Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite tells us why, after a difficult 2020, she’s ditching new year resolutions in favour of a 2021 pick-me-up
Normally, January starts off the year by ringing its moral bell and every magazine article, online recipe, food supplement you glance at all take you in the same direction – ‘a new you’, ‘a new regime’, ‘it’s health kick time’. But I simply can’t bring myself to do it, and is it any wonder?
I am left with a strong feeling of wanting more. More fun, more company of friends and family, more time in restaurants and pubs, more live theatre and music, more travel, and more kindness (always more kindness). That awful year we all waded through was literally crammed full of misery. The balls up of Brexit, the ever-long saga of Trump; will he, won’t he go (thank god he did)? The very real horror we all witnessed of suffocating racism on an ordinary street that happened to an ordinary man by the powers that were invented to protect and not to murder. And of course, this devastating ever-present pandemic. Who could have predicted last January that by the end of the year well over a million people would’ve died from this cruel and divisive disease? That national lockdowns, mask wearing, antibac, furlough, and zoom meetings would be part of our new vernacular and lives?
So forgive me if I don’t want to make resolutions, or that I don’t want to start a diet at the dawn of 2021. I’m simply not ready to say goodbye to comfort food, sparkly lights and festivity, even if it was an alternate festivity for most.
I feel a bit like a grumpy, overtired toddler. I feel like yelling and pummelling the ground with uncontrollable sobs of ‘I want my year back!’ ‘I want to open my restaurant again’, ‘I want to browse in a shop without getting hot and bothered in a mask’, ‘I want to squeeze my mother-in-law tightly’, ‘I want to visit family and friends in other cities’, ‘I want, I want, I want!’ My glorious mother most definitely at this point in the proceedings would’ve swiped the backs of my legs and doled out the phrase “Well I want doesn’t get”.
So, keeping her advice in mind, I’ve decided to self-medicate this despondent mood with a bloody good, Bloody Mary. Since time began it seems that a Bloody Mary has been the perfect panacea for a tumultuous night before. Maybe its restorative powers could endeavour to blot out a few of the memories of this dismal year.
In our little ramshackle restaurant on St John’s Street, it was the first cocktail I ever created. With our reputation as a brunch destination, I knew we had to have this eponymous drink on the menu.
I approached the construction of it from a chef’s point of view, rather than that of a mixologist. Which explains why its recipe has far more in common with a gazpacho than a cocktail, but that was the only way I knew how. I knew it needed a good degree of intricate heat to blow away any cobwebs and, of course, I knew I wanted it to be decorated like a showgirl, so that when it arrived at the table, the customer knew their hangover was being treated truly seriously. Standing proudly along with the prerequisite celery stirrer, came a spear of crispy bacon, topped with olives and even a meatball! A drink, a cure, a meal, all in one glass. Who could wish for anything more?
The Bloody’s history is typically a little blurry. Fernand Petiot from Harrys Bar in New York is named as the creator of the original drink. At a time of prohibition a cocktail that used a flavourless newly-imported Russian spirit, disguised in highly-flavoured tomato juice was probably quite useful when its owner and clientele could get sprung at any time.
Some believe its name was derived from Mary Tudor, Queen of England (not to be confused with Mary Tudor buried in Bury St Edmunds. One was his sister, the other his daughter) who, from her historically widespread slaughter of protestants earnt her the gruesome moniker.
Also, fairly unpalatable but slightly less murderous (I hope) is the story that it was the name of a waitress called Mary, who worked in a Chicago nightclub called, charmingly, the Bucket of Blood. Rumour has it she regularly had a bucket of water to sluice down the blood from the sidewalk outside the club because of the multiple brawls that happened there every night.
Many other stories abound, but generally its composition is clear – tomato juice to soothe the irritated stomach, salt to replace the electrolytes lost, and, of course, the vodka to act as the ‘hair of the dog’ (short for “hair of the dog that bit you”) a strange old expression that essentially means ‘like cures like’.
There are numerous delicious derivatives of the drink that inventively use different spirits: some of my favourites are a Bloody Maria with Tequila instead of vodka, a Maria Verde made with a delicious green tomatillo sauce, and of course there’s always a Virgin Mary – sans alcohol – that at Gastrono-me we call a Proud Mary due to its virtuous nature.
So, my resolution is that I shall be seeing in these next few weeks with a Bloody Mary rather than a diet plan. No, it may not clean up the mess of the year before, and no it probably won’t cure anything other than my mood, but it may – just may – make me feel a damn sight better about facing 2021.
Cheers and best wishes to you all, and please stay safe x
BLOODY HELL MARY
A large handful of ice
100ml vodka, I favour Grey Goose
500ml tomato juice
½ teaspoon of lemon juice
½ teaspoon of harissa paste
½ teaspoon of crushed garlic (I preserve mine in a little olive oil stored in the fridge for ease)
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
A good pinch of celery salt
A pinch of black pepper
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon of hot sauce, sriracha works a treat
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce,
omit if veggie
A dash of smoked chipotle tabasco, if brave
Place the ice in a cocktail shaker, measure the vodka, tomato juice and then add all the rest of the ingredients, tasting as you go.
Because of my slightly unusual ingredients, you have to give this an almighty shake, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice
Always dress your glass with a celery stick for stirring your restorative elixir.
But any of these other ingredients would make for a party in a glass!
Crispy bacon slice
A meatball or two
A gherkin spear
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 277980
Read Gemma’s blog at gemwithrelish.com