.Oswald Cocktails, Best Pumpkin Pie, and Cleaning Out the Fridge

Easily one of the most sophisticated corners of downtown Santa Cruz, the lounge at Oswald offers casually chic vibes and expert cocktails.

Treating ourselves to some liquid season’s greetings, Katya and I settled into the crowded bar last week and made a few choice choices. A variation on the Cosmojito ($9) was my call, substituting Bombay gin for vodka. I enjoyed the oral choreography of mint, lime and cranberry with the queen of crystal clear spirits. My companion selected the Valentino ($11). Echoing the classic Negroni, this beautiful drink was built of layers of Griffo gin, Amaro, Cynar—one of the most wickedly eccentric liqueurs on the planet (artichoke!), and Carpano Antica vermouth all swirled and poured over a single over-sized ice cube. Stays chilled, but doesn’t melt into dilution. A fresh spiral zest of lemon completed this 100-percent adult cocktail. With drinks we split an appetizer crostini frosted with garlicky mashed avocado and topped with a gemlike slice of seared ahi. Stupendous. All under the watchful eye of chef Damani Thomas, whose kitchen was busy turning out an abundance of entrees like fried chicken worthy of the Deep South.

Best Pumpkin Pie

The all-butter crust version from Beckmann’s Old World Bakery.

For decades I made my own holiday pumpkin pies. Usually from scratch, starting with the pumpkin itself. Roasting it. Pureeing the pulp. Then applying the classic Libbey’s recipe. But that elaborate baking process might just be a thing of the past. I have discovered Beckmann’s pumpkin pie. This year, it was just the two of us, and I went in search of a few slices of well-made pumpkin pie at my favorite bakeries. Ha! They had long since sold out of pumpkin pie. Was I too late? No! There at the bakery area in New Leaf was a small, 6-inch pumpkin pie with an all-butter crust from Beckmann’s. It was sensational. Rich, dense, perfectly spiced, everything a pumpkin pie should be.

Refrigerator Confessions

At year’s end, I try to tackle the refrigerator. Cleaning out the old, and beginning the new year with a sense of renewed optimism: surely this will be the year that I keep up with things. Do I really need three half-loaves of bread in my freezer covered with ice crystals? Probably not. How about that three-year-old bratwurst? Nope. I change the box of baking soda so that a fresh batch of white powder will absorb whatever evil spirits it’s designed to capture. And then I turn my attention to the flight deck of the refrigerator. Three jars of capers, each of them opened. Better check the dates on those. An antique bottle of blackstrap molasses gets dumped, as does a questionable jar of tamarind chutney. Thousand-year-old Jack cheese, out. A misshapen lump of St. Agur blue goes bye-bye, too. A bag of limp arugula will never see the new year, nor will those last three radishes left over from mid-autumn. The entire exercise borders on the archaeological, and hence brings with it many odd and fabulous discoveries. Who knew I still had that tube of anchovy paste brought from Italy in 2014? Or an unopened bottle of Cholula hot sauce behind the opened bottle of Cholula. I toss, I clean, I replace, I feel invigorated. The Gerolsteiner bottles line the door, right next to the emergency bottle of Veuve Clicquot and organic grapefruit juice. Fresh chutneys, new wedges of Petit Basque, and a few jars of mayo, mustard and relish. My refrigerator almost purrs—it’s ready for the New Year. Here’s a toast to auld lang syne, and a happy 2017, one way or the other!

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