Timing is everything, and the year our daughter was born, the Los Angeles real estate market was in a slump. It was the first time in my adult life that home prices had actually gone DOWN…
…and we took advantage of that by purchasing a bank-owned home whose previous owners had defaulted. The bank had made it move-in ready, with fresh paint and new carpets everywhere.
I remember thinking the house was perfect for our young family, and the only thing I wanted to change were the ugly bathrooms, which are small, featured 50-year-old formica sinks and counters, linoleum floors, and very little storage space.
That was 23 years ago. We never got around to doing anything about the bathrooms. Until this month.
The Sad Truth About Home Ownership
Let’s just say that during all those years I was lamenting on how tough it is to afford a house in Southern California, I never appreciated how tough it is to pay for the upkeep on one.
I now understand that homeownership is just a series of improvement projects that have to be taken one at a time, as your budget allows.
And the sad truth is – we often made hard choices that delayed home improvements until they were absolutely necessary. My husband’s family lives in the UK. Money that could have been plowed back into home improvements was instead used to visit my daughter’s grandparents.
I don’t regret that choice for a nano-second. My daughter is close to her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of the Atlantic. I call that a success – even if I’m ashamed to let anyone see where I live.
The Dreaded Ugly Bathroom
Several years ago, the shower in our master bathroom sprung a leak. The easiest way to deal with it was to simply stop using it. The shower in the guest bathroom tub works just fine.
A couple of years later, the toilet in the master bathroom broke, too. And then the plumbing in the sinks. The master bathroom became the place where we kept the cat box, and he was perfectly happy to have that space to himself.
This was not as hard as it sounds – especially after our daughter moved away, there were just the two of us. The only person who ever complained about it was my sister, who decided that a house with so many plumbing issues needed a second working toilet.
At one point, we did look into replacing all the broken bits and bringing the bathroom up to date.
We figured the project would cost about $10K.
The estimate came in at twice that amount.
For one thing, the entire room needed to be taken down to the studs. The space is small and the built-in vanity was about 5″ narrower than the prefab units on the market, and non-standard sizes cost more. New construction means bringing plumbing and electrical up to current building codes.
Half the cost of the estimate was for the demolition, so my husband vowed to do it himself. But he works long hours during the week, and when the weekend comes, all we want to do is relax. (This is one of those hard choices I mentioned earlier).
Before we knew it, another five years had passed.
Biting the Bullet
A couple of months ago, we came to the conclusion that we were never going to do the demo on the bathroom ourselves. We called a half a dozen contractors with 5-star ratings on Yelp and invited them in to bid on our bathroom project.
We had a rapport with one of them who gave us a quote we could live with. I spent the next several weeks obsessed with shopping for the components of a new, working, modern bathroom. Demolition commenced on July 8, and this last Saturday, we took our first shower in our new space.
I won’t show you pictures of the mess it was before (I was too ashamed to keep the evidence). And I’ll save the messy details of our renovation for a future post. But I’m here to announce that our ugly master bathroom is downright beautiful now:
We still have one more ugly bathroom to renovate, and I can’t wait. Hopefully, this time around, we’ll have the resources get it done sooner rather than later.
I came home and sat on the couch. It was only about 4:30 in the afternoon, but I really didn’t feel like doing anything. I just experienced my first drink of kava and I was tired.
I tried to remember the conversation I had with my sister in the morning, when told her I was planning to check out a kava bar in my neighborhood.
“That sounds like fun,” she said. “I wonder if any of it will be like the wine you brought back from Barcelona.”
OK, that was a non sequitur. It took me some time to realize that she was talking about cava (sparkling Spanish wine).
My husband had a similar reaction when I mentioned that I was kava-curious. He cheerfully replied that his brother used to drink instant Kava back in the 70s. (He was talking about a classic brand of decaffeinated coffee .)
Auto-correct on my iPhone is also confused. It thinks I really want lava.
(Kava, lava, java… what difference does it really all make?)
What Exactly Is Kava?
