3 things outside the art studio: spiced shrimp with classic martinis and music

    Greek-spiced shrimp has a romantic nostalgia for me, so I pulled out the swing music and a classic cocktail for a dinner-at-home date with my sweetheart. If you don't want to have martinis, open up a bottle of Albarino to perfectly complement the shrimp.

    1. Greek-spiced shrimp

    The first time I ever made dinner for my now-husband, I made this Greek-spiced shrimp recipe. It's delicious and has lovely presentation, but it's also nearly fool-proof. If you can talk yourself into turning on the oven this time of year, you ought to give this one a try.

    I still pull out this recipe years later, but I've made some adjustments that give it more zing. 

    1. If you marinate the shrimp in a little absinthe and dry vermouth (or dry white wine), mixed with olive oil and maybe some oregano if you have it handy, you won't regret it
    2. If you also add a tablespoon or so of absinthe and a couple tablespoons dry vermouth to the sauce, you'll regret it even less. (Note, don't bother using your good vermouth for this. Save it for the martini.)
    3. And if you take 90 seconds to sear the shrimp before you make the tomato sauce, they'll be far more flavorful. Just put them on a plate after the sear, and add them to the sauce last thing before it all goes in the oven.

    2. Big band swing

    A friend told us about the KCEA radio station out of northern California last winter, and we've played it almost constantly ever since. Since we can't get out to go swing dancing these days, we can at least pretend, right? KCEA plays the '20s, '30's, and '40s, but these aren't the usual tracks you hear on Spotify or Pandora. Lots to love every time it plays.

    3. Classic dry martini, but purple (!)

    I suspect the fancy gin trend will fade eventually, but until it does we're enjoying the range of subtle differences out there. If you can find a bottle of Empress Gin, you should do so immediately. I was pretty skeptical when I first saw it - come on, purple? Hibiscus? Are we just leap-frogging into cotton-candy flavor?

    No, my friend, we most certainly are not. Empress manages to be delicate and sophisticated, with a nice balance of floral and herbal notes. It also makes a superb dry gin martini, especially if you prefer them as I do, extra dry and ah, gin forward. In fact, feel free to do as Churchill recommended, and just wave the vermouth bottle in the direction of the glass.

    Who might like this? Hendricks drinkers might find this one too light, but then again, it's a nice change from kick-you-in-the-teeth juniper gins. I know some serious bourbon and Scotch drinkers who swear by Empress, so don't dismiss it because, you know, it's purple.

    Empress gin dry martini

    Empress dry gin martini

    2 1/2 ounces gin. Any gin will do, of course, but try Empress and see what you think

    1/2 ounce dry vermouth.This isn't the time to go with bottom-shelf vermouth. Lately, we're into La Quintinye royal extra dry

    Lemon twist

    Optional: dash orange bitters

    Combine the gin and vermouth in a cocktail shaker over ice. I'm not a fan of the bitters in my martinis, but if you're like my husband, add them now. Stir for 15 seconds or so, then strain into your glass of choice. A very fresh lemon twist gives it a nice zing.

    Bonus chemistry tip! If you shake this cocktail instead of stirring it, the gin turns blue. No, really! I have no earthly idea why. If you know, please, please tell me in the comments.