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Coming to America

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Image credit: Coming to America, 1988

There’s a rumor I’ve heard, and maybe you’ve heard it too. Apparently, a long time ago, in a land not so far away, Eddie Murphy used to be funny. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical—after all, I grew up in the era of The Nutty Professor. I know Eddie as the strange guy in the fat suit.  So when my husband sat me down and told me the comedian had starred in a really great 1980s rom-com called Coming to America (Disc), I decided to take a chance. And shock of all shocks—I loved it!!!

Although there are a few absurd disguises in this (Eddie as an old Jewish man? Pass.), for the most part Murphy keeps his juvenile gimmicks in check. As Prince Akeem, he’s surprisingly earnest for a man who has rose petals thrown at his feet wherever he goes. This royal yearns for true love instead of an arranged marriage set up by his parents, so he and man servant Semmi go to the most logical place for a future king to find his mate—Queens, NY! Once there, he finds shelter in a literal crime scene, a job at the local knock-off fast food joint (McDowell’s anyone?), and a sweet romance with the boss’s daughter. Rather than reveal his true identity, he pretends to be a poor immigrant student in order to ensure that his lady loves him for who he is instead of what he has back in Zamunda. Aside from some cringe-worthy scenes in a barber shop, this is a solid A+ rom-com that left me smiling from beginning to end.

Prince Akeem goes to great lengths to find his queen, but luckily you don’t have to. Just make this aptly named cocktail and pretend you’ve got Royal Bathers waiting for you in the shower. While watching Coming to America, I recommend drinking a Queen’s Park Swizzle!

Queen’s Park Swizzle

2 oz Aged Rum

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters

5-6 leaves Fresh Mint

Muddle mint in the bottom of a glass, dragging it up to coat the sides with oils. Add the rest of the ingredients and fill the glass 2/3 full with crushed ice. Use a swizzle stick to mix, until the outside of the glass becomes frosty. Fill the glass the rest of the way up with crushed ice, and garnish with more fresh mint.

If you’re curious about this film’s recent sequel (the oh-so-cleverly titled Coming 2 America– 🙄), don’t feel like you’re missing much if you decide to skip it. While it’s fun to watch some of these actors again, it in no way justifies having to sit through another Sexual Chocolate song. Randy Watson can stay back in 1988. Cheers!

Fight Club

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Image credit: Fight Club, 1999

You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of movie art they hang on their walls. Back when I was in college, the girls (and a few sensitive guys) tended to have Audrey Tautou’s precocious Amélie face holding court over their dorm rooms, while the “bros” opted for a variety of Tarantino titles. If you walked into a room and saw Adam Sandler’s Waterboy hanging over the bed, you knew to run. Oh, but then there were the Fight Club (Disc/Download) posters. As a female, they made me think, okay, this guy is probably not my soulmate. But do I really want to turn my back on Brad Pitt’s face right now? Women have stayed for a lot less. And, at least it wasn’t Boondock Saints (*shudder*).

I’ll be honest, it’s still not a love match between Fight Club and I. While I appreciate the taste of Chuck Palahniuk’s prose, it tends to get buried within the presentation. David Fincher is a master craftsman of mental illness and anarchy on celluloid, but once again I can’t help feeling (as I do with most of his films) that the editor took a lunch break one day and never came back. I love the hook of a man so dissatisfied with his consumer-driven life that his mind takes a sledgehammer to it, but do we really need so many stomach-turning scenes of violence, filth, and decay? That house on Paper Street may contain the incredibly ripped bodies of Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, but it’s so dirty I can’t even appreciate the hot men. And so then what’s the point??

Watching this movie again through the lens of a cocktail connoisseur, I can confirm that beautiful, complex drinks have no place in Fincher’s wasteland. This is a beer picture, through and through. Playing off the theme of dudes who enjoy a good toxic masculinity break, while watching Fight Club I recommend drinking this Paper Street Punch.

