Martha Stewart was stuck in the inevitable traffic of Manhattan’s United Nations week, but no diplomat was going to keep her from her date with a blender in the Bronx at one of New York City’s most glorious kitchens – the New York Botanical Gardens.
On a recent early autumn evening, the Gardens presented an herb class with Martha Stewart as part of its Edible Garden exhibition. The series features a line-up of celebrity chefs.
Martha hosted her own garden this summer at the Gardens with over 50 types of herbs. The event was right on target with what is trendy in mixology right now, as we all knew a Martha Stewart event would be. The days of arcane and precious cocktails have already passed their peak, and now it is the time for simplicity in mixed drinks: going out and picking something special from the late garden and adding it to a spirit.
With a perfect New York blue fall sky in the background, a tent was set up in front of the iconic NYBG Conservatory. Hundreds of Manhattanite Martha fans were dressed in what was supposed to be “This old thing? I just came from the office,” but was more suspiciously along the line of “I’m going to see Martha Stewart” Tory Burch.
The two classic cocktails that Martha focused on: a variation on a frozen daiquiri, and the classic mint julep, a drink she confessed she wasn’t particularly fond of, but she did adore the silver tumblers.
Cocktails from the Garden with Martha
I call this one The Martharita. It is like a daquiri or a margarita with a sweet and sour balance.
Moisten the cocktail glass (which looks like a small martini glass) with Lillet Blanc and then place on the rim the salt/sugar combination. Do this early in the day so that the rim dries before cocktail hour.
5 basil leaves (lemon basil is especially good if you have it)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz vodka (or more if you’re stuck in UN traffic)
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 cup ice
Combine all in a blender. Top off with additional vodka if needed. Martha did.
The crowd was enthusiastic. So much so, Martha remarked, that it “sounds like someone has already had a lot to drink back there. Sounds like you’ve already had your cocktails!” And we had – at the pre-show champagne cocktail reception in her herb garden. Remember, a chamagne cocktail is an easy but impressive drink consisting of a sugar cube at the bottom of a flute, a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters, and champagne. It makes for a willing audience.
Martha’s Mint Julep
I have covered making mint juleps before in this column near Derby time, but this is a recipe from Martha’s precise lips. It differs from the recipe from her Living Magazine in that it doesn’t require squeezing 26 lemons, but if you don’t mind forgoing that pleasure, here goes:
8 mint leaves
1 tsp superfine sugar – raw
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Add 1 cup crushed ice to the tumbler.
Pour 2 oz. bourbon over ice.
Sitr until the outside of the cup is frosted.
Garnish with mint sprig.
I was delighted when Martha gave our local whiskey distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits, a substantial plug. Along with the Maker’s Mark, she offered Tuthilltown’s beautiful Baby Bourbon as an option in the julep. My own Baby Bourbon is empty so it’s time soon for a return trip to New Paltz.
photo by Ben Stechschulte
Lessons to be learned in the Garden: invest in a good blender, and even more important, never use anything other than fresh juice in a cocktail. That can’t be stressed enough, but I’ll let Martha explain: “Whatever the recipe calls for, if it’s a margarita, it has to be fresh lime juice. It doesn’t pay to buy any of those mixes. They are expensive. They are full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners. I won’t order that kind of drink in a bar unless they are squeezing the limes right there in front of me.” Rightly said, but still, can you imagine being that bartender when Martha comes up to the stick and orders a margarita? There might be an unsteady hand over the juicer even if there is no artificial mix in the house.