The Beautiful and Damned: Intoxication

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“There was a kindness about intoxication – there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.

 

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After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building – its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky.

 

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And Wall Street, the crass, the banal – again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars…

 

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…The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.”

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, from the novel The Beautiful and Damned

 


All photos by JE Alexandria Julaton

 

Cognac: A Warm Beautiful (Cocktail) Memory

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It was a bright summer morning in Victoria. Mom and my aunties were in deep discussions over which beauty salon to go to. My uncle was waiting patiently with cup of coffee in one hand, and car keys in the other. I was sipping my coffee in the balcony, looking out at the marina, and watching planes skim over the water when I got a text from my brothers. They had all decided to go downtown right after an early breakfast. No doubt, I’ll meet up with one or all of them later today, after their afternoon of selfies and shopping.

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Until then, I decided to go exploring on my own. Our condo was just a five-minute walk to the Inner Harbour and Empress Hotel. As I wandered in and out of alleys along Government Street, I briefly checked out a number of trendy bars and cheery pubs, making mental notes of which ones I’ll visit later.

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One shop I popped into sold beautifully-cut crystal liquor decanters imported from Ireland. Another had intricately carved chocolates that looked too amazing to eat. Was craving a snack at that point, but the dainty finger sandwiches and tiny cakes crowd at Murchie’s was ridiculous! I ended up lunching at a patio on Trounce Alley, and chatted with a sous chef from Montreal on his smoke break. He gave me his card and suggested, with his heavy French accent, that we have dinner at his place some evening. “I cook for you, we have some wine and…”, he let the sentence trail off with a nodding smile and a crook of his brow. I kept the card.

My brother Arthur texted me that he was cocktailing at a bar in Chinatown. He invited me to join him if I was nearby, before meeting up and dining with family in a couple of hours. Past the fruit stands and tea house, I found an alley that looked almost too narrow for two people to walk through, shoulder to shoulder. I took my time exploring the tiny shops and fragrant varieties of burning incense. It was summer, warm and perfect. And I had no intention of rushing anywhere.

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I found the bar just a block and a half away. Arthur wasn’t seated at the counter, where I expected him to be. I saw through a glass partition that he was sitting at a table, staring at an oil painting hanging directly in front of him.

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I wish I knew the name of the artist who did this painting

He was completely absorbed by that gorgeous painting of what appeared to be a (ahem) costume party, which took up half the wall. He could barely look away, even as he spoke or took pictures of it with his phone. More interesting to me was the cocktail my brother was sipping. He called it the Warm Beautiful.

The cocktail

The Beautiful is a delicious, potent and citrusy cocktail made of cognac and Grand Marnier orange liqeuer. Arthur preferred it topped with a lemon zest. Having worked part-time as a bartender while in medical school, he knew that cognac’s flavor and aroma deepened when warmed. Cognac lovers would often just cradle the snifter in the palm of their hand, warming the cognac with their body’s heat. My brother wanted something a bit more imaginative.

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The cocktail was served in a snifter. He then asked for a “heater”, a small glass half-filled with hot water. Arthur placed the snifter on top of the water-bearing glass. As my brother waited for the cognac cocktail to reach the proper temperature, he rotated the snifter now and again, still gazing in awe at the absurd yet fascinating painting across from us.

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Age of the cognacs

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), there are three official classifications of cognac, depending on how long the cognac had been stored in casks:
VS (very special) – At least two years
VSOP (very superior old pale) – At least four years
XO (extra old) – At least ten years

Other classifications have also been used by producers when the cognac had been stored beyond official age scales, such as Extra and Hors d’age (beyond age), which can be as much as 100 years old.

“Rules” of enjoyment

Cognac connoisseurs have very strong feelings about cognacs being used in cocktails. One forbes.com article mentioned that, whereas it is acceptable to use a young VS or VSOP cognac as part of a cocktail mix, it is considered a tragedy to do so with an exceptional-tasting, wallet-busting XO or older cognac. Those can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle.

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My brother’s Warm Beautiful cocktail was created using Hennessey VS, but a Courvoisier VSOP could have also been used, instead. On the other hand, Remy Martin’s $3,000-a-bottle Louis XVIII, which is very popular in China (along with all the other premium cognacs), is an example of one that should be showcased as a solo act.

