You ever notice just how many references there are to ghosts in Christmas lore? Scrooge is nothing but one ghost story after another, each with a lesson to impart. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” rattles off “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas long, long ago” as if those were staples of the season. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra would love nothing more than to sing to you once again of “The Ghosts of Christmas Past” in an attempt to pay off that over the top stage show. But if I am honest, unless you take a tenuous link to the Holy Ghost, I don’t really think of any spirits outside of those in my glass as part of my yuletide celebration. So, why am I thinking of them tonight? Well, I cried my way through the final episode of Supernatural yesterday and it left me a bit gutted. The Winchester’s have moved on, leaving us with their stories and a not so subtle reminder that things are not always what they seem, so in that spirit, please join me as we make The White Lady.
This drink has nothing at all to do with the spectral Woman in White whose legends appear around the globe. A ghostly figure of a woman seeking through the darkness, sometimes wailing, sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes leading viewers into a cemetery only to disappear when called to, but always garbed in ghostly white. It is really striking just how many cultures share this story or a version of it. The US alone has dozens of variations appearing across the country and last couple of centuries. The stories go back even farther across Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. Seriously, she gets around and doesn’t have any one clear origin story. Unlike this drink which only has two origin stories, each featuring a Harry. Some say that the drink was created by Harry McElhone in 1919 and then refined by him into the modern version we now know in 1929 at his “Harry’s New York Bar” in Paris. Others claim that the modern version was conceived at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London by Harry Craddock who included it in his 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book”. If you accept the Craddock origin, because it was the first one documented in print, then you should also go with the idea that he named to for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s platinum blonde wife, Zelda, who enjoyed drinking this one at the Savoy, allegedly.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of gin, I chose New Amsterdam; 3/4 of an ounce of triple sec, 3/4 of an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, 3/4 of an ounce of egg white or aquafaba and 2-3 stabs of 18-21 Prohibition Bitters. Add no ice and dry shake to the tune of Lerner & Lowe’s “On the Street Where You Live” from the musical “My Fair Lady”, we will get into the why later. After a good bit of shaking, pop your tins apart, taking care as some pressure may have built up and add some artisanal ice cubes and give it a second shake. If you wish you can cue up the “On the Street Where You Live (Reprise)”. They sing the song twice in the show before and after intermission, so why not use it again for our second shake? Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora and garnish with a lemon peel.
Creamy, frothy, lovely, as expected. Honestly, these Harry drinks, whether it is McElhone or Craddock, always seem to turn out well. I guess they should, coming from acknowledged masters of their craft. The color on this actually turned out about as well as I had hoped, but let’s be honest, that is not the norm. I am making these drinks for consumption, not photography. It is clear that this may be an unusual stance to take here in the age of cocktail blogs, but you know me, it’s the straight dope or nothing. Besides, I am too lazy to make a pretty version to photograph and a drinking version to taste. There is a reason we keep the lights down low in the bar. I am not sure that I care which Harry gets credit for the drink, but I am glad that someone added it to the lexicon.
It is hard to know what to care about some days. For example, ugly crying while watching a tv show, is probably a sign of caring too much about something. To be fair, I also cried openly and had to walk away from the Thanksgiving Day Parade a couple of times telling Laura that “I am not emotionally equipped to deal with Christmas commercials, right now”. So clearly, I have issues. Obviously, I was crying about different things and the narratives just gave me a decent excuse for that emotional release, but let’s not delve too deep into that part of my psyche. Instead, let’s focus on the flip side of that coin, the remarkable power of apathy.
Many moons ago, I “trod the boards” as they say and made my living as an actor. During that time, I had the misfortune to be cast as Mr. Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a revival of My Fair Lady, the suitor to Eliza’s Doolittle’s titular Lady Fair. This meant I had the great pleasure of singing “On the Street Where You Live” not once but twice, every night. Freddy should have been great fun to play, a little out of my wheelhouse as a romantic lead, but with enough humor for me to make it work. Unfortunately, the song was out of my range. It wasn’t out of my range during auditions when I was having a good voice day, but every time after that I fell flat. There is only one really high note that bedeviled me, and of course, that is in the phrase that repeats before curtain. I spent every performance dreading it. Naturally, having built it up in my head, I missed it nine times out of ten and even if I hit it the first time, I’d miss that second swing. I cared deeply and worked outside of rehearsal to find a way to transition from regular voice to falsetto to get there with little success. That was then. Today, I was singing at the son, which I often do. To be fair, we sing at each other, often with more passion than talent, but we enjoy it. Not small singing either, full stage voice, bounce it off the back wall of the theatre style, sometimes with an accompanying dance. Anyway, I launched into “Street Where You Live” and when I got to “let the time go by, I don’t care if I” I just nailed it. Full voice, no falsetto, flawless transition into the higher register. It shocked me so much that I had another go at it and hit it again. Why? There is no way my range has gotten higher in the last couple of decades. So what was going on? It is simple. I did not care. I wasn’t thinking about it, I was just going with the flow, doing the thing, entertaining my boy or annoying him, that line gets blurred. Sure it is easier to sing in your kitchen than in front of hundreds, but not a lot easier. I am accustomed to crowds, they were not the problem. The issue was my brain approaching a test that it knew it would fail, so it did.
There is a lot to be said for the power of belief, whether it is in ghosts, good fortune, trickle down economics or yourself. Believing a thing doesn’t make it true, but it does help to settle your mind about it. As it turns out, there is also a lot to be said for apathy. Not the kind that traps you in the bog of ennui, but the kind that says, “You know what? None of this really matters anyway.” That is an apathy to embrace or perhaps just letting go of your doubts and cares would be a better metaphor. Try them both and let me know which one works for you. Sometimes, we care a little too much, things get too precious, we try too hard because everything just feels so damned important. We get too caught up in things, afraid to fail. But most of it doesn’t matter all that much. Folks mostly care that you are there, that you made an effort. Things will never be perfect but if we step back and get a little perspective on the thing, give ourselves permission to be less than perfect, then we can find peace. Elsa got it right, all we have to do is, “Let it Go” and things will work out fine. Then maybe, just maybe we can lift our voices and the whole world can sing along not caring one way or the other if we hit all the right notes, because singing the song together is what matters. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.