Just last week I was discussing spring cocktails at Recklesstown with a few customers. They’d asked me about some of the flavors in this month’s drinks that included things like fennel, dill, rhubarb, snap peas, and cherry blossoms. I confessed to them that I’d found this most recent menu to be one of the more challenging ones that I’d developed. Spring flavors, like the ones listed above, are quite delicate, which makes them far more difficult to feature in a drink than something as forthcoming as jalapeño or rosemary. My creative tendency is always to look for pairings, and so I’m accustomed to figuring out or researching what syrup or secondary spirit might complement the main flavor profile of the drink I’m working on. In the case of these cocktails, however, I had to quiet that impulse and allow this menu’s ingredients to fly almost solo, with just a gentle nudge here or there. It occurred to me that spring itself behaves in very much the same way when it begins to send its first harbingers to greet us. A bud on a tree, or a green shoot that pushes through the dirt, a new bird at the feeder, or something different in way the sun feels. I think the quality of these things is perfectly captured by the word nuance, especially in the way in which they could be so easily missed because they’re so fleeting. Before we know it, the tree is in full bloom, the perennial is two feet tall, the bird feeder has a no vacancy sign, and we’re complaining that it’s suddenly way too hot.
For as far back as I can remember, I have always been a person who has watched the clock and flipped the calendar pages. Even as a young child, I looked forward to whatever was next with as much anticipation as my little heart could muster. Birthdays, Christmases, certain family parties and cookouts. My cousin Nancy’s wedding at age 11 when I was a junior bridesmaid and danced all night with the boy I thought I’d marry, high school graduation and the parties that followed, my own wedding at age 21. When these big moments in life arrived, I felt as though they had an aura about them, existing within a bubble that held them both suspended in time and protected from the outside world. I soon learned that within this insularity there was also a deceptive fragility. Every amazing and wonderful life event was always followed by a certain feeling that I could only describe as sadness. I felt so guilty even acknowledging it. I’d just had this intensely happy experience that was evolving into an unforgettable memory, and here I was with a major case of weepiness. Just the slightest google search will point us towards something called opponent process theory which takes the position that we’re most comfortable in a Goldilocks state of emotional homeostasis. More simply put, once we feel one intense emotion, its opposite is certain to follow until we level out again. Sure, I’ll buy that, but isn’t it true that the brightest colors of the aura were always meant to fade, the walls of the bubble to give way, and reality to set back in? The fullness we feel in our hearts simply cannot last forever. We know this. Our big event has ended, and something makes us wish that we could find a way to live it all over again.
Of all the moments in life that have evoked this particular phenomenon for me, the births of my three children sit at the top of the intensity scale. I think that most parents reading would agree that there are few events that are as highly anticipated and profoundly moving. I also experienced these same emotions when my three grandchildren were born, Nora, Jack, and Nellie, especially since I had the great privilege of being in the delivery room with two of them. Covid restrictions prevented me with the third. Last Mother’s Day, I had breakfast with my daughter Wendy and her husband Andrew. They placed a gift bag in front of me, and when I opened it, I found a positive pregnancy test inside for a baby that was due to be born on January 16, 2023, even though we now know she wouldn’t arrive until ten days after that date. At the moment I opened the gift, despite the normal caution and experiential knowledge that pregnancy can sometimes be a long and worrisome journey, the anticipation began for me. It grew as Wendy grew, and because we are so close, I knew every detail of every day, with the excitement culminating in the 24 plus hours she, Andrew, and I spent together helping their baby make her grand entrance. To say that being part of that process was amazing and unforgettable is the biggest understatement I could ever make. To say that I am proud of Wendy and Andrew and eternally grateful to them feels equally inadequate. There really are no words that I could write to describe the feeling of watching this important little life come into this world, especially knowing as I do now how quickly she’ll grow to hold my hand and walk with me and talk to me about all the things that are so very important to her. And one day, I know that I will do the same.
The happiness I felt in the hours after her birth was truly astounding. I paid particular attention to it. I felt the bubble grow, and all the colors inside it began to shimmer. I was filled with so much clarity and gratitude for all the little things along the way that had mattered so much. Shared excitement. Encouraging words. Small kindnesses. A giant pink Pilates ball quickly loaned for the purpose of bringing on labor. The perfect coming home outfit. Family and friends who allowed me to text them throughout the long night with updates. The contraction monitor finally indicating transitional labor at 4:30 am. The nurse and midwife who arrived with the 7:00 shift change like absolute rays of sunshine. The moment her head emerged. Welcome Phoebe Katharine! Watching my daughter cry tears of joy. I wanted to take each of these instances, and so many more, and hold onto them forever, but I could feel them already beginning to fade in that sad, sweet way that they do. All of this has led me to wonder if what we experience during the truly big events of our lives feels so heightened because it represents the perfect expression of our shared humanity. When we are overwhelmed by emotions, we are moved to be kind. We have no reason to ask whether or not it’s appropriate or to consider if it will ever be reciprocated. There is nothing holding us back from being the best version of ourselves. Once we return to reality, this loss of humanity could very well be the source of our sadness. I’m convinced now that it is. Since most days appear to be unremarkable, we tend to forget all that we are capable of feeling and doing for one another. Yet within the hours that comprise each of these ordinary days there are opportunities for us to remember, just as long as we know how to find them: by looking through the lens crafted by our biggest and brightest moments. What is revealed there is that even when life seems to be at its most mundane, we still have the power to make it exceptional.
