Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Sour Fashioned

The Sour Fashioned

2 ounces cherry brandy
1 ounce Cointreau
½ ounce grenadine
dash orange bitters
2 maraschino cherries 
splash of cherry syrup
1 orange slice
ice and soda water to fill
(stir vigorously)

I spent last weekend up in the Wisconsin Dells with my sister, to celebrate her 40th birthday.  My mom came too.   She and Carrie really wanted to hit the water parks, eat frozen pizza, and get matching multicolored hotel lobby hair weaves.  I insisted we stay at the spa.   So they skipped the water slides this time.  Or did they?  Maybe they both snuck off to rock the Black Anaconda at Noah's Ark while I got my organic facial.  I guess we’ll never know.  

My reasons for choosing the Dells weren't really about my affinity for rural Wisconsin as a vacation destination.  They were about convenience, and my general reluctance to fly.   Oh, I've done it before.  Some readers of this blog may recall that my friend Tara and I went up to the Dells for my 40th birthday.  That was like, two years ago.  Some may also recall that we had an extremely peculiar experience at a local steak house, involving an order of Clams Casino.  

One of the church ladies who works at the spa told me – as I was signing their Pledge of Peace and Quiet – that the steak house is still in business.  It has the same general manager who refused to refund my absent clams.  The woman was actually recommending the place.  I had the weirdest experience of my entire life there, I said, in a barely-audible hushed whisper. I can’t possibly go back.  

She shrugged.  So I dropped it.  It occurred to me only then, that the spa and that restaurant are probably operated the same owners.   Which is probably why, as novices, we ended up there in the first place.   But I'm glad she blew it off because I really didn’t want to continue the conversation.  I tend to get worked up when I recount those events, and I really didn't want to violate the spa pledge.

Fortunately, my sister had a plan for dinner.  As someone who takes an annual vacation in the north woods, by choice – and is married to a man who once injured his knee sneaking up on a trout – she had the whole rural eating scene figured out.  

She took us to this place – Ishnala – a famous old supper club on Mirror Lake.  It was a great place.  Not only because it’s a unique spot, with lots of history.   Not only because it’s decorated with loads of taxidermic wildlife art.  But because the only place I have ever spent more than two hours waiting for a table in a restaurant and then left – without dinner – because I no longer felt like eating, is New York Fucking City.  So, hats off to you Ishnala.   You've still got it.

We did eat a little bit.  After waiting outside for an hour, we decided to have some appetizers.  It was extremely crowded in the bar area so when I saw three chairs open up, I darted across the room to snag them.  I felt slightly guilty for checking some old man into the wall on my way past.  He almost lost his balance, ricocheting off the wall.  But I got the damn chairs, and that's the important thing.  And we got some snacks, and some beer, and a couple of Old Fashioneds.

I don’t mind an Old Fashioned.  I know saying that in Wisconsin is sort of like saying you don’t mind football, or you don’t mind farmers.  I would never say those things.  Because I hate football and I genuinely like most farmers.  Around here, though, the Old Fashioned is very popular.  Most commonly, it's made with brandy (like Korbel, which sells more than a quarter of its supply to Wisconsin alone) or bourbon.  The most basic recipe is  a mixture of the spirit, soda or soda water, bitters, over an orange and a cherry muddled with sugar. 

Mostly, I just don’t care for sweet cocktails.  With all due respect to my sister and her fellow country mice, I definitely don't prefer a drink that contains both soda and white sugar.  I do like brandy, though, and I flat-out LOVE maraschino cherries.  

So I invented my own sour version of the traditional cocktail.  It's made with a local “cherry brandy” made from Door County sour cherries.  I like Yahara Bay Kirschwasser, which isn’t as sweet as a real brandy or cherry liqueur.  In fact, it's kind of... sour.  

Go local with spirits.  Why not?

My Sour Fashioned gets enough sweetness from the maraschino cherry syrup, grenadine, and Cointreau.  I prefer sweetness like this, because it is also flavored and fermented.   

And instead of muddling the orange and cherries with sugar, I muddle them with the syrup and bitters, then add the alcohols and grenadine, fill with ice and soda water, and give it all a good stir.  

I don’t have authentic old fashioned glasses at home.  I just use whiskey glasses, like these. 

whatever, haters.

If you make it at home, let me know what you think.  And happy birthday Carrie and Pete!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

25 Things I've Been Just... Wishing For

1.  I just wish I woke up a little earlier with insomnia, because 3:30 am doesn’t give me nearly enough time before the day starts to sit on a chair and feel tired.

