Sea Change (+ a Date Shake)

[The Atlantic at Anfa, September 2014.]

Fall has magical qualities — the light shifts, leaves drift down softly (even in North Africa), the sky is the deepest, bluest sky you’ll see all year. The wind has picked up off of the ocean here and on afternoons it scrubs the houses of my neighborhood and burnishes the wild leaves on the hedge and tosses about the great fronds of the banana tree that is cozied up to my front door. Sierra and I have been taking advantage of these cooler days by sitting on a blanket in our yard and looking up at the palm trees, the birds already heading south, the clouds blowing out to sea. This season is my favorite and I am glad to find it’s still so, even in a new(ish) place. First fall in Morocco, first fall with the wee one awake and aware of it all. It’s impossible not to want to slow down and soak up the sun, the wind, these precious days before her first birthday. And so we are; we are paring life down to its most simple and trying to get out of doors as much as we can manage.

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Tea and Such

For fun, I’m running some posts from a few years back because, err, life is a wee bit busy at the moment (also, I’m feeling nostalgic, as I typically tend to in fall). This piece was first published on Nov. 8, 2011.

[Tea, October 2011.]

How I love coffee; I sincerely could count the ways: 1. I love it for its little zing of caffeine that, once it enters my bloodstream, delivers a hit of euphoria that can’t be beat; 2. I love it because I usually procure it elsewhere, meaning that I don’t make it myself (I’m lazy about it, and frankly I don’t make the best cup of coffee. I’m OK with that.) and thus must make a special effort to go get a cup, thus making it a bit of an event, which is fun; 3. I love it for its flavor; 4. I love it because c’mon, it’s coffee

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A Winter Drink

When it comes to drinking alcohol in the winter, I am pretty simple. I want good, dark glasses of red wine, preferably sipped slowly in front of a fire with a dog at my feet and a book in my hand (if that’s not possible, I’ll take the book and my blue chair near the front windows of my apartment where I like to curl up for hours during a rainstorm). Sometimes champagne, because champagne is always one of my favorite drinks regardless of season (though it seems particularly appropriate around the holidays). Sometimes even a gin and tonic, though I’ve been ‘off’ those lately because the tonic seems a touch too bitter (I know I will come back around in time). Very occasionally a glass of scotch, which I will make last an entire evening (it’s strong stuff). And of course a pint on a sunny January afternoon after a long hike is always appreciated.

Still, mixed drinks are typically not in my everyday wheelhouse. And yet last week, after a day spent in and out of an unreasonably warm and sunny day in San Francisco, my mind fixed upon making a special drink. It was Valentine’s Day after all, I thought as a precursor to dinner we should have a drink. Not champagne, though; a proper drink.

We had a lot of limes rattling around in the fridge and DW is a big bourbon fan (I can’t say I don’t like the stuff, myself), so it all came together fairly quickly. Googling ‘bourbon and lime’ brought up a host of recipes – some complicated, some not – and I settled on something titled a ‘bourbon lime rickey’ because its main ingredients were bourbon, lime juice, agave syrup, and seltzer, all of which were readily available in my kitchen.

It’s a funny name, ‘rickey’. Wikipedia has just informed me that its origins may lie with someone named Colonel Joe Rickey, who in 1883 “was purported to have invented the “Joe Rickey”, after a bartender at Shoomaker’s in Washington, D.C. added a lime to his “mornin’s morning”, a daily dose of Bourbon with lump ice and Apollinaris sparkling mineral water. It is made with little to no sugar, which is right up my alley; I did slip in a bit of the agave but may try leaving it out another time. It’s difficult to say if it needs it – the lime and bourbon complement each other beautifully, with neither overpowering the other. It is light, fresh, and easily consumable.

Last Thursday night the temperature began to drop a bit but our apartment was warm because of the oven, and we drank our drinks down thirstily. We may have had another. (Note: they are slightly dangerous because it’s difficult to stop at just one or two.) This winter in California has been remarkably dry and sunny and while I know we need the rain I am soaking it all in greedily, wishing it could last forever. As it can’t, and I know it, I will make these drinks and savor every drop.

A Strawberry Fizz (with or without gin)

Is there anything as beautiful as the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields accompanying the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, on Bach Arias? Possibly not. At least not for me on this Friday.