All drinking aside (for the moment), younger cognacs should also be used for flambe, marinades, sauces, chocolates and fruit preserves.

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And if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all things cognac, the French town this liquid luxury was named after hosts the annual La Fete du Cognac , where you can party for three days with cognac cocktails, crowds, cuisine and concerts.

Cheers!

The Beautiful cocktail recipe

1 oz Hennessey or Courvoisier VS/VSOP cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Add both ingredients into a brandy snifter, mix and serve. Optional: Top off with a lemon zest, the way my brother and I like it.

Enjoy!


All photos of Victoria BC, Canada by Alexandria Julaton
Remy Martin shop photo by Weng lei – Imaginechina/AP
Still shot of Cognac Festival, courtesy of La Fete du Cognac YouTube video

Cocktails: How to fail at picking up ladies, and the fabulous flavored cube

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There are so many wrong ways to meet women.

On our way to a cocktail adventure downtown, my gal pal and I added a few more to that list. Here’s one: A dark-colored car with tinted windows pulling up alongside us. Then an unseen driver slowly lowering his driver-side window to reveal a hand, palm up, and fingers beckoning in a “Bitches, come here.” gesture.
Nope.

Here’s another: A guy stopping his car on the corner at a green light, angry drivers honking behind him, while he’s shouting lame come-ons at us with a huge, naughty grin on his face.
Really big nope!

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Yeah, nope again. But kudos for originality!

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Maybe?
I mean, what woman could resist a suave, fashion-forward icon like Austin Powers, am I right?

After that obstacle course of weirdness, we made it to the bar and grabbed seats in front of the bartender. We like to watch the magic happen.

Luc Lac bar

The Single Knight cocktail at Luc Lac’s bar was a game-changing, Whoa!-inducing twist on the Old Fashioned cocktail that made our tastebuds do a double-take. First, a large cube made of deeply smokey Lapsang Souchong tea was placed in the glass. This was followed with their sigh-inducing blend of bourbon, pho syrup, and angostura orange bitters. But wait, there’s more! The finishing touch was a lemon twist, wrapped around a blowtorched bourbon cherry and cloves! Daaaamn!

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When I order cocktails that arrive with a large, slow-melting cube, I usually leave it alone for a couple of minutes before I take a sip. This is so a little of the ice will melt into the mix and make it less syrupy. One sip of the Single Knight and MIND BLOWN! The smokiness from the melting tea cube adding to the bourbon, further flavored by zest with burnt cherry and cloves – I was caught up in a swirl of amazingness.

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Citrus with burnt fruit and spice was all kinds of nice (especially in a bourbon), but that giant cube made of smokey Lapsang Souchong tea made me realize flavored ice cubes that bring out another flavor dimension in cocktails is a thing!

Luc Lac single knight cocktail


 

Single Knight Cocktail at the Luc Lac bar

I wish I had the recipe for this cocktail. However, I do have the ingredients list:

Four Roses single barrel bourbon
Pho syrup
Angostura orange bitters
Lapsang Souchong tea ice cube
Bourbon cherry
Cloves
Lemon zest

 

 

Life as a Cocktail: Trying Something New

 

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I had a rough week – the kind of rough week that made me want to re-think several of my life and career choices.  After surviving yet another one, I was trying to put it out of my mind and get to a happy place, as I sipped my vodka lemon drop. My thoughts started drifting off randomly to paths taken, and experiences that shaped decisions made along the way as I felt, figured and clawed my way through this existence. All while trying not to feel completely overwhelmed. Or fall flat on my face.

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I meditated and thought back to choices others I knew have made, and the happiness and fulfillment those decisions brought (or didn’t). It was easy to conclude that making those same choices, walking that same path, would result in the same for anyone else. Treading well-worn paths. But if our lives become all about playing it safe, how can we know there is another path, or level of happiness, that could be more rewarding? One more unexpected, surprising, even exhilarating, and perhaps more fulfilling? We really can’t know until we…pivot.

A great idea or quest for some form of happiness had to start somewhere, and it might have been an amazing journey along the way.

