Reading Snacks – Warm Olives With Lemon And Rosemary

Warm olives = heaven.

Until this recent political debacle, I didn’t realize how much I missed reading.

Growing up, I was a voracious reader of all types of printed materials – comics, cereal boxes, advertisements, poetry, novels – whatever was available. I read myself sick in the car and nearly blind in the dim light of the evening when I should have been sleeping (true story. I have been wearing glasses since second grade, with seriously and rapidly deteriorating eyesight in the years that followed. As I enter my dotage – mid-40s – insult has been unceremoniously added to injury in the form of readers, a new necessity for reading. But I digress).

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon was in the stacks of Wonder Books, a small used bookstore in Frederick, Maryland. My brother, father, and I would spend Sunday afternoons reading in our separate corners among the dusty comics and paperbacks. Sometimes we’d buy one; sometimes we would just read there and go home empty-handed. I imagine this was a break for my mom, but I can vividly recall the warmth and comfort of those days spent hunched in the aisle, reading. When it came time to apply for my first job, that’s where I went (only it was Wonder Book and Video by then).

I like the smell and feel of a book, new or used, in my hands. Recognizing that it’s difficult to travel light with a  library of well over 2,000 books, I attempted to use a digital book for a time but quickly abandoned that. There is no sensory beauty for me in a digital book.

When Dane died in 2013, a switch flipped, and I found no comfort in books. I quickly realized that fiction was dead to me in many ways (with notable exceptions made for my favorite author, TC Boyle, and a new favorite, Jhumpa Lahiri); there was nothing that seemed to hold my attention. Magazines were okay, but they were quickly read and then just became dust-catchers.

The Facebook stepped in to fill the void.

For several years now, I have been ritually (compulsively?) reading Facebook, many times a day. What started as an interesting place to catch up with people and see pictures of family or look at cat videos quickly became fraught with arguments. I whittled my friends and family down, blocking or unfriending those who were racist, xenophobic, or homophobic. I saw Facebook as the digital equivalent of going out for coffee with a friend, and who wants to spend that time deflecting racial slurs and arguing about immigration? Not me.

But I have noticed something in the past few years. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have become more of an addiction than a minor passing interesting that I can dip in and out of. When I felt lonely or needed a connection, I spent more time online, which seems to be the story of most everyone’s life these days.

In addition, the pace of news delivered through these sites has become so frenetic that a person can hear about events nearly the instant they happen (or instantly, as with live-streaming Facebook video that has captured everything from birth to beatings to suicide, all in front of unsuspecting viewers who maybe just logged on to see a cat in a shark costume on a Roomba.).

The past 18 months in politics have been particularly brutal. The depth of ignorance and hate being spewed and the constant hammering of executive orders that seemed aimed at delivering us back to Nazi Germany has been overwhelming to me. My anxiety, already challenging during this particular time of year, has been through the roof.

Even the dog is having anxiety attacks, and he is medicated (and to be honest, which I always try to be, as am I at times. It has not helped).

So two days ago I did the logical thing: I pulled the plug on Facebook.

I didn’t give up my Charm City Edibles page (go join! It’s awesome!), and I am still on Instagram, which seems much more innocuous and for me features only food and the occasional travel picture, but I have completely checked out of Facebook for the near future.

I have also stopped listening to NPR and watching news. In essence, I have imposed upon myself a near-total media blackout.

Yes, news still trickles in, but it’s a trickle instead of drinking from a firehose.

This media blackout has left me with considerable free time, time I have begun to fill with books. In January I read seven books, and three days into February I am finishing up my first book, with one on the way in the mail and two more on hold at the library.

I have spent long, leisurely afternoons on the couch, listening to the wind howl outside my window and the dogs snoring on the floor beside me as I read.

I have stuck mainly to non-fiction trending towards cookbooks and food writing, but at the library a copy of The Tin Drum and The Yearling are waiting for me.

Maybe it’s the slower pace of reading and allowing myself to settle in for a few hours instead of reading in 140 characters or skimming the first sentence of a TL:DR article on The Facebook. Maybe it’s the fact that I am not constantly reminded of how badly we are fucking up this country right now and how powerless it seems we are to stop it.

Whatever it is, it’s lovely. It’s lovely to come back to the sensual pleasures of language and reading and cozy blankets and sleeping dogs and maybe a nap that happens later in the afternoon.

