Winter is magical. I generally have to be reminded of this. Often. Having grown up south of the Mason-Dixon line, I don’t have a natural affinity for things like ice and snow and frostbite, but other people do, namely my Midwestern husband and his Midwestern friends. We had company last weekend— friends from Chicago who came up to ski. And they did ski a little, but mostly I think they came up to open our back door, take deep breaths of frigid northern air and shout, with arms outstretched, “Who wants to go walk barefoot in the snow?” (no takers)
On Sunday afternoon while everyone skied I made après-ski cocktails. I stood by the windows in our cozy kitchen absentmindedly squeezing grapefruit juice as I admired the sparkle and shimmer of soft winter sunlight on freshly fallen snow. When the skiers returned, flushed and exhilarated, I mixed the grapefruit juice with rosemary-infused honey and the warm, comforting notes of bourbon and set a jug out on the counter. And the skiers said, “Oh thank you, but I like my bourbon straight,” and, “Hmmm, I’m not really a big fan of bourbon,” and, “Oooh, that looks great; I think I’ll have a beer.”
Midwesterners. I tell you what.
So I’ve been drinking Brown Derbys all week and reveling in the vivid sparkle of late winter. Grapefruit and bourbon and rosemary would taste perfectly nice any time of year, but the bright, herbaceous sweetness is particularly lovely against the bracing chill of February. This is a late afternoon cocktail, a sipping sort of cocktail, a cocktail to enjoy with friends. And if you decide to go tromping about barefoot in the snow, you’ll want a few of these in you for sure.
recipe adapted from Bridget Albert & Mary Barranco’s Market Fresh Mixology
For much of my life, the approach of summer signalled a season of blissful slackness — a languid three-month-long stretch free of responsibilities and obligations and schedules. Then I became a grown-up, a grown-up with year-round responsibilities and obligations and schedules that, because I live in a resort town, seem to multiply rather than diminish as summer approaches. Fortunately, there’s gin for that.
This time of year, at the pinnacle of pre-summer stress, there’s also rhubarb. And, as we’ve already established, gin and rhubarb are really quite lovely together. For this year’s version I added another layer of aromatic astringency with a few sprigs of rosemary. The sweet, piney notes of the herb mingle with the subtle botanicals of gin, softening the sharp edges of bracingly tart rhubarb to create a cocktail that’s smooth and dry and delightfully assertive.
And if your equally assertive husband insists that you quit worrying about things and spend the afternoon sitting on the deck sipping gin while the newly opened apples blossoms sway delicately in the breeze, I suggest you listen. I also suggest that you don’t embrace the relaxation thing so fully that you find yourself five cocktails in at 4 pm, but that’s entirely up to you.
2¼ cups water, divided
2 Tbsp. + ½ cup sugar
½ cup fresh rosemary leaves
3 cups diced fresh rhubarb
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1½ cups good gin
Place 1 cup water and 2 Tbsp. sugar in small saucepan and simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add rosemary leaves. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, pressing on leaves to extract liquid. Cool syrup to room temperature, then chill for 4 hours.
Puree 1¼ cups water, ½ cup sugar, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice and rhubarb in blender. Strain through fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Squeeze the remaining rhubarb pulp to release as much liquid as possible. Chill the juice for 4 hours.
Mix the rosemary syrup, rhubarb juice, remaining 5 Tbsp. lemon juice, and gin in a pitcher or large jar. Pour over ice and garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs, if desired.
Leftovers (ha!) should keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
What kind of college has no football, no fraternities or sororities, and believes that one person can change the world? The kind of college my twelfth grade self had her little seventeen-year-old heart set on. More specifically, Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. In the wave of post-SAT college literature that flooded my mailbox (I must have checked a box: “Would you like to receive information from every college on the planet?”), Warren Wilson stood out. They had a farm, right there at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the green and the blue and the fog all merge into one misty cavalcade of beauty. A farm, which presumably you could work on instead of, say, going to Biology class.
In retrospect, that’s probably what freaked my parents out. Because no way in hell was I going to Warren Wilson College, a hippie school. So I didn’t. I went to a nice little state school, with no football and no fraternities or sororities. And, incidentally, no shortage of hippies.
So it comes as little surprise to my parents that I’ve spent a portion of my summer volunteering at a farm, or that I’ve taken such pleasure in it. My favorite farm chore — for reasons I can’t even begin to explain — turns out to be picking raspberries, though I’m also rather fond of weeding. On my family’s most recent visit, when I returned dirty-kneed from a morning at the farm with red-stained fingers and bramble-scratched arms and a contented smile, I heard my father mutter to my mother, “Maybe we should have let her go to Warren Wilson.” Maybe. Perhaps in some parallel universe they did, and my parallel self became exactly the sort of left-wing radical they’d always feared she would, throwing herself in front of bulldozers and chasing nuclear submarines around in a rubber dinghy with buckets of blood at the ready. Or perhaps — as I believe was my dad’s point — she, too turned out to be a quiet sort of hippie, the kind of girl who believes you’re much more likely to save the world with raspberries than with blood.
My to-do list is kicking my ass. And not in the normal boy, am I busy way, either; it’s kicking my ass in more of a it’s 10:00 — do you mind if we just have pickles for dinner? way. My point here is that it’s been a busy week — the sort of week in which last week’s clean laundry languishes unfolded at the foot of the bed and dust bunnies gather in corners to plot their eventual takeover of the living room and minor concerns like eating and sleeping slip to the bottom of the priority list. After a week like that, a girl really deserves a cocktail. Or seven. Preferably in a warm, sandy spot near a large body of water, but the important thing is the cocktail.