by Sandra Marchetti
It’s 10 pm on a weeknight and my husband and I are arguing on Aisle 5 of the local Jewel-Osco. Will it be the San Pellegrino Limonata or the Italian grapefruit soda? We lost our chance to buy the right mixer hours ago. He just wants a drink, and I’m fueling my perfectionism in trying to prove him wrong. I gaze into the fluorescent lights and wonder, what the hell are we still doing here?
I mentioned to my husband Scott the day before that my press, Sundress Publications, asked me to create a signature cocktail to pair with my forthcoming book of poems, Confluence. The brilliant force behind Sundress, Erin Elizabeth Smith, thought a book of cocktail recipes might be a fun giveaway for the upcoming AWP Conference. I was excited to add to the volume, as Confluence will make its debut at the convention. Scott—a veteran of the restaurant industry who for years ordered liquor and bartended at hotels—was instantly smitten with the idea. We considered one of my favorite cocktails, the Paloma, sometimes made with Squirt or real grapefruit juice, and tequila. It seemed close to my ideal, but this drink was already established. Was it possible to create a more inventive cocktail? Considering the title, Confluence, I knew my drink needed to blend ingredients from two different landscapes. We brainstormed a bit more, but as we talked I feared Scott’s sprawling creativity and passion for the project might get in the way of my tight timeline.
While Scott was at work the next day, with the aid of a little Internet research, I wrote up an initial recipe for the “Confluence Pamplemousse” and sent it to Sundress. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I casually mentioned over dinner I had created the drink. A wave of disappointment crossed Scott’s face. He calmly asked me to tell him about my creation, but as I described it, he grew increasingly grave. The drink called for equal parts (one ¼ cup each) French pink lemonade (like Lorina), mezcal, fresh grapefruit juice, and some optional honey, all to be served in a salt rimmed glass. Even though I hadn’t tried to make it, I noted that the soda should be placed in the cocktail shaker with the rest of the ingredients and the whole concoction poured over ice. I knew from his eyes that I had gone too far. He looked at me as if I had run over his childhood pet.
We hastily paid the check, then Scott ushered me to the Whole Foods next door to buy the ingredients and iron out the recipe once and for all. My gentle husband could clearly sense I was out of my depths on this one. This was his crucible. We rushed toward to the tiniest liquor section on record. Searching the three miniature shelves frantically, we could not find any mezcal. Our options were Patrón Silver or some pricey organic reposado. I balked. “It has to be mezcal!” He said, “You haven’t even tasted it yet! The reposado will be smoother and maybe a bit sweeter! It might help this drink.” While lugging our splurge to the checkout, along with a bag of grapefruits, we scanned the shelves for the French lemonade. The only available item was Italian soda, in grapefruit or blood orange. Again, I hesitated. “It must be French! The melding of two landscapes is important to my book! The French language is a part of my poems!”
I insisted we press on to yet another grocery store that might have my lemonade. By 10:30, we found ourselves glazed over in Aisle 5. I still couldn’t find the Lorina. Scott halfheartedly clutched a package of San Pellegrino Limonata. “It’s still not French,” I grumbled. My sweet husband finally convinced me it was our only shot, as we were still hell-bent on trying out the drink that night. He bought the cans and I sighed my way out to the car.
Scott was itching to put on an apron and play “America’s Test Kitchen” once we arrived home. We tried my original recipe first. Not surprisingly, the cocktail shaker nearly blew open with the soda inside and the drink was flat once poured. Scott then experimented with less tequila—a quarter of a cup is quite a bit more than a shot—but the drink seemed weak and watery. I tested one without honey, which quickly called to our attention that the sweetener was not an optional ingredient. It needed to be there—two heaping teaspoonfuls. I was also instructed, on nearly every attempt, to “shake more vigorously!” Scott then wanted to add an orange, but I staved off his curiosity as we were approaching 1 a.m. in a kitchen full of pulp and sticky glasses.
Finally, he mixed what we hoped would be the last tester and poured the soda on top. It proved delicious. We’d each had a couple of the off-kilter versions, were rosy cheeked, and no longer antagonistic. I watched him slice the grapefruit for the garnish, marveling at the expert movements of his hands. As I sucked on the rind and licked the side of the glass where grapefruit juice mingled with kosher salt, I noticed the drink’s sweet smokiness—ripe and full of primal flavors. I sang the theme from “An American in Paris,” except a mariachi band was playing in the background. Scott told me the reposado is aged in old oak bourbon barrels, which allows for this mellow, controlled burn in the mouth. I found out later on that the Limonata is actually better than Lorina—it adds a zippy crispness. I also like mine with an extra salty rim, paired with pork tacos or just a sunny afternoon and a lawn chair.
I sent the improved recipe to Erin the next day. I wasn’t vindicated, but I was much more confident about the drink. We had tried it, and it was so good. Scott’s modifications were a touch of genius. Like my book, the recipe went through many versions, but with the help of experienced advisors, I found my epiphany. The collection reflects some of my own youthful stubbornness, as does the cocktail. Confluence, and the Confluence Pamplemousse, is a mingling of warm and cool settings, hope and longing. It’s a love story set in the landscape. I love it. In fact, I think I’m going to sip one right now. You should too....recipe below.
¼ cup fresh grapefruit juice
¼ cup mezcal or reposado (try Olmeca Altos Reposado)
¼ cup San Pellegrino Limonata (or other sparkling lemonade)
2 teaspoons honey
Rub the side of a stemless wine glass with grapefruit wedge, dip glass in kosher salt. Combine grapefruit juice, liquor, and honey over ice in cocktail shaker. Pour into glass, finish with lemonade, stir, and garnish with grapefruit wedge.
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center's Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle's 2014 Poetry Open and was a finalist for Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Her poetry and prose appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Appalachian Heritage, Southwest Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Sandy is a teacher and freelance manuscript editor who lives and writes outside of Chicago.