Or quite possibly it’s the snacks.

Reading requires a beverage and a snack; it’s very easy to get hungry and dehydrated doing nothing. #GiveItATry #YoullLoveIt

I could eat my weight in salt and vinegar potato chips and chocolate candy, but those snacks when combined with lounging are not conducive to overall good health. So moderation is required, and this means something nibbly but not too much of any one thing – nothing too sweet, too fatty, too salty, etc.

These olives are perfect for that. They don’t directly fulfill a sweet-tooth craving, but the lingering lemon and rosemary somehow seem to attend to it enough so that more snacks aren’t necessary.

You also need a snack that doesn’t require utensils. This fits that bill neatly as well.

I use the rosemary that continues to cling to life in a pot on my back porch (so luxurious!) and organic lemon.

Warm Olives With Rosemary And Lemon

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 six- to eight-ounce jar of mixed olives in brine, drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

zest from one lemon

1 or 3 sprigs of rosemary

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Optional: red pepper flakes

Method

Heat olive oil gently over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook for a couple minutes until it releases its fragrance. Add the lemon and rosemary and cook for about 30 seconds, keeping the heat medium-low and stirring as you cook.

Add the olives and cook until warmed through (not hot). Remove from heat and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a little heat, add some red pepper flakes.

Recipe notes:

  • Pitted olives are easiest, but feel free to use whichever olives you prefer.
  • I love rosemary and like to cook it a little bit longer to release its flavor, but this is a personal preference.
  • You could also use orange zest to add a touch more sweetness.

What are your favorite reading snacks?

 

Cocktail Hour: The Black Manhattan

Smoky, dark, and bitter.

What a complicated mess this life is.

No one said it would be easy, and I am not really talking about ease.

It’s just so complicated, and we, as humans, seem to thrive on making things even more complicated.

Once it was simple enough to have a patch of grass to grow something. A small family (or a bigger one if your patch of grass was bigger) and a little homestead.

It’s easy to romanticize that life, but I know it was hard. Grueling days. Hunger. Not naming your kids until they hit three so you didn’t have to experience the pain of losing an actual person (which, I believe was a false hope because mostly you love them the second they draw breath. But I digress.).

It was hard, but it was simple. Wake, work, food, rest.

Sometimes, when days were short, some music was made, or some other such diversion.

Now we make it way harder than it needs to be, everything, all of it.

Perhaps it comes with living in proximity to so many others whose desires are often at odds with your own.

Perhaps it comes with the fact that we have lost most (all?) of our connection to the natural rhythms of the world. We sleep late, or rise way before the sun. Then we stay up way past the time the sun dips below the horizon. #FearOfMissingOut

We eat when we aren’t hungry.

We don’t even call anymore. We text.

We have lost our rhythms as creatures on the earth, in a very fundamental and elemental way.

This disconnectedness from the basic rhythms of our human-ness is why we are unable to really find the root of the huge problems the US is facing right now; we don’t even know where to begin to identify the core of what’s wrong, much less find solutions – real, long-term solutions – to problems that have plagued our young country since its birth. We slap a Band-aid on it, cover the immediate wound, and then move on to the next.

Trouble is, this results in a spider-thin web of scars criss-crossing our hearts/souls/psyches/consciousness. Sometimes they are so faint we almost forget they are there.

Then something happens that turns them angry red, and we have to start again.

Last week Khristian and I attended a lecture at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The speaker was Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, and general excellent human, reading his latest essay, “The Idea of Limits in a Prodigal Age.”

To be honest, neither Khristian nor I really knew what to  make of the lecture, as all he did was read his new essay and answer a few questions with Eric Schlosser (the Fast Food Nation guy). But among other things, Berry talked about the importance of touch, as well as the importance of asking, as the Amish do, “How does this affect the community?” before making any moves or decisions.

Berry called us “cousins to the bees” to stress how connected we are, whether we like it or not.

He talked about the idea of limitlessness as, in fact, quite limiting and unsustainable. We need to understand where our outer edges connect with everyone else’s, and instead of drawing a line between those boundaries, really taking each other in, in a very human and powerful way in which all interests are considered.

A radical idea, it seems, in this day: that you and I have equal right to exist.

That we are both bounded by one another and boundless within the universe.

To be honest, after this talk, I wanted a drink.

Partly to take a moment to savor the ideas while gazing into a glass of alcohol, and partly to drown my sorrows, just a little bit.

