Cathy here. 2016 was an eventful year, and it ended with me getting a celiac diagnosis. Catch up here: Listen to this podcast, which will bring you up to speed. Mostly.
I’m still working without a kitchen, so we’re back to drinks. This one ties into a recent post on my Florida web site, FindingMyFlorida.com. The Mai Kai, Florida’s first (and, actually, the best) “Dinner and Show” experience has excellent food and excellent drinks.
The Mai Kai, takes their drinks as seriously than Trader Vic’s and the Beachcomber. Look on the Mai Kai menu and you’ll see they’ve tagged several of their cocktails with the ® symbol, indicating that they’ve registered the drink with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. According to current Mai Kai manager Kern Mattei, the Mai Kai watched the legal battles between the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s over tropical drinks and decided to play it safe and register their drinks. While this has undoubtedly prevented lawsuits over the years and keeps other Tiki bars from copying the drink, it has also done two other things: It keeps neighboring bars from directly competing with the Mai Kai by offering the same cocktails and it has kept a major bottling company from offering a commercialized, watered-down version of the cocktails in mini-marts across the country.
The Mai Kai serves a bevy of drinks; they take great pride in the entire process of getting a drink to the customer. Customers never see either of the two bars, which have so many ingredients that they look more like kitchens. A “master mixologist” makes their syrups in house and codes them. No one else on staff knows how to mix the syrups. While the Mai Kai codes their mixology in much the same manner as Beachcomber, they limit the coding to instructions like “use Syrup One.” They also admit that while they like the mystique coding mixology fosters, they use the syrup code to make the drinks more consistent, efficient to make, and to help control their inventory.
The cocktail experience at the Mai Kai continues with the girls who bring the drinks. Barmaids don’t work at the Mai Kai; instead the Mai Kai calls their servers “sarong-clad maidens” who, up until recently, had to have dark hair to keep with the theme of the South Seas. The Mai Kai seamstress custom makes each girl’s outfit. These “maidens” don’t mix the drinks. They simply take your order, disappear behind a wall, and reappear with your drinks. Spending time chatting with a maiden at the Molokai bar at the Mai Kai reminds you of talking to a true Geisha. Management chooses girls who have striking physical attributes, so much so that one might think they have pudding or sugar syrup instead of a brain, but they speak intelligently about Florida culture. It seems the Mai Kai has not only endeavored to perfect Florida drinks but also foster an air of Florida culture.
As for those drinks: You can choose from stunning array of drinks, over 40 cocktails in addition to beer, wine, and soft cocktails. They’ve pared that selection down from roughly 60 drinks they served when they opened in 1956. The original Mai Kai bartender, Mariano Liciudini, created the drinks in tandem with then-owner Bob Thornton. The Mai Kai serves up pricey cocktails; a Mai Tai costs roughly $11. However, the drinks outclass the lemon shooters available for less than half that along the beach bars not far away. They serve each drink in a different glass, including a shrunken head shaped mug and a Tiki shaped glass. True Tiki cocktails have some pretty strong alcohol to mixer proportions, and the Molokai bar and the restaurant both serve cocktails that patrons sip, not slam, and mixologists and bartenders don’t shy away from the alcohol content. They still use original recipes for almost all their drinks.
“If you make a good drink with the right ingredients,” Mattei says, “you’ll never have to change the recipe.”
The Derby Daiquiri dates back to 1961, when a Mai Kai bartender created it to enter into a contest to name the official drink of the Florida Derby. In the days predating Floridizing mainstream cocktails, the bartender made a daiquiri with Florida orange juice. The Derby Daiquiri won first place and the honor of “The Official Drink of the Florida Derby.”
The Derby Daiquiri
3 ounces rum
3 ounces fresh squeezed Florida orange juice
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ounce sugar syrup (or 1 tsp of sugar)
Combine all ingredients into a blender, add 2 cups ice, and process until smooth. For non-alcoholic, substitute club soda for rum.
I have a confession: I just learned how to make great pancakes (that didn’t come from a mix) in the past year.
I know, I know. But for some reason, pancakes eluded me. I grew up on Bisquick – my mom loves me, of that I have no doubt, but, well, let’s put it this way, she wasn’t exactly one of those women. You know the type (as do I, as I am one): That woman who wants to cook, loves to cook, gets insulted if you won’t let her cook. This woman not only doesn’t mind cooking, she looks forward to it. She actually makes the recipes she finds on Pinterest.
Yeah, my mom is so not that mom. I blame it on her half-not-Italian side, which comes from my grandmother. I loved my grandmother dearly but the only thing I ever remember her making was fried fish on Friday nights. I get my passion for food from my other grandmother; this one gave me my firmly entrenched liberal leanings and red tints in my hair. It’s not a bad trade-off.
The point is, my mom didn’t see the need to make pancakes from scratch when a mix would do just fine. And it did, for years. I never complained, and if she offers to make me pancakes tomorrow, I still won’t. But I wanted to know how to make my own pancakes – from scratch. Box mixes cost more than ingredients, and they have all sorts of lovely other things in them that may or may not kill you faster than you’d like.
- Nevertheless, as an adult, all my pancakes either didn’t fluff up or tasted like ass, and I never knew why. In all honesty, I still don’t. Well, OK, there *was* that one time I used the evaporated milk by accident (in place of batter I’d mixed and stored in the refrigerator in an identical container), but other than that, no clue. Even when they were just not tasty, I didn’t know why. One thing was clear, though: No one was requesting my pancakes every Sunday morning. Bisquick would have been a huge improvement for me.
Finally, a few months ago I offered to make El Cap pancakes, an offer which he hesitantly accepted (he’s tasted my pancake attempts before, because he’s my guinea pig for everything, and bless his northern European heritage, his stomach can only take so much.) I stumbled onto a recipe, but realized I didn’t have quite enough milk on hand, so I modified it based on what I did have, and – voila! – I made the best pancakes I had ever tasted. What happened? I have no clue. I suspect, however, it’s the cream.
So why do I call these “Leigh’s Pancakes” if she had nothing to do with them? Because my friend Leigh has it in her head she can’t make pancakes worth a damn. She’s probably right; I don’t know, as I’ve not tasted hers. For the record, her husband agrees with her when she says she can’t make them, so you know it must not be a pretty sight when she tried. I feel her pain, and so I’m posting this recipe for her and all of you out there who, just like me, are ashamed to admit you are pancake-deficient. It will be OK; I promise. As for the rest of you? Don’t judge us. We can’t help who we are.
- 1 1/2 c. White Lily All-Purpose flour (the brand matters because of the wheat’s origin)
- 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 c. skim milk
- 1/4 c. heavy cream
- 1 egg
- 3 Tbs butter, melted
- Lightly oil a nonstick pan or griddle (I use a cast iron flat pan) and heat to medium-high heat.
- Sift together dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the center into which you pour your wet ingredients.
- Mix only until smooth.
- Using a 1/4 cup soup ladle, pour the batter onto the griddle.
- When the edges are solid, flip once. Cook until spatula slides easily under pancake and color is dark gold.
- The first pancake is ALWAYS a throwaway as it tends toward the oily. This is OK; your dog will love it. You will not.