Thursday, December 30, 2010
Somewhere in my year o’ crap, I came to more fully appreciate a finely crafted cocktail, something I'd been dabbling in for the past few years. Not because it’s the latest, bourgie white people thing to do – well, not only because it’s the latest, bourgie white people thing to do, but because I learned a valuable lesson: when life gives you lemons, you should make a sour. Then drink it and watch your problems melt away. It's not alcoholism; it's cocktailism - an important distinction. Cocktailism enjoys the craft of the drink, delighting in the senses and the creative process involved to get to the boozy goodness. But let's not kid ourselves; the tipsiness is awfully nice, too.
I'm little more than a dilettante, but I do know I love a damn good cocktail. Marking my way through cities by exploring cocktail options was one of the most satisfying aspects of my year. So here you go, my top five favorite drinks that I tasted in bars (as opposed to made at home, another list for another day):
Catalan Elderfizz – Xix Lounge, Barcelona
After working yet another schmoozy social event that's really just work in disguise, my European colleagues and I felt we owed ourselves a proper drink. We found ourselves at Xix Lounge, a scene-y kind of place but with a lovely walnut bar the way a bar is supposed to look, thick with smoke (well, that describes pretty much anywhere in Barcelona), and boasting 40 kinds of gin. What I like most about ordering drinks is the relationship you form with the bartender – you start describing what you like and offer that as a challenge for them to expand your tastifaction horizons. Ordering drinks in Spanish is an extra adventure, since it’s way beyond my fairly standard Spanish vocabulary. I tried to describe that my poison was ginebra, that I like a good fizz -- algun coqtel con la leche de la gallina, and that I wanted to try something authentically Spanish, like cava. And then my bartender spoke to me in English and I felt like a compleat tool.
He kindly translated my language fumblings into a take on a gin fizz, combining Xoriguer gin from the island of Minorca, housemade orange bitters, St. Germain, Pernod, and the egg white. Instead of topping it off with club soda, he splashed cava over the top. If I had seen that combination of ingredients on the menu, I would have balked. I set my tent up in the drink minimalist camp, plus I've had some very bad experiences with the former Object serving me Pernod and Chartreuse, liqueurs with a jarring licorice taste, as a practical joke (and then complaining bitterly when later I didn’t like them). But the whole thing blended together smoothly, dry cava balancing the floral notes from the St. Germain, which in turn tempered the strident anise flavor from the Pernod. This was one of my early experiences with St. Germain, which I quickly started incorporating into my own cocktails like Tapatio, which I only leave off food if I'm using siracha instead. It’s pretty amazing, especially with Campari. The St. Germain, that is, not siracha.
Gin and Tonic – Estadio– Washington, DC
I hate tonic water, which means I thought I hated quinine. But it turns out, I just hate all the treacly, syrupiness of gross tonic water. This completely reinvented the classic for me with housemade quinine from cinchona bark. Derek Brown pretty much already said everything there is about this crisp update. Plus, nothing makes the public health officer in me happier than taking prophylactic (well, sort of) measures against malaria and heart arrhythmia. Drinking is very good for you. (The public health officer in me has asked me to toss the word moderation in there, and the lush in me just kicked my inner public health officer in the shins for being such a goody twat.)
Milk and Honey – Drink, Boston
I went to drink for their amazing Old Fashioned, which is perfectly precise and delicious; it’s the perfect application of bourbon. (I thought I hated bourbon, but it turns out I just wanted to hate it to distinguish myself from the Object. One of the joys of singledom is not needing to stake out your own territory). But I told the bartender I needed something homey and comforting for a chilly fall night. He served up a milk and honey – Benedictine, milk, and some secret and proprietary mix of other deliciousness. It might not have been that secret, but this was my third drink in and I forgot to write down the last ingredients. I didn't really need to. I recreated this at home as just Benedictine and milk, served over ice and in front of my fire. That’s key. Simple, homey, genius. You also have to love women who play serious ball in the largely male-dominated world of cocktails, so I've been praying at the shrine of Barbara Lynch.
