Not-So-Famous Drinks of Youth and Idaho

Children and fall: the prettiest reminders of change.

I am so consumed by the present that any glance back into the past is jarring–almost surreal. So much changed when I became a mother. Not just the usual big-then-saggy boobage, belly fat, hair-falling-out, sudden-fact-that-I-am-in-love-with-a-helpless-alien sort of things. I’d married Husbot just one year before; I’d met him nine months before that. I relocated from a place and community I’d lived in and loved for ten years to a foreign land. (Just because the same currency is used and the same language is spoken thirty minutes west of Phoenix, Arizona and the Wood River Valley, nearly two hundred miles east of Boise, Idaho, doesn’t mean the two locations are not as different as Amsterdam and New Amsterdam). At the same time, I lost a friendship–or at least, it changed, dramatically and irrevocably. I still grieve for it.

Things were different, and would never be the same.

The bots and I return to the Wood River Valley twice a year, and each time, I am confronted with the past. We usually stay with my parents, who retired here twenty years ago; I sleep under the same crewelwork image of a girl carrying a cat that was above my bed in Alaska as a child. There is news of the old boyfriend and his wife, who are friends of friends and family. Every visit to the grocery store in this small town offers chance meetings with former colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes they recognize me but sometimes they don’t remember my name. I introduce myself. We catch up in that inane way that takes ninety seconds. And then we push our carts in opposite directions, the way our lives have gone.

And so it should not have been unexpected but was nonetheless very strange last night, while inspecting the contents of my parents’ liquor cabinet before dinner, to come across a drink recipe I’d written for my father about fifteen years ago. It was a remnant of still another life, when I was working in my twenties for a famous Denver restaurateur who foresaw trends sometimes a decade before they became trends. (He poured me my first Cosmopolitan in 1993, three years before Carrie Bradshaw first tipped one back in a move that would forever determine the cocktail of choice for women now between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five.)

This recipe was for the Caiperana, which never enjoyed quite the notoriety of its pink sister, but made a comeback ten years ago at wedding receptions and on creative cocktail menus across the country, and more recently has featured in one of Jo Nesbo’s bestselling thrillers, in which the hero, a Norwegian detective with a taste for anything fifty-proof and above, finds himself stuck somewhere in South America and glad that the only available drink is a local version of the caiperana, brewed from the fiery and wince-inducing native liquor, distilled apparently with little consideration for flavor from raw cane sugar.

Who knew you could find video instructions online? (cucabrazuca.com)

In a bow to the past, I’ll transcribe the recipe here as I wrote it back then. It made me laugh, which of course was a bittersweet kind of laughter, because I want it back. I mean, I want the parts of my past the made me laugh back. It’s a stupid thing to want–that’s what memory is for, that’s what stories are for. And soon enough–tomorrow, as it turns out–today will be the past that made me laugh.

Caiperana

For one drink:

1/2 lime

2 teaspoons brown sugar

3 oz. Pitu cachaca

dash simple syrup* (*double-strength hummingbird food)

rocks glass

little spoon (optional)** (**a swizzle stick will do)

First, learn to pronounce both the drink and the liquor. This will entail learning a foreign language, so be ready to practice. Practicing after having served your guests yields the best results as, while your linguistic skills may not improve greatly, your listeners, as they empty their glasses, will become much more accepting of the injustices you perpetrate against the Spanish language.

But practicing beforehand doesn’t hurt. While chanting ca-CHA-cha, ca-CHA-cha, slice the lime in a complicated manner. That is, cube it as if you were cubing a potato, if you ever cube potatoes, but don’t cut all the way through the peel at the tip. You will understand why momentarily.

Place the lime pointy-side down in the glass and pestle it soundly to squeeze out the juices. Meanwhile, repeat, ky-per-ANN-ya, ky-per-ANN-ya quietly to yourself so that your guests don’t know you’re getting a headstart on pronunciation.

Add the cachaca and simple syrup and fill the glass to the brim with crushed ice. Insert the little spoon.

Sip slowly and stir the drink constantly so that the ice dilutes the concoction and you remain scintillating for as long as possible before being reduced to a pleasant stupor. Keep prodding the lime with the little spoon to extract all the juices. If you have mastered them by this time, work the words caiperana and cachaca into the conversation at frequent intervals so that your guests will be duly impressed.

*   *   *

Skol! Salud! Here’s to the past. Here’s to change.

No-Fail, Kid-Pleaser Spinach: Popeye’s Pancakes

The secret ingredient: baby spinach

Readers know that I’m not generally one to hand out recipes. There’s always someone out there who knows more or figured it out more scientifically.

But I find that I’m becoming, quite to my surprise, a pancake expert. I add things to pancakes: Bananas. Applesauce. Carrots. Zucchini. Yams. Wheatgerm. Flaxseed. Ground oats. Ground almonds. I think only one experiment was an unredeemable disaster but I can’t remember which one. Although, in an uncharacteristic turn of discipline and documentation, I usually write down the recipes while the bots are making them disappear, and I usually write them down accurately.

This morning, faced with half a sixteen-ounce container of spinach from last week’s Costco run (do you KNOW how much a pound of spinach is? It’s roughly a billion servings. More when I’m the only one eating it. Eating it alone was not the plan), I decided that I would no longer eat my spinach alone.

So I got out my trusty Joy of Cooking, the one with fifteen different variations scribbled on the “pancakes” page. If I had been in charge of naming this book,  it would be called The Necessity of Cooking: Striving for Gratification. As I’ve mentioned (see Muffins McBot, Or, You’re Stepping On My Habit), I enjoy baking much more; it’s zennish, except when it’s punctuated with battle cries and calls for Dora bandaids.

Pancakes fall somewhere between cooking and baking. They’re cakes, but they’re cooked in a pan. What makes them a good target for slipping in nutritious, vitamin-filled ingredients the bots have shunned in other contexts is simple: sugar. I add honey–preferably local honey, because it’s supposed to help with allergies. Makes sense to me. Then I dab them with Vermont maple syrup. Which isn’t supposed to help with any allergies but really, who cares?

Even A.A. Milne wrote a poem about eating peas with honey. If he’d thought of it, I’m sure there would be a follow-up  verse about spinach with chocolate.

Popeye’s Pancakes

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • About 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach (or 1/3 cup frozen), cooked & pureed (as my nut grinder has coffee beans in it and my food processor is too big, I just used a pizza cutter to slice-‘n’-dice the hell out of it).
  • 2-3 T honey (or brown sugar)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (these proportions can be varied)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a few dashes cinnamon
  • a handful of chocolate chips

Stir together the liquid ingredients, stir in the dry ingredients. Heat griddle on medium-low with a tiny bit of butter on it. Ladle the batter on, then drop 4 or 5 chocolate chips onto each pancake. When bubbly, flip and cook for another minute.

These don’t even need any syrup. Gbot’s review: “I yuv dese pan-cakes.”

After breakfast, I pile the leftovers into stacks of four and freeze. They reheat fabulously in the microwave. And leftovers are my new favorite food. Look ma, no cooking!