Saturday Evening Cocktail Blogging: the Sidecar

by Will on September 12, 2010

This is a cocktail that nearly everybody likes. It is one of the more gender-neutral cocktails I’ve come across: it does not come across as particularly masculine or feminine. It seems to have been invented around the time of World War I, so it’s proven itself. This is how I like to make it:

1 1/2 oz. brandy (the real stuff, not that sweetened crap the Hiram Walker sells; I use Korbel)

1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Stir or shake with ice, serve straight up in a cocktail glass with a lemon slice as garnish

The big question, of course, is which of the grand old liqueurs to use. Both are much better than a generic triple sec. Cointreau makes more of a crisp, sweet sidecar, while Grand Marnier makes it less sweet and a bit more complex. Last night I tried making it with equal parts of the two, and I have to say I think I like that best.

I’ve heard the claim that this should be made with cognac rather than brandy. If you have more money than you know how to spend, then sure, I’ve no doubt that’s a little better. But it seems like a waste of money to me.

Incidentally, I used to live a few miles from the place where Cointreau is made. It was one of the city of Angers’s few claims to fame, along with the fact that the kings of England used to reside there back in the Plantegenet era. But there’s so much history every place in Europe that they dwell on it less than I do.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

kim September 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm

“But there‚Äôs so much history every place in Europe that they dwell on it less than I do.”

Something about this is catching at me, and I’m going to try to parse out my thoughts here. I will most likely fail, but perhaps I’ll say something halfway worthwhile anyway.

I’ve never been to Europe, but I think about this every time I go to the East Coast, and then I think about how, if I think it’s *fascinating* that people walk past historical sites from the Revolution every day and just take them for granted, what must it be like to go someplace like Rome or Athens, where people just stroll on past the Coliseum and the Acropolis every day? What must it be like to grow up with that sense of history, to live in a place with so much history?

And then I think about California, and I think about why we consider that we *don’t* have any history here. And the truth of it is, California doesn’t have any less or more history than any other place. Just as many things happened here as in France or New York or Greece. What’s different is how we interpret that history, how we learn it. For most Westerners, “history” is irrevocably wed to the written word, to things that we can *know* because someone wrote them down (the infamous history/culture divide). Failing actual written documentation, we turn instead to physical markers of the past, the grander the better. Western history is obvious.

History in the new world, by contrast, is subtle. In the (almost total) absence of written documents–and considering the few that exist we mostly can’t interpret–and large, permanent structures, those of us raised on the Western historical tradition see the Americas as landscapes without history. This may have thrilled our ancestors, who saw a tabula rasa where they could reinvent themselves, but for many of us it leaves us feeling as though we are somehow lacking that which makes the history of Europe so visible.

For all that we have been raised on stories of America as a wide-open landscape, a new world perfectly suited to the ideas of liberty and freedom and hardiness that developed here, we have not been trained to read our landscape very well. We are raised on a European idea of history, grounded in written documents and architectural relics. The very idea of seeing history in the natural landscape or in indigenous culture is bizarre to us; that isn’t history, that’s anthropology or archaeology or some other discipline that studies either the deep past or the exoticized other. “Our” history begins with the Pilgrims and Jamestown, with the Spanish and the French, with the imposition of European structures on the American landscape. “Our” history is not as old as European history.

When we view other places as having older history, or more history, we’re betraying more than just a fascination with the past or with the way other people live. We’re also revealing the fact that Americans have never really come to grips, culturally, with the fact that we came to a new place and imposed ourselves on it, and that it wasn’t exactly as empty as we like to pretend it was. I’m not trying to get into a political debate here about stolen land and reparations, and I’m not saying that we’re all guilty for what our ancestors did 400 (or 200, or 50) years ago. All I’m saying is that at this point, we should be able to view history in a more complete and holistic sense. We’re Californians, and the history of our place did not start with the Franciscans. We have just as much history as anyone else. You just have to look harder to find it.

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Will September 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

That’s an excellent point. This is something that history professors like to go on about, how written sources are but one form of document that can be used to do historical research. It really comes into play whenever there’s a lack of written texts. And it’s true that culturally we have never dealt with the fact that we stole an entire continent from people who had already settled it, because it suited our ancestors well to consider them subhuman.

In my defense, I was trying more to emphasize the way that Europeans are fairly indifferent to the massive legacies of history that surround them, while I tend to be obsessive in my relationship with history and to be in awe of the past’s long shadow. I think this quality may stem from the very fact that in California, you have to use more scrutiny to find evidence of the past, particularly the deep past. I am quite aware of the fact that my apartment was built 100 years ago, probably to accommodate the flux of former San Franciscans who moved to Oakland after the quake. Its layout, and what it does and does not have, tells you a lot about the prevailing standards of the time, and about the sort of people it was originally built for. I am always looking for history, trying to make the narrative tie together with what I am seeing. In California, it’s fun. In Europe, it’s a bit overwhelming, so it’s noticeable to me that the residents there are blase about the fact that the architecture tells so many stories, going back hundreds of years.

Also, the bit about the deeper past being harder to see is quite true where we live. But it wasn’t true where I grew up. As a boy I was always aware that Indian Valley, where I grew up, was once the exclusive home of the brave, proud Maidu Indians. One of the mountains overlooking us was said to contain the ghost of a great Maidu chief. Maidu legends about many of the local landmarks were widely known. Descendants of this tribe still live in the valley, and some of them were happy to go to the town school and tell us about their myths and ways. People sought to find and display the obsidian arrowheads that the Maidu had used for hunting. The fact that my ancestors had come and taken the land away from these people somehow didn’t bother me, though I did sense a certain tragedy in the fact that their way of life, which I’m sure I and my educators romanticized a good deal, had not continued uninterrupted. So it’s only in the city that the modern history completely crowds out the less recent. In a sense you might say that small towns are likely to have more physical evidence of the deep past than big cities, where people are constantly working and reworking the same constrained space.

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