Maui Mixology

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the poolside cocktail mixing class at the Hotel Wailea on Maui – the reinforcement of a few basics, maybe a couple of exotic ingredients in a familiar drink. We’d signed up the day before for the mixology class, but by the time it rolled around at 11 a.m., we felt like we’d already had a long day of intense touristing behind us, working hard to get the most out of our vacation.

Just after dawn on Haleakala, a wild mix of clouds and colors.

Just after dawn on Haleakala, a wild mix of clouds and colors.

We’d spent the morning making the drive from the coast of Maui up to the summit of Haleakala to watch the sunrise from 10,000 feet above the ocean, high above the clouds and slopes of Maui. We’d gotten up at 3 a.m., watched the 7 a.m. sunrise, and gave ourselves a pat on the back for getting up early and seeing such a spectacular sight as a reward.

Sometimes having fun requires a genuine effort.

Kerry, the beverage wizard who was teaching the mixology class, blithely dispensed with cocktail basics within the first ten minutes. What she really wanted to talk about was a lesson altogether more fundamental: the place in life where we take what we have on hand and make something wonderful. Less hard work, more appreciation.

For example, simple syrups. Sure, anyone can buy a simple syrup – that basic sweetener, water and sugar cooked together. And adding a flavor to that concoction is nothing new.

A few samples of simple syrup: Honey, jalapeño, rose, lavender, hibiscus.

A few samples of simple syrup: Honey, jalapeño, rose, lavender, hibiscus.

What I liked about Kerry’s approach was the notion of making just about anything into simple syrup, the spices or herbs or flowers or chilis or leaves that are in the kitchen, in the refrigerator, in the garden or blooming on the balcony. I especially liked her low-heat approach to processing these ingredients – in a blender with water and sugar, and then some time sitting in the sun before straining – adding sunlight to maintain pure flavors and come up with a lavender mojito, or a hibiscus margarita.

She introduced our small class to the lovely Pau Vodka, a Maui-produced spirit based on pineapple. Now, pineapple was introduced to the Hawaiian islands by the Spanish, so technically it’s not an indigenous plant – but Hawaii is the only U.S. state which produces pineapple. Pineapple cultivation might be a fraught subject, but the vodka was a delight, with a hint of the fruit’s tangy sweetness.

(Ocean Vodka is Maui’s other locally-produced vodka, one we didn’t try – and one more reason to go back to the island. Another would be the pineapple wines of the Tedeschi Vineyards.)

The well-used hydrosols - basil, lime, allspice, etc., with the simple syrup bottles and a few of the fruits used.

The well-used hydrosols – basil, lime, allspice, etc., with the simple syrup bottles and a few of the fruits used.

Kerry also had a number of hydrosols – the bi-product of essential oil distillation and condensed water left over after steam or water distillation – on hand. Not something I’d likely produce on a regular basis in my own kitchen, but easy enough to get at the local health food store.

After a morning of trying hard to get the most out of the day, the class was a lesson in taking life as it comes and making the best of what’s right in front us.

Back home and thoroughly bundled up against the Arctic temperatures both outside and inside our old stone house, I’m trying to do just that.

I think I’ll start with this:

 

 

 

The Happy Pangolin

It’s the third annual World Pangolin Day, a time to raise awareness of the strange and wondrous animal that is the single most encountered mammal in the illegal global trade in endangered animals.

Pangolin Source: Our Beautiful World

Pangolin
Source: Our Beautiful World

The odd pangolin, a scaly anteater that looks like a cross between a streamlined badger and a pine cone, is captured and consumed in the mistaken belief that its keratin scales hold medicinal value – although they are little different from human fingernails. As the pangolin grows ever more scarce, pangolin flesh, and even the fetuses, are made into pricey soups as a demonstration of luxury consumption.

Pangolin & tongue Source: Platyoctopie / Deviantart

Pangolin & tongue
Source: Platyoctopie / Deviantart

Meanwhile, the eight species of pangolin in the world are rapidly becoming extinct.

In honor of the day, I wanted to make a Happy Pangolin cocktail, a drink that reflected the long anteater tongue, the scales, the ants, and the tart appeal of the pangolin.

I started with this – hard apple cider, a slice of cherimoya fruit (note the black seeds for ants), and a long, slender slice of cucumber for the pangolin tongue. I made a reduction of basil essence, mixed that with cognac, and poured it over the fruit.

Happy Pangolin One The best looking, but blandest cocktail.

Happy Pangolin One
The best looking, but blandest cocktail.

But I was unsatisfied with the taste – too sweet, too bland. A pangolin is many things, but it is not bland.

So I moved on. To kiwi fruit (note the black seeds for the ants) mashed with a bit of sugar and basil, the cucumber tongue, and this time, calvados, prosecco and a scaly garnish of pineapple skin.

Well. It tasted just fine, quite delicious, actually. But it was murky, the basil floated around aimlessly. A third try, mashing together the kiwi and basil, rendered the basil flavor too acidic.

Happy Pangolin Two Tasty, but murky.

Happy Pangolin Two
Tasty, but murky. Ditto for Happy Pangolin Three, which is not shown here.

Finally, running out of cucumber, I made this variation. A bit of brown sugar in the bottom of a glass, followed by half slices of kiwi. Prosecco carefully poured over the fruit (it fizzes easily), followed by a shot of calvados, then a cucumber tongue, a slice of pineapple skin perched on the side, garnished with a sprig of fresh basil.

It’s tangy, refreshing, unexpected and overall, pretty good.

Happy Pangolin Four The current favorite, to be reattempted when I have more cucumber for a longer tongue.

Happy Pangolin Four
The current favorite, to be reattempted when I have more cucumber for a longer tongue.

What did I learn from making a Happy Pangolin for World Pangolin Day?

Much like the campaign to save the pangolin, the road to success is paved with many failed attempts, there is no single way to reach the goal of a Happy Pangolin. Any and all variations must be tried. Tenacity and determination are of paramount importance.

Source: Annimaticus

Source: Annimaticus

 

Go here to find out what you can do to support an end to killing and trade in pangolins.

Find out more at Annimaticus, at the IUCN-SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, and at Project Pangolin. Let’s help make sure this oddball branch on the Tree of Life doesn’t wither!

The Pangolin branch on the phylogenetic tree. Source: OneZoom

The Pangolin branch on the phylogenetic tree.
Source: OneZoom

And in the meantime, I hope you enjoy a Happy Pangolin with friends this weekend!