The Liz – Icenhauer’s, Austin
Texas was far colder than I packed for. I mean, it’s Texas – sunshine, desert, all that jazz, right? But no, I could see my breath. I needed to get fancy for a night out and all I’d packed was a backless halter dress. Although I had my legwarmers (who travels without them?!), I still needed to be warmed from the inside out. Enter The Liz - candied orange peel-infused Maker’s, maraschino liqueur, and brandied cherries.
Somewhere between the candied orange peel and brandied cherries, you might think The Liz sounds disgustingly sweet. What’s important to note here is that maraschino liqueur is not just the juice from the fluorescent-colored cherries you used to get in your Shirley Temple at the Ground Round. (Remember a time in your life when you were excited to pay what you weighed? How does that marketing gimmick work on anyone over the age of 8? And outside of the Midwest?) Luxardo is an Italian liqueur distilled (one of the very few distilled liqueurs) from marasca cherries. Sharing little in common with its gauche American cousin or even sweet, red Heering cherry liqueur from Denmark, marschino liqueur has a dry, almost bitter quality that comes from including the cherry pits in the distillate. Like so many other Italian liqueurs and amari, it was originally produced as medicine in more drinkable form. Mary Poppins almost had it right – it’s not a spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, it’s a spoonful of fermentation.
The Getaway – The Columbia Room, Washington, DC
Campari is an acquired taste. It was my introduction into the world of Italian amari, herbal liqueurs with medicinal qualities. They remind me of the first time I had a kola nut, which is what they eat after meals in Senegal. It’s insanely bitter. But once you get through the bitter, your whole palate feels clean- hence the term, palate-cleansing and why amari – which have that same bitter quality – are served after dinner (aperitivos). Well, that and the fact that the Italians believe that it stirs up all kinds of good digestive juices. I have come to looooove me some Campari, far more than any cheese or dessert.
So when I learned about Cynar, an amaro made with artichoke as its primary ingredient, I was slightly disturbed, but also curious. Katie Nelson, Derek Brown’s protégée at the Columbia Room whips up Cynar with Cruzan blackstrap molasses rum, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The simplicity of the drink reminds me why I subscribe to the minimalist camp. The Getaway is but a lowly sour, adhering to the classic cocktail ratio – one sour (the lemon), two sweet (the cynar and the simple syrup), three strong (the rum), and four weak (shaking the mixture with ice). But I have never felt a taste so completely round and whole in my mouth – it almost felt like the roof of my mouth was trying to make new tastebuds right then and there to enjoy the complete and balanced spectrum of flavors.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Those of you who have been following along know this year has been the year of little earthquakes: I broke my back1, got sued, bombed2, divorced3, robbed, sexually assaulted, mugged, and watched as the last vestiges of my idealism crashed and burned. And that's the abridged version.
I’ve had just about enough of 2010. So I declared the year over on December 17. That’s the anniversary of the whole awful year literally started with a bang when my ersatz sled (boogie board, which may have been the first problem) and hip smashed into a tree, narrowly avoiding my head. Things kind of went downhill from there4.
Ending the year early has been quite nice; it's been a sort of limbo for me just to freeze and snuggle up to my life. If the year was about taking the snowglobe of my life and shaking it up, the early retreat has allowed me to look at the falling pieces and reflect on what I want them to mean. I don’t believe there are accidents in the universe. Schmaltzy as it sounds, I’d rather see the course of events over the past year as an opportunity to look critically at the way I’m living.
My dad used to always sing that Arlen and Mercer song - "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don't mess with Mr. In-Between." It was obnoxious, because he usually busted it out when I was feeling low. Now that he's gone, it's stayed with me as this weird mantra at exactly those times. So I’m closing out the rest period over the next few days with a series of my top ten (or whatever number I deem appropriate) lists to clean out the detritus, celebrate what I can, and usher in 2011 with a better sense of fuck yeah!
2. Literally, though I’d be lying if I said the not in the figurative sense as well.
3. Well, for all intents and purposes -- there really needs to be a better word for splitting up with your non-married partner.
4. Ha, get it?
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This was the single greatest moment of 2010 for me. I risked my professional career and blew my vuvuzela in the workplace. Completely worth it. The second-greatest moment was when the US tied England while I was in Barcelona, surrounded by a bunch of Brits. The third best moment was the next morning, flying through Heathrow, wearing my Team USA scarf and perusing the papers with Hand of Clod in four-inch letters.