Fortunately, there is the Black Manhattan. Strong, complex, and very simple to make. Slightly bitter, but with just a touch of sweetness. Sort of like life, if I’m being honest.

The Black Manhattan

Note: My jigger holds 1 1/2 ounces on one end, and 3/4 of an ounce on the other. You can use a shot glass to follow the proportion of 2:1, and you’ll be fine.

Ingredients

2 parts bourbon

1 part amaro

2 dashes angosturo bitters

Garnish: Brandied cherry (or Luxardo cherry if you have the cheddar)

Method

Mix bourbon, amaro, and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Serve with large format ice in a rocks glass or simply chilled in a martini glass or coupe. Garnish with a cherry or six.

Recipe notes

  • I used Buffalo Trace. Good bourbon matters, and BT is my “house bourbon.”
  • Cherry bitters might also be outstanding here.
  • Amaro is the Italian word for “bitter,” but the flavor varies wildly among amaros. The one I chose (Ramazotti) has lovely rootbeer and vanilla notes. Whichever amaro you choose will necessarily influence the flavor of your cocktail.
  • I am going to make my own amaro this winter and see how that goes.

Gratitude, Day 3: Cocktails

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Is it wrong to be thankful for cocktails?

Conversation starter.
Conversation starter.

I don’t wanna be right.

Apparently, ’tis the season, because back in October of 2015, I wrote this post about fall cocktails, including the Hanky Panky and a chipotle cherry bourbon smash, among others.

I think I also celebrated National Margarita Day shortly thereafter (and I am not sure it was actually National Margarita Day).

Anyone reading this blog might think I have issues with alcohol, but truthfully, I drink infrequently and selectively. My days of falling over are, well, over (minus one memorable reunion evening last year with very, very old friends), but I do enjoy a finely crafted libation from time to time.

Trouble is, many trendy cocktails have just one ingredient too many, especially in my neighborhood which is overrun with mustache wax and beard oil. That one extra ingredient might be a trendy bitter or smoke flavor or some other kind of bullshit that adds a potent medicinal quality to what otherwise might have been a simple and delicious beverage.

So today I am grateful for cocktails that get it right, that strike the balance between boozy and flavorful. Those cocktails that walk the line between innovative and traditional.

Tonight I am giving thanks with a Red-Headed Ginger; recipe from the original blog posted back in February of 2016.

“And since it is February, a month that simultaneously screams love and death in the Kolbeck household, red seems a perfect color. And ginger beer is appropriate anytime of year, but the bite of this one will wake you up, keep you focused, and make you talk.

Drink this with Florence + the Machine in the background, but just lightly. You know, so you can talk.

Redheaded Ginger

2 ounces Lillet Rouge

4 ounces ginger beer

splash of grapefruit juice OR dash of grapefruit bitters

Two possibilities here:

Pour Lillet over ice in a Collins glass, top with ginger beer and splash of grapefruit/bitters, or combine Lillet/grapefruit/bitters in cocktail shaker and shake 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass, add ginger beer and serve with grapefruit slice.”

What are you grateful for?

National Margarita Day

Turns out February is a cocktail-heavy month.
Turns out February is a cocktail-heavy month.

People.

Monday, February 22, 2016 is National Margarita Day. I am giving you a full week to prepare.

In my neck of the woods, where the handlebar mustaches are still in season and a full beard is properly oiled and trimmed, mezcal is the next big thing.

It’s not National Mezcal Day, though (which is October 21st, so proclaimed by a Tennessee country singer named Toby Keith in a bit of shameless self-promotion for his new branded mezcal. Because as we all know, there is a ton of mezcal in Tennessee. #ThatsAboutTenTonsOfBullshit).

To set the record straight, every tequila is mezcal, but every mezcal isn’t tequila. Tequila is made from one plant only (blue agave), whilst mezcal can be a delicious blend of 30 different plants.

Let’s be honest, though. Unless you are still in college and paying for booze with student loans, it’s time to grow up and drink better than that. Sure, you can make margarita with some sour mix and rail tequila, but as a thinking, rational adult, why the hell would you?

Do not fuck around.

Fresh lime, Cointreau (orange liqueur), and high-quality tequila.

That’s it. Three ingredients, so they all have to be spot-on.

But not precious. It is, after all, a margarita.

