I know I am not alone in being mesmerized by staring into a fire. A proper fireside sit fills me with contentment. Yet it also creates a kind of yearning. A fall fire is sweet and bitter; it provides warmth, but sitting around it we are wary, knowing the bite of cold air is settling in as well.
That is especially true, of course, if you’re enjoying the fire outdoors, which is to me the best place for fireside reveries. There is such simplicity in the setting. I’ll never forget sitting in front of a bonfire at Nauset Beach a few years ago. It was fall, and my friends and I were shivering — we had just gone in for a sunset plunge.
“I cannot stop staring at this fire,” I said, settling in for the great thaw.
“I mean,” my friend Chris replied, “it is the original television.” His words made me think. That’s why a fire sit feels so good; it is such a primordial experience. When we gaze into a fire and feel that contentment from something so simple, it’s because we’re doing something that’s been part of the human experience for at least 200,000 years. Which kind of makes me wonder why we all aren’t doing it a whole bunch more.
The sweet and bitter of a good fireside sit on a cold fall day are the inspiration for both the cocktails and the playlist I have put together here. The drinks are smoky and warm, but the citrus — fresh lemon juice in one, orange bitters plus a singed twist of orange peel in the other — is like a rogue spark from a hot coal.
I love a theme and have been making playlists to accompany moments in time since before there were playlists. First it was making mixed tapes from the radio. Then burning CDs. Now, with Spotify, my life’s work has a chance to shine. It is a gift passed down to me by my father, Salvatore Siciliano. He was a DJ, among other things, and you might have met him as the host of the Black ’n’ Blues broadcast on WOMR.
Sometimes a playlist starts by hearing a single song that evokes the right feeling for a particular occasion. Or, I’ll think to myself, “What do I want this beach day or dinner party to feel like?” Then I sift through Spotify like a mood archaeologist waiting to uncover the feelings I hope to fulfill.
I also take into account the company — know your audience, right? In this instance, I don’t know who the listeners will be. So, I’ve selected songs guided by two things: First, I wanted some songs that evoke images of fire, which led me to two songs entitled “Wildfire” recorded roughly four decades apart (Michael Martin Murphy’s was released in 1975, the one by Cautious Clay in 2021).
If a song’s lyrics set the right mood, it went on the playlist, too. That’s the most important part of song selection. “Revival” by Zach Bryan, for example, inspires the need for revelry when things may feel a bit bleak — something about November on Cape Cod seems to hold a similar significance. Bryan is being referred to as the Kurt Cobain of country. Even if you’re like me, and country isn’t your go-to, his inventive interpretation of the genre seems to convert even the most averse listener.
These cocktails and playlist should give you most everything you need for fireside contentment. But as an expert fireside sitter, I have found there’s one final ingredient to add to the mix: the right company — anyone who will enjoy these simple pleasures just as much as you do.
The Smoke Spark
Makes one cocktail
I’ve recommended Toki whisky from Japan because it’s a style known for having more smoke and earth notes. Passionfruit puree comes bottled and in concentrate, but the Provincetown Stop & Shop often has fresh passionfruit, if you want to make your own.
2 oz. Japanese Toki whisky
1 oz. passionfruit puree
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into a snifter.
Makes one cocktail
Amaro is a bittersweet Italian digestif made from brandy infused with herbs and spices, aromatic bark, and citrus peel — makers keep their combinations secret, and the liqueurs vary a lot from one to another. I like Nonino because it is a little lighter and less bitter than many.
1 oz. mezcal
1 oz. Amaro Nonino (Montenegro will also work)
A splash of Cointreau
A heavy dash of orange bitters
Stir all ingredients and serve on the rocks. Garnish with a twist of singed orange peel.