Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Spicy End to Summer

On the night table: The Garner Files (James Garner & Jon Winokur)

Ah, August, the last of summer.

Well, unless you live in the part of the country where summer lingers till October. Or the part where it never ends.

As a child, I kept waiting for Tennessee to have summers like the rest of the country. Except that my impression of the “rest of the country” came from the pages of magazines like Seventeen, which were published in New York and generally failed to acknowledge that temperatures and rituals differed south of Manhattan.

Summer started on Memorial Day on those pages. In Clarksville, Tennessee, we’d have already had at least six weeks of 80+ degrees. Summer ended with Labor Day in those magazines, after which the kids went back to school, to campuses bright with autumn-leaf-colored cardigans. In Clarksville, we were back by mid-August. And you didn’t even think about putting wool next to your body till mid-October.

But I see no reason we can’t all agree that August is a turning point. The point at which you turn to a pitcher full of icy refreshment, turn on the AC and turn on a good movie if the front porch is still too hot to walk on barefooted or the mosquitoes have you barricaded indoors.

While searching through back issues of Bon Appétit, David (aka Chef) found a recipe for a curry-spiced Bloody Mary. No horseradish. No Tabasco. And it creates the best one I’ve ever had. 

We've shared the recipe, further below.

The Pairings
Okay, we need something with a lighter touch for summer refreshment. No noir, no horror, no heartbreak. Something with peppery relationships and smoothly blended dialog. And my choices share a theme about the heady attraction and ultimate perils of the search for headlines. One does it with humor.

Comedy: His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawks remade the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur stage play Front Page, turning the male reporter whose boss will do anything to keep him from quitting the newspaper game into a woman.

I've used the cover of my restored-print
DVD. The posters don't do Roz justice.
Wow, did Hollywood get this one right! When you see His Girl Friday, you wonder why the playwrights — and the studio that did the 1931 film version — never thought of it. My hunch is that none of them could imagine the audience accepting an independent woman with a powerful career. How much the country changed in the space of just a decade. You’ll never be able to watch Front Page again. Sorry, but Hildy Johnson just has to be a woman!

Hildy (Rosalind Russell, that spicy tomato, exquisite in the role) has had enough of the rough-and-tumble, rabidly competitive newspaper game where the “scoop” is everything, even if you have to make it up. She wants to get married and this time it’s going to be to a sensible man. But her ex-husband, her editor boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant), is determined to keep her  not only because he’s still head over heels for her, but also because she’s the best reporter he’s got. And so he lures her back for just one last big, great story, and sets about with hilarious results to make sure she never gets on that train to Albany with her hapless beau (Ralph Bellamy).

A Bit More Serious: The Bronx Is Burning (2007)
The story of the Yankees’ summer of 1977 plays out in one of the worst summers for New York City, suffering from stifling 100+ temperatures, on the brink of bankruptcy and scarred by crime and urban decay. There are harrowing moments in the portrayal of the killing spree of the .45 Caliber Killer (later called Son of Sam) and the desperate police search for him.

But mostly this 8-episode mini-series is about the men in the most dysfunctional relationship in the history of sports: George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the Yankees (Oliver Platt); Billy Martin, his manager (John Turturro); and Reggie Jackson, his slugger (Daniel Sunjata), and the collateral damage that was the Yankees’ clubhouse. 

Their insecurities are like fresh wounds, every touch too deeply felt. None of them is capable of reasoned restraint and all are easily baited by the sports media. The rest of the team is roiled in their wake. 

You’ll find yourself yelling at the screen: “Don’t say it; just this once, keep your mouth shut!” But they can’t stop themselves. And the inevitability is irresistible: you feel sorry for them and want to smack them, in the same moment.  

You just can’t stop drinking it in.

Now, let's get the pitcher up!

Curry-spiced Bloody Mary (Bon Appétit, April 2010)

Makes 8 

10 cups tomato juice (preferably organic)
1 2/3  cups vodka (a good one; don't get the cheapest on the shelf)
1/2  cup fresh lemon juice
1/2  cup fresh lime juice
1/2  cup balsamic vinegar
2 TBS + 2 tsp  Madras curry powder
2 tsp (or more)  fine sea salt
1 tsp  freshly ground black pepper
Ice (crushed or cubes cracked into smaller pieces)
Celery sticks (for garnish)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large pitcher. Whisk in the 2 tsp sea salt and the pepper. Season with more salt, if desired. Cover; chill. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. Keep chilled; whisk before serving.)

Fill tall glasses with ice. Pour in Bloody Mary mixture. Garnish with celery sticks.

The mixture keeps well in a sealed container in the fridge.  Give it a whisk before re-serving.

Sheila York

Copyright 2014


  1. hi, Sheila, love your recipe and plan to try it! Anything with curry sends me over the moon! I spent the happiest years of my life in Tennessee - Sewanee ... and loved the daiquiris a guy I dated at the University of the South fixed in sterling silver pitchers! As well as the Tennessee whisky at the mountain-side home of Andrew Lytle, Editor of the Sewanee Review... tjs

  2. How romantic! Daiquiris in silver pitchers. Sounds like a very classy guy. Sewanee was the in-state dream of lots of Tennessee kids who wanted to go to college and dreamed of a literary life.

  3. S, MGF is one my absolute all-time favorites. I watch it twice a year at the least. Never saw TBIB, except in by watching 1977 in the papers and on tv while bringing up a nine-year-old in NYC. I will watch it before August is out. But my drink will be white wine. I am sure the bloody mary is delish, but that combination of ingredients and level of alcohol would put me under--either the table or the ground!

    1. Hahahah. One can cut back on the booze component, of course. And there is the diluting effect of the ice. But, yeah, it's not something you want to swill and try to function. I've never understood brunch. Why would one want to get toasted on a Sunday morning?