Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Very Complicated Toast to Vermeer

My second novel, The Music Lesson, concerns an IRA splinter group plot to steal a Vermeer from the Queen. It came out in 1999, and was followed within the year by the more successful (which is not to say that The Music Lesson didn't do very well -- it did, and it continues to sell nicely in multiple languages) Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Both novels, and some others, were written in the aftermath of the Vermeer exhibition in Washington and The Hague, and Vermeer's zeitgeist stock has been blue chip ever since, kept in high public consciousness not necessarily for visual reasons but simply because of the staying power of cultural trends.

On a recent visit to a Dutch Master painting show at The Metropolitan Museum, I was aware more than once of people exclaiming with excitement when they spotted wall text identifying a Vermeer. I wished for the opportunity to experiment with a change of identification on the museum walls, to watch people swoon passionately over a previously bypassed De Hooch or Metsu once it was labelled Vermeer.

But anyway. A recent news article in the San Francisco Chronicle attracted my attention, because it featured a Vermeer-inspired cocktail. It's called The Milkmaid, though it has no milk in it, and no sun-dappled milkmaid will come to your house and make it for you. Invented by Ektoras Binikos, a Greek-born artist and bartender at Oceana in New York, The Milkmaid has an ounce of Bols geneva in it, which apparently makes it sufficiently Dutch and therefore Vermeerish. It's also really, really complicated:

2 thin slices fresh ginger
1/2 ounce Citrus Mint Syrup (see recipe)
3 to 4 dashes Angostura bitters
1 ounce Bols genever
1/2 ounce Domain de Canton ginger liqueur
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce yuzu juice
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) egg white
1 piece crystallized ginger candy, for garnish
Instructions: In a mixing glass, muddle together the fresh ginger, Citrus Mint Syrup and bitters. Add ice and the rest of the ingredients except the garnish, and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.

Citrus Mint Syrup:
Makes about 2 cups
1 small bunch fresh mint, trimmed and washed
-- Zest of 1/2 orange
-- Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, and cook about 5 minutes, until syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a double layer of dampened cheesecloth.

Would Vermeer have been interested in this Dutch Mojito? He probably drank Dutch beer and cocoa.


  1. A nice recipe for bread pudding would be more appropriate for the "Milkmaid." It is true, though, that 17C Holland was a great trading nation with a major role in the spice trade, so the ginger makes sense; cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be even better. (And would be tasty in that bread pudding, don't you think?)

  2. Bread pudding = major contribution to civilization.