Is there a better summer cocktail than a classic margarita? The combination of citrus, ice, and tequila is super refreshing on hot summer days (and nights).
Our usual July 4 routine is to stick with chilled sparkling wine… but then my daughter’s boyfriend showed up at Linda’s house with a ginormous bottle of tequila. And you know the old saying: When God gives you tequila, you have to make margaritas.
I confess: I’m not much of a bartender. I don’t often drink margaritas outside of Mexican restaurants. If I really want one at home, I go to the supermarket for a pre-mixed Jose Cuervo (when I don’t care about the calories) or Skinny Girl (when I do).
But lately, I’ve been trying to cut out commercially made foods with stuff like high fructose corn syrup (one of the main ingredients in that Cuervo margarita mix). I’m also enough of a food snob to appreciate a good craft cocktail, even if I don’t have the patience to make one myself.
But Linda’s got tons of kitchen confidence, and she spurred me on to work together on finding a margarita recipe we could call our own. The result is a story I like to call:
Goldilocks and the Three Margaritas
Like all good 21st-century people looking for obscure information, our mission began on the Internet. We did a search and perused about a dozen recipes, and picked three to try.
And we had to do a little tweaking before we arrived at the one that was Just Right.
The most important qualification for picking a recipe was that we had to have all the ingredients: Besides the tequila, that meant fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, and some kind of sweetener.
The first recipe called for agave syrup, which Linda already had in her pantry. But the agave didn’t dissolve very well; I ended up having to clean most of it out of the shaker, where it had stuck.
The resulting cocktail was too tart for Linda’s taste. I liked the flavor, but admitted it didn’t really taste like a margarita.
We were intrigued by the second recipe we tried, because it called for angostura bitters. It also included agave, but I wasn’t going to try that again. So I omitted the sweetener entirely and doubled up on the Cointreau.
That margarita tasted OK – but it wasn’t great. And we wanted a margarita that tastes great.
The One That Was Just Right
For the final recipe, we decided to whip up a batch of simple syrup to replace the agave (1 cup of sugar dissolved into 1 cup of water, which we brought to a simmer and then cooled).
I dutifully added the ingredients. But the resulting drink was a lighter color than the previous one. So I poured it back into the shaker and added in more tequila.
That’s when I realized that the darker color of the previous cocktail was because of the bitters. So this one ended up with double the tequila.
And of course: this was the one that tasted the most like an actual margarita.
I also found it too sweet, so I added in a couple of dashes of angostura bitter – plus an extra dash of Scrappy’s orange bitter for taste.
And that’s how we made a margarita that was Just Right.
Two Drinks Away Just Right Margaritas
(yields 2 cocktails)
6 oz. tequila 2 oz. Cointreau 2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice 2 oz. simple syrup Angostura bitters Scrappy Orange bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup and shake for about 15 seconds. Pour into a couple of glasses and swirl in bitters to taste (we added two dashes of Angostura and one dash of Scrappy Orange).
Although I like a good salt rim on my glass, it’s not necessary – these margaritas were great without it.
Also, most of the recipes we saw online were adamant about using premium tequila – which is a great way to sell expensive booze. The brand we were using doesn’t cost much, and the result was great.
It’s possible that dipping into a $30 bottle of Patron or Chinaco would yield a better drink… but I seriously doubt that the difference would be all that noticeable. Then again, the Cointreau we used costs a lot more than your average Curacao.
Maybe the next time, we’ll experiment with switching out the tequila and orange liqueur. That could be our next mission.
So I decided to stay with the new job. It worked (sort of) well. While I had to make some adjustments, such as punching a time clock or spending an hour commuting, I also realized it would be going backwards to work for the buyer of my company. I sold it not because it wasn’t doing well, but because I was bored.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the new job four and a half years later to be a support person for my father when his health declined rapidly after my mother died. While there were aspects about the job that I enjoyed and of course there’s the issue of a paycheck, what I have really missed most is seeing co-workers that became friends. It’s been over a year since I left and while I remain social with a handful of my old co-workers, it’s that daily contact, camaraderie, and working towards a common goal where I feel a real loss. Nothing is perfect, but sometimes you make the choices that just have to be made.
I’m hoping a new chapter opens up that brings fun, good people, and where I learn new things. I’m just not sure how to find it.
Found this old draft from 2014 that never went up. It was interesting for me to read, like therapy. I’ll post an update next:
It’s interesting that I felt that last week was overall, a bad week. My husband thought it was a great week. And we were talking about the same events.
