I’m partial to rituals to mark the parameters of life, to give contour to my days and punctuate some moments as special, worthy of celebration. They remind me to pause and notice the passage of time.
The rituals of our existence have evolved over the years, tracking the ways that Christopher and I have changed as people and as a couple. It should be no surprise that a lot of them revolve around food and drink. Some are simple, like the evening arrangement of a teapot and a French press in anticipation of tomorrow’s brews. Some are more elaborate, as in the planning of holiday meals or our summer party, now years delayed by the pandemic.
This year, the established habits of our lives have been profoundly disrupted. By the pandemic, of course. But also by our gradually-more-complete move from Boston to Truro. I’m challenged by these changes. It’s as if the signposts that marked my way for so long were all upended; at times it’s been hard for me to find my direction.
One of our annual Boston rituals was marking the first snowfall. We both worked in the city, back when people worked in offices in cities. At the appearance of the first snow of the season, we would ditch our jobs a little early to meet at the bar in the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Arlington Street. We’d go early enough to settle into one of the little tables in the front bay windows, ideally the one nearest the fireplace, so that we could watch the snow gather and the long shadows stretch across the Boston Garden. We always ordered the same cocktail for this occasion: a French 75. And, sipping them, we’d allow ourselves to feel the magic of that moment and of our city.
The French 75 is a drink worthy of any special occasion — both in pedigree and in punch. John Guerra wrote about the classic version in these pages in 2019. It sounds odd — a combination of gin and champagne — but it’s wonderful. Initially called the soixante-quinze and then the 75 cocktail, the name, before it signified the cocktail, referred to a type of 75mm cannon used by the French in World War I. It packs a wallop.
Of course, that champagne and gin classic was the one they served at the Ritz-Carlton. We loved that old bar, with its formally dressed waiters and musty bowls of mixed nuts, the lighting dim enough so that you didn’t notice that the room was a bit down at the heels. It was oddly comforting how, year after year, the nautical painting over the fireplace remained faithfully askew. Our drinks were served in lovely blue-tinged coupe glasses.
This ritual has passed into obsolescence, as the bar is no longer there. Nor are we.
I’m still trying to find my sea legs here in Truro; to identify the new rhythms, the new markers of time for the cycles of our new life. I want to keep first snowfall, though it doesn’t snow so much out here. If it doesn’t snow between now and January 1, we’re going to make first snowfall a moveable feast and pour French 75s for First Night instead. But not at midnight. We’re going to pour them at twilight and watch the long shadows reach across the meadow as the last day of the year passes away. It will be a moment worth marking.
It seems important that this first snowfall — or maybe first night — cocktail in Truro be different from the one we knew in Boston. Rather than the gin-based recipe, I’m going mix up the version served at one of my favorite bars in New Orleans — the bar is actually called the French 75 — at Arnaud’s. This one is made with cognac rather than gin and yields a singularly elegant drink.
Note that you can open champagne for this, but a cava or prosecco will also be perfectly good.
Arnaud’s French 75
for one cocktail
1½ ounces cognac
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. simple syrup
A dry sparkling white wine
Twist of lemon, for the garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
Pour in the cognac, lemon juice, and simple syrup and shake until well chilled. Strain the liquid into a coupe or flute and top with sparkling wine.
Garnish with the lemon twist.