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Learn how booze comes from plants at Books and Books

This week, I interviewed author Amy Stewart, who tells stories about humans' interactions with and usage of plants for purposes such as murder or inebriation. Although she's neither a botanist nor a mixologist, Stewart knows enough about plants to write a mini-encyclopedia of the roots, stems and buds used to make alcohol.

She's signing copies of the book, "The Drunken Botanist," at the Coral Gables Books and Books this Friday. I wrote a Q&A with her for Friday's paper, but couldn't include everything that lingered with me after our talk.

I asked Stewart to opine on simple spirit-and-soda drinks, such as rum-and-Coke or vodka-cranberry combos, since some recipes in her book require boiling prickly pears and picking fresh elderflowers for cordial preparations.

Hearing her admit that some complex cocktails are overkill felt like finding out I wasn't the only one who found the popular kid in class obnoxious.

She said listing obscure liqueurs in cocktail descriptions is "like going to a restaurant and having a bunch of ingredients laid out -- like having some meat hanging on hooks over there."

She also conceded she might try one of those pretentious mixes at a bar, but back home she's downing Manhattans like the rest of us (assuming the rest of us are partial to the no-fuss whiskey cocktail).

In her book, Stewart offers tips on how to grow a cocktail garden. Personally, I woudn't take the chance. The book includes caveats for inadvertently attempting to distil poisonous herbs, and I don't have a green thumb to begin with.

But "The Drunken Botanist" arrives as we return to earthy methods of food harvesting -- community gardens are all the rage in South Florida these days, FYI -- complementing the farm-to-table trend with an intellectual explanation of how our drinks still come from nature.

Amy Stewart's appearance is at 8 p.m. Friday at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. The store's bar will serve a Stewart-created cocktail.

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