A cocktail analogy.

Pivot. Twist. Zag. Change IS scary, with no guarantees of success. Then again, it doesn’t guarantee failure, either. Think about THAT for a moment!

A well-made cocktail is a thing of beauty and wonder. The balance of ingredients, one in step with another, and that with another, and so on, creating the mesmerizing dance of flavors. But is it a perfect cocktail? That depends.

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On YOU, and if you want to stick with one recipe and be perfectly happy to never deviate from it, or decide that tweaking it a wee bit would make it different, and possibly better. Perhaps the art of the cocktail can be more interpretive dance, than classical ballet – creating your own new combination of moves, instead of following someone else’s footsteps.

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The well-worn paths, the classic cocktails, have withstood the tests of time, but they haven’t always existed. Someone started with a gin, aged and smoothed to perfection, added – just for giggles – a liqueur of 130+ herbs and botanicals whose recipe has been guarded by monks in Europe for centuries, then sweetened it with the fermented juice of a thousand cherries. A few more ingredients and experiments later, one of the most famous cocktails (and one of my personal favorites) was created.

But anyway, back to the story.

One evening at home, I decided upon a vodka lemon drop. Nothing like a sweet, citrusy kiss to smooth out my ragged soul after a long week. A few minutes relaxing in my lounge chair with a cocktail, and the world was slowly obscured by a veil of bliss. I wandered over to the refrigerator to choose ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Deciding on stir-fried veggies, I reached for the fresh ginger and noticed the stalks of lemongrass beside it.

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PIvot.

Hey…what if…?

I pulled out another martini glass and poured in a couple of ounces of vodka.

I sliced off a thick piece of ginger, pounded it with a mallet, and let it sit in the vodka while I finished my cocktail. Later, I put some ice in a mixing glass, and added the piece of ginger I had used to infuse the vodka.

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Zag (Ladies and gentlemen, now for my NEXT trick…).

I chopped some of the lemongrass and dropped it into the mixing glass. After muddling and pounding the lemongrass and ginger on the ice, I added a quarter ounce of triple sec, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, then the infused vodka.

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I poured in a wee bit more vodka (wink), shook the whole thing for a few seconds, then strained the exciting concoction into my martini glass.

MMMMM!! Ginger lemongrass martini – a delicious vodka martini with a couple of exotic twists. If the ginger is too strong, add less next time. If you like it sweeter, add more triple sec and simple syrup. The idea is to adjust it to your taste. As with life, the cocktail is all about you and your happiness, after all.

Also with cocktails, as with life, you can start over and try again – fix something, make it even better, or try something new. Who knows what brilliant schemes and cocktails you’ll dream up next!

 

Manscaping: Shaved Gorillas and the Optical Inch

Brazilian cocktail caipirinha

While shopping at the mall one afternoon, I came across an eyebrow tweezing shop in the center aisle. Each brow follicle was wrapped by a piece of thread and quickly extracted. The specialist worked at lightning-speed efficiency. And just as notable to me was the fact that the customer was a man.

I love it when a man takes really good care of himself. Spas and salons that cater exclusively to gentlemen clientele have been thriving, and I’ve seen several online magazines that specialize in advising men on grooming products and style. I wondered, how do the other ladies feel about manscaping?

Popsugar.com threw the question out there. Turns out, their readers had some pretty strong opinions (except for the one commenter who thought manscaping was a video game). Shaving, trimming and general cleanliness, including the man bush, was much appreciated and encouraged by the ladies. Waxing anywhere, however, was considered a bit extreme. Someone commented that hairless everywhere was kinda creepy. I can see that, actually. I personally like my man to have some hair in strategic areas that reassure me I’m not feeling up a teenage boy <shudder>.

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Articles have been written about manscaping, assuring men that being de-gorilla’d does not leave them emasculated. In the New York Times piece “A He-Wax for Him”, salons catering to men have a growing number of clients requesting bikini waxes and Brazilians. Other than The Male Brazilian, popular areas men want serviced include toes, butt, back and chest.

