Outnumbered by books
Outnumbered by Books
The first of KJ Charles's The Will Darling Adventures, Slippery Creatures, opens with one of the best opening lines of any book I've read in a long, long time:
"Will Darling was outnumbered by books."
And so too am I (though more joyfully than Will) and, more relevantly, so is this post... insofar as it is one very simple recipe but I'm talking about *five* books. Sort of the opposite of the 50ish recipes and dozen-ish posts from Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake.
The thing is, I want to tell you about my love for The Will Darling Adventures (Slippery Creatures, The Sugared Game, and Subtle Blood), but as much as I adore them (and I ADORE them) I don't think it would be fair to talk about them without at least mentioning Think of England and Proper English.
To be clear, you could certainly read all the books in the Think of England universe separately, or out of order, or only read the Will Darling books (though those three *must* be read in order), but I really wish you wouldn't. Read them all, read them in order, and you will not regret it, because I can tell you when I read them (and re-read them, and re-re-read them, and re-re-re-read them...) one of the absolute greatest joys is seeing the characters from Think of England and Proper English pop up throughout The Will Darling Adventures. Especially my favorite character from the whole universe...
So, let me take a minute to tell you about one of my favorite characters of all times, Daniel da Silva.
I have a soft spot for a Jewish character, particularly one who is, ya know, nuanced and non-stereotypical and maybe it's cuz he's Sephardic or maybe because he's British or maybe because he's Edwardian or maybe because he's queer, but he hits exactly zero of the Jewish stereotypes I hate, so I was always going yo just fucking love him, but I also have a soft spot for a character who is underestimated, and he so clearly is underestimated. I have a soft spot for a nonconformist and Daniel is certainly that. How can you not love character who knows who they are and is completely unrepentant about who they are no matter how much or how many people hate them for it? Who, rather than hide any or all their undesirable characteristics says, fine, let me PLAY UP all the things about me that make you uncomfortable, intentionally. I'm a shameless invert, when I'm in company I'm gonna sway my hips and exaggerate my voice and shake hands with such a limp wrist it will physically discomfort to the point of deterring future contact. It's fucking beautiful, even if it didn't quite turn out that way in Archie's case. I also have a soft spot for a pacifist while, at the very same time, having a soft spot for violence on behalf of a lover in romance novels. Like, the scene with Archie going all Berserker is... just... well... it's... a very excellent scene.
Sorry, where was I?
Daniel da Silva.... his development in Think of England is great, but seeing him in his moments in The Sugared Game and Subtle Blood really just cement his complete and utter badassery and How Goes the World? I mean really, how can my heart be expected to take so much and such delightful DS?
While Daniel Da Silva is my favorite character in this universe, The Will Darling Adventures are my favorites of the books because while I love Archie's development and absolutely everything about Daniel, and the development of their relationship (that scene with Archie reading The Fish Pond makes my heart melt every time), and I love Fen and Pat and Proper English is an excellent house party mystery and I love love love a sapphic romance and think there are far too few of them, it is Will and Kim who I truly adore. They make my heart ache and soar and turn itself inside out. Their growth and development both individually and as a couple are truly divine. Will's emotional support knife makes me unbearably happy. I just love the way that Kim likes to be obliging and how very much Will likes and supports that he likes to be obliging. Phoebe and Maisie and Peacock and all the rest are all excellent as well. Including, who am I kidding, especially Daniel Da Silva's brief but memorable moments and nearly ever-present presence.
Even the bad guys are fantastic, whether they're evil evil or the more mundane kind of evil (racist, anti-Semetic, homophobic, classist, just terrible parents etc. etc.), they're all beautifully villainous in their own ways... for example, Lord Chingford, Kim's awful older brother. He's just so perfectly who and what he is, and there's this line about him that I adore.
"Oh, be fair: I'm at least a deliberate liar. You can't trust a word Chingford says because he persuades himself that the facts are whatever he wants them to be, and is furious if anyone contradicts them."
If anyone knows anyone like this, you will understand why I love this description so very dearly. If you don't, well, I envy you, but still hope you can appreciate that it is a great line.
Which really brings me to what I love best about all these books which is the banter. The banter is so very excellent. And of course, as banter is, it's best if you read the books and know the characters but, just for example, this is another one of my favorite lines:
"You're welcome to join us- the Criterion does a very decent table- though I will quite understand if you'd rather find something rusty with which to poke yourself in the eye."
