Only American Invention As Perfect As A Sonnet About Homework

Sometimes, the innards of parenting are best kept private. We all know it can be hard, but keeping it within the confines of the household prevents people from judging a situation that they have no personal bearing with. Reality star Draya Michele found this out the hard way when she took to Instagram with complaints about refusing to sign off on her 13-year-old son Kniko’s homework. The subsequent Twitter backlash was almost legendary.

Kniko’s assignment was to memorize a four-minute speech and be able to recite it, requiring as much practice at home as in school. His teacher required him to have a parent sign off to prove he practices at home (five times a day, according to her complaint). After days of hearing the speech, Draya exploded on Instagram about the assignment and asked her followers what they thought.

It started with a screenshot of a text conversation between her and her son. “Mom are you for real I didn’t get a note card and now I’m not getting those points” Kniko sent to her. Draya quickly responded back with gusto. “Smh. Imma write a rude note,” she relayed. “Should I say what I really want to say? Cuz we can take it there."

The conversation itself wasn’t indicative of any lacking parenting, just being a regular back-and-forth between child and parent. But when paired with the lengthy rant in the picture caption, things started to get a little hazy. “I’m all for helping my child with his homework, but at this point, she has him harassing me with this speech,” she complained. “I’m hearing it 2x a day for a month straight. I’m finna memorize it. ... Tell your teacher I’m done with this. It’s not my damn homework. But it feels like it. What ya’ll think?”

She responded to someone’s comment, clarifying exactly why she was upset. “I’m not annoyed of signing,” she began. “I’m annoyed of him feeling the need to read it to me everyday.”

The good folks over on Twitter got a hold of her post and had a field day with it.

The jokes that came from the situation were just as thrashing.

Poor kid. Kniko, if you ever need someone to practice your speech in front of, I’m here.

[np_storybar title=”Basic Martini Lingo” link=””]

Martini: A cocktail consisting of gin, vermouth, and optional orange bitters. Vodka may be used in place of gin, but I don’t recommend it.

Dry and wet: A dry martini contains relatively little vermouth, whereas a wet martini has more. By today’s standards any martini that’s more than about 15 percent vermouth is relatively wet.

Gibson: A martini with cocktail onions as garnish.

Up: A cocktail up or straight up means it’s served cold and in a stemmed cocktail glass, with no additional ice.

Stirred: The proper way to prepare a martini-James Bond is wrong. Shaking makes the drink cloudy and over-diluted.

[/np_storybar]

People ask me why I stir a martini as opposed to shaking it, and the answer is simple: clarity. If you shake a cocktail, you end up with little bits of broken ice stuck in it. These cause cloudiness, and, more tragically, they will quickly melt and dilute the drink. The person making the martini will have a difficult time taking this into account. The result: A minute or two after being served, the ice melts and, darn it all, your shaken martini is too watery.

Stirring, on the other hand, leads to a cocktail that won’t dilute any further once it’s poured into a glass. And it will remain as transparent as a mountain stream every step of the way.

Clarity is the martini’s job. A well-made martini is clean and elegant like a Japanese sword; you might not even mind so much if it were the last thing you saw because it is such a beautiful way to die.

And it’s fitting that a martini ought to be as clear as glass because, culturally speaking, we use it as an empty vessel. It’s the generic cocktail in Western symbology, a blankness onto which we project countless ideas and aspirations. The martini is, above all, not just a cocktail, it’s a symbol for what cocktails mean. In the book Martini, Straight Up, Lowell Edmunds enumerates a litany of messages that we’re all crystal clear about even if we never openly express them: The martini is sophisticated. It is optimistic. It is a drink of the past (and somehow always was a drink of the past). It stands for urban life, devil-may-care abandon, glamor. And unless the person holding it is James Bond­ who was dead wrong about the whole matter of shaking versus stirring, you’ll note – the martini stands for Americanness.

Many people have a general familiarity with the idea of a martini without knowing what one tastes like. When they take that virgin sip, they discover that the martini is not just one of the best-known cocktails, it’s also one of the least forgiving. The standard reaction is a recoil and a grimace. “It’s all booze!” the poor novice exclaims. (And what did you expect?)

But all of this is more useful to the screenwriter or novelist than it is to the drinker. Aren’t we concerned about the practical applications here? What is a martini really for?

Once again the answer is clarity. The martini is not softened by any sweetness – there’s no sweet vermouth, as in a Manhattan. Nor is there sugar, as in an old fashioned. So the first sip hits you like a cold block of ice to the face. Feeling clear yet? Science has yet to furnish us with a more efficient way to signal to your body that you mean to get down to serious business. It doesn’t matter what kind of business — romance, danger, or maybe actual, literal business – the martini will prepare you. Normally I pooh­ pooh the notion that different alcoholic drinks affect the body in different ways, but I don’t know of any other cocktail that actually increases alertness like the martini seems to do.

Well, the first one does, anyway. Dorothy Parker had a terrific ditty about the martini’s efficiency of attack:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.

Before we go further, we have to run over some definitions to make sure everyone’s absolutely clear on what we’re talking about when we discuss the martini.

A martini consists of gin and vermouth, is stirred until ice cold, and may contain orange bitters. Several garnishes are permit­ted, including an olive, lemon twist, or pickled cocktail onion. (Why do I exclude olive brine, a commonplace additive? Say it with me again: clarity. You ruin a martini by clouding it with olive brine. Also, you may note that olive juice clashes badly with a lot of the fancy new gins out there, but go ahead and try it if you don’t believe me.)

