In last Friday’s post, I talked about a particular sense of calm that comes on Christmas Eve that presents us with the opportunity to find a moment of deep peace and joy. This year, I felt as though that moment came to me more easily, maybe because I’d shared the idea of it with all of you, or because the actual process of writing tends to make me more open to possibilities. In either case, I walked into Zachary’s house feeling very zen and ready to take on the Seven Fishes. Things were going along swimmingly (awful pun intended) until we set a baking sheet of kale on fire in the oven. Notice the calm spirit in which I write that sentence. Now, those of you who follow me know that this is not my first fiery rodeo in the kitchen. A few years ago, we had a similar mishap during which a tray of chopped pecans entered the oven as a potential cake garnish, only to emerge as a pile of ash reminiscent of the apocalypse. Needless to say, the kale suffered a similar fate. The first time around we did absolutely everything wrong in “handling” the fire; in fact, our behavior could have easily been made into a “How NOT to Act” fire safety video. What was our biggest mistake? Ah well, we opened the oven door, of course, and the fire became an inferno. This time when Zachary reached in that same direction, I stopped him. We turned off the oven, shooed everyone out of the house, and we watched the fire burn out and die.
Despite the flashing DANGER, DANGER sign that went off in my head on Christmas Eve, it led me to contemplate the role that fire plays in our lives. In mythology, Prometheus stole it from the gods and gave it to mortals, an act for which he was brutally punished by having his liver eaten out every day thereafter by an eagle. It was thought to be that powerful. The Smithsonian Magazine tells us that “Darwin himself considered language and fire to be the two most significant achievements of humanity.” And in his book Cooked, Michael Pollan regards fire as being both a transformational and essential component of human existence. We can all certainly understand and appreciate the role of fire in cooking our food or keeping us warm, or even the sense of community and conviviality it can bring to any event. Who doesn’t like to gather around a fire, indoors or out? But what about its metaphorical meanings? It is in this space that I believe we can begin to think about fire on several different levels.
If we first consider fire as the impetus for an idea, we can readily see how it becomes both necessary and important. Symbolically, it instigates our actions, and it allows us to bring our concepts into reality. Whether or not they grow from there depends upon how much we stoke the fire and allow it to spread in a controlled way. Similarly, when we are attracted to another person, we often describe that moment as being a spark. As time goes on, if all is good, that spark grows into a steady fire that we hope we can sustain forever. It is equally true, however, that some ideas begin with that slow burn, and some relationships begin with that magic spark, only to burst into flames that scare us half to death. What we do next is really what determines how much damage the fire will cause. Either we will open the oven door and allow the oxygen to ignite an inferno, or we will keep it closed, and watch the fire be reduced to ashes.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us are quite familiar with both these types of fires. On the one hand, we have the steady burn and its transformative possibilities, and on the other, we have the almost-out-of-control flames that require quick action to smother quickly. There is a third type of fire that we’ve all experienced, but it’s one that we may not be as willing to talk about. This fire involves going down into the basement behind some locked door where we keep all the dangerous weapons and tools. There, in that place, we find the flamethrower hanging on the wall. We take it down, haul it up the stairs, hoist it onto our shoulder, take aim, and burn the hell out of everything. This is blind rage. These are the words that leave our mouths without any intention but to hurt. This is the idea that we know is bad, but we do it anyway. This is the person we should never contact again, but there we are, sending some sad faces and broken hearts. Sometimes we aim the flamethrower a little too close, and we end up blasting ourselves along with everything else. The damage we cause can take forever to heal, and if and when it does, it may leave behind a scar that we’ll never forget.
Of the four elements that find their way into philosophy, religion, and astrology, fire often feels the most dangerous. Just as every house needs a good fire safety plan, so does every person. And what exactly would the contents of that plan be? Well, for starters, we need to always keep a watchful eye. And nose. If we think we smell something burning, it’s because something probably is. Next, we need some good tools on hand, so that we can feed and stoke the fire that’s burning happily in the hearth, or rein in the one that threatens to burn down the house. If those tools should fail us, and we’re about to set said house on fire, we need to act decisively to put it out on our own, or dial 911. And finally, we need to buy an extra padlock for that door in the basement and think long and hard before reaching for the key. This is fire at its worst; the momentary satisfaction we gain when we blast that flamethrower will almost never be worth the consequences that follow.
For today’s cocktail, I placed a hibiscus and ginger shrub from Little Apple Treats right in the center of this cocktail. It had just the perfect level of sharpness, and I was able to pair it alongside a homemade saffron simple and some lime juice. I wanted the hibiscus flavor to be pronounced, so I chose vodka for my base spirit and Hibiscus Lavender bitters that we actually make from scratch and sell at Recklesstown Farm Distillery. The real star of the show, however, was a chile poblano liqueur called Ancho Reyes Verde that brought enough smoke and heat to take the drink to a whole new level. This cocktail captured fire in all its permutations, beginning with the spark and the smolder, all the way through to the flame and the blaze. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday and Happy New Year’s Eve! What’s in your Fire Safety Plan??
1.5 oz Recklesstown Farm Distillery Vodka
.75 oz Ancho Reyes Verde
1.5 oz Little Apple Treats Hibiscus Ginger shrub
1 oz homemade saffron simple*
1 oz lime juice
2 dashes Crooked Row Hibiscus Lavender bitters
Short shake over ice.
Single strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with a fresh ginger slice.
*I made the saffron simple with equal parts water and sugar and a health pinch of saffron per 8 ounces, steeped overnight. You’ll want it to turn a deep golden color.