A New Driver Deserves A Drink: The Angry Mule

Back of the tooth: “Flossing isn’t just for gangstas.”

This morning my favorite (youngest/only) daughter got her driver’s license.

I remember getting mine as if I was the one behind the wheel a few hours ago. I took my test in a red Ford Escort with a manual transmission, back in the day when you still had to parallel park to earn that plastic. I had plans that weekend, plans that relied on me passing that test.

I remember the front wheel kissing the curb as I straightened up after parking, and my heart sank. If I was directed right after I pulled out of the parking space, that meant I had passed. A left meant disappointed friends and another boring weekend, trapped at the whim of parents who were sick of driving me around. I pulled the car out of the space and brought the front bumper parallel to the stop sign, expectantly looking at the test administrator. With a bit of a sigh, he pointed right.

I couldn’t watch The Kid as she began her test today. Mr. Tyrone walked the perimeter of the car, asking her to turn on various lights, and I couldn’t remember if she actually knew where the hazard lights were (or how to turn them on). She was spacey as we drove to her appointment, and I was just worried in general.

It’s no small thing, this putting your kid in the world and hoping for the best. It’s not just the lack of control over what they do; it’s the lack of control over what everybody else does. No one can be forced to treat your kid well.

No one gives a rat’s ass if you think they are amazing or if you did your best.

Mostly, from birth until you stop posting family selfies and ridiculous updates all over your social media, most people in the world are simply humoring you and your obsession with your child.

#TrueStory

It’s okay. We are built to be the center of our own universe. We can’t expect everyone to feel the same way about the things we care most about.

The one person who would have cared at least as much as me, beyond just a regular, garden-variety well-wishing, is sitting on the top shelf of my closet in a little wooden box.

When Dane died, Luke Bryan released “Drink A Beer,” a song that nearly killed me at that point in my grief. It was a country song, but we were in Georgia, and if I am being honest, Dane was more than a little bit country. Nevermind the “good lord” references; that’s beside the point.

Listen.

This song has been reverberating in my head since I handed Sicily her own key on a tooth-shaped key chain. As I type this and listen to various versions of it, I miss him. I miss Sicily’s father. I miss him because of her, and I miss him because of me. He would have been so proud today, and he would have cried as she drove away to spread these new wings of hers.

Neither of us are/were the praying kind, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to sending something into the universe about protecting my heart as she drives to her next adventure/heartbreak/triumph/devastation.

After we spent a little more time in the company of the delightful folks at the MVA, Sicily drove us down to Jimmy’s in Fell’s Point for breakfast. I spent many drunk and hungover mornings with my friend Luke at the old Formica counter in Jimmy’s, drinking draft Budweiser so cold that it had thin sheets of ice floating at the top.

It doesn’t even shock me that I didn’t realize the Luke Bair (my friend)/Luke Bryan (that singer) connection until that last sentence came out of my fingers, or that I just randomly suggested breakfast at Jimmy’s to celebrate.

I didn’t get a beer because a beer at 9:30 might send the wrong message to my newly-licensed driver, but if any day warrants a drink, today is it.

Perhaps it should be a little forlorn, today’s drink, but grief takes it out of me so that I can’t even muster the strength to be forlorn. I made up this little cocktail over the summer but didn’t set it down until yesterday. #Foreshadowing

I know there is a drink with the same name, but this is not that, and I am certainly open to alternative suggestions.

Raising a glass tonight to myself, my sweet new driver, and my beloved husband who would have been so proud and is still very missed.

The Angry Mule

Make your own. The store-bought crap is no good.

Jalapeño-Infused Vodka

4 cups vodka

5 or 6 jalapeños

The Rest

Ginger beer (I like Gosling’s. Anything but ginger ale. #Heresy)

Pineapple juice

Method

PLAN AHEAD. Make your vodka by chopping up the jalapeños and placing them in a clean quart jar. Cover with vodka. Include the seeds. Let sit in a cool, dark place until you can’t wait anymore. A couple days, a week. Or just give it a taste. You may find it’s too spicy and want to add more vodka (see below).

Strain into a clean jar.

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add two ounces of vodka, then ginger beer almost to the top. Splash of pineapple juice, a little stir, and you’re in business.

Recipe Notes

  • The batch of jalapeño vodka I currently have working is actually bright green. This is a very, very good thing. This means that I can cut this batch with even more vodka and have even more jalapeño-infused vodka. #HellYes

My sweet baby. Jazz hands and potato chips at two years old. Not much has changed.

The Fruit Fly: A Cocktail For Life

Light and refreshing. Becuase you might need a lot of drinks.

I am writing this on July 4th. The house is still quiet because The Child worked late and is still sleeping, plus in the summer-sleepy holiday neighborhood very few people are moving around yet. The heat is sluggish and heavy, even before the sun is fully awake itself.