My son was the one who originally told me about this new (to me) beverage. He drinks it regularly in Austin (where he lives), especially when he’s doing his “sober months.”
This is an activity (or lack of activity) which seems to be growing in popularity with his age group.
I can honestly say anyone who decides to stop drinking at my age does so permanently. We are past the “temporary” stage of quitting. You’re either all-in or all-out.
The drink is brewed from the root of a plant (Piper methysticum) that grows in the Pacific Islands. Kava means “bitter” in the Tongan language, and there’s truth in advertising there, because the beverage I drank was very bitter.
Polynesian cultures have imbibed kava for over 1,500 years as a medicinal and spiritual libation. It’s now being touted in western societies as a non-weed, non-alcoholic way to relax, mellow-out, and feel groovy.
Kava bars have long been a fixture in Hawaii, with the first one opened in the continental United States back in 2002. In the early 2000’s there was some concern about kava’s safety, such as possible liver damage.
It appears to have been found to be safe for most people, but I’m very cautious and strive to do everything in moderation. As with taking any drug or supplement the general rules apply: Do your homework first.
My Kava Bar Experience
An online search turned up two venues near my home where I could sample some kava. The first one was a hookah lounge, so I chose to go to the one that was strictly a kava bar. I drove there shortly after their 3:00 opening, bravely opened the door and walked in.
It had a low-light kind of ambiance, which I understand is not unusual, and the background music was unremarkable. It wasn’t classic rock, wasn’t jazz, not country or hip hop. I don’t know what it was, and it didn’t impress me.
However, the rest of the place did surprise me. It was actually kind of nice.
The room was dominated by a long, wood top bar with comfortable bar chairs, and it had maybe a dozen booths. There was a young guy behind the counter (who was the owner), and a younger guy behind the bar (who was an employee). Younger guided me to my first kava drink.
He handed me what appeared to be an 8-ounce serving, with the flavoring of my choice: Irish Cream – much like the creamer I use in my coffee. But this didn’t taste anything like coffee.
He told me to drink it fast, which I easily obliged to get it over with, because this stuff must be an acquired taste. Younger suggested I suck on a lime chaser to help with bitterness, but I think I’ll pass on that the next time.
He instructed me to sit and relax to get the full effect.
Within a minute or two, my mouth got numb, kind of like a Novocain feeling. (Eh, not sure that’s something I like.)
Young and Younger behind the bar assured me that was normal.
A couple of minutes later, I started to feel dizzy. Then really dizzy.
I told Younger and he said to drink water, since kava can be dehydrating. So, I got up and clumsily walked to the bar to get a cup of water and bring it back to my booth.
In the meantime, four also-younger guys had entered the joint and were sitting a couple of booths away. They were having a good time and were obvious regulars. A 20-something woman walked in for her regular order. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and people were stopping in to relax and socialize after work – like what we used to call “happy hour.”
I think Young and Younger were a little worried about me. Without prompting, Young brought me a glass of tea, which he said would help me. I wasn’t feeling sick, but who knows what I looked like. I sipped the cold tea.
After about 45 minutes, I thanked them and walked out to my car.
And to be entirely honest, I’m not sure I should have driven. My mind was OK. I didn’t feel drunk or stoned or high. I hadn’t attained some cool alternative mindset (which would have been fantastic). My reflexes felt normal enough and the dizziness had passed. However, my head felt… heavy. It was a weird sensation.
When I got home, I sat on the couch, turned on the TV, and called my son.
“You should drink it slowly,” he said. That’s not what Young and Younger had advised.
I felt tired the rest of the evening, but unfortunately, that didn’t translate to better sleep that night. The effects of kava apparently wear off within 30-90 minutes.
I’m thinking I’m going to try it again. I’m not afraid of it, but as I am a lightweight with drugs, I’ll ask for a weaker brew.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s “go slow.” Buyer beware, but don’t be afraid to try new things.
I was kind of proud of myself for doing something like this on my own. It’s been a while.
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.