Friday, June 19, 2009

Key Lime Cosmos To Assuage Your Travel Woes

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my Key Lime Cosmopolitan, which made a rather exuberant debut in Oklahoma this week, of all places. I’ve gone from AK to OK in the space of a week this June, with a brief NYC stint in between, having culinary adventures all the while. I began this month on a boat with my extended family, sailing down the breathtaking Inside Passage of Alaska while being treated to a sumptuous feast for the eyes and soul as well as the taste buds. But I have now traded fresh Alaskan salmon and snow-capped mountains for the land of great barbecue and enormous skies, for I am now in Bartlesville, Oklahoma with the Amici New York orchestra where we are performing at the OK Mozart Festival.

This wonderful group is made up of some of my favorite musicians in New York. Even though we often have great musical experiences together during the year, there is something very refreshing about playing with these colleagues outside of our normal environment. There is an incredible spirit in this group of musicians, of whom many have performed at this festival nearly every year since its inception 25 years ago. Great friendships have formed, not only between members of the orchestra with one another but also with many of the faithful audience members, and it is a very special thing to be part of this OK Mozart Festival which is so beloved by the local community.

However, we were definitely an orchestra collectively in need of a cocktail the other night. Can I tell you why we all desperately needed a cosmopolitan, a key lime one or otherwise?

Our travel day from New York to Tulsa promised to be a civilized one, but it proved to be one of the all-time crazy travel days of my life. We were scheduled to leave LaGuardia in the early afternoon with a brief layover in Dallas. I was not the only who anticipated arriving at our hotel in Bartlesville at a decent hour, just in time to indulge in a dinner of killer barbecued brisket and succulent smoked pork ribs at Bad Brad’s Bar-B-Q Joint. Unfortunately, that naively optimistic plan was not meant to be.

Our adventure began on a plane with a broken door, a technical detail that did not inspire much confidence for a smooth journey. The door was soon repaired, but we still sat on the runway at LaGuardia for an additional three hours due to an impending storm that wrought major havoc on the air traffic around all three airports in the New York metropolitan area. Upon finally arriving in Dallas, we were informed that our connecting plane to Tulsa was in fact waiting for us but that we would definitely have to hustle.

We must have been quite a sight: a whole orchestra carrying their instruments while running pell-mell through the enormous Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, dodging slow-moving fellow travelers who clearly did not share our sense of urgency. One could have cued the soundtrack from “Chariots of Fire” as we sprinted en masse towards the proverbial finish line, but as we reached our destination gate, we all ground to a halt, one by one. There was no plane.

Apparently the aircraft had left ten minutes earlier, unable to wait for us any longer without incurring major overtime penalties. Not only were there no more flights to Tulsa that night that could accommodate our large group, but thunderstorms were also predicted in Dallas for that next morning, and did I mention that we had a concert in Bartlesville the next day?! But thanks to our orchestra personnel manager Adria, a virtuoso organizer who is always thinking several steps ahead of everyone else, there was a bus waiting for us at baggage claim. And what would have been a simple 43-minute flight ended up taking SEVEN HOURS on this bus, but at least we made it to Bartlesville just before the sun came up the next morning!

The remarkable thing is everyone was a really good sport about it all. The whole episode grew more surreal by the moment as we inched our way to our hotel, but it is a testament to the people in this orchestra that nobody had a meltdown or threw a hissy fit about the situation, despite what a long-ass travel day it turned into. Instead of having authentic barbecue for dinner, it was like that Top Chef Quickfire Challenge where the chefs had to create a meal using ingredients from a gas station convenience store. The bus had neither a light nor toilet paper in its tiny bathroom, but at least someone very resourceful in our group had a flashlight and a box of tissues. Facebook status updates about our outrageous trip were flying fast and furious via mobile phones, inviting all sorts of excellent commentary. I personally texted my way to the Oklahoma border until my cell phone battery ran out, and we all grew increasingly punch-drunk silly as the road trip progressed.

And because we arrived at the hotel at 4:30 am, the next day was totally shot as the rehearsal schedule was changed around. That first concert went remarkably well considering what we had all been through in the previous 36 hours. However, there had been no time for me to run to the store to get party supplies and we were caught totally empty-handed after the first concert, unable to unwind with a single drink after our harrowing travel day from hell. This entire town closes early, and some of us resorted to walking to the nearest gas station to buy a bottle of beer for a post-concert beverage. It was not ideal, to say the least.

Needless to say, I was definitely in much better shape for last night’s concert, not only from a musical standpoint but also in terms of being ready to host a post-concert celebration. It was a thrilling performance, between Robin Sutherland’s absolutely exquisite performance of the Mozart C Minor Piano Concerto and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg’s fiery rendition of the Piazzolla “Four Seasons”, and everyone was really pumped up afterwards, definitely in need of continuing the excitement of the evening’s performance. Since I lucked out with a great hotel room this week, one with a separate living room area as well as a small fridge, I had major entertaining options. My fellow musicians began trickling one by one into the Room 307 Cocktail Lounge, and I found myself shaking up key lime cosmos faster than I could blink.

A cosmopolitan is made with vodka and triple sec, tempered with a generous squeeze of lime to balance the orange sweetness of the triple sec, and a splash of rosy cranberry juice for color. I know that cosmos were very trendy in the past decade, almost to the point of being passé, for if it is not made with care, it can be a really obnoxious and overly sweet girly drink. But I’ve found a solution to that silliness, and it comes in the form of key limes and unsweetened cranberry juice.

Since I knew I wouldn’t have the time or the equipment to prepare a large quantity of freshly squeezed lime juice, I got very excited when I saw the bottles of Joe&Nellie’s Key Lime Juice at the local Food Pyramid grocery store, knowing that that would be an extremely efficient and yummy way to create cocktail magic. I figure if I can find bottles of key lime juice as well as Knudsen’s Unsweetened 100% Pure Cranberry Juice in the average Oklahoma grocery store, you probably have a good chance of finding these two ingredients wherever you are. I’m partial to Grey Goose vodka, though I often use Skyy when I’m making a large quantity of these for a party. And Tito’s Handmade Artisanal Vodka was a very welcome addition to the liquor cabinet this week.

It was a great night. At one point I had more than thirty friends all crammed into my hotel room, and it reminded me of that excellent scene in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in which Holly Golightly throws a very spirited cocktail party and her small apartment quickly becomes stuffed to hilarious capacity. The key lime cosmos were just as free-flowing as the laughter was in this hotel room last night, and I know I wasn’t alone in feeling so unspeakably grateful for an opportunity for such heartfelt music-making with wonderful friends.

Now if only I’d had a way to make key lime cosmos for everyone during that seven-hour bus ride…


The unofficial drink of the OK Mozart Festival 2009! I love this tart version, which gets its zing from the key lime juice and a splash of pure cranberry juice. I find that the lack of additional sugar makes the next morning much less painful! If you can’t find the unsweetened cranberry juice, use whatever cranberry juice you can find, though you will end up with a slightly sweeter cocktail. (But it will still be delicious!)

For each drink:
3 parts vodka
1 part triple sec
1 part bottled key lime juice
a splash of unsweetened cranberry juice

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and add all the ingredients. Shake vigorously to combine thoroughly. I like to give my cocktails a good 30 shakes. Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy immediately.

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