Back story I had a home-based business for 20 years and sold it last year on July 26th and never looked back. Paid someone to help me write a resume, sent it to one company advertising on Craigslist, got the job, and was an employee again starting on September 30th. I lacked confidence, was underpaid, and punched a digital time clock. I earned less than I did 20 years before and the last time I punched a real time clock was 34 years ago. When did punchclocks become virtual?
When I started the job hunt, I had no idea where I was going to end up, but there were some real strong qualities that I was looking for in my future employer for my next chapter. I knew I wanted to be busy and around people. My business had kept me alone all day except when kids were home and I was lonely. I craved collaboration. I wanted to get out of the house.
It was fun to build my business, but I had gotten quite bored and complacent the last four or five years. To be honest, I was depressed and knew a change was needed. When my business partner was forced to sell because of a divorce, I knew it was time for me to also leave. Coincidentally, my youngest was also going away to college and I always had talked about maybe getting out of the business at this time. I asked my ex-partner a couple of weeks ago if she missed it. She said no and also that she never looked back. I think that “never looked back” phrase is so perfect because it really describes someone when a right decision is made.
For various reasons, I wasn’t always warm and fuzzy about my new job, but I knew it had too many of the elements I was craving. On paper it was exactly what I would have described: 50 employees, very busy, nice people, fun product, casual dress, and a real entrepreneurial feel about the place. But I had a hard time sitting at a desk all day, looking at two monitors, and punching the clock. The low pay wasn’t really a problem. That is, until the annual review came up.
They review everyone once a year. I had been employed for six months and knew they were happy with me. While I was frustrated in what felt like a clerical position, I was feeling safe there and it was healing in a way. I wasn’t ready to go on another job hunt. I decided that instead of another employer, when I left this place it would be to work for myself again. Investing in myself was the best investment I ever made so why work for someone else if this didn’t work out?
The review was very positive, but the raise was 71 cents an hour. I was pretty surprised. So much so, that I had to apologize to my boss for my reaction that easily could have been taken as rude and ungrateful when he told me (I laughed and asked if he was kidding). I learned this was not the place I would be employed at for an extended period.
At the same time, the company that purchased my old business ended up offering me a job making the same amount of money, only it would be part-time. They said I could work wherever and whenever I wanted. It would be doing pretty much the same thing I did for the business when I owned it, but I wouldn’t be doing any customer service or answering phones (or the financial responsibility that comes with owning a business). Around the same time, my current company also told me they wanted to move me up sometime in the next few months. Then things became urgent with my old business and I had to make a decision. I went in and told my supervisor that I was considering a job offer and the same day I was offered a promotion to supervise my department (and respectable raise to go with it) effective immediately.
What should I do?
To my shock and horror, my husband thought it was great because I had two companies who wanted me to work for them, both with good, but different, offers. I found it to be disturbing and stressful. Big time. Xanax worthy. What if I made the wrong decision? What would really make me happy? Yada, blah, blah, yada. Choices aren’t always good, even though we often wish for them.
I made my decision today. What would you have done?
Last year, Linda and I hatched a vague plan to celebrate her birthday in Italy. And then we forgot – until I received this email:
Subject: LAX or SFO to Rome: $200-$300 Round Trip
I forwarded the email to Linda. Five minutes later, she called.
“Is this for real?” she asked.
I’d been receiving the Scott’s Cheap Flights daily newsletter for over a year, – but never had the guts to actually book one of their deals.
“I think we have to do this,” she said.
To Book or Not to Book?
I had to admit: A round trip flight from the West Coast to anywhere in Europe for under $1000 is really hard to find. Scott’s regularly features flights in the $500-$600 range. $300 sounded unreal.
“Is there a catch?” Linda asked.
There was no catch.
“Is it a legitimate airline?” The deal was offered on Lufthansa – but the actual flight would be on their partner airline, Swiss Air, which Conde Nast readers named one of their favorite airlines last year. So yeah – it seemed legit.
We looked at the fine print: Other than a short layover in Zurich, everything seemed kosher. And there was no nonsense about paying more to bring some luggage: both a checked bag and carry-on were included.
And did I mention that the price was under $300?
The deals on Scott’s sometimes disappear within hours, so we had to decide quickly.
We booked our tickets that night. Mine came in at $287 from LAX, and Linda’s was $289 from SFO. A friend of hers also jumped on it.
The one thing I did not think when I woke up that morning was, “I think I’ll buy a ticket to Italy.” Sometimes, life surprises you.