Paper Street Punch

3 cups Beer (I used a Mexican lager)

2 cups Lemon Soda

1 cup Ginger Beer

Lemon Wedge

Ice

Combine Beer, Lemon Soda, and Ginger Beer in a pitcher, stirring gently to combine. Pour into glasses filled with ice, and garnish with a fresh lemon wedge.

Although it might seem like I really dislike this film, rest assured that I don’t. I love the performances, especially Brad Pitt (and not just his abs, though they are quite spectacular). Plus, any cast that includes Meatloaf gets my seal of approval, forever and always. Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go scrub myself down with a very astringent soap, while trying not to think about how it was made. Cheers!

Mildred Pierce

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Image credit: Mildred Pierce, 1945

This week, we’re taking a step back to 1940s Hollywood to examine one of the most iconic onscreen mother/daughter duos, Mildred and Veda in the classic Mildred Pierce (Disc/Download). Maybe, like me, you grew up with the Joan Crawford NO WIRE HANGERS image seared into your brain. Thus it might be jarring to see her playing a part like Mildred, a fabulous working mom saddled with a spoiled hellion of a daughter. If Joan was an abomination in real life, watching her play this patient, loving character only proves that she’s one of the greatest actresses of any generation.

Michael Curtiz’s suspenseful noir has a lot of things going for it: murder mystery, non-linear storytelling, beautiful clothing, a gorgeous beach house, and cocktails in just about every scene. And pie! Lots and lots of pies. In flashbacks, we learn that Mildred started out as a housewife who was just trying her best to give her children everything she never had. She sells baked goods to the neighbors, and after her husband leaves her for that simpering homewrecker Mrs. Biederhof, Mildred waits tables in a busy restaurant to make ends meet. Eventually, she learns enough about the business to start her own restaurant, which quickly becomes a smash hit. But is this good enough for eldest daughter Veda? Oh, no. She can’t stand the fact that her mother works for a living. No, Veda would rather earn her fortune through blackmailing and pregnancy scares. It can be frustrating to watch Mildred defend her child’s evil actions, but she’s a mom. She can’t help wanting to see the best in her daughter, even when that daughter seduces mom’s playboy husband for herself. Talk about a soap opera!

As I said, there are a ton of cocktails in this. Martinis, straight bourbon, scotch & soda—you name it, they drank it. One beverage in particular caught my attention during a scene where Mildred and her ex have a drink in a California tiki bar. I can’t transplant myself there, but I can mix up this simple, delicious cocktail. While watching Mildred Pierce, I recommend drinking a Rum Collins.

Rum Collins

2 oz Vida Caña 2-yr Aged Rum

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Simple Syrup

Topo Chico sparkling water

Lime Garnish

Combine Rum, lime juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with Topo Chico, and stir to combine. Garnish with Lime.

If you want to catch a glimpse of my dream abode, look no further than the opening scene at Monte’s beach house. Steps from the ocean, it features multiple bars, a glassed-in patio, spiral staircase, and plenty of lounge spaces, perfect for either entertaining or murder. I guess it depends on whether or not you made the mistake of procreating. Cheers!

Snowpiercer

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Image credit: Snowpiercer, 2013

It takes a lot to suck me into a story where everyone is cold, dirty, and unhappy, so it goes without saying that I was not expecting to love this week’s film Snowpiercer (Disc/Download). But after my initial watch, I remember turning the television off, staring at the blank screen, and breathing a single word- “Wow.”

Recently adapted for the small screen, Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian sci-fi action film has many similar themes to his 2019 hit, Parasite (which I also loved). Class warfare takes center stage as Chris Evans leads an army of peasants from the back of a continuously moving train, to the front section where rich folks enjoy such luxuries as sushi and saunas. This locomotive carries the last remaining humans on earth (after climate change and man’s follies have turned it into a subzero wasteland), and instead of a peaceful egalitarian community of survivors, overlord Wilfred has created a closed loop ecosystem of haves and have-nots. With a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and Ed Harris, just to name a few, Snowpiercer is that rare movie that keeps me on my toes from beginning to end. But beyond the flashy action sequences, there’s a real sense of pain and hope and desperation to these characters that makes me want to keep watching. I’ve got to see if there’s an end to this terrible trip.