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For pain management during these waxing procedures (let ‘er RRRRIIIP!), male clients could clench a rubber ball or take a painkiller beforehand. The obvious question becomes, why would guys endure these excruciating treatments? Reasons ranged from “maintaining yourself and keeping things clean” to the illusion known as the “optical inch”, where the “main attraction” appears larger due to the less obstructed view.

Less hair down there makes your penis look bigger?? If that ain’t a powerful enough motivator, I don’t know what is!

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According to one article in MensFitness.com, “More men are becoming open to getting waxed because their girlfriends and wives are encouraging them to clean up…usually men come back after the first time because waxing makes you feel more confident by eliminating a 5 o’clock shadow on your back or groin area, and helps relieve ingrown hairs caused by shaving. Plus, it saves time since you don’t have to shave daily, and eventually hair starts to grow back thinner so you don’t need to come in as often.”

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If guys feel a bit skittish about dropping trou in a salon treatment room, there are at-home trimmers on the market designed specially for the hair down there – Philips Norelco Bodygroom Pro, the Gillette Mangroomer Essential Private Body Shaver, etc. Also, techniques on getting that close (and relatively painless) shave in the nether regions can be found in the Interwebs, such as MadeMan.com’s “How to Manscape Below the Belt”, with helpful, detailed instructions like establishing the outline, preparation, and stretching the shaft as you shave.

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Jordan Schlansky explains his Philips Norelco BodyGroom to Conan O’Brien (see video)

As for you cavemen who crave pain and danger, but not when it comes to your genitals and body hair, there’s always the natural option. On an episode of Conan, Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) offered up this brawny argument against manscaping:

“The lower pudenda region is mother nature’s billboard. It should say “Ready to F—.” Not only should you not be trimming and shaving, you should be maintaining a swampy atmosphere that’s just shy of growing fungus. This is where life is born. You should be giving off a hot musk that you can almost taste.”

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Caipirinha

In honor of the Brazilian, the inspired cocktail of the moment is a popular Brazilian concoction – the Caipirinha!

1/2 a lime cut into 4 sections (you’ll just need 2 sections)
2 TP baker’s sugar
2 1/2 ounces cachaca

Fill the shaker halfway with ice cubes. Squeeze juice from the lime sections into the shaker. Add the sugar, then muddle the lime sections on the ice. Pour in the cachaca, shake, then serve the whole thing in a rocks glass, or neat in a martini glass with a slice of lime.

Cheers!

Sources:
Esquire, 2014. “Watch Nick Offerman Explain Why Manscaping is an Abomination”. http://www.esquire.com/style/grooming/videos/a30210/nick-offerman-conan-manscaping/

MadeMan, 2011. “How to Manscape Below the Belt”. http://www.mademan.com/how-to-manscape-below-the-belt/

Mens Fitness, 2015. “Manscaping: A Guy’s Guide to Getting Rid of Body Hair”. http://www.mensfitness.com/styleandgrooming/fashion/manscaping-guys-guide-getting-rid-body-hair

New York Times, 2012. “A He-Wax for Him”. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/fashion/men-turn-to-bikini-waxing.html?_r=4&ref=style

Video of Jordan Schlansky and Conan O’Brien courtesy of youtube.com

Photos:
Caipirinha – JE Alexandria Julaton
Open shirt – igibertoldi/morguefile
Hairy man, barechested man – kconnors/morguefile and igibertoldi/morguefile
Statue – clarita/morguefile
Squint and Shaver – mantasmagorical/morguefile and marykbaird/morguefile
Gorilla – lemai13/morguefile

Spa Treatment: Cat Litter Facial Mask

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Just before shutting down my social media for the evening to meditate with cocktails and lounge music, I received an odd message and photo from one of The Ladies. Lady Asya had on a spa treatment facial mask, and was smiling broadly while holding up her big, beautiful silver-gray cat. In the post, she proudly announced she was wearing a facial mask made from cat litter. It seemed like an odd bonding moment between her and kitty.

Personally, anything associated with the absorption of animal waste products would never make it on or near my face. Plus, capitalism and trade has progressed over past decades to bring us a lively array of spa products for convenient purchase online and at nearby grocery stores.