This is weather for contemplation. I have written recently on my lack of belief system, but sometimes it seems like there is some kind of message that is trying to come through from somewhere/thing/one. These past few weeks have been a series of minor disasters, in my life and in the lives of the people close to me.

And when I say “minor disasters,” I mean a cluster of annoying events that are like pesky fruit flies: hard to swat away, lasting usually for a few days, and coming out of nowhere.

To wit:

  • A stand mixer dropped on my toe, resulting in an epic bruise and a toenail steadily rising up off the nailbed. #Barf
  • A neck injury…from sleeping…that is persisting over several weeks.
  • A cat with a broken wrist, right after the dog with tumor surgery.
  • Another dog with a suspicious bump.
  • My particular friend’s beautiful moss garden vandalized by a person with mental illness, at a time when my particular friend could use some stability.
  • A friend whose job has suddenly turned on her, using her as a scapegoat for something she has no control over.
  • The watermelon I bought yesterday was completely rotten inside this morning. #ThatsAFirst
  • Likewise, a bag of small, sweet, organic peppers I bought were moldy and rotting also.
  • And I nearly killed my family by using an obviously bad batch of pickled green beans in today’s slaw.

Sounds like life, yes? Like the things that just happen? Nothing deadly here, nothing permanent.

But still.

And then the dreams.

  • Dreams of teaching again, three in the past few weeks.
  • Dreams of loss, specifically of my beloved horse, Sadie.
  • Dreams of people I haven’t seen in a long time, crossing through my mind and interacting with people I see every day.

Plus writing work, very little of which has made it onto a page/screen but is floating in my brain.

Crazy-making. Anxiety-producing.

I am trying to pay attention to these things – the accidents and mishaps as well as the thoughts of my unconscious mind. I think this is what creative people in any field are: noticers. People who think about connections and the ways in which the world – all of the world – works.

But I get the sense over the past few weeks that we are not any of us in control of anything. Not even our own selves in a sense; my brain has made it very clear that it will have its way with me while I sleep, producing intense overnight emotions that have set the tone for each day of the past many weeks. It’s deeper than not sleeping; it’s literally like I have been wrestling something overnight, which perhaps explains my neck injury.

In these instances, I get the feeling that really all I can do is hang on. Make lists. Ground myself. Go to water.

I write lists of the things I have to worry about, and then methodically proceed to worry about just the one thing at a time instead of allofthethingsatonce.

I write lists of all of the things I need to do, make categories, and then attempt to do something about them. This includes mostly writing work, either paid or my own, and if you are a regular reader of this blog you will notice that my own writing has not been at the top of the list, which is a shame and probably not helping my overall psyche.

Usually also I do more yoga, but between my neck and my toe the most I have managed in the past three weeks is two Kundalini classes and maybe a bit of stretching here and there.

This is hanging on. This is getting by.

This ain’t living.

It’s a slog. A trial. An awareness that even though I am so much better off than much of the world, hanging on isn’t really “living my best life.” #ThanksOprah

It’s not particularly socially acceptable or fashionable to ask “Why bother?” on a food blog. This may not be the medium.

“Just get to the damn recipe,” you say.

I will. Spoiler alert: It’s a cocktail.

As Janis Joplin would say, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Is that enough? The same fucking day, every day?

Maybe the pesky fruit flies are designed to wake us up out of our stupor, to remind us to stop living in such a rote fashion, to help us stay awake and aware and in the world, not dazed and living in a creamy-filmed soporific filter of simply putting one foot in front of the other every day without ever really questioning why beyond adding to our 401k and getting the kids the fuck out of the house as not-too-horrible adults.

It’s the 4th of July, and I need a drink. Specifically a drink that allows me to go all day, thinking about the things that matter without getting morose.

My particular friend and I did a lot of research on this drink. It started out as a variation on a Dirty Shirley (without the Sprite) but he didn’t love how sweet it was, and I didn’t love the plain vodka.

So here we are. I made my own fruit-infused vodka, which is really all for the best, but that could take weeks, so if you want it now, skip the flavored vodka.

You can drink this and not get hammered, perfect for a hot, humid day. It also has very little sugar, so should you miss the mark and end up getting hammered, your hangover shouldn’t be too bad. Plus, the seltzer keeps you hydrated.

The Fruit Fly

Ingredients

2 oz. fruit-infused vodka (see Recipe Notes)

2 dashes cherry bitters (or any bitters you like, really)

Lemon seltzer (not sweetened, or use plain seltzer)

Lime/lemon for garnish

Method

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add vodka and cherry bitters. Top with seltzer. Garnish with lime or lemon, as you like, and maybe a few springs of fresh mint.

Recipe Notes

Fruit infused vodka: I packed a pint jar with overripe strawberries and blueberries and covered them with vodka. Steep for at least a week, then strain into another clean jar.

Bitters are, in my mind, largely a matter of preference. Cherry bitters give this drink a sweetness without adding sugar, which keeps it light and not syrupy.

 

 

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?