Nine years ago this fall I sat in that candle-lit church off of Trafalgar Square and floated on Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’, my back against the hard wooden pew, transported. The next day I went to Scotland and spent my birthday on a highland island in the blazing sun.

I miss my piano today, as the sun casts its long fingers over the rooftops and the whale weathervane up the street spins in the breeze. I miss my hands safe and cool over the keys, the smell of the dark wood. I remember telling my friend Danny once, as we drank wine on a roof top bar in DC, that sometimes what aches the most is that nostalgia for things past, for things we wished had happened, for something indefinable, for things we miss even if we never experienced them (I don’t know; it made sense in that moment.). This week I miss: living abroad, daily practice, the golden hour on a January beach, tea in Cambridge, a small white house surrounded by vineyards, a lighthouse lashed by rain during a September New England thunderstorm. Some of these things I have experienced and some I have not.

I took piano lessons for 10 years and that (near) daily practice I’ve forgotten, along with the weekly lessons in a dim, cluttered room in a house with a wide porch. I would sit there after mine with my homework listening to my brother run through his scales (he has always been a much better player than me), thinking how it might be to live in town. I was so lucky in my teachers: my piano teacher worked us hard (though lovingly) and my band director even harder. I don’t look back on those experiences with resentment – quite the contrary. I am grateful. If we could all be held to such high a standard, who knows what we could accomplish? (Though – I have dreams in which I haven’t prepared enough for my lesson and my teacher sighs with disappointment as she used to when I admittedly had been busy doing other things and not focused enough.) I send her a Christmas card every year; perhaps one year I will receive one in return.

First learning, at 8 or so years old, my mom set the timer for a half-hour and even though I wanted to play so very badly – had begged for it – I would watch my brother playing outside and grumbled over having to sit in tethered to the clock. And then he was stuck practicing, too, and I wasn’t so alone in it and finally I came not to wish to be elsewhere but absolutely present there at the keyboard. I was never a great player, but I loved it. Music seemed to weave its way into the warp and woof of me when I was little. I remember the day the rental piano was delivered: I lay in the field next to our house waiting for the truck to deliver it, anxiously peering through the oleander bushes ’til it arrived. I had wanted to learn to play so keenly; still I can’t say why, only that I did.

We had our twice-yearly piano recitals at the Community Church in Sebastopol, a beautiful, quiet space north of town marked by dark wood and stained glass. During high school my brother played in the band and we’d go to Christmas Eve services with what seemed to be half the town; we weren’t religious, but I liked going. I liked that feeling of community, of communion, of closeness. Still – one needn’t have religion to feel that: I feel it at Giants baseball games, too. So.

After the recitals there was a reception at which my teacher always praised us profusely yet judiciously and then we’d eat cake and snacks. There would always be a sort of non-alcoholic sweet punch that I didn’t love but would drink lots of anyway. It was the thing to do. After, my family would go out to dinner to celebrate.

This is a terribly roundabout way to write that I have been thinking about that nonalcoholic punch – and nonalcoholic cocktails in general – because one of my best friends is pregnant (with a girl!), and so I have been trying to come up with delicious things to treat her with, including non-alcoholic drinks. I am well-versed in punch-like things with alcohol (next time, perhaps, I’ll share a recipe for a delicious white sangria with summer fruit), but I don’t really indulge in non-alcoholic fancy beverages as I’m mostly a straight-up water or orange juice kinda girl (and lately tart cherry juice, which is supposed to be good for muscles worked over by running). But we had them over for dinner last week and I wanted to make a special drink for her.

With that old, piano-recital punch in the back of my mind, I invested in some good seltzer (they, I think, having incorporated bubbly water or ginger ale into that version), mint, and strawberries. I’d been inspired by a recipe on smitten kitchen for a blackberry gin fizz; mine would be strawberry and served with and without gin. I was going for something light and refreshing but still very fruity and seasonal (blackberries not being quite ripe on the vine out here just yet). I added a little extra sparkling water in place of the gin for her, because she does love sparkling wine and also because it’s delicious, and refrained from drinking the whole batch before they came over. I do love a good R+G of course, but this a close equivalent. I might actually choose this over plain old water if pressed (well, maybe. I really do drink a lot of water.).