It Was All a Mistake – And That’s a Good Thing
The folks at Scott’s told me that what we got was a mistake fare: “when an airline or online travel agency (OTA) sells a ticket for significantly less than they intended.” If you book one, they recommend you give it a week before you spend any additional money on your trip – just in case the airline doesn’t honor it.
But Lufthansa was good as gold. Our tickets were issued right away. And that’s when we discovered that most of the cost went to taxes. The actual round trip flight from LAX to Rome was just $36.
So tonight, I’m taking off and meeting my sister tomorrow in Zurich. Then, we’re off to Rome.
This is the tale of my on- and off-again affair with Hollywood – both the industry, and the city of my birth. This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.
Back in the 1960’s, NBC used to run old feature films on weekends under the title, Saturday Night at the Movies. And one night when I was eight years old, the entire family gathered at our house to see a 1949 comedy called “Adam’s Rib“… starring my dad.
My father had a walk-on that consisted of one line, and he told us how during filming, he flubbed that line so many times that you can visibly see Katharine Hepburn’s annoyance with him as she elbows him out of the scene in the final take. If you blink, you miss him. But if you pay attention, you can see him in all his 15-year-old glory: skinny, with all his hair, and the same exact voice he has now.
The author’s father with Katharine Hepburn in “Adam’s Rib.”
Girl Meets Hollywood
That may have been the first time I understood that my parents lived secret lives before I was born, and my father had been an aspiring teenage actor. I must have asked him a ton of questions about that secret life, because the next day, he marched me into the garage and gave me his old books of plays by writers like Eugene O’Neill, George S. Kaufman, and Lillian Hellman.
I ate those anthologies up, and from that moment on, I know exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to write for the movies. Specifically, romantic comedies like the screwball play, “Boy Meets Girl,” which Samuel and Bella Spewack supposedly based on the antics of Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (“The Front Page”) when they were in Hollywood. And this was an awesome little play, because it boiled down the essence of romantic comedies to one easily memorable formula:
Boy Meets Girl
Boy Loses Girl
Boy Gets Girl
I could make a career out of working on stories like that. And growing up in Los Angeles, I figured I already had a head start.
Girl Gets Hollywood
My college major was Radio-TV-Film (I’d broadened my goal a bit by then), and immediately after graduation, I got a job writing and producing a syndicated radio show. My best friend from the department landed a gig in the mail room at NBC, and I remember one excited conversation where we were comparing notes on our jobs, when she told me how great it was over there, because even behind the scenes, “EVERYBODY was YOUNG.”
And here is where this tale relates to the campaign to Disrupt Aging: I remember having a very fleeting thought: If everyone there is so young, what happens to them when they get OLD?
From my job in radio, I jumped to one in television and eventually worked as a production assistant on a late-night show, while writing spec scripts in my spare time.
And for the most part, what my friend had told me was true: The pressure to be attractive and youthful extended from the performers to the people behind the camera. Yes, there were people in positions of power who were older than 40, as well as older craftspeople who had union protection. But for the most part, those of us who worked on staff in the office were overwhelmingly young.
Some of that was likely due to attrition: There was no such thing as upward mobility where I worked. Other reasons why the people working in television were so overwhelmingly young:
The work is seasonal, with long unpaid hiatuses.
The hours are long (sometimes stretching into a 14-hour work day).
And few production companies offered benefits like health insurance.
Girl Loses Hollywood
When I was 37, I had a health scare and no medical insurance. When that turned out to be a false alarm, I did what I hadto do. I took my place as an adult in “the real world,” by accepting a job that had nothing to do with the entertainment industry.
I still kept a foot in the door by working on scripts, but I had this terrible habit of coming up with ideas and starting a project – only to abandon it after learning that production had just started on something similar.
Like after I met the man who became my husband — in an online chat room — I had the idea of adapting the old movie, “The Shop Around the Corner” to the digital age. This was such a great idea that Nora and Delia Ephron also sold it as “You’ve Got Mail.” In my version, the two pen pals who hated each other were rival political consultants, like James Carville and Mary Matalin, so it was different — but still the same general story.
Or the idea I had when I shadowed the staff of a convention hotel as part of my training as a meeting planner. I was most impressed with the housekeeping team and how hard their work was. This was the inspiration for a screwball romantic comedy about a maid who is mistaken for a wealthy guest – and if that sounds like the Jennifer Lopez movie, “Maid in Manhattan,” you’re right. My version took place in San Francisco with a Chinese-American heroine, but you get the picture.
