choice instead), and they are great kick-back-and-relax drinks. The last recipe is a dessert or ice cream drink—a digestif! And it will definitely send your tastebuds to a happy place.
When our son Bradley and his wife Lindsey were vacationing in Santa Barbara, they discovered a fabulous umbrella cocktail called the Thai Mojito. They were excited to see if they could reproduce it when they returned home. After some messy experimentation in my kitchen (and what better place to do it?), the two mad scientists declared they had perfected their contribution to mankind–or at least the kind of mankind that likes to relax on a chaise by the pool and swig a well-crafted libation. The Thai Mojito is mostly just a gingery, limey, minty piña colada, and wow, it’s memorable!
- 1 12-ounce clear glass
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (or buy grated ginger in a tube in produce dept.)
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves
- 2 lime wedges
- 1 shot (1.5 ounces) Malibu Coconut-Flavored Rum
- 1 shot (1.5 ounces) cream of coconut (Tracy likes 2 shots)
- Club soda
Put ginger, mint, lime wedges (juice squeezed into glass first), and rum into glass and muddle well. (A muddler works best; otherwise use a wooden spoon handle.) Add cream of coconut and stir. Fill with ice (loosely) to top of glass. Fill to the top with club soda and stir. Garnish with a slice of lime and tuck a leaf or two of mint along the inside of the glass, if desired.
How could you not adore a refreshing cooler with the moniker, Summer? My friend Jeanne Bailey and her husband Barney love to travel, especially to visit their two daughters and their families. (Jeanne and Barney also happen to be great dancers!) They have such a positive energy, and they seem to embrace life to the fullest. Here is their deliciously unique signature drink recipe. I would call a “semi-umbrella”.
- 4 cups pomegranate juice
- 3/4 cup lime juice
- 4 cups vodka
- 6 cups ginger beer
- Pomegranate seeds
- Lime slices
Mix juices and vodka together. Add ginger beer and pomegranate seeds. Serve in clear glasses with a slice of lime.
My friend and gourmet cook Nancy O’Brien and her husband Bob have traveled the world and sampled exotic drinks and beautiful wines wherever they go. Nancy says, “I wasn’t too familiar with cava (Spanish “champagne”) until we visited Barcelona. We chose a tour of one of the two most famous producers in Spain, the Codorniu Winery. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the region. Grandma greets the guests as they arrive. After a tour, including the cellars, you sample not only the Catalan Cava, but a range of red and white local wines. Then you sit down for a tapas-style lunch with this wine-making family.” This drink recipe (which I have taken the liberty of renaming the Champito, with Nancy’s approval), tastes like a combination of mojito, cosmo, and “champagne” (cava). Nancy requested this recipe from the winery. So now, you can “go to Spain—in your brain” for the mere cost of a few drink ingredients. I would also call this drink a “semi-umbrella”.
- 1/2 cup Triple Sec
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup cranberry juice
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 (750 ml.) bottle chilled cava, prosecco, or champagne
The night before serving, mix together the Triple Sec and the juices. Muddle the mint and add to the liquid mixture. Refrigerate mixture overnight. Before serving, remove muddled mint. Add about 1 ounce of juice mixture to the bottom of a champagne flute. Fill glass with bubbly.
Dessert comes last. This is my “go to” treat when I need to make something fast. It’s always a hit. Mullens’ Irish Cream is a simple ice cream drink that can be served in little shooter glasses or petite bowls, with a cookie or a bar, or just by itself!
Mullens’ Irish Cream
Mullens' Irish Cream
- 1 pint Häagen-Dazs vanilla or vanilla bean ice cream, softened
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur
Scoop the softened ice cream into a bowl and, with an ice cream spade or a large spoon, work the Bailey’s into the ice cream. The amount of Bailey’s is up to you. I prefer around 2/3 cup. Taste after each addition to determine when it’s right. Spoon into shooter glasses or petite bowls. (I bought the little bowls shown above at Pier 1.) Freeze for several hours (or days). Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving to allow it to temper.
You can buy paper cocktail umbrellas almost anywhere where bar supplies are sold. I purchased mine at World Market. Keep a supply on hand because you just never know when you might crave an umbrella drink. The umbrella is a signal to everyone around you that you are about to indulge in your own personal tropical happy hour. So don’t disrespect the umbrella by tossing it away. When you do that, you’re just adding one more thing to our burgeoning landfills, and then the next thing you know, you are worrying about the glaciers melting and whether or not there’s radon in your basement and why the honeybees are disappearing and the bedbug population is growing and the dangers of nitrates in your drinking water and if there is mold in your attic … and by now you’re so depressed you need another drink, and … You know what? Just dispense with drink umbrellas, if they are going to cause you stress.
Finally, I want to say Happy Father’s Day, Dad, from my sister Kris and me! Edward had a successful career for many years in the men’s clothing business. He always enjoyed relaxing with his glass scotch and ice every evening after work. And in retirement, he still does. I am quite certain that an umbrella drink has never touched his lips.
As always, I thank you for visiting my blog. The next post will be published in two weeks, on Friday, July 1. Remember to stay well-hydrated this summer! (Oh, and you should drink water, too!)–Tracy