Throughout Snowpiercer, food is used as a metaphor for the characters’ privilege, or lack thereof. From Ed Harris’s steaks to Tilda’s rare sushi, down to the gelatinous bug bars that the tailies consume (sorry, “protein bars”), this train’s menu is all over the place. I had a little fun this week with the protein bar theme, making a snack fit for us alcoholic peasants. While watching Snowpiercer, I recommend trying a Boozy Bar.

Boozy Bar

3/4 cup Water

1/3 cup Vodka

1/2 cup Jell-O (any flavor)

1 tsp Activated Charcoal Powder

Boil water and vodka together, then stir in charcoal powder and Jell-O. Remove from heat, and stir until gelatin is dissolved- about 2 minutes. Pour into block molds, and chill overnight. When firm, carefully run a knife around the inside of the molds and turn the blocks out onto a plate. Slice and enjoy!

This film always leaves me with a lot to think about, such as how castes can have a symbiotic relationship, each of us relying on the other to survive, whether we realize it or not. I have no idea which section I’d be relegated to on this train, but dear God let’s hope it’s not the nursery school. Now that would truly be my dystopian nightmare. Cheers!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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Image credit: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2001

Do you remember the first movie you saw after leaving home as an adult? In my case, it was August 2001 (just a couple weeks before September 11th would change the world forever), and I found myself alone in a dorm room, at a college where I didn’t particularly want to be enrolled. Instead of unpacking, I decided to embrace my newfound freedom and hike up the street to the nearest cinema. Like a beacon, the poster for Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Disc/Download) screamed out at me. Securing the last seat in the tiny theater, the lights dimmed, and reader, this was the moment my movie-going life truly began.

For those unfamiliar, Hedwig is the adaptation of the off-Broadway smash hit about a gender-queer East Berlin rocker who becomes the star of a small cabaret act touring across Middle America. The band “The Angry Inch” is a reference to the botched sex change operation that’s left Hedwig somewhere between male/female, and it’s through their songs that we learn the saga of how young Hansel transitioned into the fabulous diva currently belting out power ballads from under an impressive collection of ever-changing wigs. This movie is a thought-provoking exploration of gender identity and love, featuring one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. And for an eighteen-year-old girl who was still struggling to figure out a lot of things, Hedwig was an inspiration. This character forces us to look at the pieces of ourselves, even the ones we want to run from, in order to accept them all as perfect. Male, female, gay, straight, costumed in drag or naked in the street—we are all human, and must all learn to love ourselves in whatever shape we’ve assumed.

 A scene I particularly love is when Hansel meets the American soldier who would hatch a plan to get them out of East Berlin through marriage and the infamous “operation”. Lured by gummy bears, it’s like watching Adam and Eve take a bite of the apple. Suddenly, this young German’s grey world has a hint of color. Let’s toast Hedwig not with a vermouth on the rocks (because blegh), but with this colorful Gummi Bear cocktail.

Gummi Bear

1 ½ oz Raspberry Vodka

1 oz Peach Schnapps

½ oz Lime Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Cranberry Juice

3 oz Lemon-lime soda

Gummy Bears (Haribo of course!)

Combine Vodka, Peach Schnapps, lime juice, simple syrup, and cranberry juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with lemon-lime soda, and garnish with gummy bears.

I’ll never forget leaving the little theater in Dupont Circle on that hot August night, feeling like my own world just transitioned to color too. Feeling like things were going to be okay because I had myself, and I had movies. And when the world’s a bit amiss, there’s always makeup and a tape deck. Cheers!