2.  I just wish my cat’s canned food smelled more like ass at 3:30 am.

3.  I just wish that the customer service lady at Pottery Barn had sounded a little more sure of herself right before she didn’t place my order because she spelled my name CLUNB.

4.  I just wish Apple would roll out their iphones a little faster, so that the new generation literally went on sale before I finished buying the already outdated one.

5.  I just wish all women had to wear burkas, because that seems fair on so many levels.

6.  I just wish every restaurant in New York was called Hale and Hearty, so the whole city seemed old fashioned and redundant.

7.  I just wish dentists and surgeons were both called doctors, because that would be totally awesome.  For dentists.

8.  I just wish my kids parroted each other's words, all day long, because that game is never annoying to be around.

9.  I just wish there were more Monday night sports programs I didn’t care about, because that old school Charlie’s Angels episode -- where the arsonist who is blowing up warehouses by igniting a complicated chemistry formula with a pay phone turns out to be the ditzy blonde magician’s assistant -- is time I definitely don’t want back.  

10.  I just wish people in this town had more political bumper stickers on their cars, because nothing seems more important than telling the random stranger driving behind you how you are voting in the next, or last, election.

11.  I just wish the leaves on all 20 of our oak trees were numbered, so when my neighbor complains that our lawn care guys are "blowing our leaves over her fence line," we could actually count them.

12.  I just wish more people texted while driving, so drunk driving seemed less idiotic.

13.  I just wish there were more pharmaceutical ads for baby boomers with sexual dysfunction that featured sexy 55 year old women, so teenage boys had more reasons not to want to watch TV with their moms. 

14.  I just wish more young songwriters would write romantic songs about dying young, so that someday, they will all appreciate that only a young person, who hasn't actually died young, would write a romantic song about dying young.

15.  I just wish I had more digital photos being stored in the fucking cloud that I’ll never look at again.

16.  I just wish everyone on the internet was still using the word meme all the time, like they had always known what it meant.

17.  I just wish scientists would stumble across a technique or experiment that proved -- once and for all -- that sugary soda was unhealthy.

18.  I just wish I could read more in-depth articles about the Polyamorous love movement, because it’s not enough that some old bearded guy told me about it in person, while standing over me in a public park.

19.  I just wish road construction on highways could be done right in the middle of the day instead of at night, when nobody drives.

20.  I just wish someone wrote a song about healthy body images for women, then some critics accused her of “skinny shaming,” because that social disorder is literally almost as serious as anorexia.

21.  I just wish the woman who wrote that article saying I wasn’t a feminist because I used the word slut in a humor piece, would take the phone call from 1982, which wants its outdated women’s studies lecture back.

22.  I just wish more people would tell me – when I say I’m afraid of flying – that it’s more likely I will die in a car crash, because I’ve never heard that and also, now I’m afraid of driving too.

23.  I just wish my chin was pointy, so the wart growing on the end of my nose wouldn't feel like it was carrying the "mean old witch face" burden all by itself.

24.  I just wish that when my physician pointed at me and asked me if “I always looked like this” and then offered mood medication, she could have also pointed out that I’ve put on weight, just to keep the bedside manner consistent.

25.  I just wish everyone would keep using the phrase, I just wish, because it never gets old.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Modest Proposal, In Celebration of Harvest Day

Last year, I wrote a letter to my local school board about the elimination of Halloween and Valentine’s Day in our school.  I’m not going to share that letter.  It had a lot of typos, and I wrote it so quickly that I ended up sounding like a ranting lunatic.  "Sounding."  Anyway, nobody needs to see that.  (Except, of course, the school board.)

But no matter because, like a creepy Halloween zombie, the issue limps on!  And so, I post this cleaned up, edited, somewhat more rant-free version of that letter.  It is an homage to the bygone days of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.  And obviously also the great Irish writer, JonathanSwift.

Next week, my children will be having classroom parties to celebrate Harvest Day.  Hooray!!  

What, you ask, is Harvest Day?   That is an excellent question.  Harvest Day is like Friendship Day.  That comes on February 14th.  Growing up in this country, perhaps you had always understood February 14th to be Valentine’s Day.    You know -- that highly commercialized Hallmark holiday that’s all about eating sugar and chocolate?  It’s the wintertime version of Halloween, basically.  Except instead of spooky ghosts and costumes and sugar, there are hearts and valentines and sugar.    

When I first learned about Friendship Day, I was confused.   The holiday wasn’t removed from the local calendar while I lived in New York, was it?  Based on my recent trip to Walgreen’s to buy cat litter and glitter nail polish, I had to conclude that people still observe Valentine’s Day.  Even here in Middle America.   I saw the cards for sale. Right there.  Next to the Applebee’s Gift Cards.