And for fuck’s sake, please don’t drink it frozen. It’s not a goddamn Slurpee.

You get a free pass if you are on an island, in a swim-up bar, or that’s what someone makes at a party and puts in your hand. #BeGraciousSayThankYou

It is this blog’s not so measured opinion that margaritas should be consumed on the rocks with a heavy salt rim, no straw.

Give it a try. You have your assignment.

The Only Margarita Recipe You Need #Trust

Ingredients

2 oz. high quality tequila (if you wouldn’t sip it neat, don’t use it)

1 oz. Cointreau

1 oz. fresh lime juice (back away from the plastic fucking lime. Jesus.)

Coarse salt, lime wedge

Method

Rub the rim of a rocks glass with a lime wedge. Dip rim in coarse salt. Fill glass with fresh ice. Set aside.

Throw all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake until it is icy cold and frothy as hell.

Strain over ice. Serve with a lime wedge.

Repeat.

Straight Up: Who Needs A Drink?

Conversation starter.
Conversation starter.

Say it straight or it will come out crooked. ~Dane Kolbeck~

Sometimes you just have to say it straight. And sometimes that is terrifying. Well, for me, always it is terrifying.

That’s not 100% accurate.

There are some things that will always be easy to say. To wit, for me, I have no problem speaking up about the following:

  • Racism/Homophobia/Sexism
  • Fundamentalists of any religion attempting to witness
  • Bullies
  • General assholery that includes but is not limited to elitist bullshit, overt hipster cynicism, high-brow condescension, etc.

However.

Some things are very, very hard for me to say. Can’t you tell by the veiled terms of this post?

Get at the point, you might be saying. Just spit it out.

The problem is this: in the past I have just spit it out, with sometimes-disastrous results. Speaking off-the-cuff and on-the-fly is not necessarily the best course of action for me these days. I like to be more measured in my responses, lest I send a nuclear warhead to settle what might best be handled by a fly swatter.

Or some such.

I want to say what I mean. Make promises I can keep. Be kind. Be honest and true to myself and the person I am speaking to. Recently, I have been unable to speak when spoken to in certain situations. The context of this does not really matter. What matters is that I have lost words in much the same way as I have continued to lose memories, a slow leaking of the past (and now the present) sliding away from my brain.

When I try to force myself to speak, everything comes out wrong. Like speaking-in-tongues wrong, quite literally – garbled sounds, half-started sentences, a mash of sibilant consonants and murky vowels sliding across my lips. #Confusion

So then I get quiet.

You know how you aren’t supposed to be afraid of the dog that barks? It’s true. The one that is barking is not the one you worry about. It’s the silent one, slinking towards you, that should be feared.

When I stop talking, people worry.

There has to be a way for me to come to the middle. At the risk of being one of those douches who quotes their therapists, if she were here she might ask me what happens to trigger this sudden loss of words.

To begin to consider this is also speech-defying.

Thus, we find ourselves again at an impasse. #DamnedIfIDoDamnedIfIDont

I find in these cases, as in most cases, that a cocktail works wonders. Not multiples. Just one.

And since you are having just one to get things flowing, it ought to be delicious. Although I am a fan of bourbon, neat, for conversational lubrication it is best to sip something slightly less boozy.

Enter Lillet Rouge.

My friend Kerry introduced me to Lillet, a crisp, slightly fruity libation that is delicious when teeth-achingly cold and sipped by itself or with a splash of similarly-chilled gin.

Lillet Rouge is Lillet’s redder, earthier, spicier cousin. Perfect for the heart of darkness that is winter and deep conversations that must be had, reluctantly, haltingly.

And since it is February, a month that simultaneously screams love and death in the Kolbeck household, red seems a perfect color. And ginger beer is appropriate anytime of year, but the bite of this one will wake you up, keep you focused, and make you talk.

Drink this with Florence + the Machine in the background, but just lightly. You know, so you can talk.

Redheaded Ginger

2 ounces Lillet Rouge

4 ounces ginger beer

splash of grapefruit juice OR dash of grapefruit bitters

Two possibilities here:

  1. Pour Lillet over ice in a collins glass, top with ginger beer and splash of grapefruit/bitters
  2. Combine Lillet/grapefruit/bitters in cocktail shaker and shake 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass, add ginger beer and serve with grapefruit slice.

Either way, makes one cocktail. Perfect for talking.

What do you do when the words just won’t come out?