Before the healthy living, before life in a sleepy country town, before Finley was even a twinkle in Nick's eye, I loved to drink cocktails.
Back when we were London dwellers with change in our pockets and time to go kicking our heels up in Soho, we loved to sit in an elegant bar, thronged with beautiful people, fingers curled around the chilly stem of something lusciously alcoholic. Or propping up the sleek mahogany bar of a New York establishment and ordering a perfect Manhattan with which to salute the city that never sleeps.
Since then I have come to embrace moderation in all things, often consuming nothing more than spring water with a little sparkle on a night out, simply drinking in the excitement fizzing through the air and the shining eyes of my tipsy friends.
But there are times when only a cocktail will do, when something about the drama of piling ice into a shaker and measuring in alcohol, gives weight and importance to the simplest drink. And if that carefully prepared concoction is poured into an elegant martini glass with a flourish, only a curmudgeon could fail to feel that they are sipping something extra special.
A couple of friends gave Nick a bottle of Manzanilla Sherry for his birthday, the kind that is dry, but not bone dry, with a faint salty tang from breathing the sea air in its oak barrel on the coast of Spain. A small glass of this feels slightly naked unless accompanied by some salted almonds or a little sliver of jamon - so we don't let that happen if we can help it.
When you introduce this Manzanilla to my home made vanilla vodka a sort of cocktail alchemy occurs. Mingled swiftly with an extravagant quantity of ice and strained into a martini glass, it produces a smooth and delicious vodka martini of amazing subtlety.
Even as the beads of frosty perspiration are forming on the bowl of your glass, you inhale the sweet brioche scent of yeasty sherry and vanilla beans. The first taste rolled around your tongue has a faint briny tang, reminding you of those coastal bodegas exhaling sweet raisiny sherry into the ozone rich sea air. Behind a satisfying kick of vodka, you detect fresh mushrooms, faintly pink with a dusting of earth and the yeasty scent of a midnight baker crumbling off a fudgy lump of barm. As the alcohol fades away to a powdery vanilla bean note at the back of your tongue, you are left with sweet brioche roundness and a hint of salty butter.
Then you simply have to take another sip and do it all over again.
If you have made my vanilla vodka and are waiting for it to mature into the stuff of legend, amuse yourself by buying some Manzanilla Sherry - I recommend Gitana - as long as it's dry even those of you following SCD can indulge in the occasional Manzanilla Martini (Once your symptoms are under control). Just make sure it's very, very cold and stirred - not shaken.
Manzanilla Martini (makes 1)
Break out the jamon and salty nuts - it's party time!
Put your martini glass into the freezer to chill for 10 minutes before you make the cocktail.
When the glass is chilled, fill your shaker at least half full with ice.
Pour sherry and vodka in and slap on the lid.
Swirl the alcohol around the shaker for no longer than 30 seconds - do not shake! That James Bond is all wrong, a martini should never, never be shaken. Shaking makes the martini cloudy, but swirling preserves the clarity of the drink.
Whip your frozen glass from the freezer and instantly strain in your chilled martini.