Whiskey & Gin: Marriage, Love, Espionage

When I was a child, my mother would host elaborate dinner parties. She’d spend the whole day and sometimes even the day before cooking complicated Korean meals: Korean style blinis with various, finely julienned fillings made of egg, meat, and vegetables, egged and fried cod and thin slices of sirloin, mini ground bean pancakes, sweet potato noodle salad, and these appetizer-sized shish kabobs. I remember being seven or eight years old, helping her skewer the ends of three inch pieces of scallions, carrots, crab meat, and beef strips with a toothpick. She dredged them in flour, dipped them in an egg mixture, and then fry them on a large electric griddle. There was also cold chicken, a Japanese appetizer that my mom learned from my surrogate grandmother, Grandma Insun, who’d lived in Japan for many years during the war while her husband, Grandpa John, worked as a spy for the allies. I have no idea how this is made, but it involves slow cooking a whole chicken until it became something delicious and fall-off-the-bone tender. Then it’s chilled and, just before serving, sliced and served with wasabi-soy sauce and finely julienned scallions. The dish is complicated and there’s lot of handling required.

Speaking Grandpa John, his drink of choice was Tanqueray on the rocks. Always Tangqueray on the rocks while he read his Globe and Mail, sitting, legs crossed, on embroidered cushions on the floor in front of an enormous lacquered Japanese table that had a glass top protecting a display of pictures taken over the course of decades, mostly of his family. I wonder now when he cultivated his taste for gin, a very British liquor. During his time in Japan? A British ally spying on the Japanese who sips gin. Perhaps once he immigrated to Canada? In any case, the drink suited him because he was and is very much the old school gentleman. Whenever I see the iconic green bottle with a fire hydrant silhouette I think of tranquility and erudition.

Going back to the dinner parties, friends of my parents or people from church or people from I-don’t-know-where would come, eat her food and drink whiskey. Always whiskey, sometimes with beer. The brand of choice, Canadian Club. My father used to be quite the drinker. He could finish half a standard 750 milliliter bottle of CC in one night and then get up in the morning to go to work. (My mother was no lightweight either. So it’s no surprise then that I love to drink as well.) With that much alcohol being poured, these parties would inevitably become raucous affairs with lots of laughing and eating and drunken singing at the end.

I think there were many reasons why my mother bothered with these elaborate dinner parties that took so much effort and time for her to prepare; she certainly got no help or thanks from her husband. One fair assumption is that she was and still is a great cook and understandablyshe enjoyed the praise she got and seeing people get so much pleasure from eating her food. It’s the pleasure of any cook or chef. Another reason I can easily imagine is that the house was filled with people; the conversations and the laughter and the singing filled the space between my father and mother. But I would guess with some confidence that the chief reason for her was that when my father was drunk he was the nearest to gregarious and magnanimous. He became the king of the castle, adored and respected by his peers. He loved it. And so my mother slaved away for these parties to offer him and herself these moments when she caught a glimpse of the man she wished she’d married.

Whenever I see a bottle of Canadian Club, I think of those parties.

* * *

I cultivated a taste for whiskey only much later, long after those dinner parties at my parents’ came to an end. When I start graduate school as a creative writing student I discovered that the drink of choice for writers was whiskey and PBR. Although it’s not a favorite, there are times now when I crave a Jameson on the rocks.

But before graduate school, I ordered my first whiskey on a date. I met him through Lavalife and I was bored. Wanting him to see me as womanly woman, mysterious, and dangerous even, a contemporary Xena who needed a warrior prince to tame her with his masculine prowess, clever banter, and bedroom wiles, I made a not so subtle declaration of these hopes with the drink I ordered. He ordered a Canadian, a watery lager.

I distinctly remember the bartender looking at me and then at my date. You can do better, he seemed to say with a completely straight face. And of course, I eventually did do better when I met Squeezable Companion, who enjoys Glenfiddich, a single malt scotch, and Imoya, an African brandy. Now that’s my kind of man. And yeah, he can tame this Xena any time he wants.

But before SC, there were more internet dates. The thing about internet dating that I find misleading and gives people an extremely oversimplified and false conception of love. Granted, there are those who are looking for something uncomplicated and casual. But I think there’s a lot of men and women who use these sites because they want to meet someone with whom they can have a meaningful relationship, someone they can fall in love with.

The thing is, all those questionnaires and forms give the lovelorn a false sense of security about love, namely, that it’s a resolvable riddle. If your preferences match up with this person’s answers then you must be suited for each other. You are a fixed piece in a puzzle and so is he and this website can help you find your match. Meanwhile the websites completely ignore that mysterious thing called chemistry and the whims of chance and timing. None of those answers matter without chemistry and good timing. But nobody wants to hear that finding one of the most, if not the most, desirable thing in their lives, namely love and lasting companionship, is dependent on something as rare as chemistry and as fickle and random and luck and timing. Nobody wants to believe that love is crap shoot, that when you find one and it works, it’s a fucking miracle, and even then there’s no guarantee of longevity, only the happiness in that moment. This ain’t no Disneyland.

Yeah, those website never tell you that.

* * *

Back to SC and his scotch and brandy. He also introduced me to Hendrick’s gin–the curiously good gin–my gateway to all gins. It was after trying his Hendrick’s and tonic that I realized vodka tonics were incredibly boring.

Gins have a complexity and variety of flavors that can make one gin and tonic so completely different from another. Hendrick’s and tonic goes perfectly with cucumber slices because the garnish brings out the cucumber notes in the liquor. Bombay Sapphire and tonic, on the other hand, works really well with lemon rather than lime. Meanwhile Tanq and tonic tastes the best with a bit of lime. Its bitter notes are enhanced by the more acidic citrus. And those vodka martinis I used to love with three olives have now taken a back seat to the classic gin martini with a spray of lemon oil from squeezing the rind on the surface of the drink.

I haven’t gotten to the point in the cultivation of my taste for gin to enjoy it simply on the rocks like Grandpa John, but whenever I order a Tanq and tonic at the bar, it calms and soothes me the way I used to feel sitting at the lacquered Japanese table with him while he read his Globe and Mail.

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