Watch it and cry all over again. Ugly tears.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Completely unrelated to Tom Waits: I'd like to start referring to Christmas as "The Holiday". That way, we can avoid the awkward "merry... um, holiday" greeting. When used as a singular event in a salutation, such as "have a happy holiday", holiday always refers to Christmas. You the person wants to wish you a merry Christmas but refrains from fear that you'll get all Fred Phelps or Richard Dawkins on their ass, neither of whom are merry -- or bright, for that matter. So let's just call Christmas what it is, a cultural holiday at a time when we both most and least need it.
Friday, December 24, 2010
So, guess who invited me to have dinner with him last Wednesday night?!
That's right, the Former Object of My Affection.
You're thinking, "but of course you didn't accept? It's too soon, right?"
I accepted. Despite the advice of all of pretty much everyone, including my friends and my hairdresser, and especially the cat. He's had just about enough of this coming-from-a-broken-home bullshit.
Wednesday afternoon was pretty much like getting psyched to get on a train that you know is going to crash off a giant steel-arch bridge and land in a ravine hundreds of feet below. If I didn't die in a watery grave, the whole thing would explode into a conflagration that would make Jerry Bruckheimer peep his tighty whities. Oh, and crash it did. It started out awkward and aloof, then progressed to both of us alternating between trying to impress the other and then getting competitive with each other. Did I mention the part where we decided to hang out not in a safe, public place, but at my apartment, which the Object offered up?
"Look how great I'm doing!!!!!" the Object's pistachio-encrusted salmon shrieked (as it burnt, overcooking the inside into fish leather). I countered by making a cocktail of home-infused Douglas fir gin cocktail, St. Germain (biked down from the Alps by little Frenchmen and distilled the very same day), and fresh lemon juice. As I flamed an orange peel into the concoction, the rind hissed, "Did you notice that I'm made out of an actual, motherfucking Christmas tree?!?!?! And you know she's busted this out at all the potlucks that you weren't invited to but were far, far more fun than any party you could have been at." A retort from his buerre blanc spat, "Yeah, well I threw an eclipse watch party on my roofdeck that was well-attended by all the old friends you lost in The Settlement. Oh, and he'll only vaguely allude to it, but I'll just come right out and say it: his new special lady friend that he told you about three weeks after you moved out was there."
And so it when on and on, the desperate fruits of our dinner-making labors hashing out what we thought. No wonder the cat is exhausted. Eventually the atmosphere thickened into a boozy miasma of bitterness in which we flung off our pride with the same abandon we used to reserve for our underwear. This went on literally all night and involved darting sulky eyes around my house and pointing out with asperity The Things That Used to Be His. The breaking point was when he tipped back another mouthful of benedictine and milk and said, "I shouldn't have given you my Soccernomics book."
Oh, Dear Reader, how I lost my fucking shit. And then, I packed up all of his. I got out a bunch of bags and boxes and threw anything and everything that was in any way reminiscent of him, symbolic of his and my years together, or that I acquired after The Settlement that he less-than-secretly coveted, (including Christmas presents friends had given me that he thought were "his" because apparently if you work as a transit advocate, you then get a monopoly on anything and everything related to trains, the environment, and urban planning). This ended up being about half the contents of my apartment. When I was done, the Charlie Brown Christmas tree I'd decorated and the stockings I'd hung (because I'm doing just fine, thank you very much) evoked less a sense of holiday cheer and more a feeling of post-Grinch apocalypse. When I was done, I made him take it all back to his apartment (three blocks away), and stuffed it all there, making the tiny place seem ridiculously full, like one of those people who hoarde National Geographics and spoons until they can't even see their stove anymore. I ran home as the dawn crested over the trees. In my barren apartment, I didn't cry, I didn't fume, I didn't rage. I just squeezed my cat so close that he actually squeaked at one point.
So that sucked.
I'm not sure if the stuff made its point or that we were so utterly and completely emotionally spent that we just called a truce. He picked my clothes out of the trash helped me bring my objects home and washed the dishes from the night before while I put the contents of my life back on the shelves. He left to go to his family's house for Christmas.
