Plus 2 Cases of Wine, 1 Case Champagne and 2 Large Bottles of Bourbon
Quite a few years ago, I was at a women’s Jewish event, where we were asked one-by-one to share our favorite holiday. My answer was Thanksgiving. I was the only person to proclaim a non-Jewish holiday. I felt half-rebel, half-outcast.
Thanksgiving has been “my” holiday for years. Stress is minimal because there isn’t any real expectation attached to this holiday except to eat and drink. And I’m really good at eating and drinking.
The guests around the table vary from year to year, with some coming just for dessert or just appetizers. It’s fun to have an excuse to entertain for three solid days, even if it does cost us the equivalent of a small vacation, as we host a houseful of out-of-towners.
Of course, as the years have gone by, the menu has had to change to reflect everyone’s evolving dietary needs: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic or just plain healthier. I miss the corn dish made with cream and bacon. And the sweet potatoes-yam dish made with (never) too much butter.
I used to scour through the Bon Appetite magazines that my mother gifted me. Most have been tossed, but I kept the Thanksgiving editions because they are sentimental to me. And I hate to admit it, but the reason I’m not using their recipes any more is not my guests’ health requirements – it’s because I’m less ambitious. I want to spend less of my time with cooking and busywork, and more enjoying time with my guests. This year we have a couple of new people who are bringing their personal Thanksgiving favorites, which makes my life even easier.
While I toyed with the idea of listing the whole menu with links to recipes, I realized the only thing I really need to share is the tradition we now do before dinner. Everything else is probably similar to every other household. But, I think the pre-dinner activity is what sets us apart. In a good way.
The Before Dinner Drink:
We’ve been enjoying this yummy cocktail for a few years and if you haven’t tried it before, I urge you to run to your local Costco and buy a large bottle of Maker’s Mark, or whatever bourbon you like. And even if you aren’t a bourbon person, trust me. Santa’s Little Helper is great. I learned the hard way not to have one until dinner is ready to be served. Not exactly a light aperitif, but oh well. Thanks to Donna’s good friend, Marsha, for introducing us to it. Here’s the recipe, found on many websites:
Pour the big bottle of bourbon you just bought at Costco into a pitcher, throw in some cranberries, a couple of cinnamon sticks and a handful of whole cloves. Cover it and let it sit 24 hours. When ready to make drinks, pour over ice 3 parts of your delicious infused bourbon, 1 part triple sec, and top the glass with some 7-up. Dig up some cranberries from the pitcher to add as a garnish.
There are two other drinks I only have once a year. Eggnog, which I also wait for Thanksgiving Day to enjoy, and a holiday flavor drink from Starbucks on December 24th.
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 reduced-acid 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.”
Sober months 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 alcohol at my age does so permanently. We are past the “temporary” stage of quitting. You’re either all-in or all-out.
The kava 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 that opened in the continental United States being 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 my friends and I 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.
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.
I kind of hope I’ll always work. Let me clarify. I hope I’ll always want to work and be healthy to work as long as I want.
The idea of working forever, or at least a long time, has always appealed to me and makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s always nicer if you have the option to work rather than need to work because of finances. Delayed retirement has grown significantly as described in this article from the NY Times, Of Retirement Age, but Remaining in the Work Force.
Work doesn’t have to mean a paycheck. Organizations of all interests are available if one wants to volunteer their time. Helping your own family with tasks such babysitting and taking care of elderly parents, qualifies as “work” in that it is productive and serves a need. Taking care of one’s family not only strengthens the family, but also strengthens society.
So, keep your fingers crossed for me and I’ll keep them for you however you want to live your life in retirement, or maybe no retirement.
I won’t bore myself researching how many thousands, or millions, of people have diabetes, are overweight, have stress and anxiety, and other unhealthy diseases or conditions that are often avoidable by healthy living. I am becoming one of them.
It seems that while we have written so many words about healthy living and viewed hours and hours of more information about the topic, we are generally not a healthy society.
I’m in my 50’s and this is going to change for me now.
I have little discipline. Somehow I’m not even heavier and an alcoholic. I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like and I do believe that champagne is the one beverage that is appropriate to consume any of the 24 hours in a day, 365 days a year. But I’ve gained a fair amount of weight since menopause and developed high blood pressure (which is improving).
I don’t play sports and I don’t enjoy gyms. I already have a dog, but don’t really enjoy walking him either (bad mom).
Yesterday was my 1st Day. I’m brought in my breakfast and lunch, to work and walked during lunch. I ate a modest dinner, early in the evening. Today I pretty much repeated the same routine. I’ll have to figure out a lot more if I’m going to be serious about all of this, but it’s a start.
In two days, I will be driving down to Los Angeles to attend BlogHer with my sister and youngest daughter. I’m really looking forward to it. During the drive, my dad will be joining me for the road trip and I’ll be dropping him off in Ojai to visit his old school buddy. I think they are friends from junior high. He’s so excited. But I’m a little concerned about the eating and drinking. There is a lot of it at this conference. Get a few thousand women together and they like to have fun.
I’ll have to be careful and balance it between my deep belief in making memories being so important to our happiness and the idea that I gotta get my shit together. I can make memories without all the calories and alcohol. Truth is, I’ll probably have more memories! Wish me luck.