This blog – and much of my other work – is usually written in the dead of night when I am supposed to be asleep. I’ve been resentfully insomniac for almost four years now, and learnt that when you go to bed bone-tired and stretchy-cheeked, and close your eyes only to find it feels like there’s a million watt neon bathroom light on in your brain, and no sign of an off switch, the only thing to do is to stop fighting and roll with it.
I don’t mean that I get up and get out the laptop. I might not sleep much (or enough) but I am not one of those Thomas-Edison-like people who can be fully active and functional for 19 hours of the day. I don’t spring out of bed at 4.30am and set out on a 10km two-bridge Thames circuit, or start reading War and Peace with a pot of freshly brewed darjeeling. The only way I can make minimal amounts of sleep work for me is by spending another three hours or so lying in bed very, very still. Just resting – and thinking. This is when I plan the next day; when I sift through ideas in my head; compose the first tricky few lines of a piece and find the bones that will take me from start to finish; when I think about what I’ll make for dinner; when I untangle and digest the tastings and dinners and conversations of the day before. Then, out of the shower at 7am, all I have to do is type it all up, and edit.
Just how valuable this time is I hadn’t realised until recently, when I lost it. A few weeks ago, I started to sleep. The sleep was as compelling and as autocratic as the insomnia. There was no resisting and no negotiation. For about two months, I was tucked up in bed almost every night at 9pm, if not earlier, and not awake again until 8 the next morning. The bedroom was transformed from a ragged place of hot eyes and wrung-out nerves to a palace of billowing duvets and soft, feathery pillows. Bliss. But no blogs.
Well now the sleeplessness is back and so am I. And all those reclaimed evenings got me thinking of cocktails. Specifically, clementine cocktails because I mainline clementines at this time of year. The tang and fragrance is just so evocative. I pulled a piece together for the Telegraph – owners of How to Drink at Christmas will recognise the recipes.
My favourite is:
With its orange inflections and smell of molten demerera that rises up like vapour under the heat of a warm sun, this tastes like a sophisticated take on a rum punch. The drink was invented by my friend Joe Wadsack (you may know him from BBC2’s Food and Drink) while staying near my parents, at another friend’s house in West Yorkshire, one Christmas – hence the name. This is my tweaked version. What makes it is the quality of the rum. I like to use El Dorado 5-Year-Old (Oddbins, £28) from Guyana, which is aged in bourbon casks and has a rich, caramel taste, but you could substitute another golden rum, just try to find one with a bit of kick.
50ml El Dorado 5 Year Old rum
juice of ½ lime
juice of 3 clementines
large dash Angostura bitters
3ml sugar syrup (you can make this by heating two volumes of sugar with one of water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, then leaving to cool)
Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass.
And finally, on clementine-related matters, I bumped into a friend while grabbing a latte in Carluccio’s this morning. Two of his children were raiding the shelves for clementine jam. This seemed like such a good idea that I bought some myself. Can’t wait to try it in the morning.