On the Rocks

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Image credit: On the Rocks, 2020

2020 was indescribably hard for everyone, but for those of us who love movies, it was particularly bleak. Instead of frequent trips to the local cinema, we endured a string of forgettable indies on the couch while struggling to focus on literally anything. I know there were probably good films I just couldn’t give my full attention to (lookin’ at you Sylvie’s Love), but for the most part I sat through a lot of 2 ½ hr-long “edgy” movies that made me desperate for a recognizable star, a decent wardrobe/production design budget, and most of all a skilled editor. Eventually, I just gave up, got a Criterion subscription, and said to hell with modern films. It was during this frustrating time that I missed a rare gem in the 2020 wasteland, Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. I’m still annoyed it’s only available on Apple TV+, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth signing up for YET ANOTHER streaming platform to see this perfect marriage between Murray and martinis.

Truthfully, I will always give a lot of leeway to any movie that includes a swimming pool, cocktails, a cool classic car, and iconic hotel bars. The thin plot involving a woman trying to discover the truth about her husband’s affairs is almost irrelevant—I just want to watch rich people do their thing. It’s an escape for me; a glimpse into a world I can only visit for brief stretches of time. But oh, what a world. In this rarefied section of New York, Bill Murray plays Felix, a charming art dealer trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Laura (played by Rashida Jones) through impromptu cocktail parties, drinks at the Carlyle, a late-night stakeout fueled by caviar and champagne, and a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico. Is he dad of the year? No. He’s a misogynistic asshole. But he is uniquely himself—unapologetic, wildly entertaining, caring in the only way he knows how.

I know this is not the first movie I’ve paired with a martini on Cinema Sips, but there really is no other option for this one.  You MUST watch it with a Sapphire Martini, and imagine it was brought to you in a chilled carafe on a little silver tray. Picture yourself back out in the world, sitting in an iconic Manhattan bar, where you’re paying more for the real estate and history than the gin. While watching On the Rocks, I recommend drinking a Sapphire Martini.

Sapphire Martini

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

½ oz Dry Vermouth

2 olives

Combine gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice, and stir to chill- about 45 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with olives.

In a year when most new releases made me want to either curl into a ball and cry, or spend two hours restlessly browsing social media on my phone, On the Rocks felt like a fun breath of fresh air. There were no major problems, no big issues to overcome—these people would all be fine whether Laura’s husband is faithful or not. Felix tries to force his daughter to give herself permission to enjoy life again, and that’s what this movie feels like to me. Permission to make a cocktail, watch some pretty people, and have fun for a tight ninety-six minutes.  Cheers!

Bottle Rocket

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Image credit: Bottle Rocket, 1996

Longtime readers of Cinema Sips know I’m a sucker for any movie with a pool, and now that the weather’s warming up, I’m ready for an onscreen dip. Bottle Rocket (Disc/Download) manages to make a crappy motel pool look like Shangri-La, and although the comedic heist script is an absolute joy, let’s be clear—I’m mainly here for the swimming.

Despite the fact that Bottle Rocket was never a commercial success, critics nevertheless came away from initial screenings with the sense that this was the start of something major. The symmetry; the Mark Mothersbaugh soundtrack; the deadpan comedy style; the saturated colors—all hallmarks of Wes Anderson’s unique body of work. This film is the genesis, a place where we can come to view tiny glimpses of his brilliance, feeling like we just entered a world that’s somehow better than our own (even though it’s just a nondescript, forgettable Texas town). Small is the word I keep coming back to—small budget, small-time crooks, small in scope; however, the movie leaves me with BIG feelings. The romance between Luke Wilson’s character Anthony and the motel maid Inez is so beautiful, it’s enough to make even the worst skeptic believe in love at first sight. That pure, simple moment when you realize the person you love feels the same way in return—like a bottle rocket exploding in your heart.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson movie without a zany cast of secondary characters, one of which is simply called Applejack. It’s a tiny role, but pivotal to the final heist of the film. And lucky for me, cocktail-inspiring as well.  While watching Bottle Rocket, cool off with an Applejack Collins.

Applejack Collins

1 ½ oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Orgeat

½ oz Lemon Juice

3 oz Club Soda

Combine Applejack, orgeat, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.  Top with club soda and stir gently to combine.