So I focused on raising my kid. Along the way, I satisfied my urge to write by launching a blog. I entered social media on the ground floor and as my daughter started college, I managed to get a job in marketing. She is on her own now, and I’m 62, and I realize that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
And that’s a lie. The only thing I ever wanted to do was write for film and television.
Girl Dreams of Hollywood Again
Last month, one of the women I met through blogging was visiting Los Angeles and asked if I was free for lunch. It turned out that this friend – who has had a wide and varied career as a writer and speaker – had taken up screenwriting in her mid-40s. And she’s absolutely undaunted by Hollywood’s obsession with youth.
She knew about my history, and didn’t understand why I didn’t try my hand at it again, especially now that I’m unencumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood. And I got to thinking… why not?
Because along with my newly empty nest, a funny thing has happened: The part of my brain that used to come up with story ideas is working again. I’ve been having lots of little inspirations, and I can’t get them out of my head.
And so that’s how I’m going to DisruptAging. I am mapping these story ideas out. I accepted my friend’s invitation to join her writing group. I invested a couple of hundred dollars of my own money for screenwriting software (which I have not touched in 20 years).
Maybe it isn’t possible for a 62-year-old woman to make a first-time script sale. But… why should that be? My age isn’t visible on the page. And I know a lot more now about life and love and what’s truly important than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.
At any rate, I’m going to ignore everything I think I know about the business and forge through and write my script. I’ll worry about getting it read or sold or produced later.
Just as a young person has to do.
And in the meantime, I’m having fun. I’m writing again.
In late middle age, I’ve come to a realization: Playdates are not just for children.
From the day my daughter was born, I lived my life according to her needs: Up by 7:00, race to daycare/school, get a few hours of work in or grab a coffee with the other moms, back for pick-up in the afternoon, then on to after school activities/shopping/meal prep. Day after day after day.
It was predictable. And comfortable. And it all changed four years ago: She went off to college – and I lost my moorings.
This is not one of those posts where I’m complaining about my suddenly empty nest. I’m proud of the fact that I raised a young adult who is taking care of herself, and we’ve found a nice balance. My husband and I find plenty to do together on weekends. We’re all good.
But I have had to figure out some new personal weekday rhythms.
With no reason to get up early, I often sleep in. Since I work at home, I don’t need to leave the house — so there are weeks when I go Monday through Friday without stepping outside to do more than get the mail or take out the trash. I have been known to do my grocery shopping online… because I can. If it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter and email, there are days when I’d have no interactions with the outside world at all.
By “Playdates” I Mean “Meeting for Coffee.” Or Cocktails.
So I now start each week combing my contacts and reaching out to local friends who might be amenable to meeting me for lunch or coffee or cocktails or dinner IRL.
And it occurs to me that this is a skill I developed 20 years ago, when I was anxious to set up playdates for my only child, so she wouldn’t grow up lonely and anti-social.
Only this time, the playdates are for ME. And they are absolutely necessary.
I’ve talked about this with a few of these friends, who are amused by the playdate analogy.
“But you and your husband are always going out and doing interesting things,” they tell me. They know this because I post the photos to Instagram and Facebook. But those activities take place on the weekend… and besides, we all know that we curate our social media feeds so that we only share the interesting stuff. If I posted what my life is really like, it would look something like this:
I could go on, but you get the picture. The highlight of the day comes at the end, when I realize my cat didn’t leave me any hairballs to clean.
My “playdates” on social media may look like just a picture of a coffee cup or martini glass, but they have given me laughter… connection… and sanity. And so I’m off to schedule a few more.
Five Ideas, One Menu, 15 Movies and a Couple of Other Odds and Ends You Can Do (No Kids Required)
I wasn’t happy when I realized that the Fourth of July this year falls on a Wednesday.
I don’t know about you, but I think the greatest decision of the late 20th century was the one that turned holidays like Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day into 3-day weekends. It is unfortunate they did not make a similar decision with Independence Day. I suppose “First Monday in July” is just not as much fun as “Fourth of July.”
At any rate, it can be challenging to entertain on the Fourth in years when it falls on a Wednesday “hump day.” Most people I know are hanging around town rather than taking extra days off from work. What will you do? If you want simple, but good ideas (kids optional), read below. If you want really creative time consuming ideas, go to Pinterest.
This is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think of this holiday. (What? The Declaration of Independence? Who are you people?)