We sipped our drinks (some of us perhaps slipped a bit of gin into our glasses), ate roast chicken and Morrocan vegetables and couscous, devoured generous slices of caramel cake. We toasted to upcoming adventures and old friends, new life and things yet to come. If I experienced a wee twinge of nostalgia for my piano I tucked it well away, knowing that such things, after all, are cyclical – London will always be there, as will music, as will strawberries, as will summer. (Also, gin.)

A Boozy (or not) Rhubarb Cocktail

[The happiest of hours, June 2012.]

Hello from San Francisco where it’s a balmy 54 degrees today (in the fog; it might be a bit cooler in the shade) and I am wearing wool socks and clutching on to the thought of August in New England to get me through. It certainly doesn’t seem at all like refreshing cocktail weather – yet refreshing cocktails are all that’re on my mind today, specifically those made with a splash of gin, a splash of sparkling water, and a teaspoon or two of rhubarb syrup.

[Rhubarb-honey syrup, June 2012.]

Ah yes: rhubarb, there you are again my old-new friend. Let it never be said I don’t appreciate a good thing: so far this spring (and now summer, though the wind whipping the tree branches around outside my window does belie the image that word creates) I’ve made a rhubarb-strawberry crumble, rhubarb compote, rhubarb cake, and rhubarb jam. Suffice to say I am into rhubarb this year. And why not? It’s arguably one of the prettiest spring vegetables (close second: chard straight from the garden – but then again, I’m quite biased toward chard) around. If you’re able to get very deep pink stalks the syrups and jams for which you use them will also turn an astonishingly vibrant pink, too. Not that we should choose our fruits and vegetables for their beauty (cabbage anyone? Although I don’t find cabbage to be all that ugly, really …) but I have a soft spot for pink. Rhubarb wins again.

I don’t drink a lot of cocktails – I mean, I do like to try out new drinks on occasion, particularly if I’m at one of San Francisco’s neat little hidey-holes that specializes in interesting drinks (or just is known for making a solid cocktail with good ingredients), such as Elixir or Bourbon and Branch (note: save that one for special occasions because it ain’t cheap). Most of the bars in my neighborhood don’t have a full liquor license so I happily stick to wine or beer if I’m out and about, and most of my friends are the wine-drinking sort so there’s not a lot of mixing up of exotic drinks. Still, if my household has a ‘house drink’ it’s definitely the gin and tonic, and it’s drunk year round regardless of weather.

But (there’s always a ‘but’) in the past year or so I’ve been finding either the tonic or the gin to be a bit too bitter for me, and I haven’t indulged too much. I bought my husband a bottle of No. 209 gin for his birthday – locally produced right here in the city! – and it’s lovely: smooth and crisp, with nary a hint of bitterness. When I landed on the idea of a boozy (or not) rhubarb-infused cocktail last night whilst perusing the produce aisle in Whole Foods after my yoga class, I knew immediately any drink I came up with must feature that delicious gin and perhaps a lot less of tonic.

So I put together a ridiculously easy-to-make rhubarb syrup of chopped rhubarb cooked down with just a bit of honey and water, stirred a healthy spoonful into a glass filled part-way with gin and ice, and finished the whole thing off with sparkling mineral water to make a drink I’ve dubbed the “R+G” (“rhubarb + gin”).

(I find her to be be quite lovely, don’t you?)

[R+Gs, June 2012.]

Were rhubarb and gin made for each other and I have lived on all this time blissfully unaware? It’s possible. The two flavors complement each other so well: the slightly floral taste of the gin balanced by a touch of sweetness from the honey in the syrup and rhubarb’s, well, rhubarbness. And it’s pink! Oh, sweet spring and summer, you deserve a drink such as this: refreshing, light, sweetly perfumed and with just a hint of a blush. I don’t know if this will become our new ‘house drink’ (it is manly enough, I wonder, for a guy who swims in the bay without a wetsuit?) but it’s certainly going to become mine.

Of course you needn’t use gin here; as I type, I’m sipping away on sparkling water dosed with a dollop of rhubarb syrup (the “R”) and it’s delicious. Just the thing for a chilly Friday afternoon with piles of work still to do and a messy house to tackle before the weekend descends. I’m wishing for sun despite the dismal forecast, and eying the rhubarb syrup on my counter wistfully as I imagine sipping on these beauties at a garden party … on a deck in the sun … at the beach, after a swim … Well, a girl can dream.