For today’s cocktail, I began with Kinsey rye whiskey aged in a Port wine cask from New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia where Andrew is the production distiller. It’s very, very good, and it seemed only fitting that I should use it as the drink’s base. I added a cardamom ginger simple syrup, blood orange and lemon, a dash of beet juice, some club soda, and bitters made by Crude that have flavors of pecan, magnolia, and habañero. In terms of flavor matching, cardamom has a great affinity for blood orange, and its spiritual meaning of great clarity and joy worked perfectly as well. The oranges themselves stand for new beginnings and happiness, and beets are a universal symbol of intense love. The ginger juice in the syrup represents great strength and passion, the habañero in the bitters echos this, and the pecan and magnolia are things that are refined and unusual. Together, all these ingredients speak to a drink that is anything but ordinary, which is fitting since it was crafted with the idea of a brand new granddaugther in mind. Any one of the symbols, however, can be found in our ordinary days. I am hoping that Phoebe Kat helps me to remember where to look for them. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday!
2 oz Kinsey Port Wine Cask rye 1 oz ginger cardamom simple syrup .75 oz blood orange juice .25 oz lemon juice .25 oz club soda 1 dash beet juice 2 dashes Crude “Lindsay” bitters
Long shake over ice. Double strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.
We are often told that the secret to living a happy life is all about finding balance. I am in complete agreement with this statement, and it resonates with me on a daily basis because balance is also one of the key components in creating a perfect cocktail. I have talked about this idea many, many times. The sweetness of a drink should temper the acidity. The base spirit should never overwhelm the intended flavor profile. When a cocktail seems like it’s missing something, bitters will often be the thing that brings harmony. I have made all of these statements with great conviction because I can see them clearly. I know that they are factual and true, and I test their validity every time I make a new drink. They’ve become a set of guidelines for me, or a checklist that I can follow and expect that the outcome will be a reasonably good cocktail. If we seek this same idea of balance in life, what are the components we should be precisely measuring? There are so many answers to that question, some of which are good and solid, and others that run the risk of being cliché. It may take some careful consideration to distinguish between the two.
As a person who creates and prepares cocktails both for a living and for fun, I am extremely interested in the idea of compatibility. I often consult a rather large book I have called The Flavor Bible for insight and inspiration when it comes to combining ingredients. It’s actually meant to be used in cooking, but I find that it helps me a great deal in my efforts to learn what goes with what. In last week’s Rogue Cosmo, for example, I leaned towards using a vodka infused with lemongrass because it’s a capitalized entry in the list under the Hibiscus heading in my book, which means that these two ingredients are thought to be perfect dance partners. They have the ability to move with one another gracefully and with the utmost of ease, but they also challenge one another to rise up and be more. Many other ingredients are listed, but not capitalized, and so we expect that while they might still work, they won’t necessarily be quite as compatible. We’ve all danced with someone exactly like that! This concept of finding a perfect match in the cocktail world reminds me of a Netflix show I watched last year called The One that was all about finding the person in the real world who would become exactly what the show’s title implies. In the series, there was a scientific process behind compatibility, rather than chance, fate, or dating apps, that had to do with a genetic component shared with just one other person in the entire universe, rendering them completely irresistible. All that was needed was a single strand of hair for analysis. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a binge watch. But, I digress.
I’m going to begin today’s post by posing a question in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice: “What is it about New Year’s Eve that tugs so firmly on our heartstrings?” There’s always that instant just before midnight when a sort of flashback reel runs in our minds that conjures up significant moments from all the December 31sts that have long passed. Dances, kisses, hugs, conversations, glances… split seconds brimming with potential and promise, or if we were having one of those harder years that we’ve all unfortunately experienced, poignancy and longing were what filled the cup. This unsolicited recap rolls these memories in front of our mind’s eye, and they most certainly do lasso our hearts in the most forceful way possible. As if all of this is not enough, there is the even more prevalent thought that the new year offers us the option of setting a purposeful intention, or several, that can and will revise the 365 days ahead. When we embrace this idea of setting such resolutions, we cannot help but find ourselves sitting on the edge of transformation every New Year’s Eve, and that particular place of looking over the railing into the abyss of what might come next will always stir up our emotions. And so we write that promissory note, not necessarily for money, but for new behavior and habits, an organized plan of action that will reveal a shining and updated version of ourselves.