If you live each year for the fireworks, you’ll want to either take advantage of a big display in your community OR blow some up in your front yard (but only if it’s legal – unless you crave the extra excitement and flashing lights that come from breaking local laws).
This is a true American way of literally letting your money go up in smoke – and who doesn’t love that?
I always make sure there are at least a few whistlers in my fireworks package. The reason is practical: For years, my son used the 4th of July fireworks to blow up fruit and vegetables. This bit was a hit with the other neighborhood kids. Now that he’s all grown up and isn’t home on the 4th, our fruit is relatively safe — but I admit to missing the chaos and excitement that always came with this holiday.
Food and Drink
We’re lucky to live in an area where ”safe and sane” fireworks are legal to set off in the street, and our street always makes a big show of it. I’ve discovered that you can buy your way into your neighbors’ hearts by bringing out some sparkling wine to share with them. (The other way is to make sure you pick up your dog’s poop on their lawns. Better yet, mow their lawn once in a while.)
Most large cities and many smaller ones have their own large fireworks displays. This usually means getting in the car and driving to a park with a lot of people. Meet your friends there, bring a picnic dinner (don’t forget the bubbly) and enjoy the show.
To make it even more festive, you can add a hibiscus flower to the bottom of the glass for a very pretty look. I like adding four or five pomegranate seeds to bounce in the glass as I drink.
Invite your friends for an early dinner/BBQ. with the fireworks as the grand finale (which also works as a hint that it’s time to go home — DO make sure you serve your dessert before the fireworks).
SIMPLE MENU for Midweek Fourth of July BBQ
(This is especially easy if you have to work Tuesday and Thursday.) It is so easy, yet satifsying, you’ll actually be able to enjoy yourself and everyone will be happy:
Your favorite protein to BBQ (chicken, steak, salmon, etc.)
Cut up vegetables for grilling in a basket (cauliflower, mushrooms, squash, onion). Marinate in some olive oil and seasoned salt.
Small red potatoes, cut in half, seasoned with olive oil, crushed garlic, and seasoned salt. Grill in a basket.
Edamame salad: One bag frozen shelled edamame, one bag frozen corn, red chopped red onion to taste, a lot of cilantro, and your choice of dressing (I use a Trader Joe’s cilantro salad dressing).
Egg salad with tarragon (keep mayo to a minimum, add some salt to taste)
Purchased cake and berries, and/or ice cream
Watch a Movie
With scorching July temperatures, people clamor for a place where they can chill for a while – like an air conditioned theater. So it’s no wonder that the studios release blockbuster movies for Independence Day. I’m more of a stay-at-home-on the-holidays kind of person, so binging on movies at home is good for me. Here are some patriotic movie suggestions for the holiday:
Go shopping – I hear that is a patriotic thing to do! Purchase a flag if you don’t have one or if yours is in bad shape. Check out the traditional patriotic shirts that are sold every year at Old Navy. There’s also this red, white and blue heart shaped necklace that is fun, or this very cool Sunnydaze hammock you can buy online.
Do Your Part
Research your community to see where volunteers are needed, either for clean-up, helping with a large event, or donations of food. If your parent is in a senior living residence, check to see if they need Fourth of July help (or any other day). Giving to others in our community is one of the most patriotic activities we can perform.
Please leave any other ideas you have for how to spend the Fourth of July on a Wednesday. And remember, two drinks away is a good place to be.
Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is a city within a city, where busy commuters can take care of all their needs without ever leaving the building: Shops featuring gourmet groceries, wine & spirits, cards & gifts, clothing, accessories — even a tennis club and an Apple Store.
And of course, lots of places to grab a bite to eat – or relax with a drink before heading home.
My sister and I were not heading home for another day, but we had an afternoon to kill. So we decided to kill a few brain cells while we were at it with cocktails in a Grand Central Station bars.
And what better cocktail to imbibe in Manhattan than a Manhattan? Then one drink led to another and before you knew it, we had embarked on the kind of epic endeavor that only seems like a good idea when you’ve got a buzz on: To sample a Manhattan in every bar in the building.
Yes, it was our own personal Manhattan project.
The Classic Manhattan
For those of you who have never tried this most American of cocktails, you should know that the recipe has been around since the Gilded Age, and has remained pretty much the same:
2 parts whisky, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of bitters. It can be served straight (in a cocktail glass) or on the rocks (in a rocks glass). Garnish can be a twist of lemon or a maraschino cherry.
It sounds simple, but we learned over the course of the afternoon that there are lots of variations within the framework of those three ingredients, thanks to different kinds of whisky, vermouth, and bitters.