I thought I would be devastated, but I was just relieved. I had a a real-life epiphany.
The Object and I cannot be friends.
No calls, no innocent e-mails, no witty jokes, no swapping music. I won't even allow the Object the luxury of the thought that maybe one day 10 years from now and in a parallel universe in which we are both happy to know the other person moved on, we can reconnect to be friends. Nothing. If I never see the Object again, that will be fine.
And no, that had not been completely obvious before. We'd both thought naively that our relationship was somehow exempt from human emotion. We kept making stupid excuses to contact each other - my mom is sick; can you get me a yoga mat, we still need to spend the penny jar money that we never used. Stupid little things. He'd been keeping up with me on Facebook. I told him I'd blocked him, which is true, but neglected to mention the part that I still looked him up specifically by name. That all ends now. I defriended him on Facebook and almost immediately had a panic attack when I remembered that was my only access to a good number of vacation pictures for five years. "Shhhhush," I consoled my hyperventilating brain. "We sent those pictures away to a farm where they take very nice care of them. They'll have all the gigabytes they want and one day they'll be turned into archival-quality prints and framed, knowing how very special they were. If you're very good, we'll get you new pictures."
"I don't WANT new pictures!" My brain howls, rivaling the epic tantrums of my girlhood, pissed off that it's not getting what it wants when it wants it. I had no idea how much mental energy I'd been devoting to him. Having dinner with him was like getting punched in the face but then feeling manically giddy about it. Since then, my Object-starved brain has become punch-drunk and loopy, obsessing over him, conversations we had, Object this, Object that, Object, Object, Object, Object, Object, ARE YOU LISTENING, GODDAMMIT, OBJECT. Thursday night I went to the Columbia Room and as I listened to the exceptional banter of my date and the witty speakeasy repartee around me, my brain would not shut the fuck up about the Object. It's an addict that just got a giant fix knowing it's the last one. I don't want anything bad to happen to him; I just want him to dissolve out of my life and now have to go about the excruciating business of extracting him from my neurons.
And so I need to retrain my brain. Just like having a puppy that starts to piddle on the carpet, I try to shoo it back onto the newspaper. I've gone far enough to start reading out loud in my mind the phrases on street and parking signs, ads at bus stops, license plates - anything that is not thinking about the Object. When that doesn't work, I just say over and over and over, "it's done, it's done, it's done; I'm free, I'm free, I'm free. I don't feel sad, pitiful, nostalgic, or any of the litany of post-breakup emotions I've felt the last four months. I never cried during this awful episode. The only emotion I have at this point is calm determination. I feel relief that this is the way to have my life be mine, not that of the Girl Who Used to Be with The Object. I spent the day with friends and at yoga, meditating, just taking breaths in and out that were the evidence of me, living right now. I cooked a bright, colorful, and nutritious dinner, then let my senses crowd out the chatter of my mind. I stared at the richness of all the colors. Before I ate a bite, I took breated the aroma in over three slow, full breaths. I rolled it around my tongue, feeling each part of my palate kick in. Then I took another bite. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think of this as my Christmas gift to myself, as much promise and hard work as a floppy-eared puppy with a big red bow. Every time my brain starts whining Object, I put the puppy back on the newspaper and remember that smacking it around will just make it fearful. I'll keep moving slow and patient, until I'm my own best companion.
Monday, December 13, 2010
There's just not even words. How to describe the new world order: Vladimir Putin. Fats Domino.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
By far the most popular post of all time here at the Goo was when we looked into why the hell you can't get awesome Salerno Jingles anymore. For those of you who had a deprived childhood, Jingles are the all-time greatest Christmas cookie - little anise-flavored cookies fun for the whole family to fight over. Apparently there are a lot of people with the same happy childhood memories I have, but it's really, really hard to find them. I still haven't found any in DC. Keebler bought the company and changed the recipe into inferior little cookies that have been declared the focal point on the War Against Christmas.