Some impostors going by the name martini are pretty laughable, so let’s take a brief moment to laugh at them. A so-called chocolate martini is not a martini, it is a dessert. A blue martini is not a martini, it is a joke. None of the sugary martinis on the back page of a family restaurant menu are actually martinis. Those are training wheels for beginners who heard about martinis from television and want to try one, but couldn’t possibly handle the real thing.

What about vodka? Feh. There’s such a thing as a vodka martini – I suppose I can at least acknowledge its existence – but a vodka martini is not the original or anything close to the ideal. A vodka martini is the chicken burger to the gin martini’s cheese­ burger: second-rate and everyone knows it.

What makes a martini really click is the interplay between the pine-like bouquet of gin against the smooth texture and lightly spiced sweetness of fresh vermouth. Put them together and you get a cocktail of sublime subtlety and balance. Drop everything and just focus on the drink, lest you miss out on its Zen-like perfection and simplicity. One sip reminds you of orange peel and lemon­ grass, the next conjures salt water and lavender.

The floral notes ( present mainly when you use good gin), the coldness, and the alcoholic thrust of a martini cleanse the spirit, the mind, and the palate like a deep inhalation of brisk autumn air, instantly flushing away the psychic grime that accumulates over a tough week. It can be administered before, during, and after gruelling situations. To the mid-twentieth-century American salaryman, a martini was, paradoxically, both the apex of civilization and the purest antidote to civilization’s stresses and ennui.

A vodka martini, by contrast, is cold ethanol and water in a glass. Tastes like booze, acts like booze. If you don’t like gin, you’re really missing out on what a martini is.

If you’re with me on the gin proposition, here’s how to proceed. The recipe is a fraught thing to commit to words because the composition of a martini has evolved over time, and in my opinion not really for the better. People nowadays expect a martini to be quite dry – which means light on the vermouth. I blame Winston Churchill. He apparently declared, circa the 1940s, that he liked his martinis without vermouth. He believed it was sufficient to bow in the direction of France while preparing one or just to touch a vermouth bottle, depending on which version of the story you hear. Fashion followed, and the standard martini went from dry to bone dry. When someone asks for a bone-dry martini they’re basically just ordering cold gin. I personally think that’s missing the point. I believe a martini should employ vermouth so that it feels round on the tongue; prepare it with gin alone and it feels thin and sharp.

Every martini drinker swears by a personal formula, and most will go out of their way to tell you all about theirs. There’s an old joke about that. If you ever crash-land on a deserted island, look around and see if you have the makings of a martini on hand. If so, begin to fix one. As soon as you do, every asshole and his cousin will pop out from the woods and try to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. You’re saved!

All of which is to say this formula, my personal formula, is one of many possible “right” ways. Use it as a starting point.

———

Wet, Correct Martini

• 2 ounces quality gin
• Generous 1/2 ounce fresh dry vermouth, or more to taste
• 1-2 dashes orange bitters
• Twist of lemon peel, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass about halfway with fresh-smelling ice and add the gin and vermouth. Add 1 dash of orange bitters this time, try 2 dashes next time around, and take note of whether you prefer one or two. Stir the liquid until ice cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze the lemon peel twist above the glass to spray the essential oils onto the surface of the drink. Slip the lemon peel into the drink, or otherwise arrange artfully.

———

Some notes on the recipe: This formula is going to look quite wet indeed to most people – that’s old-time bar lingo for “heavy on vermouth” – but that’s how they did it a century ago. And when the early twentieth century speaks to us about cocktails, we ought to at least listen. It knows more about the subject than we do. All the same, you might prefer something a bit drier; do experiment with less vermouth to see what you prefer (or, indeed, try more: A martini with a 2:1 ratio of gin to fresh vermouth is not bad at all).

Finally and most important, when you’re choosing a gin for a martini, your guiding principle should be the more juniper flavoured, the better. A big, oily, piney gin blossoms quite seductively in a martini. On the relatively affordable end, Beefeater or Broker’s are my go-to choices. Tanqueray works well, too. If you have more expensive gin, say a luxurious $45 bottle you’re not sure what to do with, show it off in a martini. If you can get them, try Green­ hook (from Brooklyn), Victoria (from Victoria, B.C., Canada), or The Botanist (from Islay, Scotland).

When it comes to vermouth, my first choice is Noilly Frat – it has a sweetness that really works, even if the great Kingsley Amis dismissed it as too yellow in colour – followed by Dolin dry, followed at a great distance by any other dry vermouth I’ve ever tried. You may note that my preferred brands are both French. Anything else is second best in a martini.

The orange bitters are an optional enhancement, yet one I strongly recommend. Orange bitters appeared in many martini recipes up until the 1930s and then they disappeared, and that’s because they mostly stopped being manufactured. Now that orange bitters have come back to life in the twenty-first century – to be found online or at your local gourmet food store – they’re worth adding, because they bring complexity and zip. I think the orange plays nicely against the flavour of coriander seed, one of the “botanicals” that typically make up the flavour of gin. Any brand should be fine, but Regans’ No. 6 orange bitters have a straightforwardly orangey flavour that works particularly well.

Regarding the finishing touch, namely, the garnish, you’re probably used to an olive (or even a pickled onion, which makes a martini a Gibson martini). The olive is by far the preferable option to doodle on a bar napkin, or to use as a garnish if your martini is actually a neon sign that says “cocktails” on the bottom. The martini olive is an icon of cocktail lore and it looks cute. However, try it against the lemon twist in a taste test, and I bet you’ll stick with the citrus. Lemon enjoys a small flavour advantage at frigid temperatures, and its advantage only improves over olives as the drink warms up. Don’t worry, you can still have olives – as a snack on the side.

Finally, what to do for music? John Coltrane. Done.

Excerpted from Drinks: A User’s Guide by Adam McDowell. Copyright © 2016 Adam McDowell. Published by TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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