The Bar at Cipriani Dolci
Cipriani Dolci is located on the West Balcony and is part of a chain of upscale Italian restaurants that that originated with Giuseppe Cipriani’s legendary Harry’s Bar, opened in 1931 in Venice. This bar feels like it’s that old, too – even though it dates only to the station’s last renovation in 2002.
The bartender there asked if we wanted our drink order dry, sweet, or “perfect.” This referred to the vermouth, with “perfect” made up with equal parts dry and sweet. Since perfection isn’t something you find every day, we opted for that.
And having tasted it, I’ve decided that I will ask for my Manhattans made perfect from now on. The drink’s balance of flavors was indeed, perfect – right down to its Luxardo cherry garnish. This became the benchmark against all the other Manhattans we sipped.
2. Michael Jordan’s Steak House
Right next door to Cipriani on the East Balcony is Michael Jordan’s Steak House. The kitchen was closed for renovations on the day we visited, but the bar was open for business. Alas, their Manhattan was not all we expected.
Linda thought it was because I ordered it on the rocks and waited a few minutes, so it was watered down. But the one at Cipriani was also iced and it was delicious down to the last drop.
Perhaps it was the whisky? We asked for Bulleit in each of the two establishments but didn’t specify bourbon or rye. Perhaps Michael Jordan’s barkeeps were making Manhattans with the former when we were expecting the latter.
I was also disappointed that there was no cherry garnish, which seems a silly thing to be upset about at my age. I guess I really do like to have my cherry on top.
Our mixologist let us know that he trained with Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto. He also informed us that Bulleit wasn’t an option, because The Bar only stocks “artisanal spirits from small batch producers.”
So for our very artisanal Manhattan, we settled on Rittenhouse Pikesville rye, from Kentucky – on the assumption that since Bulleit is made in the same state, it might have a similar flavor.
This Manhattan featured its own mix of bitters: 2 angostura, 2 orange, and 2 peychoud. These were all (of course) handcrafted and sourced locally from Hudson Standard. We got into quite a conversation about bitters with our mixologist, who boasted that he keeps over 100 different kinds of bitters in his apartment.
I may add that our drink also had a house-made maraschino cherry speared by an absolutely gorgeous cocktail pick. And with all that artistry and care, how was it? Delicious.
We cannot vouch for the quality of the seafood, but they do make a good, generic-tasting Manhattan with a pedestrian maraschino cherry.
The Oyster Bar was our last stop on our tour of Manhattans in Manhattan. We had a dinner reservation to catch in the Bowery, were definitely feeling all that bourbon and vermouth… and were under the impression that we’d actually hit every bar in the terminal. Alas, when we got back home and began the research to finish this post, we learned that there are at least two more bars we never got to see during our visit.
We’re having a heat wave in Los Angeles. So why was my oven working overtime yesterday, slow-cooking beef stew, a dish best enjoyed in cold weather?
Because my daughter asked me to. And my niece chimed in. And now that both girls are on their own, I do whatever I can to encourage them to visit, including making my washer and dryer available to them — and serving them dinners I know they will like.
Believe it or not, there was a time when cooking was my main creative outlet. I was never a great cook – but am able to follow a recipe. And I used to spend my evenings poring over cookbooks and magazines, planning meals that involved complicated dishes with tons of different ingredients. Serving a dinner that one might get at a nice restaurant felt like an accomplishment, and I enjoyed it.
That period of my life ended after my daughter was born. I used to joke that she never outgrew her toddler’s palate: she liked the plainest of foods and could not handle anything with a little spice to it. She turned her nose up at so many of my favorite dishes that I became convinced I wasn’t such a good cook, after all.
But there was one person who could please that child’s picky palate on a regular basis: My sister-in-law in Wales, who I have to admit is a magician in the kitchen. So after one of our visits there, I decided to try my hand at the traditional British fare my kid liked so much. I marched down to Borders (remember Borders?) and bought a Jamie Oliver cookbook. One of the first things I tried to make was this beef stew — and the rest is history.
This is the dish my kid and her cousin browbeat me into making yesterday — and aside from the heat in the kitchen, I don’t really mind. For one thing, I’ve made Jamie Oliver’s beef stew so many times over the years that I’ve got it down to a system. It takes me about 15 minutes to prep on a Sunday afternoon and then dinner is done.