And Will and Kim are just so... lovely? I don't know the right word or way to describe just how they make my heart just ache for them... Kim and Will are both so scarred and damaged, literally and figuratively, in their very different ways and there is so much love, and hate, and lies, and mystery, and trust, and love, and betrayal, and intrigue, and love, and forgiveness, and love. Did I mention the love? The LOVE. My heart can barely take it. There's two scenes in particular, in Subtle Blood where one of the characters, for lack of a better word, freaks out and it's unexpected but makes such perfect sense if you think about it and it's just so fucking good.
Anyway. Among his many intriguing characteristics, Kim is regularly described as a mixologist with a well-stocked bar... but he only seems to ever make one cocktail, albeit an excellent one, which he makes frequently. And sure, I could teach you how to make onion soup like Will and Phoebe eat at their regular spot (I do make a pretty mean French onion soup) or turn that on it's head and teach you how to make my French onion soup inspired macaroni and cheese (which has a cute story behind it and will clog your arteries but absolutely be worth the early death), but really, when I think of The Will Darling Adventures, I think mostly of books, 1920s fashion, an 8-inch Messer wielded by hands like English oak, a corkscrew-tongued bastard* who can be very obliging**... and a sidecar.
*Not a bastard. Actually a member of the aristocracy whose father even makes an appearance.
**Which we love and adore and, in fact, esteem about him and anyone who doesn't can see Will to be taught some manners. Possibly (alright, probably) with the aforementioned trench knife.
I have spent a bit of time in recent months making this cocktail. It is truly a lovely cocktail. I've found many recipes with a little more this or a little more that, with or without sugar or simple syrup, and in the end, this is my favorite (and, conveniently, also the easiest) way to make it. Most recipes are in ounces, but I really seriously prefer to do drink recipes in parts (especially when they work as easily as they do here) because really, how often are you making a single cocktail? Less often than making two or more, right? So if you do it in parts it becomes really easy to scale up for however many people (or drinks) you're working with. If you want to do just one little sidecar for yourself, one part = one ounce, if you want to do one heftier sidecar for yourself, one part = one shot. If you want to make by the pitcher (over ice instead of shaken) do it in cups. See how easy?
"Brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice," Kim said. "Or would you prefer whiskey?"
- 2 parts brandy
- 1 part Cointreau
- 1 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice (generally one lemon per drink, but depending on your lemons and how you're measuring, could be more or less)
- Slice of lemon or orange per glass (to garnish, so totally optional, but nice. Kim garnishes with a slice of lemon, but I personally like the orange if you have one around. If you don't, cut a thin slice out of your lemon before you squeeze that and set it aside for garnish.)
There are only three essential ingredients here so they're fairly important. I've tried with several kinds of brandy, as well as triple sec v. Cointreau, and bottled v. fresh squeezed lemon juice v. mix of fresh lemon and orange juices and my conclusions are thus:
You want a decent brandy. It doesn't have to be top shelf, but something reasonably nice, since it's literally half the drink. Better brandy does equal a better sidecar.
Cointreau is really truly better than generic triple sec and when it's a quarter of the drink it really does make a difference. You can substitute down but it will be anywhere from "noticeably" to "severely" inferior, depending on the quality of your triple sec.
Fresh squeezed lemon juice is absolutely unquestionably noticeably better than the alternatives, though it is *drinkable* with a mix of fresh and bottled if you're making multiples and have run out of fresh lemons.
- Juice your lemon. Strain the lemon juice into a cocktail shaker.
- Add Cointreau and brandy and some ice.
- Put the top on and shake shake shake.
- Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon, I like orange. I also like to run the slice around the lip of the glass before sliding it on/dropping it in (depending on how you choose to garnish) to give that extra whiff of orange when you sip.
NOTE: One other great thing about making your cocktails by parts rather than proper measurements is that if you want (a mixologist like Kim would probably abhor what I'm about to tell you) you can just eye-ball it and make one on the rocks when you're in the mood for a cocktail but don't want to make extra mess/things to clean up.
To make just such a quick-and-dirty Sidecar (should we call it a hack? as in hackney, not life-hack):
- Cut a lemon in half and squeeze into a rocks glass (half if you want a small drink, both halves if you want a serious one).
- Pour in an equal volume of Cointreau.
- Pour in equal brandy to the lemon juice/Cointreau mixture, and then add a few ice cubes and stir with the knife you used to cut the lemon.