Well apparently, people do.  But children DON’T.   Not in school, anyway.  And definitely not by that name. 

Last year, parents got a letter explaining how Halloween was no longer allowed in school.  Because of diversity.  Hmmm, mysterious.  On one hand, there are a lot of international families at our school.  On the other, I don't think anyone was forced to participate.   Families opt out of activities all the time at school, voluntarily, for religious or cultural reasons.  One time on a field trip, I bought rock candy lollipops for the whole class.  One kid didn’t like his, and threw it on the ground.    Do some children feel the same way about Mutant Ninja Turtle and Minecraft costumes?  I guess we’ll never know.   But just in case, the school cancelled the traditional costume parade, and renamed the holiday, Harvest Day.

Of course they did!  Because Harvest Day is totally a thing. Traditionally, of course, it was called Samhain.  The hard working Celtic pagan farm children of this Midwestern town have long dressed up in costumes (not at school), slaughtered the livestock, lit bonfires, and invited the souls of their departed Celtic forefathers over for brats.

Look, I realize that Harvest Day may SOUND like a meaningless, bureaucratically-invented, empty gesture.  But it’s obviously an important empty gesture. We can’t have popular cultural traditions in the schools that may – like that crappy rock candy, which belonged on the ground – not appeal to every single person.

I suspect the real issue is that Halloween is basically a religious holiday.  That is because several thousand years ago, the Catholic Church appropriated some of the creepy zombie-related customs from the pagans.  And it does occur the night before All Saints Day, which is a Catholic holy day.  Not that anyone knows that.  Even practicing Catholics.  And ironically, in many towns around this country, the Celtic pagan roots of Halloween have led modern Christians to oppose it.   On the grounds that it’s not religious at all.   There the Irish go again, screwing things up!

But isn’t Valentine’s Day IN FACT a Christian holiday, commemorating how St. Valentine was beaten with clubs and buried under the cover of darkness?   Can we also blame this on the Irish?   I'm not sure.  Valentine’s Day isn’t a real holy day at all.   In fact – funny story -- its origins were in Lupercalia, a Roman holiday in which young men would draw the names of young women in a lottery, and then keep the women as sexual companions for the year.  OMG, Romans, so inappropriate!  And also, SO WEIRD that my teachers never mentioned the Roman roots of Valentine’s Day when I was a kid.  Here we all thought Valentine’s Day was about eating sweets and trading 3D Pokemon cards.   The whole time, it was just a pre-Christian game of spin the bottle.  Good riddance.

Perhaps the real reason for banning these traditions, if not their religious roots, is the American Constitution.  As everyone knows, we have a Bill of Rights in this country, which guarantees the Separation of School and Culture.  That sounds a lot like the Separation of Church and State.  Except it’s different.  Because only one of them is real.

Still, I think we can do more at our school to suppress traditions that some people might not like or want to celebrate.   Therefore, I have come up with a Modest Proposal, which I hope you will all take seriously.  In the spirit of our great Constitutional separation of school and culture, I propose that the district spearhead an official Banning of All Traditional American Cultural Practices. These BANNED cultural practices should include but not be limited to:

The wearing of snowsuits; the watching of television, videos, the internet, and computers; the eating of corn dogs, hot dogs, popcorn, pizza, and hamburgers; the speaking of English and Spanish; the wearing of Nike brand shoes; New Balance brand shoes, and Converse brand shoes; the learning of roller blading or hula hooping or pogo sticking or jump roping in gym class, especially double dutch; field trips on orange buses to apple orchards; red dye 40 sprinkles, rice crispie bars (plain or peanut butter); Frozen princess t-shirts, mutant Ninja turtles shirts; Feminists who keep their names, Feminists who don’t keep their names, other Feminists; lunchroom volunteerism, playground volunteerism, book room volunteerism, and the entire Parent Teacher organization which, frankly (I think we can all agree) smacks of way too much democracy.

Just like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, these traditions should be seen for what they really are: Church.  

Even if they WEREN'T obviously opportunities for forced conversions, it is simply damaging to the fabric of community when child-citizens are allowed to come together and celebrate a popular cultural tradition in a public building.  Because some families might not be into them.  And it's too much to ask of a child, to sit quietly, while her classmates eat blatantly heart-shaped cookies, right in front of him.   Better that everyone just throw their cookies on the ground.  And then rename them.

A word from the Founding Fathers, in closing: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the cultural events that they have always observed, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare themselves in favor of Friendship Day, Harvest Day, and every other fake holiday that they have never heard of.”