Step by Step to Beef Stew
1. Gather Your Ingredients
The beauty about making a stew is how forgiving it is. My family isn’t crazy about the butternut squash, parsnips, or Jerusalem artichokes the recipe calls for, so I’ve reduced that to just one potato and three carrots. You can throw in just about any vegetable you like. I sometimes forget to buy fresh sage or the tomato paste. You can substitute dried sage and omit the tomato paste and it will still taste fine, although with a little less body and flavor.
I’ve also learned to increase the stew meat to at least 1 1/2 pounds — otherwise, the leftovers tend to have very little beef left. And I do like the leftovers, as it tastes even better the next day.
2. Saute the Onion and Sage
The original recipe calls for using a mix of butter and oil, without specifying how much to use. I used to saute the onion and sage in 1 Tbsp of each, but it works just as well with either. Lately, I use a tablespoon of butter only and saute on medium heat.
3. Add the Vegetables and Beef
Once the onion and sage are done, add in your chopped vegetables. Then the cubed beef that you’ve dusted with seasoned flour. What’s nice about this recipe is that you don’t have to brown the beef first – just dump it into the pot.
4. Add Beef Broth/Stock and Wine to Cover
You can probably make it without the red wine, although I’ve never tried that — in my opinion, it’s the flavor of the wine that gives this stew its robust flavor, and the better the wine, the better the dish will turn out. That can pose a dilemma, because I hate to waste a good bottle of drinking wine. Most of the time, I look for a Cabernet in the $5-$10 range and save the good stuff for sipping. You can also go with Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and blends.
Increasing the amount of meat to a couple of pounds means you need more liquid in your pot or Dutch oven to cover it, so these days I tend to throw in the entire bottle of wine. The liquid will reduce by about 1/4 over the 3-4 hour course of cooking, and the concentrated result is delicious.
5. The Tomato Paste
The last bit you stir into the pot is the tomato paste, which gives the stew an oomph of flavor. You only need two tablespoons, which I’ve found is pretty typical of just about every recipe I’ve read that uses tomato paste. This used to really bother me, because I would always end up wasting nearly half the can. But several years ago, I discovered these tubes of concentrated tomato paste from companies like Cento, Amore, San Marzano, and Mutti, which enable you to extract the small amount you need, recap the tube and keep in the fridge for up to 45 days. So now I always keep one in the fridge and a fresh one in the pantry, so I never run out.
6. Bring to a Boil and Cook for 3-4 Hours.
Once you’ve added the liquid and tomato paste, bring the whole thing to a boil, and then cover the pot and pop it into your preheated oven (just 300 degrees) for a nice, slow cook (3-4 hours). This is especially nice to do on a cold day — and crazy when the temperature gets to 90, as they are predicting for today. You know you’re done when the beef is easy to mash with a fork or spoon.
At any rate, you’re now free to go about your business. If this is going to be dinner on a typical Sunday, putting the thing in the oven is my cue to fire up an old movie to watch on TV.
7. The End Result
So here’s what it looks like when you’re all done. You can see all that beautiful beef and how much that liquid reduced during the cooking time. What you can’t see is how good it tastes – you’ll have to take my word for it (and that of my daughter and niece, who requested it in the first place). There were not a lot of leftovers this time around, which is a shame. I like to bake up a bit of puff pastry and stick it on top of the reheated stew so it becomes an approximation of a beef pot pie.
I guess it will be a while before I do that, because I told my family they’re not likely to see this dish again until winter. But there may be ways to satisfy a stew craving during the summer. I’ve tried making it in the Instant Pot and it came out OK, but lacked the body and intense flavor of the oven-cooked version. I may give the slow cooker a shot at this recipe and report back later. If that works, Stew Sunday may be an event we can all enjoy year-round.
Kim Kardashian West was one of the BlogHer 2016 keynote speakers this weekend, much to the chagrin of some old-time attendees who did not see how her brand of celebrity related to what we do as bloggers.
Those folks were wrong. That was apparent when I tried to get into the ballroom for her session. The room was overflowing with people, many of whom had probably purchased one-day passes just for a chance to see KKW in person. They had to open up additional sections of the room to accommodate all the last minute arrivals, and when Kim took the stage, the room erupted in folks with cell phones, all standing up to get a shot of her.
Believe it or not, I actually knew very little about Kim . I’ve never watched an entire episode of her show (but may have to soon, as her appearance at BlogHer was being filmed for it and I’ll be interested in seeing that). As BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page interviewed her, it was apparent how relevant a booking this was. Kim Kardashian answered the questions with thought and intelligence – and the audience could see how being a celebrity on her scale really is a full-time job… especially the time she spends on managing her image on social media.
