When the stars align

A serendipitous thing happened over the weekend: my friend Nic’s birthday fell on National Pisco Sour Day.

You’re probably wondering what the hell a pisco is and why it’s sour.

Pisco is a grape-distilled spirit that has become the national drink of Peru and a Pisco Sour is a cocktail that mixes the spirit with lime juice and egg white.

Pisco Sour Day is the official holiday that celebrates the drink and it was marked this year on February 5.

The Commission for the Promotion of Peruvian Exports and Tourism happened to send me a Pisco Sour mixed by a ultra-cool Newtown bar called Continental to try last week … along with a beautifully packaged bottle of pisco.

I drank the Pisco Sour, then added some limes, simple syrup and Angostura Bitters to the box, tied a white ribbon around it and took it to Nic’s birthday lunch because the Pisco Sour just happens to be his favourite cocktail.

How random is that?

Nic’s wife Orsola introduced him to the joy of Pisco Sours. She’s an astronomer and it’s apparently their (un)official cocktail. Whenever astrophysicists gather at observatories in South America, they drink them as aperitivos.

According to Orsola, the most amazing place she’s ever sipped one is at the ESO Hotel at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile (pictured above and main).

The hotel isn’t open to the general public, but hosts the scientists and engineers who work in the facility. 

As the architects who built the ESO Hotel describe it: “For the relatively short time of [the workers’] stays under extreme climatic conditions – intense sunlight, extreme dryness, high wind speeds, great fluctuations in temperature and the danger of earthquakes – a place has been created far away from civilization where they can relax and rest between the strenuous phases of their work. Reminiscent of an oasis, Eco Hotel provides 120 hotel rooms, a canteen and lounge areas, as well as a swimming pool, fitness center and library.”

It also served as a location for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. That’s Mr Bond running across the top … or more likely his body double …

Astronomers are usually put up in crappy, rundown dormitories, so a visit to the ESO Hotel … with bonus Pisco Sours … really makes their eyes light up.

Here’s how to make one …

Recipe: Pisco Sour

  • 90ml Pisco
  • 45ml freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 45ml simple syrup
  • 12ml egg white
  • 4 ice cubes

METHOD: Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously to create a frothy, creamy texture to the cocktail. Strain into a chilled Old Fashioned or coupe glass. Finish with three or four drops of Angostura bitters on top as a final touch.

We had a wonderful birthday lunch with Nic, eating delicious Thai food, sipping Pisco Sours and reminiscing about how we met at a Montessori school in New York that our children were attending.

A fellow school mum introduced us when Orsola accepted a job at Macquarie University and was preparing to move to Sydney. That’s more than 12 years ago and it’s awesome that we’ve stayed in touch.

Over the past seven years, Nic and Orsola have become good friends with DD too. It’s so wonderful when people welcome your new partner into their hearts and lives.

It’s always fascinating to chat to Nic and Orsola because they are both wildly intelligent and I’m a bit of a secret space obsessive.

As a teenager I used to lay on my parents’ driveway, look up at the stars and wish I lived on a planet circling Alpha Centauri. I was obsessed with Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. My favourite book was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the most fascinating days of my life was visiting The Kennedy Space Centre in Florida with DD. And it niggles me that we still haven’t found intelligent life out there.

So it’s always bulk fun to discuss the universe with Orsola and Nic. We had a fascinating natter on Saturday about the Big Bang, the accuracy of Don’t Look Up (pretty accurate), the fact a “extinction event” asteroid passed between Earth and the Moon not that long ago and the fact NASA has launched a satellite into space that will try to blow an asteroid slightly off course as a test to see if humanity can avoid the fate of the end-of-the-world scenario in the Leonardo Di Caprio movie.

How cool is that? And the Pisco Sours were pretty delicious too.

Cheers Nic! Happy birthday!

ESO PHOTO CREDIT: P. Horálek/ESO

Song of the day: Simply Red “Stars”

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