I’ve talked a lot about how this was the start of Wes Anderson’s career, but let’s not forget brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, who also broke into Hollywood with Bottle Rocket. With their Texas drawls, dented noses, and good hair, the Wilsons were practically destined for stardom. Lucky for us, this weird little ‘90s indie film had enough fuel to propel them up there.  Cheers!

Purple Noon

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Image Credit: Purple Noon, 1960

We’re traveling back to good ole’ Mongibello this week with the original Tom Ripley, 1960s French sex symbol Alain Delon. Purple Noon (Disc/Download), née Plein Soleil, is a striking adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was adapted once again by Anthony Minghella in 1999 to become one of my top ten films of all time. I’m a sucker for beautiful people in beautiful places, and it doesn’t get much more beautiful than these two movies.

If you’ve seen The Talented Mr. Ripley, much of Purple Noon will appear familiar. Tom and “Philippe” cavorting around Rome while Marge sits at home and waits for her man to get his act together. Tom forging signatures, impersonating voices, acting almost too agreeable, too charming. Brash American Freddie Miles showing up to ruin all of Tom’s fun, before meeting his doom at the butt end of an ugly sculpture. Gorgeous Italian vistas, sailboats, and the sparkling Mediterranean. If you like Minghella’s Ripley because of the visuals, then I can guarantee you’ll love Purple Noon even more. The film is a little more poetic, lingering longer on the beauty of the coastline as well as the beauty of Delon. Like a young Jared Leto who actually cares about how he looks on-screen, Delon is all suntan, six-pack, and cheekbones, and director René Clément certainly knew what he had in this then-unknown actor, giving him ample opportunity to strut around shirtless. Thank you René. Thank you very much.

A lot of what I love about this story hinges on the idea of American decadence, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to indulge in a beautiful niche liqueur, Creme de Violette. Let’s be clear- this stuff exists only so we can have purple cocktails. Like Midori or Blue Curacao, you’re buying this for the color. But hey- nothing wrong with that! Sometimes it’s all about the visuals. While watching Purple Noon, I recommend drinking this Twilight Martini.

Twilight Martini

2 oz Gin

1/2 oz Dry Vermouth

1/2 oz Creme de Violette

1/4 oz St. Germain

Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of dried blood orange.

Ultimately, I think I still prefer the 1999 version of The Talented Mr. Ripley to the 1960 version. A lot of that has to do with the ending, and without spoiling Purple Noon too much, I’ll just say that I like a world where Tom Ripley gets away with it. We never see him hauled away in handcuffs in either adaptation, but Purple Noon gives him a more limited chance of escape. If you ask me, that pretty face just doesn’t belong in prison. Cheers!

In the Mood for Love

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Image credit: In the Mood for Love, 2000

Get ready to have your goddamn heart ripped out this week with Wong Kar-wai’s timeless masterpiece In the Mood for Love (Disc/Download). I’m sorry to do this to you, but it can’t be helped. I can’t NOT talk about one of the greatest romances in cinema history—even when I know it’s going to hurt all over again.

I first saw this film in 2000 when it came to my town’s tiny little art house theater, and I remember being overwhelmed by its style and emotional punch. Because the story takes place in 1960s Hong Kong, viewers are treated to colorful mod wallpapers and gorgeous mandarin-collar dresses worn by lead star Maggie Cheung (and believe me, this woman has a lot of beautiful dresses). In the Mood for Love is so undeniably sexy, with its sultry Latin Nat King Cole tracks, dark alleyways, and longing looks shared between the film’s protagonists, that by the end you feel like you need the lipstick-covered cigarette left behind in Chow’s apartment. It’s an impossible romance between two married neighbors whose spouses are sleeping with one another, and for the briefest of seconds you start to believe that a happy ending is possible for these star-crossed lovers. Surely, the perfect soul mate doesn’t just slip right on by, like a noodle off a chopstick. Surely fate isn’t that cruel.