One thing that caught my fancy was the effort she puts into the Kim Kardashian West lifestyle app, which also serves as a central tool for her to manage all her social media platforms. She said she posts to it at least three times a day. “It’s a full time job,” she said.
And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. I leaned over to Linda and whispered, “That’s what we need.”
Announcing: The Two Drinks Away Lifestyle App
Now, if you want full access to KKW’s daily updates and advice, you need to pay to subscribe. The beauty of the Two Drinks Away app is that we won’t make you do that: You can have all our pearls of wisdom for free.
We will cover all the same categories with tidbits like this:
Donna, Age 60: Note the angle of the selfie. which hides a multitude of age-related flaws. Never take a photograph straight on if you can help it.
When I turned 50, I looked in the mirror and was shocked to see my mother looking back at me. My face has changed, and so has my makeup routine. Let’s face it (no pun intended!): no amount of lotions and potions is going to get me back the dewy, unlined skin of my youth. So I OWN IT. My face is a map of all the living I’ve done to get here (and if I’m going to be completely honest with you, some of that living was not exactly clean).
I also figured out around then that I only have so much time left on the planet (a realization that is ever more urgent now that another ten years have passed). Every single minute I’ve got is precious now, and I don’t want to waste any of them on some long-ass, expensive, ultimately useless beauty routine. So I do as little as possible: Just some under eye concealer, mascara, and lipstick. It takes about five minutes. Ten if I smudge the mascara, which happens more often than you think, because I don’t see so well without my glasses and I haven’t figured out a way to apply it with my glasses on. (Don’t tell me to get a magnifying mirror; seeing how I look in one of those things ruins my entire day.)
Lately, I’ve been doing the eye makeup routine even on days when I don’t think I’m going to leave the house. It pleases me.
Me and the lovely Liz Rizzo. See how my shmata covers my butt.
If you work from home like I do, you never have to change out of your pajamas. Of course, THAT would make me feel like a slob – so I spend nearly every day in jeans. After all, my generation pioneered the concept of “dress jeans,” casual Fridays and wearing your favorite pair even after it’s gotten ripped and torn. And now, blue denim counts as a neutral color – it goes with everything. You’re welcome. It’s not our fault that finding a good pair that fits now costs a fortune. Well, actually, I guess it is. I will pay whatever it costs to buy a pair that fits great and makes me feel good, too.
Don’t let anyone diss your preferred style of slacks as “mom jeans.” I can’t wear the same styles as my daughter, and even if I could, they wouldn’t feel comfortable. Remember what I said about precious time? I refuse to waste any of it being unable to breathe because I’ve tried to stuff myself into tight clothes and Spanx. I’m 60 years old. I don’t need to play that game any longer.
To get my look, make sure you pick loose tops that are long enough to cover your butt, especially when you’re bending over or sitting down. Your family and friends will thank you. An additional benefit of a long, loose top is that no one in your family will know that you unzipped your jeans after dinner when the waistband got uncomfortable and you’re rocking it Al Bundy-style.
Linda and her kitchen counter. Really, who’s gonna notice a little dirt when there’s champagne to drink?
We did a kitchen renovation seven years ago, which as anyone would tell you, is an overwhelming project. Fortunately, Linda’s home had undergone a major overhaul a few years prior, and I was able to benefit from her experience. She advised me to make pick a countertop that hides the dirt. I ended up buying the exact same granite top that she got, and it’s been wonderful. Ironically, the spots are camouflaged a little TOO well – even when I’m trying to get it clean, I often miss spots. Success!
These are products and promotions Kim Kardashian West touts. Two Drinks Away doesn’t have any of those, but if you follow our Facebook and Instagram streams, you’d have no trouble figuring out that we are both obsessed with food, drink and travel (a little too much). We shouldn’t have a lot of problems writing about any of those topics for our Two Drinks Away Lifestyle App.
I think the app should also include recipes for cocktails, because when I tell people our site is called Two Drinks Away, that’s what they think they’ll find here
These are Kim’s own products ; currently her “Kimoji” and Kimoji Merchandise. Linda has an entrepreneurial spirit and would love to develop some products that we could sell. Maybe we should hunker down and create our very own set of emoji for the over-50 crowd that we can use to terrorize our kids: Perhaps a symbol that would shorthand “Why haven’t you called me lately?” Or an icon to remind them to wear a jacket. I think we can go somewhere with these.
And there you have it! The Two Drinks Away app – coming to an online store near you.