Fresno Zephyr, Autumn, 2004.

We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay   
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment   
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

Excerpt from "Our Valley" by Philip Levine

It must have been October because the air conditioning was off. The sky was dark, but for the first time in months the air didn't feel heavy. I had been cleaning my Tower District apartment, motivated by the cooler weather. I tidied the stacks of essays and textbooks littered about my living room, washed the dishes that had surely been sitting in the kitchen sink for too long, and resolved to actually hang my clean clothes up this time. I had a new candle burning. I think it was blue... It smelled blue, like rain-drenched pine branches. 

A bright breeze swept through my windows and screen door. It was a fresh burst of coastal air warmed by its journey into the dry desert of the San Joaquin Valley, and it stopped me in my tracks. Goosebumps prickled my arms as I stood dumbfounded in the middle of my apartment. My lungs rejoiced, like coming up for air while swimming. 

I wanted to capture the elegant fragments of memory from my time in Fresno in a cocktail. I could crack jokes about the smog or poke at the problems I saw, but the truth is I spent some of my most formative years and met some of the most important people in my life while I lived there. There's a sweet spot in my heart when I think of the city, and it deserves higher expectations than it receives. 

Working with smoke. 

This cocktail involves capturing smoke. There are fancy contraptions for doing this now, but you really only need two extra tools to do this painlessly at home: A mason jar with lid, and a lighter or matches. 

Infusing cocktails with smoke at home. |

To capture the smoke, put your dried bits on an overturned mason jar lid (shown above). I used dried rose petals and a cardamom pod with excellent results, but I'll bet dried orange peel or black tea would also work beautifully. 

Use your lighter or matches to get your dried material smoldering (no flame necessary). Once you start seeing smoke, place your upside-down mason jar over the lid. Once filled with smoke, carefully lift the jar and leave it overturned on the counter while you discard the burnt bits of matter from your lid.

Turn the jar back over and place the lid on top (you can tighten the ring or not). Set aside until you're ready to infuse your cocktail. 

Rose Simple Syrup

  • 1/4 cup dried rose petals
  • 1 cup sugar, agave nectar, or honey
  • 1 cup water

In a non-reactive saucepan, combine sweetener and water. Heat on medium heat on stove while stirring regularly until sweetener is dissolved. 

When syrup is about to simmer, add rose petals. Bring to full simmer and allow to bubble on low heat for 5 minutes. 

Remove pan from heat and allow to cool for up to 15 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towel. Store in a clean bottle or jar for use. 

Combine with seltzer water or club soda for a delicate rose soda.

Keep in refrigerator for up to a month (discard if it begins to appear cloudy). 

Fresno Zephyr, Autumn, 2004

What you'll need:

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • .5 orange liqueur (such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
  • .5 oz rose simple syrup (see above)
  • 7-10 drops apple cider vinegar
  • 5 drops orange blossom water*
  • A jar of smoke (see above)

What to do:

Combine all liquids in an empty cocktail shaker, secure lid, and shake without ice for about 10 seconds. 

Pour contents of shaker into the jar of smoke, secure lid, and shake/swirl gently for about 5 seconds. Immediately pour cocktail back into shaker (or into a cocktail pitcher).** Don't leave the cocktail in your smoke jar for longer than 5-7 seconds-- you don't want your drink tasting like an ash tray. 

Partially fill shaker/pitcher with ice, and stir your cocktail with a long handled spoon for 45 seconds. The goal here is twofold, just like with shaking: Temperature and dilution.

I garnished the drink with a single, fresh rose petal, but you could use a dry rose petal or orange twist as garnish instead.


*Yes, I know that the orange trees don't bloom in October in Fresno, but the groves are a big part of the valley (and the blossoms are heavenly come Springtime). Find orange blossom water at middle eastern markets, in some grocery stores (I spied mine at Whole Foods) and online. 

**Your jar of smoke will be enough to infuse around 4 cocktails, so just keep a lid on it until you're done. Simply take the lid off when you're done (you may want to do this outside).