Although this is by no means a cocktail-heavy film, that doesn’t mean we can’t draw inspiration from some of the amazing dishes prepared and consumed onscreen. Food becomes a conduit for the love between the two characters, and we see it clearly when Mrs. Chan makes Chow sesame syrup while he’s fighting a cold. You might not think sesame could be used in a cocktail, but I’m open to experimentation this week. While watching In the Mood for Love, I recommend drinking a Sesame Highball.

Sesame Highball

3 slices cucumber, plus a cucumber ribbon for garnish

¾ oz lemon juice

¼ tsp. toasted sesame oil

Pinch of kosher salt

2 oz Vodka

1 oz Simple Syrup

3 oz Club Soda

Line a highball glass with cucumber ribbon, fill with ice, then set aside. Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a shaker with lemon juice, sesame oil, and salt. Add vodka, simple syrup, and ice. Shake until chilled, then double strain into prepared highball glass. Top with club soda and stir gently to combine.

In the Mood for Love is a movie about destiny, love, missed connections, and secrets, with not a single inch of wasted celluloid. Told in a very precise manner, the brisk story pacing forces the viewer to search for a place to rest—often finding it in the brush of a sleeve against a hip, the cloudy exhalation of smoke, or the reflection of a street light on wet pavement. If it sounds dreamy and otherworldly, it is—because that’s what falling in love feels like. Cheers!

Avanti!

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Image credit: Avanti!, 1972

I’ve got a bad case of wanderlust, and it’s all Jack Lemmon’s fault. He makes the Italian island of Ischia look purely magical in this week’s film Avanti! (Disc/Download), an underrated Billy Wilder gem from the 1970s. Though Ischia and it’s highly Instagrammable Mezzatorre Hotel have long held a place on my travel bucket list, this film has moved it straight to the top. What I wouldn’t give to have a room with a view of the sea, thick coffee, an attentive concierge, and a waiter who will ply you with pasta until you forget all about your pesky diet back home. When swimming naked in the Mediterranean is an option, who cares how you look in a bathing suit?

Of course, it’s not all skinny dipping and afternoon prosecco. Jack Lemmon’s character Wendell Armbruster arrives on the island to claim the body of his father, who died in a car crash with his mistress in the passenger seat. The daughter of this mistress is played by Juliet Mills (sister of Hayley), and though Wendell and Ms. Piggott start the film as strangers, they eventually pick up where their parents left off. I watched this film at a weird time in my life, having just spent six weeks dealing with my father’s death and all the legal headaches accompanying it. To say that I identify with Wendell’s frustration about how long and complicated the processes of body transport, death certificates, and funeral arrangements are would be an understatement (and similar to Ischia, nobody works weekends in Florida either). But what I loved about this movie is that by the end, Wendell is able to move past the minutia of death to truly celebrate the life his father lived, in the place where he was happiest. That is how we honor the dead, by experiencing the joy they would have wanted for us.

My one quibble with this fabulous movie is the unfortunate body dysmorphia and fat shaming experienced by Ms. Piggott (even the name is like an underhanded dig at the character). I’m not sure why we’re supposed to believe that the gorgeous Juliet Mills is overweight, but let’s just say by 2021 standards she is not. Luckily, after a couple Bacardi cocktails al fresco, she’s able to loosen up and enjoy herself without counting every calorie. Let’s join in the fun with this rum-based cocktail. While watching Avanti!, I recommend drinking a Daffodil.

Daffodil

1 1/2 oz Bacardi White Rum

1 oz Cocchi Americano

1 1/4 oz Orgeat

1 oz Lime Juice

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Dried Orange slice for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Fill a tumbler with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into prepared glass. Garnish with a dried orange slice (or twist of orange).

There’s a moment in Avanti! where Juliet Mills says, “Italy is not a country- it’s an emotion.” What this film captures so well are the complex emotions of love, loss, humor, frustration, and longing. After living through a year where it seems everything came to a complete stop, what a relief it is to hear the word avanti. In English, it means move forward. Proceed with living. Cheers!