A reporter is looking for someone in Chicago who can speak about their search. She writes (don't ask me why I'm assuming she's a she):
I'm a reporter writing a story about Jingles, er, Santa's Favorites as they're called now. Would anyone here who's a fan of the original recipe cookies be willing to talk to me for the story and be photographed (in Chicago) this week for the story? If so, please email me directly today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Normally, we would hop right on a plane and be willing to help out save for the fact that we've spent enough time on planes recently to have gone through the entire Lufthansa movie and TV catalog (not kidding). So if you're in Chicago, get in touch with her ASAP so we can get Jingles! Just in case you need further incentive, she also writes, "BTW, for those not living in Chicago, I'll be sharing details on where to get them."
Maybe we can have a real Christmas!
A friend of mine asked me if I saw any gators while I was in Orlando. Well, at the hotel where I stayed in Orlando, there are no gators (that I know of), but they have ducks. Every morning, the hoteliers roll out a miniature red carpet from the elevator to the lobby, which has a complex maze of overly fancy fountains. A man in a heavy red brocade jacket with gold epaulets emerges from the elevator with a line of mallards and what has been described to me as a "duck encouragement stick". (It looks more like a cane to me.)
And yes, they do play "Be Kind to Your Webfooted Friends."
The ducks splash around in the fountain while the Duck Encourager has a drink. He marches the ducks back up to the elevator (and to their penthouse suite, which I'm told costs more than I will earn in three years) around 5:00 and the red carpet is rolled up. Apparently this tradition dates back to the 1930s when some hunters had a little too much to drink and put their decoys in the fountain, thus beginning possibly the frattiest hotel tradition in existence.
All things considered, it's pretty cute and the ducks are pretty heartwarming. That is, until someone asks you to go to dinner in the hotel's signature restaurant.
Where their speciality is roast duck.
The only thing that makes me feel better after I think about that is looking at another picture of Florentijn Hofman's Rubber Ducky and his description:
Monday, December 06, 2010
So I went on a date Wednesday morning.
But, wait, you’re asking, didn’t you have to get on a plane?
That’s right, I had a date at DCA. A few weeks back I was studying at Midcity Caffe and got to talking to a guy with an extremely cute smile (highly toothy grin!) and crinkly eyes. Turns out he’s a geographer 1 who speaks French and loves to cook. We got to chatting; as it grew dark outside I realized we’d lost ourselves in conversation for easily three hours. Alas, he had a trip to Paris and I had a trip to Pune, so finding time for a date was tricky. He figured out we’d be leaving on our next trips at pretty much the same time, so he bought me coffee at the airport. If that’s not adorable like a Nora Ephron screenplay, I don’t know what is.
This isn’t the first date I’ve had since rejoining the ranks of the single; it’s not even one of the first. Maybe two weeks after I’d moved into my new apartment, I picked up some remainders of mine from the Person I Formerly Objectified (PIFO -- I've struggled with a new name for him as he is no longer the Object of My Affection. Perhaps we can just give him a symbol). He made a specific and inadvertently douchy 2 point of letting me know about the girl he is now dating, complete with details of when, where, and who. It wasn’t information I particularly cared to process, but not having a choice, I needled some restructuring through my psyche. I didn’t want to be with the PIFO, and I didn’t want to confuse grieving with moping. And after a while, I started to get curious about what’s out there.
At first, I’d thought I would abhor dating. I loathe small talk and tend to be somewhat wary of people when I first meet them. The first few dates were meh, chores of the single girl, like setting up the utilities and wondering what the hell to do with all the money I'm not spending on at the grocer and the liquor store now that I'm not feeding a 6'4" lobbyist with an extremely active metabolism.
Time passed. Then one night at a friend's house, I met The Schoolteacher. Hilarious, good dancer, bright blue eyes, good-smelling 3. We bonded over the odd parallels between Cormac McCarthy and E.B. White 4, so he met my esoteric intelligence criteria that I don’t think I realized I’d had until that conversation. When I thought about him later, something inside me went pittapat. When was the last time you had that feeling? It’s sheer, unblemished anticipation, something deeply primal and human, like a remembrance of the first moments of your existence. After having spent the summer raw and vulnerable as though my soul had taken dancing lessons on a steel cheese grater, it’s a feeling I’ve embraced like a Soviet prisoner returning home from the hinterlands. He asked me out and all week I was pretty much in junior high again, gushing to my girlfriends in
notes passed across the aisle in study hall emails dashed off during the workday. This was the first date I was actually psyched to go on, rather than just feeling obliged to go on out of duty to myself.