So what in the world would possess an adventurous spa maven to experiment with cat litter? Apparently, she liked it so much that she smeared it on her own face. And then posted it on Facebook. This was a very curious idea that had to be pondered with all the proper precautions. So I made myself a gin martini. Lemon twist.

Facial masks, along with other handsomely packaged skin treatments, are a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker. However, many of these spa products contain skin irritants, such as alcohol. To get away from harsh chemicals, many have sought organic skin care lines with natural ingredients. Home remedies, with ingredients that could be found in one’s kitchen, also became widely popular. According to a recent article on livestrong.com, entitled “The Effects of Bentonite Clay on the Face”, bentonite clay, harvested from soil near Fort Benton, Wyoming, is one natural ingredient found in spa and store-bought facial masks. When mixed with water, the clay effectively absorbs pore-clogging oils and toxins from beneath the skin. Bentonite is also used for urine absorption in cat litter. Hence, the cat litter facial mask for women with oily skin.

The result? From what I’ve seen, and without having yet tried it myself, it seems to work quite well.

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Lady Asya’s healthy, glowing skin

A couple of key points should be kept in mind when cat litter shopping for your beauty treatment endeavor. Check the bag’s ingredients, make sure it contains benzonite or sodium benzonite. Plus, I suggest you purchase separate bags of natural clay cat litter for yourself and your cat, with separate scoops.
Just sayin’.

Cheers!

For more stories, recipes and articles, visit The Ladies Chillout Lounge website and Google+ page
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Gin Martini with Lemon Twist

3 ounces gin

1/2 ounce dry vermouth

1 long lemon zest

Combine gin and vermouth, and shake with ice for ten seconds.
Strain the gin and vermouth mixture into a chilled martini glass.
Add the lemon zest.

Absinthe: Green Fairy Cocktail Party

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“None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.” Baudelaire comparing and preferring absinthe to wine and opium in his poem “Poison”.

Absinthe has enjoyed a tantalizing reputation steeped in decadence, myth and controversy for over a century – the kind of popularity and staying power big-screen actors and rock stars would envy today. Invented in 18th century Val-de-Travers Switzerland, this supposed hallucination-inducing liquor has been rumored to cause convulsions, blackouts, visions of little green fairies, and rampant psychosis. The Fed’s ban on selling absinthe in the U.S. was in effect for almost a century.

In the 1990’s, its popularity grew worldwide, and eventually – around 2007 – the Fed allowed two European distillers to sell the liquor Stateside. Since then, many have attempted to tap the green fairy portal for visions of demons, angels, creative genius, and so forth. Some say a toxic chemical in wormwood, one of the main ingredients in absinthe along with anise, may have been the cause of these extreme symptoms, and not the liquor itself. According to a recent BBC article, “Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day.”

How to Serve Absinthe

These days, many bar menus feature absinthe as part of a cocktail mixture. The two most popular methods to serve absinthe have been the Absinthe Drip and with a flaming sugar cube. The Absinthe Drip, a classic method, involves the slow-drip of cold water onto a sugar cube sitting on a perforated spoon, held over a glass of absinthe.

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The water drips through the cube and into the absinthe, sweetening it.

 

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With the very stylish flaming cube method, you put the sugar cube on the perforated spoon, on top of an empty glass. You then pour the absinthe over the cube, soaking it as the liquid flows into the glass. Then, purely for the sake of showmanship, the cube is lit on fire, and the melted sugar slowly drips into the absinthe. Follow this up by adding ice cold water to the absinthe to get the cloudy effect.

Absinthe’s alcohol content of between 45% and 74% could provide a “transcendent” experience, although mainly without fairies.

I was at a bar one evening, nervously watching a very tall, red-wigged, platform-heeled drag queen in a green dress staring silently and very intensely at me through the gauzey curtains surrounding my candlelit alcove, before suddenly sprinting off into the darkness. The lesson here is, if you’re in the right place at the right time, green fairies can be seen even without absinthe.

 

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Death in the Afternoon
A cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway. Recipe in his own words:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Sources:

Photos by JE Alexandria Julaton at Raven & Rose

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1689232,00.html?imw http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140109-absinthe-a-literary-muse http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2031497_2031504_2031460,00.html http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Absinthe http://liquor.com/articles/biggest-absinthe-myths/