I’m one of the few people I know who’s single right now – sometimes that’s awkward. Take last week. I stood in a wedding in India. The only other two bridesmaids both got engaged during the week of the wedding events. A tradition at Indian weddings is that the groom’s family sits first, and the bride’s family walks around and tells them to enjoy the meal. “I heard you got engaged yesterday!” guests exclaimed to Bridesmaid 2. “No,” she replied, “that was Bridesmaid 3. I got engaged a few days ago on the beach at sunset.”
“Oh, how romantic! What a wonderful week for love!” the guests responded. Bridesmaid 3 gushed, “I know! Everyone’s getting married!”
Then she looked at me and said, “Oh, wait, sorry.”
Yes, this actually happened, and not just one or two times. Bridesmaid 2 helpfully pointed out that I was the only one around not getting married. You would have thought I would have felt a little less awkward after it kept happening, but no, no it did not. I just kept smiling my brightly dimpled smile, talking through my teeth at how incredibly, extremely fucking happy I was for everyone.
And yet I get perks in singlehood. For one thing, I have a lot of freedom of mind and movement; there’s no one constantly gauging my thoughts and actions. Bridesmaid 2 picked an incredibly stupid fight with me over a pair of shoes. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on or why she was so angry. “What are you doing?” I bemusedly asked her. “What do you think I’m doing?!” she spat out in frustration, fuming, “I’m fighting with you. Fight back!” I felt the detachment of an anthropologist as I thought about her squabbles with her fiancé. In fact, looking back at the week, the couples around me bickered and needled each other constantly. I realized it’s been months since I had a completely stupid and ridiculous fight with someone.
Better than freedom from quibbling, being single makes me feel like an explorer. I’ve got four different guys on my plate right now – The Schoolteacher, The Bikefixer, The Geographer, and The Photographer. They’re all interesting in different ways – one is like hanging out with a guy from a Jude Apatow film, one climbed Kilimanjaro, one speaks four languages, and one plays drums in a 90s cover band. Getting to know them, I’m starting to get a more concrete sense of what I’m looking for in an eventual partner. They give me a reason to bring on my A-game, to think about the qualities I bring to the table and polish them till they’re shinier than the shit I put on my eyelids to make my eyes sparkle. Suddenly I have a reason to impress and be impressed. I like being charmed and feeling like I’m the most interesting person in the room; that I’m reason enough for someone to put his cellphone on silent and tuck it away in his pocket. I have absolutely no obligation to them other than to figure out interesting things to do with them. And I can always blow them off to go have a date with my friends – in the past three months since I’ve split up with the PIFO, I’ve hung out more with friends than I did during the entire course of our relationship.
My friends readily admit to living vicariously through me, admonishing me not to think too hard. “I remember loving being single, and then I remember meeting [my fiancé] and knowing it was time not to be single anymore,” the Yaegerbomb recently told me. I still have moments where I miss the PIFO, especially his friendship . But feelings are temporary and fleeting things, like bees. If you start getting all exercised about them and flinging your hands around, they get pissed off and try to sting you. Leave them alone and soon enough, they’ll make honey. True story: I’ve never been stung by a bee and don’t intend to start now. One day I’ll be ready for a new relationship, but probably not any time soon. I’m fine with the smooching but still balk at the idea of spooning, which is where the PIFO was a Viking. Clearly there’s some healing to come. In the meantime, the sweetness of discovery has turned me into a conquistadora of new relationships. Except without all the pillaging and smallpox, one hopes.
1. I did not even realize that geographer was a career option. Kind of extremely awesome. I almost don't want to go out with him again, because there is no way that the quotidian realities of his job will ever line up with the mental picture I've established.
2. He claims he thought I would be happy and even excited for him.
3. Yes, this sounds a little specific, but a guy has to smell right. Not fancy – it’s not a cologne thing; in fact, I hate almost all cologne because it masks the smell I’m looking for. He has to smell sort of sweet and salty. It’s one of those subtle and mysterious chemistry things that I lost track of while in a relationship, but become acutely aware of as I’ve started dating.
4.They definitely exist, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.